Sunday, 13 May 2018

When is a Box Not a Box?

When it's an Assembly Puzzle!

It's NOT really a box!
The MPP guys are all out in Spain with Nigel at a 3 day extravaganza known as the Spanish puzzle party #1 and I am all alone back in the UK (Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear, I didn't mean to ignore you!) I am writing a blog post so that you all have something to read this weekend whilst Allard is gallivanting. Why am I not there? Unfortunately, I could not get those days off work and the cost was prohibitive for me when I consider that I have just been to Ikea for a puzzle display purchase which was never going to be cheap. Plus, Mrs S had just been absent in Edinburgh visiting her family and I couldn't immediately abandon her on her return - the fear of a Whack! Ouch! is just too great! From the pictures appearing on Facebook, the guys all appear to be having a great time.

Today, yet again, I am blaming Allard! A few weeks ago he wrote a review of a lovely little cube-shaped wooden thing from Japan. He had spotted in on Torito's site and combined an order with Big Steve. It is called the Kopa (or KO) box but don't be is NOT really a box! This is an assembly puzzle which just happens to be cube-shaped and has a cavity. A puzzlebox is defined by being an article intended for storage of items which needs an unusual sequence of moves to open it. This puzzle is has a central drawer that can be removed but there is no bottom in the drawer so anything stored will just drop out when it is pulled. Plus, a very big PLUS, this arrives in the disassembled state (as in the photo above) and the aim is to form a cube. It almost has maze-like properties.

The puzzle easily comes apart to reveal these pieces
The two outer pieces just pull apart and the central drawer can slide out. one outer piece and the intermediate are eternally linked by a dowel which sits in a square track around the edge as you can see above. When Allard was so enthusiastic about it, I contacted my usual puzzle pusher and asked whether he had any spare copies lying about. Of course he had one and Allard brought it back for me on his way back from Wil's King's day gathering. It duly arrived here and I couldn't resist settling down with it that very evening whilst "she who frightens grown men" and I watched some TV. Whack! Ouch!

The first thing I realised was that this thing is beautiful and then I realised that it wasn't going to be a pushover - it does slide together quite easily if you take the drawer out:

Easy peasy! Only if you don't include the drawer.
As soon as the drawer goes in the puzzle becomes much more difficult and just as Allard said, after about 10 minutes I was convinced that it was impossible. Sneaky bugger has got me to buy another impossible object! You can reach a stage where it is almost there but there is a cm or so still showing and no obvious way to get past this. I reread his review and realised I was at that early denial stage and that I should keep going. Now with this puzzle, nothing is hidden, there is no secret hidden mechanism. The entire thing is based upon 2 dowels moving around the edges of fact, there are 2 pairs of these dowels which seem to interact. This puzzle won't be solved by randomly moving the pieces because there are not many moves possible.

There are actually 2 really nice Aha! moments here. The first is when you notice a feature and have a sudden realisation that it could possibly go together if you can organise the captive pieces with the free piece in a certain way. How on earth can you make that arrangement? Think laterally? Think sideways? Backwards? What about inside out? Well, there is a particular thing that you need to do and suddenly a whole new set of possibilities opens up. Even then, I couldn't close the cube (NOT a box). The next Aha! moment is just as delicious...a sequence of maze moves lines it all up and suddenly with a lovely craftsman made slide it forms a cube with the drawer inside:

I have to say thank you to Allard for introducing me to this lovely and very clever NOT box/cube. It is a genius idea and beautifully implemented as one would expect from a Japanese craftsman. All in all, it took me about 45 minutes and Mrs S was actually impressed when I showed her the genius idea. She even told me that I was obviously brighter than I looked which is quite a compliment from her except, now that I think about it, this does imply that she thinks I look rather dim! I think I hide my lack of brains quite well! At the moment, both Wil and Torito is out of stock of these but I think Endo-san is being encouraged to make some more. If they do come up for sale then they are well worth your hard-earned cash.

When is a Cube not a Cube?

When it's a Shapeshifting Cubic Cuboid!

The Duo Axis Cube
A recent purchase from Calvin's HKNowstore included a bunch of cubes made by MF8. For some reason, my usual twisty supplier is unable to get MF8 puzzles but I can heartily recommend Martin's Puzzlestore for almost all other manufacturers. One of my recent purchases was one that I had seen back in 2014 on both HKNowstore as well as the Twisty puzzles forum and had been fascinated at the look of it but not really that interested in purchasing as it was nearly $200 as a handmade mod. I had completely forgotten about it when I recently saw that it had been mass-produced by MF8 and I added it to my "must buy" list. In that intervening 4 years I had completely forgotten even what was the nature of the puzzle.

After opening my nice package and admiring the contents, taking my photos and frightening myself to death with the Son-mum cube and especially the Unicorn cubes, I put the Duo Axis cube in my work bag to show off to my surgical colleagues who I am gradually convincing that I am extremely crazy but gifted. Whilst we were waiting to be given permission to start a case (we needed a post-op critical care bed), I took it out and investigated what it was. I could not recall the exact nature of it but knew that it was related to the Axis cube that I enjoyed in the past. One of my most read posts is my "Twisty puzzling advice to a beginner" discussion which focussed on where to go after one has mastered the basic odd and even order Rubik cubes. The shape modifications are a really fun challenging next step on your puzzling path and the Axis cube is a fun one to try and is now available as a 3x3 as well as 4x4 versions.

Too many layers
Looking at the puzzle above something did not look quite right - there were too many layers and some odd diagonal pointing pieces that didn't seem to line up with anything when turned. Over a few minutes of showing this off to my rather horrified spinal surgeon, we both came to different conclusions: I realised that this puzzle was NOT a was a cuboid modified into a cube and axis transformed at the same time! My colleague realised that I was completely nuts! Both of our realisations were correct! The puzzle we have here is actually a 3x3x5 cuboid which in my discussion of the classification of cuboids is a shapeshifter which will be made even tougher by the Axis transformation. Having realised the nature of it, there was nothing else but to scramble it:

Holy crap!!
Once I had scrambled it for a while I saw that those diagonal parts that would not line up with anything were not separating from each other (the 2 middle yellow parts - one with mf8 on it are 2 of them). It actually required me to use some simple 3x3 algorithms to make these line up and then I could get a full scramble. It looks really fearsome like that and luckily also quite attractive as it may be staying that way! Having seen the look of horror on my surgeons face, I then went off and anaesthetised my patient and only much later did I get time to play.

This "NOT a cube" is a really fun challenge for any twisty puzzler who has gone just beyond cubes and simple mods and is looking for something extra. As soon as you have mastered the basic cuboids (Floppy cuboid, Domino cuboid and Shapeshifter) then you are ready for this. The puzzle turns beautifully and is only spoiled by a tendency of the centre caps to fall out (which is easily fixed). Those split axial pieces add a nice extra challenge to it and the solve proceeds logically. It is very important to keep the base puzzle firmly in your mind because after any turns of an algorithm it is impossible to look at the puzzle and see what is next. This needs a good mind's eye. I definitely think that this is a great next challenge for anyone who wants something extra.

Congratulations to AJ and MF8 for some great challenges - this, and the other 3 above look fantastic. I do hope that some of AJ's other mods are mass produced because he makes some stunning puzzles which are just out of reach when handmade.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Perseverance Pays Off....

With a little help from a friend

Mrs S has gotten a little "miffed" the last week or so! In fact so "miffed" that the whiplash tongue was fully unleashed upon my person and quite a lot of Whack! Ouch!'s rained down on me! The reason for her ever-increasing ire? I might have "ahem" had a "little" splurge in the purchasing department. The cascade of new deliveries that arrived within a short period of time led her to ask me whether we had a) any money left at all? and 2) where I was going to put all of these new deliveries? It is true that my study currently looks like a bomb has gone off in it with puzzles and paperwork and journals absolutely everywhere with no obvious place for them to go. My big plan is a nice big set of display cabinets in a spare room - I have clocked what I need from Ikea and am ready to purchase them to solve ALL my problems!

Mrs S then questioned my puzzle manhood by asking whether I had solved all of the ones I had and then taunting me that I should go back to my unsolved ones and not buy any new ones! I sheepishly admitted that there were quite a few that I had not solved in several years despite many many attempts. I do keep returning to most of them and occasionally do manage to solve one. Here is a tale of one such event which occurred just this weekend.

Nearly a year ago (June 2017) the "Published professor of wood", Brian Menold, made a fabulous design from Christophe Lohe called Trenta. My copy was made with an Ash frame and gorgeous Mahogany pieces. When it arrived, there were 2 pieces held captive and the aim was to insert the third piece inside. "How hard can this be?" I thought to myself. and proceded to play with it and despite many weeks of play, failed completely! The 2 pieces in the frame are pretty loose and at least one rotation may have occurred during my fiddling. This was definitely NOT part of the solution and I might have rendered it unsolvable in the process. Every few weeks I would pick it up and play again with no result. A few people, including the great designer, noticed this puzzle sitting in my "currently playing with" pile in the living room next to my chair. Contributing to the mess, Mrs S would say with a laser burning stare!

Over the year, I have communicated with Chris and he has offered lots of encouragement and even suggested I send it to him to assemble so that I can proceed with it as a disassembly puzzle. Each time I have held off as I wanted to keep working on it. I was really amazed when he informed me that a friend of ours had even worked out a way using rotations to actually remove the captive pieces from the frame completely - however, I didn't dare try that at that time. Recently we have collaborated to purchase a bunch of puzzles from Aaron Wang (yes, I cannot resist good wire). He also sent me a few new ones from Bernhard and amongst them was a few gifts - a new prototype and a 3D printed version of Trenta in the assembled state for me to play with.

New wire from Aaron
New toys (incl Trenta)
From Bernhard
At last, I might have a chance to finally solve Trenta and in the process start to get Mrs S off my back! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear. I did have a quick comparison of my copy with the one from Chris and realised that I had completely "buggered up" the start position and it was no wonder I had completely failed!

It was quite obvious that something was very wrong with my copy!
I proceded with a complete disassembly of mine:

Beautifully made! Maybe never to be assembled?
When I did this, it did occur as I made a number of fairly complex rotations that I might NEVER get it back together again but I was quite pleased with myself that I had managed it. Time then to go to work on the 3D printed copy. This started on yesterday evening in front of the TV and luckily for me, it is plastic and silent and the gently fuming Mrs S was not disturbed. I proceeded back and forth through the sequence in my usual way and got very stuck. There are a few paths but at each point, I came to a halt with no further moves possible. I was obviously missing something. If I was struggling with the disassembly then it was no wonder that I had failed at the assembly! After nearly 2 hours I found a, to me, VERY well hidden move and suddenly a new pathway was opened which progressively led to a solution:

Phew! That was quite a struggle!
I had gone back and forth a lot of times and was reasonably happy that I could repeat it. At that point, it was bedtime and I had to reassemble it and put it down. This morning, I began the day with a good gym session - Mrs S has told me that it may have been "for better or worse", "in sickness and in health" but it was NOT for "fatter or thinner"! If I get fat then she will certainly chuck me out and hence the frequent trips to the gym to ogle the babes, Whack! Ouch! Sorry! To achieve "the body less horrific". After my trip to the gym and a light healthy "not get me fat" breakfast, I went back to the Trenta so I could finish it off for today's blog post. Except I couldn't remember the sequence and had to work it out all over again. Damn! I am not terribly bright! That took me an extra hour of sweating and swearing under my breath. But at least I knew the orientation of the pieces inside the frame now and just had to work out the key rotational move(s).

You very nearly didn't have a blog post to read today! Working on the plastic copy, I tried to work out the moves to remove the captive pieces and for the life of me, I couldn't do it. There is one obvious easy rotation but as usual, this gets me nowhere. The correct move is unbelievably hard to find. I then moved to the wooden version and tried to insert the pieces to get the start position as shown above and....I couldn't do it! There was lots of swearing and for a while, I thought that I might just have to send the puzzle back to Chris for him to assemble. Mrs S began to laugh at me for all the muttering and my frantic twisting and turning. Ridicule from the wife was obviously what I needed because all of a sudden I found the required rotation. That move is incredibly hard to find and requires the pieces to be placed with tremendous accuracy and turned exactly so. There is no scraping and it is not tight but it will not work if not just right.

With the pieces correctly in the frame, it was just a matter of backtracking the original solution. Even that is not easy and I finally, after nearly a year of effort, had the puzzle solved.

2 fully assembled Trenta's
At last! The question now is do I dare disassemble it again? I think I must - the little voices are saying that I need to prove that it was not a fluke!

Thank you, Chris and Brian, for a fantastic puzzle. Thank you, Mrs S, for letting me live a little longer to tidy up the puzzle collection! Whack! Ouch! I wasn't being sarcastic, I promise! I will work on the backlog that has recently increased a lot! Whack! Ouch!

Sunday, 29 April 2018

I Don't Collect Boxes, Definitely No Boxes, Nope! No Boxes Here

Aaaaaaaaargh........I Blame Allard!

A Trio of Pluredro Gorgeousness! It's NOT my fault.
Yes, I know! I'm always blaming someone else be it Oli, Allard or the Puzzle Pusher himself and I stick to my claims - it is NEVER my fault...I am just easily lead astray! When Junichi Yananose (Juno) set up his own online store, I jumped to support him but tended to go towards the Burr side of his production and even made a deliberate decision not to buy the rather lovely boxes that he produces. I have really enjoyed all of those purchases but still kept eyeing the boxes up sneakily hoping that no-one would notice. I wavered a little when Allard reviewed the Diamond case and was so enthusiastic about it. I got to see it in the flesh/wood at an MPP early this year but again shied away in fear that I would be corrupted. It was particularly intriguing to me that Allard had found such a little box so difficult - he spent weeks on it without success and only after the Puzzle machine, Louis Coolen, solved it, did he manage it himself (having asked for a clue or two).

I had seen the announcement of the Ixia Box release and stayed away because firstly, it is a box and I DON'T collect boxes (Blush!) and also because it was a reasonable sum of money - not hugely expensive but enough to make me think first. Then recently at the 32nd Midlands Puzzle Party, I saw several people playing with it. My downfall came about when Wil and Allard began to discuss how complex it was and how enjoyable and clever the mechanism was. My interest was piqued!!! Hence it's Allard's fault! I didn't play at the MPP because I had resolved by the end of the day that it would have to join my collection as a sequential discovery puzzle because this is how Yukari described it on the Pluredro blog (NOT a box of course!) Finally when Allard wrote up his review of the day and mentioned again that after a month he has still not managed to solve it then I was lost! A visit to the Pluredro store and I had one Ixia box in my shopping cart. Now it always feels wrong to buy a single puzzle and make it travel the world all alone so I added a couple of other puzzles to keep it company. This left me with a moderately hefty bill that Mrs S doesn't know the full value of and she shall never find out! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear, it's for your own good!

The third puzzle added to my cart was the Club case, a follow up to the Diamond case and I am reliably informed by the Box meister himself, Steve Canfield, that Juno is planning on making the complete set of suits (the Heart case is next). I can add Steve to my list of people to blame - he knows that I cannot resist a series (be it novels, notebooks, pens or puzzles). The money changed hands and I tracked the path around the globe until....Parcelfarce held onto it for quite a long time! The customs fees were raised and I waited for notification, the customs fees were re-raised and I waited, the notification was sent out and I waited! Do they not realise that I have little enough hair left to have any more fall out? Eventually, the nicely packed box arrived and I was able to take my group photo above! Then time for the puzzling to begin:

Diamond Case
Made from Silver Ash, Bubinga, Queensland Maple, and Jarrah this is an attractive little box and more solid than it looks. It is quite small by puzzle box standards (from my limited experience) at 120 x 45 x 33mm. Juno claims that the trick to it is very new but for me, they are all new. I started with this one and immediately noticed the sliding section and an associated movement. A quick fiddle revealed to me that the exact pattern of movements seemed to not be fixed which was odd. Then I had a little further thought and was able to visualise in my head (which was empty as usual) how this might be working. If a puzzler of Allard's calibre took several weeks then I expected to be stumped for several months. No matter how much movement I performed of the initial pieces, the lid remained firmly shut. It was Friday evening and I had had a very long day at work and began to fall asleep in my chair whilst watching TV with Mrs S. Just as I dozed off I had an epiphany...I could tell how the lid was locked in place (or at least had a good idea) and suddenly had a vision of how I would design an opening mechanism in such a puzzle.

Opened! No clues here....move on!
It took a few more minutes of fiddling and I had an open box and could see Juno's brand on the inside. The mechanism is incredibly simple and yet unbelievably well hidden! I have not seen anything like it before. The Aha! moment was delicious. I am slightly surprised that Allard struggled as long as he did - I solved my copy in about half an hour. I suspect this will accompany me to work so that I can torture some colleagues! There are still 5 left in the store so get one quickly...especially if you want to collect the whole set of suits.

Club case
Flushed with success, I went to bed before I began to snore in front of the TV! The following day I picked up the absolutely gorgeous Club case. This is made from Karri, Koto, Burmese Teak, and Zebrano and is a good bit bigger and heavier than the Diamond case (although still not particularly large) with dimensions of 96 x 96 x 45mm. Even Mrs S appreciated the beauty of this one and liked the idea of a series linked to playing cards...Yay! I might have permission for the others! Whack! Ouch! Pretty please? There is a bit of detail visible through the club-shaped hole in the top which gives a hint of what might be required as a general approach. Yukari agreed with this idea of the hint but she was unable to solve it herself.

I love this kind of puzzle and after doing the weekly shop with Mrs S yesterday (to try and earn some brownie points), I sat down with a nice coffee, a delicious Fat Rascal (probably the best scone in the world) and a new puzzle. Boy! This is one very confusing puzzle. There are 3 moving pieces that are all linked together and sometimes are blocked and other times change direction unexpectedly. At times there are so many options that I struggled to develop a mental image of what was going on as I manipulated it. This one was quite a bit tougher for me but after a couple of hours of confusion and investigation, I had my Aha! moment.

No clues here, move on!
Very pleased with myself, I took my photos and set to with the reset! I had absolutely no idea the exact set of moves that was required and it took me another hour before I got back to the start. I was seriously sweating...a solution is provided for the wimps but I was determined not to use it. Mrs S commented that I had probably just solved it by luck (she can be real mean sometimes! Whack! Ouch!) to which I responded that if I could do it repeatedly, it wasn't luck. I am slightly ashamed to say that it took me the rest of the day and about 20 attempts before I could open and close this box every time without getting stuck! This is a gorgeous puzzle and very well implemented. It is not only for puzzle box fans, even us general puzzlers can enjoy it.

Currently, there are 11 of these left in Juno's store and I can heartily recommend picking a copy up. In fact, you should probably do what I did and get these two puzzles at the same time as the sequential discovery Ixia box. Go on you know you want to!

So what next? I happen to have a few more puzzles in transit just now as well as the Ixia box and a big backlog of Burrs, and Aaron's wire (still up for sale on Paradise) and a prototype that arrived yesterday. I also need to clean up my study which looks worse than it has ever been before!

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Two Balls are Better Than One!

Box with 2 balls
Another quickie today! I was on call for 24 hours yesterday and that is not good for rest, relaxation and today I am absolutely knackered! Plus it has been a very busy and very stressful week with almost no puzzle solving being done. Luckily there have been a few purchases made and they are currently winging their way over various ponds to me and hopefully will provide some good entertainment for both me and you!

I knew the title would grab your attention! Most of us puzzlers tend to be boys and so would generally agree with that statement! However, if you are a girl then maybe you might disagree. Also as a medic, I know that sometimes 2 is surplus to requirement and thus one should be removed (my Urology attending physician friend, Steve Canfield, would agree)! Luckily for me, there was no knife in painful places involved in today's puzzle blog!

Today's focus is on a couple of puzzles I bought a while ago from the "published professor of wood", Brian Menold. His last batch of beauties included the Box with 2 balls designed by one of my good friends, Christoph Lohe. Brain said this about it:

"Another of Chris’s designs that I loved was this beauty. I loved the idea of the three captive pieces. The goal is simple. Removed the two steel balls from the box. The wood pieces inside the box do not come out. The acrylic sides help you to see what is going on and I used three contrasting woods for the pieces in the box to help distinguish them from one another."
I too have come to absolutely love Chris' designs! He seems to have a knack (as does Klaas Jan Damstra) of designing a puzzle that has more to it than a super tough high level of moves. There is a certain element of fun to the discovery of the Aha! moments as well as very quirky unusual shapes that make them a delight to play with and solve. This particular puzzle is only a level 19.15 and so should not be terribly difficult but it has proved to me to be a very tough challenge! It is a gorgeous thing with the box made from acrylic and Bolivian Rosewood and the pieces from Yellowheart, Wenge, Padauk with 2 steel balls.

Brian has made it very nicely and initially, only the Padauk piece can rise up out of the box releasing the balls and other pieces to move around inside. This puzzle is a mixture of a dexterity puzzle and an interlocking puzzle, the box needs to be turned back and forth as well as inverted periodically to control the sliding of the pieces and the balls inside. At times the Yellow heart piece also protrudes through the hole in the top. I did find half way through that I had completely forgotten my route and was unable to return the puzzle back to the beginning. For at least a day, I had to store the puzzle with one or more pieces sticking out the top. The puzzle is very reminiscent of the Sliding Tetris puzzle from Diniar Namdarian that made it into my Top Ten of 2017. Consisting of various shapes held captive in a cube with a ball held captive within a shifting maze, there are many similarities. The addition of the extra ball in a more confined space makes this puzzle a significant challenge.

When I first got hold of it I couldn't resist playing and on day two of play, I managed to dump two really pretty large heavy steel balls on top of a very unamused cat's head! I paid for that with a scratch as he shot off my lap. I was not expecting both balls to drop out at the same time but, POW! they did and in the end, I had no idea how I had managed it. In fact, if you think about it, dumping both balls out together cannot possibly be a Level 19.15.

I've got both my balls out!
After the requisite photos of my balls lying free, I tried to put them back in their box. Except I had no recollection of how I had done it. There are lots of ways of getting both balls inside with all the wooden shapes lying inside but getting the balls to the start position proved elusive. I worked on it for another couple of evenings before resorting to Burrtools (just for a clue). When I had entered it into BT and looked at the solution it had found, I sat back in amazement. It did not find the solution I had used to get them out! It had only found a route which required each of them to be inserted separately and juggling the first one inside a bit before adding the second one into the box. I and my bruised cat were both very certain that both balls had dropped out together. This motivated me to go back to the puzzle myself and confirm that I was not going mad and imagining things. For once BT had not provided the help I required. Finally, after another 2 days of play, I had managed to reset the puzzle after adding both balls at the same time. YES! I was right!

A little discussion with Chris confirmed that another puzzler had done the same thing and informed him. Let's just say that this was not what Chris had intended but he confirmed that my solution was correct. I love this puzzle! For some reason, I cannot for the life of me remember the path through it and despite having solved it 4 or 5 times, I currently have it stuck in an unsolved position as I cannot seem to find the way back to the beginning!

Yes, it is good to have 2 balls despite the fact that I am only allowed to look at them wistfully from across the bedroom where they are kept in a pickling jar on Mrs S' bedside table!

Kamelle Box

Kamelle Box
Brian also produced this clever little puzzle in that same batch. I consider it a crime to buy just one at a time, so I had to buy this one too (ahem! as well as the Cross in Cross). The Kamelle box is yet another design by Chris Lohe (I seem to be developing a collection of his designs). Brian described it like this:
"The last batch of designs Chris sent me had several designs that grabbed my attention. This one, The Kamelle Box, was one of the first. I love packing puzzles that seem simple but are actually quite challenging! Laszlo Molnar’s designs come to mind. Well I thought this clever design fit into that category too! Just place the three pieces into the box. A hole in the clear bottom helps with this but maybe not as much as you would like. Give this a try."
As soon as the name Laszlo Molnar came up I knew I had to have it! I have most of Laszlo's puzzles from Brian and have reviewed them here and here and here. Anything similar to one of Laszlo's puzzles is a "must have" for me! Brian made 3 versions available; I chose one of them and it was removed from my shopping cart by someone else buying it even more quickly! I chose another and my copy is a Red Elm box and Yellowheart pieces. It is truly lovely.

The first thing most packing puzzlers do is try and assemble the puzzle outside the box to work out how it can go together in a shape that should theoretically fit. I found a few possibilities and then had a play to see how the odd-shaped piece might go through the L shaped orifice at the top.

The bottom is acrylic with a hole for manipulating the pieces
There is a hole in the bottom to allow a finger inside (or a piece to protrude) and I set to playing with it. Just 3 pieces? Should be easy peasy? Hell no! I spent an hour getting nowhere and then another one! Eventually, I thought, "similar to one of Laszlo's designs?" Aha! What about a rotational move?

The Aha! moment was wonderful and with great pleasure, I had this:

Solved it!
I thought I had been really clever! I even put it back on the shelf convinced that I had solved it. At the last MPP, I brought it with me to show to the guys and I was a little surprised when Rob Hegge (visiting from the Netherlands) solved it in about 15 minutes. I know I am not terribly bright but I really didn't think I was quite that dim! I congratulated him on finding it so quickly and asked him whether he thought the rotation was good. He asked "what rotation?" and my jaw dropped! Is this solvable without a rotation? Apparently so!

I had solved it completely the wrong way and now need to go back to it and try again. OMG! I will be doing that as soon as I've finished with this blog post!

Not only do Brian and Chris produce fabulous puzzles...they manage to prove that I am a very poor puzzler! I really MUST do better!

Over the last few years, I have waxed lyrical about the incredible disentanglement designs from my friend Aaron Wang. He makes some of the most difficult (and fun) wire and string puzzles you will ever see. Mostly I have suggested that people visit the website of the Felix puzzle store to buy them but the lack of an English translation has put people off. The puzzles are now available direct from Aaron if you wish - he has put his current batch up for sale on the Puzzle Paradise auction site. There are lots of great ones to choose from - have a browse and check back for my reviews and then buy won't be disappointed!

Sunday, 15 April 2018

I'm a Puzzle Assembly Genius.....Or Maybe NOT!

Interlocking #4
At the Midlands Puzzle Party last weekend, we all had a fabulous time as usual and we did enjoy a little extra fun from the Puzzle Pusher who arrived (along with the Puzzle solving machine) from the Netherlands. After my 2.5hr drive from dreary Sheffield, I got myself a much-needed coffee and duly went off to greet a few guys who I had not seen for a while. Louis had brought a few cute little 3D printed interlocking cube puzzles (I don't have any pics but maybe Allard will have some when he posts his spiel). Thanks to the amazing Bernhard, I have become rather addicted to these interlocking puzzles (with or without rotational moves) and had a little poke at them whilst beginning my chat to Shane. Shane, in his usual pugnacious manner, snatched them away and said something along the lines of:
"These are too easy for you if you disassemble them first! Here, I'll do it for you!"
He then proceeded to scatter pieces of 2 cubes over the table leaving me with my mouth hanging open in disbelief. I sputtered that I am rubbish at assembly puzzles and he told me in no uncertain terms to get on with it and stop making excuses! GULP! OK - here goes. One of the cubes was a 4 piece coordinate motion puzzle which took me about 10 minutes. Luckily there are 2 pairs of mirror image pieces and they only fit together a certain obvious way. Also luckily, the tolerances are fairly loose and it didn't require a huge amount of dexterity - if I am bad at assembly puzzles, I am REALLY BAD at dexterity puzzles! This will be a bit of an issue because I received a gift from Wil (so did Allard) - it is a prototype of another of his bottle puzzles. This looks impossible to me - the aim is to put the necklace on the baby in the bottle and have it hanging by its head again:

Of course, the Puzzle machine that is Louis took the puzzle from my display at MPP and promptly solved it in about 5 minutes or less whilst I was not watching. He then unsolved it by shaking it all rather vigorously before I could take a pic! He can be mean that way! As usual, the whole crowd laughed at me - I'm quite used to it now and even enjoy it!

Creepy isn't it? Mrs S thinks Wil might be a secret axe murderer!
The second of the little 3D printed cubes was a 5x5 cube called Interlocking cube #1 which is of interest to 3D printer fans because the pieces can be printed without any support material as there are no overhangs. One day I really will have to buy a 3D printer but not until Mrs S calms down a little. I was rather horrified by Shane's nonchalant destruction but proceeded to give it a go. This was a much tougher challenge and probably took me about a ½hr. I felt fantastic after that - I often tell people that I am not terribly bright and am rubbish at solving puzzles. Most people seem not to believe me but I maintain that I get lucky quite frequently. One thing I do insist on is that I am really bad at solving puzzles in public/company. If someone is watching me then my logical abilities desert me and I look fairly foolish (again!!) Solving the Interlocking #1 in front of the other guys made my day! Even if I solved nothing else all day then I would still be happy.

What those two assembling successes did do was fill me with a whole lot of confidence (probably misplaced) and shortly after that Richard Gain turned up and announced that that puzzle was nice but too easy and I should try the Interlocking #4 which was much more of a challenge. He had a few up for sale and they must have lasted a whole 3 minutes before we cleared him out! I was asked whether I wanted my copy whole or in pieces and with huge overconfidence brought on by my earlier success, I requested that it be taken apart and I would play with it at home. The picture at the top of the post was what I received. Yay!! Brimming with confidence, I set to the evening I got home and was immediately humiliated!

Later that evening a Facebook post from Ali (another puzzle solving machine) revealed that he had managed it. I wasn't surprised that he had done it as he is a seriously talented puzzler. I was a bit more surprised when Allard posted that he had assembled his. Now THAT did surprise me! Allard's usual modus operandi is to buy lots of puzzles that he cannot solve and then whenever Louis arrives for a visit, he solves them for him! Yep! Allard cheats by having help. When I expressed my surprise, I was informed by Wil that Allard had alternative help this time. I suspect that he never actually solves his own puzzles!

Allard has help - Ben is much more intelligent than him!
I proceeded to work on it each evening this week whilst sitting watching TV with Mrs S and the pussy boys! All of whom are no help whatsoever. Mrs S said that I had my "plug face" on the whole time! At several intervals, during the week she actually asked me whether I was in pain to which I had to admit that my ickle bwain was definitely hurting a bit!

Finally, on Thursday evening, I had my Aha! moment and it was fabulous (only 5 days after the other guys managed it). This puzzle is superb as an assembly puzzle and would even be great as a disassembly puzzle too. Maybe I am getting better at assembling puzzles? I certainly really enjoyed the experience and am delighted that I have another dimension to my puzzling challenges.

Filled with confidence, I restarted work on the cubes that I received from Alfons - for some reason, I have really struggled to find the crucial moves to disassemble the first one I chose:

Lili's Cube
I started with Lili's cube because it should have been the easiest to disassemble with a level of For some reason, I could get about 10 moves in but no further. So Friday evening I set to and really thought about it. Aha! again! Yes, my genius is improving....I am just slightly above very dim now! I did take a photo at a halfway point to ensure that I might stand a chance at reassembly:

A reassembly might actually be possible!
I then proceeded to fully disassemble it and realised that my new found skillz definitely did not reach this level - I was stuffed and the only way that was going back together again was Burrtools!

OMG! Reassembly beyond me!
I have ordered another couple of interlocking cubes from Bernhard - I do seem to be just a little addicted! After I've finished writing this post I will get BT out.

Next up is another little challenge that I bought from Wil - it's a string puzzle that Aaron Wang tells me is pretty easy. But then he is a disentanglement puzzle genius who does these things in his head! Needless to say, I have singularly failed so far:

Iwahiro's exchange puzzle with an added Strijbos touch.
Move the knot and the ring to the opposite (short) length of string.
Wish me luck!

Sunday, 8 April 2018

It Looks Horrific But Really is not That Bad

In Fact, It's a Fun Little Challenge

Greg's Multi-cube
I've not had much puzzling time recently due to late finishes at work and on-call duties. Plus yesterday was the 32nd Midlands Puzzle Party (expect a report from Allard sometime soon). This will be a quick review of a single delightful puzzle.

Back in November the incredibly talented (he has 9 pages of designs listed in the Twisty puzzle museum) designer, Grégoire Pfennig, announced that he had collaborated with the Chinese puzzle company YuXin to mass produce his design (which he had previously produced on Shapeways). I could not wait to get hold of a copy - my recent Wormhole 2 (and subsequent Wormhole 3) successes had left me more confident in my ability at puzzles within puzzles. I got my copy from my friend Martin (I'm sure it will eventually be available at PuzzleMaster soon).

Just a couple of turns here and I am confused!
My initial exploration did reveal a little horror! I had read the descriptions when it was announced and even watched the video of it but nothing can prepare you for the true realisation of watching a puzzle within a puzzle when it doesn't turn by face. Yes, this one is not really a is really a Multi-skewb. A deep cut corner turning cube with a 3x3 deep inside. In fact, it is a Master Skewb (higher order than the basic Skewb).

It had been a VERY long time since I had solved a Master Skewb and I, of course, had absolutely no recollection of it and I really struggled to understand what was happening inside the puzzle but I had been reassured by rumours on the TP forum that the solution was fairly straightforward. I was especially reassured when Derek (the genius designer and solver of pretty much everything) told me that he had not had much trouble with it. He told me to "do it now"! So I scrambled it without thinking about the consequences:

Dear Lord! What have I done!

One thing that I had gleaned from TP and from Derek was that I needed to solve the interior 3x3 first and then try to solve the exterior later without messing up the interior. Yeah! Sounds awful! The first problem was how could I solve a 3x3 by turning the corners of an exterior puzzle? After a little nudge, I came to realise that the interior pieces were connected to different parts of the exterior and I just needed to shift my approach slightly! Easy? Actually not that tough once the connection is known. After just a couple of hours in front of the TV with the very generous Mrs S (she has given me permission to go to Ikea and purchase some more display cabinets for a spare room...I might get a whole 2m or more of wall space!) I had a lovely solved interior and the exterior was completely scrambled with even the windowed centres not aligned with the centres of the inner cube.

Next, I needed to solve the exterior Master Skewb without buggering mucking up what I had already done. Now a peculiar feature of this puzzle is that it is possible to make a quadruple series of moves which consist of a pair of moves and undoing that pair and this changes the exterior without affecting the interior. I was extremely surprised to realise this and found that I can extend that 2 6 moves or more! As long as each of the moves is undone then the inner puzzle is unscathed. Time to think© and either work out how to solve a Master Skewb or, rather less likely, remember how to solve it. It took me another 2 evenings of varying success and I ended up working it out from scratch but I had all but the corners solved.

Redi cube after one turn
At yesterday's MPP I did bring along some easier twisties to try and cajole/force the guys into thinking that they are not as impossible as they all think. I showed them the Redi cube (PuzzleMaster link) and the Pyraminx Diamond as examples of puzzles that relied on just simple 4 move algorithms like up, up, down, down or R, L, R, L. I am not sure that I convinced anyone to spread further into the twisty realm (in fact Shane thinks I am totally crackers!) but this is reminiscent of the Master Skewb solution - just a simple 4 move algorithm used in creative ways with simple set up moves and it's mostly done. Those pesky corners being out of position...also not a problem. With some puzzles, one just has to do the 4 move algorithm twice or thrice and BAM! We have a way to swap positions and then a setup move later we have them oriented correctly too.

Pyraminx diamond after one turn
The Multi-cube looks horrific and when scrambling/scrambled looks even worse but it really isn't as bad as you might think. All just 4 move sequences with the odd setup move or doing that sequence several times. If you don't have one of these puzzles then you definitely should buy one - it is FAB!

Hopefully I will have more to write about for you for next week. The puzzles I am working on just now seem to be rather complex and very time consuming!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Wonderful New Puzzles from Pelikan

7 Stunning new puzzles from the New Pelikan Workshop
I am very lucky to be given the opportunity by Jakub Dvořák and Jaroslav Švejkovský to purchase copies of his latest releases before they are generally available for the public. This is partly to allow me to review them in advance and also because Jakub occasionally likes me to write something for his store when the designer of the puzzle doesn't speak English well enough to write something for him. These puzzles have just been made available at the New Pelikan Workshop morning - don't miss out - as a short review...they are FABULOUS!

I received these just over a week ago and have been working my way through them - I have to say that they are all as stunning and as beautifully made as ever. Jakub and Jaroslav maintain their place as probably the best wood craftsmen in the world. The fit and finish of these puzzles is unbelievably good. Despite having such perfect tolerances there is never a sensation of pieces catching on each other as pieces move.


The Apollo is another delight from the mind of Osanori Yamamoto. It consists of 3 shapes straddling a wooden frame to make the shape of a rocket (hence the name). Only 3 pieces in the frame? Easy? Not really! As with many of Osanori's puzzles, this requires several rotational moves to remove the pieces which makes it a nice fun challenge. It is not as tough as the others in this release but certainly requires a fair bit of thought to figure out where to move them so that rotations are possible and then work out which direction to turn. It did not take me very long but there is a very nice Aha! moment when discovering a rather unexpected position to do the rotations and also another fun challenge working out the reassembly after scrambling and leaving the pieces.

Deceptively simple pieces - fun to reassemble after leaving a while

Neo Saturn

Neo Saturn
The Neo Saturn designed by Osanori Yamamoto looks simply stunning made from Acacia, Wenge, Purpleheart and Padauk. The circular planet/sun on the top is there to ensure the correct orientation during reassembly and really adds to the beauty of the piece. This puzzle is classic Osanori - quite a few rotational moves with a maze of setup moves to reach the correct positions. Everything is beautifully made and the sliding of the pieces on the frame is smooth as silk. The Aha! moments are delicious and make this one of the most enjoyable puzzles in this release. Reassembling the puzzle is possible from scratch and is just as much fun. This one has become a fun toy to play with in quiet moments for me.

Stunning workmanship and a beautiful design.

Aqua Toto

Aqua Toto
The Aqua Toto puzzle is my 2nd favourite from the group to be released. This is also a classic Osanori Yamamoto design consisting of a 2 piece frame and 2 Wenge pieces which straddle it. Separating the pieces requires that the 2 frame pieces are moved and the Wenge L's be negotiated through a changing maze to a position which allows the characteristic rotation moves. The rotational moves came to me in a completely unexpected position and there was also something else about it that I found wonderfully startling. Further moves and further rotations lead to another rather unexpected Aha! moment. It took me quite a while to reassemble these after scrambling and leaving the pieces for a while. This is a truly satisfying puzzle. Not for beginners but all experienced puzzlers will enjoy the sequence and the surprise moves in this one.

Such simple pieces - very interesting solution
What is the surprise move? If you have solved it and are not sure what is so surprising or don't plan on buying it but want to know anyway then click the button to reveal the hint.

Mini Lock

Mini Lock - Looks huge but is only 5cm high.
Christoph Lohe has designed many many burrs over the years and they all share the common feature that they have something rather interesting and unusual about them. He has designed several burrs in the shape of locks. The Burrlock E was made by Eric Fuller and reviewed enthusiastically by me here. I was delighted to see that another couple of his locks were going to be released by the New Pelikan Workshop this time. The Mini Lock is so named because of the small number of pieces and supposedly "simple" sequence to disassemble as well as the diminutive size of the puzzle at 5cm tall. It is beautifully made with very tactile curves on the edges.

The unlocking mechanism is a very nice sequence of moves which all follow each other logically. I had 4 pieces lying on the kitchen work surface quite quickly:

Looks easy? Ahem! Maybe for you, it will be!
Having disassembled it so quickly, I decided to scramble the pieces without properly examining them and leave them a while before trying to put it back together. Yours truly showed himself to be not terribly bright when it came to the reassembly as it took me over half an hour to work it out. It is a very logical puzzle and can be worked out from scratch - a great fun challenge. This is a perfect little pocket challenge for every puzzler.

Spiral Lock

Spiral Lock
This is the piéce de resistance of the bunch for me! Christoph Lohe's Spiral lock has been fabulously brought to life by Jakub and Jaroslav with gorgeous woods, gorgeous colours and a wonderful finish. The aim as always is to move the burr pieces and shackle to open and dismantle the lock. There are some very clever moves during the solution and some are quite hard to find. As you work your way through it you discover a fun little dance of the pieces around each other before the shackle suddenly has enough space to come out. After that, the rest of the pieces can be removed one after another. You are left with this and can marvel at the craftsmanship involved:

Absolutely incredible puzzle!
Having taken this apart at work I had to go and do something (I think I had finished a short coffee break and had to wake my patient up before starting the next one) - when I got back to the pieces of the puzzle and took them out of the bag I had used to temporarily store them in, I discovered that the reassembly was a tremendous challenge! In fact, I could not do it until I got home and had a fair bit of time in the evening to play. I had to backtrack my disassembly to work it out and then work out which pieces went where. It is manageable and is a great challenge for those of us not good at reassembly. This puzzle is beautiful and brilliant!


Casino - just put the chips into the box!
Casino is an absolutely fantastic packing puzzle by Volker Latussek, a designer I came across for the first time at the Paris IPP. He had entered another Packing puzzle into the Design competition which I really enjoyed (in fact it got one of my votes). The Bastille is available in continental Europe from Rombol here - I really wish they would find a retailer who would sell in the UK as I struggle to get these puzzles here. The Casino is just as simple a premise as the Bastille - put the pieces in the box so that they don't protrude outside. Easy? Hell no!

The chips and box are wonderfully tactile and just beg to be played with. Everything can be stored nicely in the unsolved position and then tipped out for play when ready. This puzzle would be simple if it wasn't for the lip overhanging the top of the box. It takes a few minutes to work out the arrangement required so that the pieces will physically fit inside but getting them in there is another thing entirely! I couldn't resist this one - I played with it alongside Mrs S at the breakfast table on the morning that it arrived and she watched me with great amusement as I progressively failed to solve it over about an hour. She didn't seem to mind the muttering/talking to myself and at one point exclaimed that it didn't look that hard and snatched it from me to have a try herself! I didn't mind - whilst she is a rather bright cookie, she is not a puzzler and it was soon my turn to laugh at her as she failed to get the last piece inside. To her credit, she did work out the correct arrangement but could not get it past the lip. After 10 minutes she gave up in disgust and said it was impossible! Hehehehe! 

After another half an hour I was able to show her that the puzzle was solvable. The picture revealed by the button doesn't really give much away other than the arrangement but you might prefer not to click to reveal it until after you have solved it yourself.

This one is absolutely perfect to hand to the non-puzzlers in your life. It is so tactile and looks so easy that they just cannot resist it. I have found that even resolving it myself is quite a challenge and have already managed to bamboozle David, my anaesthetic assistant, for a few hours with it. 


The Perforated puzzle is the final one in this release and I cannot really review it as yet - I have so far singularly failed to solve it! It is yet another of the stunning designs by Klaas Jan Damstra and like many of them consists of some very simple pieces arranged in a very complex way. The burr sticks in the rather beautiful frame are all identical and the simplest of sticks possible. Edit - after reading the information on the Pelikan store this version has been modified from the one on and has 2 different sticks. With a level solution, this will be a very complex dance as the pieces wind back and forth around each other before one is released. Over the years many of Klaas' designs have been greatly admired on my blog and I fully expect to love this one once I have a little more time to play with it.

Why have I not solved it yet? I appear to have been sidetracked this week by both long work hours and the arrival of some extra twisties. Plus I did need to complete the Mixup plus/Wormhole series by solving the Wormhole III puzzle:

Wormhole III - a combination of a 3x3x4 Mixup plus with wormhole interior
This is a seriously fantastic puzzle with parities, confusing hidden bits and lots of shape-shifting too. Not for the faint-hearted but worth purchasing if you love your twisty puzzles. I bought mine from Martin's Puzzlestore but is also available from Puzzlemaster.

Greg's Multi cube
Pentacle cube
The latest twisty additions from Martin are Greg's Multi-cube and the Mo Fang Pentacle cube. These look like a fun challenge which I'm told is not too hard (despite being a puzzle in a puzzle. I could do with something a little easier after the Wormhole/Mixup plus challenges.

Finally, I was able to obtain a copy of the Six cube from Evgeniy Grigoriev. This was an entry in the London IPP design competition. It looks like a six-piece burr but is actually a modification of a Rubik cube. At that time it had me completely flummoxed - despite being "only" a simple 3x3 cube, I could not solve it. When Evgeniy put it up for sale, I couldn't resist having another chance to play and put it in my collection.

Six Cube - looks like a burr, works like a twisty!

The puzzles from Pelikan are available now and are mostly in limited numbers. Go get them, get ALL of them and make me feel better that I did too! You will not be disappointed in either the quality or the puzzling!


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