Sunday, 23 June 2019

Rotating on a GalacTIC scale

GalacTIC designed by Andrew Crowell and beautifully made by Brian Menold
I have not really managed to do an awful lot of puzzling recently - a lot going on at home and at work - life just gets in the way. I am working on the Trauma operating list all day today and this one puzzle was all that I managed to write about for you - in fact, it is all that I have managed to solve and fully understand this week. Hopefully, things will settle down and I will have something good for you next week.

Brian Menold (aka the Published Professor of Wood) recently released another batch from the fevered mind of Andrew Crowell. The world of the TIC (Turning Interlocking Cube) was, until recently a fairly stable one about which Bernhard had managed to publish a series of 3 articles encompassing the whole lot. Along comes Andrew and we are up to our eyeballs in TICs and Bernhard's articles need a major update. When Brian releases new stuff, I pay attention, they are well made of beautiful wood and he always chooses the right difficulty level and always chooses puzzles that will be fun.

The GalacTIC was sent out assembled (different to the others released the same day) and here is what he wrote about it:
"This is one of Andrew's few designs that he recommends as a disassembly puzzle. It is easy to see why when you see that the last piece takes 19 moves and many rotations to remove!! I found myself actually wondering if all of this was necessary when I was assembling these! I will say that the first few moves are rather easy, then things get interesting. And good luck getting it back together. Moves - 1.1.3.4.6.19 with 10 Rotations"
How could anyone resist that? I know of at least one genius/sucker for punishment who asked for it to be sent out disassembled! I am not very bright and not very good at assembly puzzles and just went with the flow.

It is a lovely little puzzle (it is classic Menold in its' look) and nice to see that Brian has added some half-lap joints for strength as well as a brass pin for the most complex joint. The wood choices are a delight and this will look great on display.

I started with this shortly after the delivery arrived and spent a good few evenings on it and have to say that I am really glad that this was sent out assembled - there is no way on earth I would have managed it from pieces without first having taken it apart. The first 3 pieces come out fairly easily without rotations. It has been pretty humid here in good old "Blighty" for the last few weeks i.e. it has poured pretty much continuously for days! This has meant that the puzzles are a little tight and it took a bit of doing to find which pieces would move at all at first. After those first 3 pieces are removed then it starts to get interesting - we begin to need turns and then another piece comes out. At this point, with the last 3 pieces in place, I began to struggle...it took me a whole evening just to release the next piece! Now just an "easy" matter of disentangling the last 2 pieces - one is a nice open frame and then the other is a relatively small solid piece with "sticky-out" bits. How hard can it be?

OMG!! The separation of the last 2 pieces took me over a week! There are so many turns that I began to get dizzy! It is rotation on a GalacTIC scale! Not only are there very specific and often hard to find rotations (one is really tough) but also there are blind endings after some rotations requiring backtracking! I got lost and in a panic a few times! After that week of toil I had my pieces:

GalacTIC pieces
Next, I did my usual (with some trepidation) and scrambled the pieces and set them aside for a night. I went back to the assembly challenge the following evening and had an absolute ball trying to reassemble it! Luckily after so much time on the disassembly, I knew the order for the pieces to be inserted and went straight to the difficult challenge of those first 2 pieces. Only one insertion position is possible but after that...hell! That was a struggle. A good 90 minutes of pain and swearing and I had it done. Phew!

This is an absolutely stunning design! I really do not know how Andrew does it - his mind is completely warped (I am sure that Mrs Crowell will vouch for that!) I am very grateful to Brian for bringing these marvellous puzzles to life for us and hope that more will be coming in the future. In my future, I see an attempt at assembling another batch of TICs that are taunting me in my puzzles to be solved pile! I just need some time!



Sunday, 16 June 2019

Packing with Purpose

Box Rebellion
This post follows a little discussion I had with my friend Dave Holt (of the Metagrobologist) who has an absolute fixation on packing puzzles...the more complex the better! He had shown off a picture of one of his recent acquisitions from Tom Lensch, the CRUMB/Melting Block puzzle designed by Bill Cutler and John Rausch.

Dave's CRUMB puzzle
The CRUMB consists of a full set of 28 lettered pieces shown above in their larger storage box with one non-lettered piece as a small spacer to fill the box. There is also a standard box to work on all of the many puzzle challenges and a 3 sided 'corner' box with dimensions of the bottom, sides and depth of the box (created to avoid 'in and out' attempts (as called by Bill and John) which eliminates reaching in and out and easier to slide pieces around). There are 76 doubly-unique solutions to the packing ranging from the 10/11 piece CRUMB (which is relatively easy) to several 13/14 piece ones, which are very difficult to solve manually. Whilst I really appreciate the beauty of the craftsmanship and the incredible variety of puzzling provided by this amazing multi-puzzle, I commented that I am not a huge fan of packing puzzles with so many pieces in them as there is far too much random trial and error and not enough deduction in the solution process. A wonderful and far more eloquent follow up comment from George Syriaque stated it beautifully:
"The issue is that ‘figuring out where the pieces should go’ requires far more effort than ‘figuring out how to get them there’"
This sums me up with packing puzzles entirely. I did eventually solve and review the Melting block a long time ago but have seldom attempted such a complex packing challenge since. I definitely prefer my packing puzzles to be about getting the pieces into position rather than finding where they should go - this sort of follows on from my love of interlocking puzzles. One example of this is the Box Rebellion pictured at the top of the post.

I was very proud to get a copy of the Box Rebellion puzzle (Coffin #195) from Tom Lensch quite recently. Tom had made a bunch after some discussion with my friend John Rausch who had reminisced that the 4L puzzle had been getting a lot of attention recently and that he had exchanged Stewart Coffin's Box Rebellion (#195) at IPP24 in Tokyo which had a number of similarities. I had absolutely adored the 4L puzzle back in 2016 and would always seek out something similar if it came up for sale. By the way, if you don't yet have a copy of 4L then get one NOW - Eric has them for sale here - they are an ESSENTIAL purchase.

John's original exchange puzzle had been made by Walt Hoppe. Like 4L, it has 4 L-shaped pieces that must fit into a restricted-entry box. Unlike the 4L, the acrylic top is not fixed in place, it can slide back and forth 5/32" (Lord, why can't the US embrace the present and the future and go Metric?),  which is enough to allow an L piece to fit on one end, and enough for one cube of an L piece to raise up on the other. Unlike 4L, the L pieces for this puzzle are made from three cubes.

Tom's lovely version is made with a Walnut box (complete with small finger sized holes in the ends to allow manipulation inside and an oddly shaped acrylic top which has a little movement to it. The 4 L shaped pieces are beautifully made from Yellowheart. The premise is very simple and with only a little thought, it is obvious how the pieces are to be positioned in the box. Getting them there is another thing altogether. If you have done the 4L before then you will not be overly troubled by this one because the thought processes are similar. But it still takes a bit of planning and a fun little struggle with moving the pieces around using just the little holes and gravity.

Very clever - I will be storing it unpacked though, to allow torture of colleagues at work
If you have never solved 4L then this is will be a much greater challenge but still possible without spending weeks on it and it may be a nice work out for when 4L finally comes your way.

Next up os another packing puzzle with very few pieces and a placement challenge:

Petit Ring
Of course, I cannot buy just one simple little packing puzzle from Tom and have it shipped 1000s of miles! He also offered me the opportunity to buy one of Osanori Yamamoto's latest designs, Petit Ring. Made from the same woods as the Box Rebellion it is another "simple" packing puzzle with just 3 relatively simple pieces to be put into a 3x3x2 box with oddly restrictive but wide open holes in opposite corners of the top and bottom. The fact that there are holes in both sides gives an idea that this is going to be quite a challenge. Again, it is more interlocking puzzle than packing and I love the challenge. It looks at first that the holes are wide open and that this will be easy but that diagonal half voxel is a real problem - the end result of it is that the entry holes are L shaped which is seriously restrictive.

These 3 pieces do not completely fill the cavity of the box but I assumed that the final result should have the entry holes completely filled and any gaps are concealed inside. The similarity to Pack 012 (also by Osanori) and the false solution to that one made me quite wary. There are a few ways that the pieces can slot together in a 3x3x2 shape and it is a fun challenge to work out which of those are physically possible to get inside the box.

I came up with a very promising way to put the pieces together quite quickly and then moved the puzzle to the box packing part and quickly ran into trouble. The larger shape will only go into the box in a few orientations and needs a lot of manoeuvring space to get it in. As soon as the other pieces are introduced that manoeuvring space disappears very quickly. After a bit of thought, getting 2 pieces in is achieved and then the final challenge is how to get that final piece inside. I could find 2 possible orientations for it but it was terribly blocked. Changes to the entry order were no help and I struggled with it for a few evenings.

Eventually, I had a thought© which is an unusual event for me but as is more common, that thought had an error! Many of Osanori's puzzles have very ingenious rotations in them and I wondered whether that was required for the Petit ring? The tolerances in Tom's craftsmanship are fabulous and rotations are almost impossible. After another evening of experimentation I had finally achieved the final puzzle state:

Solved it! This photo was taken after a rotation
I was really pleased with myself for solving it and then I had a look at the page on PuzzleWillBePlayed only to see that I had solved it but in the incorrect way. It states that there are 72 assemblies of which only one is achievable and, crucially, it makes no mention of the need for rotations. Now Ishino san is very meticulous in his maintenance of the pwbp pages...if a solution needs rotations in the solution then it is always described (have a look at the listing for Osanori's Galette puzzle here - it clearly states that rotations are required).

The lack of this mention forced me to go back to my puzzle and spend another few hours on it. Finally, I got it! That is a wonderful design - not really one for trial and error but requiring planning and thought©.

If you have a copy of Petit Ring then your challenge is now to solve it both ways. Can you find the correct solution and then do it all over again with rotations? It is brilliant and I cannot wait to get more of his fabulous "low number of pieces" designs.


Sunday, 9 June 2019

An Extension to my Advice for Twisty Puzzlers

The Mo Fang/Qiyi 4 Leaf Clover Plus Cube

4 Leaf Clover Plus
4 Leaf Clover Plus movements
One of my all-time most popular blog posts is one that I am most proud of - it is my advice to twisty puzzle beginners post which I published way back in 2012. It is what I send to puzzlers who have taken time to work out how to solve a basic 3x3 and 4x4 Rubik type cube and want to know what path to take next. It is in no way a didactic set of instructions, I just walk through what many of the options are and discuss why one might want to go that route. I suspect that I should probably redo that post in the light of more recent developments in the Twisty world.

I still stick my initial advice that the first tentative steps beyond basic cubes should probably be the shape modifications to get your head around pieces that "don't look right" and then move on to the other geometries like Megaminx (dodecahedron) and Pyraminx (tetrahedron) but after those, there is a sudden increase in options which can be chosen between...for example the cuboids and those with alternative piece movements like the Dino cube (Shallow cut corner turn), Rex cube (Deep cut corner turn), Skewb (Very deep cut corner turn) and Curvy Copter (Edge turn) - each of these can also be multiple layers too.

Today's puzzle that I am reviewing is definitely not a basic puzzle for a novice but is a really nice example of a recently appeared new group of puzzles on the market. I am not sure what to call this group - maybe it could be called the "Combo puzzles"? These are puzzles which are effectively a combination of 2 different basic puzzles into one with 2 different turning mechanisms combined. I already reviewed one such puzzle, the Grilles II cube which is a combination of a standard 3x3 cube and a shallow cut Master (4x4) Dino cube:

3x3 turns and 2-level deep corner turns
The solving process for this was great fun and my main criticism of this puzzle was that the mechanism was quite unstable and had a tendency to explode into rather a lot of pieces if you were not extremely careful how you rotated it. If you want a copy of this (recommended if you have patience) from PuzzleMaster or HKNowstore.

These combination puzzles really intrigue me - there is a whole lot more scrambling possible with these than the individual base puzzles and then you have the probability that you can get into positions that are completely impossible with each. The approach to solving could be to try something totally unique and find your own commutators to shift pieces around or to try to reduce to one or other of the base puzzles and then solve that. The fun part of this is that there is a distinct possibility that the reduction can introduce parities where a piece has been reformed in an impossible position for the base puzzle - for example in the Grilles II it is possible to be left with a single turned corner which a 3x3 can never achieve. Resolving these parity situations can be one of the most fun parts of these puzzles.

There have not been very many puzzles with combined mechanisms released yet. The 3x3 Curvy Copter by MF8 is one that I have not bought because it was reputed to be so unstable as to be almost unusable

The puzzle I am specifically discussing today is the Mo Fang/Qiyi 4 Leaf Clover Plus cube (available from PuzzleMaster here, HKNowstore here, and UK Puzzlestore here) which is a combination of the wonderful edge turning of a deeper cut Curvy Copter and a 2x2 face turning Rubik cube. I originally got mine from Calvin's HKNowstore and they mistakenly sent me the plain 4 Leaf Clover Cube (no plus) which is just a deeper cut Curvy Copter but no face turns. It was a nice puzzle and fun to play with but not a new challenge. They were very good about sending me out the correct one I ordered with the next order that I placed with them.

I bought the Stickerless version which has the advantage of the Curvy Copter corners to be solved hidden inside the puzzle:

You can see the hidden corners sunk inside - an extra challenge is to solve these too even though they are not externally visible.

The puzzle turns fantastically well and is a joy to scramble. All the usual moves are possible including the jumbling moves that are the fun part of the curvy copter - jumbling to you non-twisty puzzlers or novices is the ability to take a piece out of its' orbit by partially turning an edge and combining it with another edge turn (all edge turners have jumbling as part of their abilities).

Back right is a face turn
Front left is a trio of moves ending a jumbled puzzle. 

After an initial fiddle about I just went for it! I usually spend time working out techniques and maybe a few algorithms but this time I figured I had enough background to these puzzles:

Fully scrambled, it looks quite fearsome!
So how would you approach such a puzzle? For me, the obvious thing to do was to return it to a cube shape and then solve the base 2x2 first which effectively reduces the puzzle to a plain 4 Leaf Clover/Curvy Copter Cube which should be solvable in the standard fashion (unless there were any Parities introduced).

Returning the Curvy Copter to cube shape can be a horrific experience as it gets very blocked but in this particular puzzle the 2x2 moves are unimpeded and using these it is a simple matter to move the edges into the right positions so that the jumbled pieces sticking out can be made flat again. Next step for me was to reduce the multicoloured edges - in the picture above there is a blue/white edge combined with a red/yellow edge at the front. Pairing up the edges is initially pretty easy and done purely with intuition. Having done one face of edges, I moved to the next layer up and this simple too - getting confident now! The next layer up the sides also wasn't too bad with only a little bit of fiddling about. The final face of edges...now that was quite a challenge! The first solve I went through, it just happened to work out that they were all just in place or on opposite faces of where they needed to be and I was lulled into a false sense of security. My second and all subsequent attempts at this puzzle have been a humungous challenge with edges in all sorts of places. It requires all sorts of moving 2x2 cubes about and rotating cubies and edges to finally get them back to either in place or opposite to where they should be. I have done this 7 or 8 times now and I can always do it but it is always a huge challenge which requires quite a bit of planning and moving pieces around.

Who would have thought that the toughest part of this puzzle would have been the 2x2 cube part? It is a brilliant challenge which I have yet to find a definitive sequence for. Maybe a better puzzler than me can manage it more quickly?

Having reduced the puzzle back to cube-shape and then recreated all the edges, the Curvy Copter solve process is exactly the same as normal. You have the choice whether to solve the hidden internal corners last or whether to solve them as you go like the usual CC puzzle - each choice has its own special challenges.

This is an absolutely brilliant puzzle and I can heartily recommend it to all twisty puzzlers who want to go beyond the basic cubes. It should probably be step 4 in your journey - I would recommend learning the basic cubes, then the shape mods and then the alternative turning puzzles before jumping on these. The progression is wonderful.

I think I will need to think about obtaining the Curvy Copter 3x3 to add another combo twisty to my collection.

Coming sometime in the future will be a review of a terribly fearsome puzzle - the Skewby Copter Plus:

Holy shit!
Curvy Copter edge turn AND a Skewb turn 
This beast is a fearsome thing - it is a Curvy Copter PLUS (described in this article) which can swap out the centres and the corners as part of the jumbling process combined with a Skewb (deep cut corner turner). So far I have been too frightened to do any more than turn this thing!

If you are a puzzler who is hesitating over getting into twisty puzzles then don't! Do it! The learning process is quite steep at first but there is plenty of help out there and then once you have developed an arsenal of basic techniques then you are off and running. These puzzles are hugely challenging, have high repeatability and are pretty reasonably priced until you branch out into the hand made mods. Try it, you will probably like it...a LOT!



Sunday, 2 June 2019

Thinking Outside the Box? Not Always That Helpful!

Or Laszlo Does It Again!
A TIC, a Packing Puzzle and a Dexterity Puzzle All in One!

Rollercoaster by Laszlo Kmolnar
Very nicely made by Brian Young
My friend Laszlo Kmolnar is one of the best puzzle designers around today. This blog is littered with posts gushing about his wonderful puzzles and he has made my top ten of the year with a few of his wonderful designs and I suspect that this one will make it to that exalted list at the end of 2019. Let me say up front that this is AN ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL PURCHASE! Before you read on, you MUST go and buy a copy from Brian and Sue Young's MrPuzzle site - it is available in 4 different kinds of wood:

  • Blush Alder - This is a hardwood with a pinkish brown colour. It weighs lighter than the heaviest wood like Jarrah. 
  • Saffron Heart - This wood grows in Australia and Papua New Guinea. The wood has a distinct yellow tinge to it.
  • Jarrah - A dense and heavy wood grown mostly in Western Australia this wood varies from light to much darker red in colour.
  • Black Wattle - A lovely brown wood that mostly has darker streaks in it.

I think that mine is Jarrah and there is the 67 x 67 x 67mm perspex box. I bought my copy from Wil Strijbos when he was visiting the UK for a Midlands Puzzle Party and he may have a few copies left if you are ordering something from him anyway. When bought from Brian it apparently comes with the solution - mine from Wil did not! I try never to look at a solution and if you do buy from Brian then throw the leaflet away! DO NOT be tempted by it - you DON'T need it! This fabulous puzzle is only $19US as I write and so an absolute bargain.

As you can see it consists of just 3 oddly shaped pieces of wood which must be placed completely within the 3x3x3 box with no piece protruding out. The box is rigid, does not dismantle and has a single 1x1x1 hole in a corner to allow the pieces to be placed inside. Don't dismiss this simply because the box is perspex - it has been beautifully made too and actually looks lovely in itself.

Very clear - box and instructions
On the MrPuzzle site, it also says to solve without putting your fingers inside! OMG!
A simple puzzle I can hear you claim? Only put 3 pieces in a regular box? That must be pretty easy! Hell! No! This little bastard kept me busy for 6 months! There is a lot more to the solving of this puzzle than you might think which is why I am so overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Brian Menold made a copy last year with a wooden box that I think must have been almost impossible to solve - the inability to see through the walls of the box will have made this immeasurably harder. This puzzle was an entry in the IPP design competition last year (2018) where it missed out on a prize (I suspect this will have been because of the sheer number of amazing designs that were entered).

New to puzzling - look at that smile!
I have carried the puzzle with me everywhere for 6 months and only just solved it last week! Many many people have been consumed by it and all have failed. They don't let me loose in the Day surgery suite very often but every single time I go down there, I am immediately asked to hand it over and the nursing staff spend a whole day playing with it. I love watching the annoyed looks on the surgeons face as the pieces clunk about in and out of the box! It drives them mad hearing the nurses have some fun. I have given it to a few of my anaesthetic trainees to keep them occupied whilst I write my chart or prescribe the post-op medications. The premise of this is so simple that no-one can resist the temptation - even a new trainee who has never tried puzzling before.

In general, I am not a huge fan of packing puzzles because there seems to be too much random trial and error during the solution process. The Rollercoaster, on the other hand, will never be solved by random movement. It requires thought© and purposeful movement with a decent amount of dexterity to solve this - no chance that you will manage it by accident. Not only is it a packing puzzle, but it is also a dexterity puzzle as well as a wonderful Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) too. Yep! As if that weren't enough...it requires rotational moves too. Brian and Laszlo are going to force you to make rotational moves of pieces through a small hole and barely within reach. Yay! Bastards! 😂

The first of the Aha! moments occurs early on when you realise part of the order in which the pieces must be placed in the cube, then another Aha! moment arrives as you work out the specific orientation that the large piece requires when inserted. Having made what you feel is good headway with discoveries, then you hit a wall! I did! Many many times.

Time to "think© outside the box"? I thought so too - this is often helpful for these puzzles but remember that Laszlo has a history of making "out of the box" thoughts unhelpful! Obviously, a 3x3x3 cube has 27 voxels inside but this puzzle has pieces with only 15 voxels which means there will be lots of empty space inside when it is complete. This also means that there are dozens and dozens of ways that the pieces can be fitted into a 3x3x3 shape when you do not have the constraints of the walls and the single hole to work through. After a month or two of thinking outside the box and not really getting anywhere plus allowing everyone who wanted to try it a good while to play/fail, I went back to thinking inside the box...that didn't help much either!

Another difficulty with this is that the 2 small pieces look very similar and when you think© that you have an idea, by the time you have made a first move or two, you are completely confused about which piece should be where and oriented in which direction. I took to drawing weird little stick diagrams on pieces of paper that I would leave lying around. At this point, you have a real idea of what to do (or so you think) and then you find that the little buggers move around in the box completely of their own volition and nothing you can do will keep them where you want them! So, you cannot work out what to do, cannot keep track of which piece is which and then cannot control where they go whilst in the box.......Aaaargh!!! This is AWESOME!

Having described what sounds like a nightmare, you have to realise that all this contributes to something that needs yet more Aha! moments. The first 2 or 3 are not enough! I continued to get nowhere and increased my frustration very frequently when the pieces would spontaneously rotate whilst I was trying to manipulate them within the box and frequently I would find myself unable to advance any further and then couldn't pull the bloody pieces out again......Aaaargh!!! Again! I must have come close to a heart attack on several occasions.

Last week I attended a rather good Anaesthesia conference and, as I usually do, took a few toys to play with on the train and in my hotel room in an evening. I failed every time but on the train home where I met one of my orthopaedic surgical colleagues by coincidence, I threatened him with it and when he started to cry (I tortured him for a year when he was a trainee!), I let him off and played myself. Much to the bemusement of a young lad further up the train, I had my final Aha! moment during that journey and managed this:

Yes - it can be done - this picture is of no help to you whatsoever!
The elated feeling lasted for days! Interestingly, the challenge does not end there! Disassembling it is still tough as the pieces rotate and block you without you being aware of what has happened and then eventually when you do take it apart, it is still damn tough to redo the puzzle. After another 5 or 6 solves, I had got to the point where I have worked out the quickest and most efficient method of packing the pieces inside. Phew! The next challenge (which is incredibly tough is to do the whole thing without sticking your finger inside the box! It can be done but be prepared to lose a lot of hair in the process! Yet another challenge - is there no end to them?

When I told Derek (the genius) about my eventual solution, he was rather impressed - at that point, he told me that it was a really difficult puzzle that he had solved with the aid of Burrtools. I have to admit that with the rotations involved, it had never occurred to me to even try using that miraculous program.

This puzzle is simply awesome! It should definitely be in any serious puzzler's collection and everyone should take some real time to actually think© and come up with the solution. There are quite a lot of Aha! moments to find and the final feeling of success is amazing! Don't be tempted by Burrtools - just solve it...even if it takes 6 months!

It is still available from Brian and Sue and maybe Wil still has a few copies - go and buy it. You will see why it will be rather high up my top ten of this year.

I think I need a rest now! Maybe something easy like a twisty puzzle?



Sunday, 26 May 2019

Brass Monkey Number Three Is Great as Well as Painful!

From the Left - Brass Monkey One, Two and errrm Three!
It's easy to tell them apart from the etched marks on the ends
When Big Steve and his partner in puzzling crime, Ali (he of the stern finger warning!) offer me one of their namesake puzzles, the answer is "yes" and which account shall I PayPal to? A bunch of us got early access to them because we had bought the previous versions and anyone who has experienced the amazing quality of their work will jump at the chance of more. If you want to buy beautiful brass puzzles then go to their Etsy store (all 3 are now available) or you could buy from PuzzleMaster who have the first 2 so far (I am sure they will get the new one soon) and their amazing Hokey Cokey lock too. Go to the store right away and, as Allard said, "Get one - you will like it".

My usual adage of "wood is good" extends to brass and aluminium and steel and wire and string and plastic... Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear! There have actually been several Whack! Ouch!s yesterday when she caught sight of our credit card bill showing purchases from Eric, BrianShiro san and Calvin - I hate to admit it but this time I think I deserve it! I am out of control...yet again.

I left my lovely readers last time showing off the newly acquired Brass Monkey Three complete with an essential tongue depressor for which Mrs S gave me yet another dark broodingly violent look which told me that, if tongue depressors begin to multiply in the house, then I will find myself separated from various essential parts of my body. I think she plans to stuff those body parts, after chopping them into small pieces, into various cavities and openings in Big Steve! Remember, Steve, that she is Scottish, violent and has some serious training in the dark arts of hurting people. If you all think I married a professional dominatrix then think again, she has had nurse training in Scotland! Hmmm! Now, where would I find a dominatrix? Whack! Ouch! Heeheehee! Oops! 

After the puzzle had been unwrapped and the warning about tongue depressors issued, she caught sight of the large, heavy chunk of brass and realised that this was a risk to her (our... Whack! Ouch!... her) kitchen tiles and work surface. I was thrown out of the kitchen and started to play in the living room. I tried the trick that had worked for BM one and, of course, that failed. They would never repeat a trick, would they?

Now, there really isn't an awful lot you can do with these things but I thought I tried everything and got nowhere. It was time to cook and I left it being warmed by a sleeping cat and went back to it later. The second attempt at solving it, later that night, left me with a very sore finger! I did find something interesting and did it repeatedly until nothing happened. Lots and lots of fiddling with a large chunk of metal tends to leave your fingers in some pain and I broke a nail! The rest of the evening went without any progress and I returned the following day for more suffering. Mrs S again told me in no uncertain terms (Whack! Ouch!) not to bring it into the kitchen and I skulked away. Again, on my chair in the living room, I tortured my fingers and something new happened - I actually made it happen on purpose... I had actually had a thought© which is most unusual for a "bear of very little brain" like me.

Having made the new thing happen, I got stuck! Nothing else would happen and, to my horror, I couldn't unmake the new thing either! In a panic, I hurt my finger again trying to undo it. Damn! I am really not terribly bright! The rest of that evening was spent looking for something else and finally admitting that my first idea must have been worthwhile. Nursing my sore finger, I tried again a few more times and AHA! I had a pile of brass logs and a very upset cat who did not enjoy the sudden weight on his feet and back.

Of course, I will not be showing you the mechanism - go buy your own to find out.
Now that was very clever. In fact, there is even a further disassembly step possible which I did just to see how the puzzle had been constructed. The tolerances on these are amazing - just as good as Brass Monkey Two. The puzzle is a 6 piece cylindrical burr as well as a secret opening puzzle and, of course, I had dropped all the pieces without paying any attention to how they had been assembled. This meant that for little old me, who is rubbish at assembly, I had a rather prolonged (but fun) time trying to put the damn thing back together! It is not helped by the fact that the cylindrical nature of the pieces makes them rather slippery as they rotate on each other whilst you try to slide the pieces together. Poor Zachary had several thumps as it collapsed in a heap a few times. After another 20 minutes of swearing under my breath at Big Steve, I finally got it back together.

This is a wonderful challenge - just the right difficulty level. Even doing it a second and third time is not easy - the dexterity and arrangement is one that I struggle with every time.

Allard was right! Damn, I hate saying that! Go get one!



Sunday, 19 May 2019

Cast UFO - Level 4? Maybe not! And Some Monkeying About.

Hanayama Cast UFO
Something has definitely changed with Hanayama recently. Their puzzles seem to have become MUCH more difficult than ever before and I am not really sure that you can trust the difficulty level on the box. I struggled with the Cast Trinity for months and months before finally solving it and a part of that eventual solution may well have been luck (I do still thank that one is a really good puzzle) and the Cast Hourglass has confounded me for several months so far and is currently locked in an almighty mess which I cannot get out of.

The Cast UFO was released in Japan a month or so ago and it has just reached Europe and North America in the last week or so ago; it is also available from my friend Tomas at Sloyd if you live in Europe. I had placed my order with Nic Picot's Hanayamapuzzles store based in the UK a good few months ago and it arrived at the Sadler loony bin on Wednesday this last week along with another rather special puzzle from Big Steve. I started playing at first with the Brass Monkey but after an hour or so it had hurt me quite a bit and I was forced to put it down and play with something less painful.

Cast UFO
Lord! These things are hard to photograph! The Cast UFO is labelled as a level 4 out of the Hanayama 6 point scale (and PuzzleMaster call it a Level 8 (Demanding) on their rather odd scale of 5-10. This one should be a nice pleasant challenge without hurting my head too much. It was designed by the amazing Finish designer Vesa Timonen who has shown himself over the years to be rather prolific.

Made from their usual cast metal, this is a lovely thing measuring 4.8 x 4.8 x 2.7 cm and looks exactly like what the Sci-Fi movies of the 50s thought a UFO would look like. There is an inner ball made from 4 equal quarters which can rotate around inside and about each other - they are slippery little buggers which makes this one really quite infuriating to play with - every time you think you might be getting close to a conformation you want, the little buggers slide out of the way. The outer part of the puzzle (saucer) is made from 2 pieces which have been painted/anodised a shiny black colour. With the coolness of a metal puzzle to the touch, it really is a nice worry bead...as long as you don't try to solve it!

It looks pretty straight-forward what the approach should be - line up the quarters with the split in the outer saucer and slide it apart. Hahahaha! You don't really think that our clever Vesa would design anything that simple do you? Slightly ashamed of myself, I have to admit that I really did think that and I spent 2 days moving the inner pieces about into different positions to try it. On several occasions, I achieved a tantalising sliding of the saucer halves and I frantically tried to manipulate pieces to allow the slide to continue. Of course, it didn't work and for a couple of minutes, I even locked it up and spent a rather panicky time frantically trying to push it back together! Eventually (after a shameful 2 days) I conceded defeat with that approach and had to do some serious thinking© - Allard would have been proud of me! The important thing to do first with this one (and you could argue that it should be done with them all) is to really LOOK at the puzzle. What do you notice that is odd/interesting? Try to look inside as well for another clue.

I had an epiphany/thought which pointed at a new approach and I fiddled around with it for another couple of days. This is one tricky little sucker. Every time you think you might be achieving something the little internal pieces swivel around and nothing is in the right position anymore. There's nothing to grip hold of and I was reduced to wildly shaking it about which never seems to work.

Whilst watching TV, I wasn't really trying very hard and just managed to achieve something new. I tried to go further by grabbing at a piece and returned it to the beginning...Damn! But now I knew what was needed and another 20 minutes later it was dismantled:

Removed the ball from the UFO
4 sphere quarters and 2 saucer halves
There are quite a few really fiddly parts to the disassembly so this would qualify as a dexterity puzzle as well as a disassembly puzzle. Having taken it apart, the cleverness of the design can be examined and then put it back together. Again, that can be quite a feat of dexterity but eventually, everything is in exactly the right place and, clink, it is a UFO again.

I would estimate that this should be reassigned to at least a level 5 and more likely level 6. It really is quite a difficult puzzle to work out what is required and also to manipulate properly - even knowing what is required, I still find it quite tough to dismantle.

All in all, this is a fairly enjoyable puzzle and well worth a place in your collection (if you are a serious collector then it is essential). If you are new to puzzling or Hanayamas then it will be too difficult - I suggest that you buy a collection from PuzzleMaster and work your way through them from easier to harder.



Big Steve and Ali Do it Again

I mentioned earlier on that I had received a puzzle from Steve which hurt me. The pair of Brass Monkeys have produced the third in the series of their brass burr puzzles, suitably called Brass Monkey 3. Those of us who had bought from them previously were allowed the opportunity to buy early and, of course, I jumped at the chance. The new version should be coming up on their Etsy store very soon and will also be up for sale in PuzzleMaster if you are located over there.

There appears to be something extra
Steve said there would be something extra especially for me in the package. I was rather excited that I might be getting something as a bonus but when the inner box was lifted out of the postal packaging, there was a small clue what had been included - Damn, I was going to have to find a way to give it back to him...maybe at the next MPP?

Oh no! I won't be able to return this one!
Mrs S was very unimpressed at the arrival of part of Steve's tongue depressor collection. Unfortunately, this one had been personalised and therefore I was going to have to keep it - if Steve makes a habit of this, however, I will have to find somewhere to put it...maybe where "the sun don't shine" and he won't be able to see it? I have a certain set of skills that come with my medical training even if I went into anaesthesia to avoid that end of the patient!

Plastic caps removed - Mrs S is very worried that I will damage the granite.
2 engraved circles plus a central hole means it's number 3 - obvious isn't it?
Allard has solved his copy and has raved about it here - he says that you should definitely get one - in fact, he wrote that many many times so it must be true! So far I have found one thing of interest and hurt myself on it! Hopefully, I will find the solution without further damage to me or any damage to the kitchen. I'll let you know.

In the meantime, you should definitely buy this series of puzzles.



Sunday, 12 May 2019

Osanori's Packing - Heaven and Hell

Pack 012 - heaven
Quite a long time ago Tom Lensch was kind enough to let me know that he was going to be making another beautiful copy of the Hoffman Packing Puzzle in gorgeous woods and, being a collector who loves his wood, I jumped at the chance. When the notice that he had completed them came through and the request for a little (quite a bit) of PayPal arrived, he also said that he was about to begin making a few copies of the latest packing delight from Osanori Yamamoto that had been showed off on Facebook recently. This new one was called Pack 012 which I initially struggled to understand why it had been so named. I had wondered whether it was because of the number of cubies/voxels in the shapes but was baffled when I counted 13. Now looking at the photo above I can see that the 3 pieces are effectively shaped like an O, a 1, and a 2 - Doh!

Pack 3
Tom had made the frame from Maple with the lid and base available either as American Walnut or as more Maple - I am a sucker for contrasting woods and you can see what choice I made. I think that the pieces to be packed were made of Padauk. The craftsmanship is stunning - the angles are beautiful and the joints perfectly smooth - I adore this sort of quality. This puzzle is surprisingly reminiscent of another recent puzzle from Eric Fuller that I had reviewed, the Pack 3. This puzzle also was very beautiful and surprisingly difficult (with one false solution).

I set to playing with this straight away - the aim, obviously, is to pack the 3 pieces inside the box. It looks very simple but the diagonal hole in the corner of the box, through which the pieces must be inserted, is surprisingly restricting. I am always very suspicious of puzzles by Osanori because a large number of them require rotational solutions and I automatically start exploring and looking for any sneaky little trick that may be possible. Tom's sturdy box and accurate pieces showed no sign at all of having any room to rotate at all in anything other than the z-axis i.e. the pieces could be twisted in the box but not made to stand up or lie down once they were inside. Maybe this was not a sneaky puzzle? After about a ½ hour of play, I had found a way to pack all three pieces inside.

They are inside but this is curiously unsatisfying
After my initial frisson of pleasure, I became aware of a curious dissatisfaction. Whilst all 3 pieces have been packed, the conformation is just not elegant. One thing to realise about Osanori's puzzles is that the solutions are almost always pleasing to the eye and leave a feeling of satisfaction at their elegance. This same thing had occurred to me with the Pack 3 puzzle and after discussing it with my genius friend, Derek, I was left knowing that my solution was not the required one. Back to the drawing board.

The following day, I returned to it and, again, convinced myself that rotations were not part of it. I proceeded to try various assemblies outside of the box. Luckily with just 3 fairly simple pieces, it is relatively straight-forward to make an assembly and then work backwards through a disassembly. Derek had assured me that this one should not really tax me much and, having put aside my disbelief, I worked on it for another ½ hour. AHA! He was right - this is perfect! It is simpler than Pack 3 which seriously challenged quite a lot of puzzlers. It is probably quite on a par with the Pin Block Case - about an hour of pleasant fiddling for most puzzlers. I don't think that the picture of the solved puzzle gives too much away but I have hidden it behind a button. Only push the button if you want to see the completed packing.



The Pack 012 was the packing puzzle "Heaven" - what, therefore, is the packing puzzle "Hell"? This, my dear reader, is the Galette packing puzzle, also designed by Osanori Yamamoto.

Galette - hell
I had first come across the Galette puzzle as an entry in the IPP design competition in Paris in at which it was one of the top ten vote-getters. I had spent quite a lot of time on it in the competition room in Paris and had singularly failed to find a solution. I was delighted when Tom had offered it for sale after the IPP was completed and my copy arrived in October last year.

It looks like a simple packing puzzle with 5 tetromino pieces to be inserted into the covered rectangular space inside the frame. Again, rotations are possible (even required) around the z-axis but there is no way to stand a piece up on its edge. This is explained by the name - Galette is French for Wafer. The extra little twist to make this really tough is that the entry to the packing space is only through a 3x2 unit space in the lid or through a 1 voxel space in the lower edge. The extra interesting feature is that the bottom edge entry is part of the packing space - there are 21 voxels available and 20 voxels in the pieces - where is the gap supposed to be?

I went to play as soon as this arrived last year and after a week got quite demoralised. I put it away for a month and then tried again - nope! This went on for several months - I just could not find a solution! I became convinced that there must be 100s of possible assemblies to sift through and trial and error was required. After about 4 months I made a Burrtools file to count the assemblies - the required rotational moves told me that BT could not solve it for me, but at least I could find out how many hundreds of possible assemblies there might be.

BT worked on the challenge for exactly........1 second (on my 13-year-old computer) and told me that the space could hold the enormous number of 11 assemblies! Damn! I am really not very good at puzzling! I have picked it up again for a week or so every month and had a play - one of my issues with many packing puzzles is that I feel that there is too much random trial and error and not enough deduction in the solution challenge. Here, there is the challenge of finding the assembly and then working out how to put it in the box through the 2 small openings. I ended up taking notes on the shapes that I had tried and ruled out before suddenly finding something critical in February. I had my rather lucky Aha! moment and was left wondering why it had taken me so long. For me, this has been packing puzzle hell!

At last!
I really do not know how I did it and actually doubt whether I could solve it again! I am left wondering why it did so well in the design competition? For me, the amount of trial and error was too great. I love the craftsmanship but am not in love with the challenge.

As for trial and error, my initial approach to the gorgeous Hoffman packing puzzle has been one of frustration.

Hoffman packing puzzle - OMG - hell on earth!
The aim here is:
Fit twenty-seven blocks, measuring A x B x C into a cubic box with sides of A + B + C.
A, B, and C must be different and the smallest dimension must be larger than (A+B+C)/4
There must be a mathematical way to work out the best approach to this but if there are then it is way way beyond my skills! I guess this might take me several months or years too - gulp!

Hopefully, I might obtain a puzzle that I can actually solve soon!




Sunday, 5 May 2019

Quite Simple...So It Took Me Six Months!

Two Face 3
This Man-bonic plague has continued for almost another whole week and only now is beginning to improve! I can now tell you that it is worse than She-bola as "her" suffering ended much quicker than mine and did not involve large postural drops in blood pressure which made me think I was going to die whilst I was forced to work in the garden! It is probably not a good idea to go wobbly with a length-extended hedge trimmer 2m above your head as you stand up!

Today I am going to give a much overdue review of a stunning puzzle designed by Alfons Eyckmans and produced back in October by Eric Fuller (for some reason this does not appear in his very fascinating Discontinued work archive). The Two Face 3 puzzle is a tour-de-force by both designer and craftsman as it consists of a frame within another frame and 6 burr sticks crossing them both to form a challenging puzzle with a level of 20.2.2.2.1.3 to disassemble. It was reviewed very nicely by Mike on his new blog (you really should keep an eye on his posts) and I have been meaning to write something about it since I received my copy. The problem? Not illness! This delay has been primarily because I could not solve the bloody thing!

First of all, let's discuss the joinery...the outer frame is Maple (I think) and beautifully slip-feathered for strength and then all the inner parts are Padauk. The inner frame is so perfect that it actually looks like it has been milled from a single piece of wood. The joints are completely invisible which is quite a feat. All 6 burrsticks are up to Eric's usual impeccable standard.

When first played with several of the sticks can slide and after moving a few, the inner frame can slide up and down too. There are a whole lot of possibilities and I suspected that finding the pathway to the solution was going to be a huge challenge due to multiple blind alleys. This made me shy away from it for a week or so but I left it on my pile of "currently playing" puzzles next to my chair in the living room so that I could pick it up again as the fancy took me (much to Mrs S' disgust - she thinks that pile is far too big). After a while, I thought to myself that Eric NEVER chooses to make a puzzle that is impossibly tough or full of dozens of blind ends. One thing to remember about Mr Fuller...he likes to have fun (sometimes I am sooo envious of him!) he produces puzzles that he himself wants to play with and so my initial worries about an impossibly tough burr were unfounded.

I picked it up, again, and again, and again, and again! Over several weeks I had found a very nice pathway of about 14 moves and during that discovery, it is possible to see a lot of the interior shapes of the inner frame and more mobile burr sticks. At the point where I had reached, I could see what was required...I KNEW what needed to happen next and where it should be. BUT... I could not make it happen. After a few months of trying several evenings a week, I abandoned my idea and decided that I had been wrong all along and should go back to other pathways! Eventually, I found some new moves and managed to get some more burrsticks moved and stopped. Backtracking proved a problem for a couple of days and a minor panic occurred when I thought I was going to be stuck with 2 sticks poking out! Finally, after 3 or 4 nights I got it back to the beginning again and started afresh. Still the same issue... I could see what was required but I just couldn't make it happen.

Suddenly last week, whilst feeling sorry for myself and trying to avoid the laser burning stare for coughing and "snortering" whilst watching TV, I made a new move which I should have found before - it was just a single move from a position I had found before and I had no idea why I had not discovered it before. All of a sudden, the opening I had been trying to achieve just stared at me and I could pull a burr stick out and then dismantle the rest easily. The inner frame slid out with just a nice little friction showing how perfectly made it all was - I was finally able to marvel at the workmanship and design.

Just look at the tremendous workmanship!
It only took me 6 months for a level 20!
As for putting it back together? I had not paid any attention to how the pieces were oriented or where they came from so Burrtools came to my rescue! Subsequently, I was able to dismantle it and then reassemble it all from memory and deduction - it is a brilliant design and should NOT have taken me so long! My only excuse is that I am not terribly bright!

Obviously, after such a long time, this puzzle is no longer available. It is certainly one to consider bidding for if it ever comes up at auction - it is terrific in both design and construction. Trust Alfons to design something fabulous and fun and trust Eric to choose the best challenge and make it perfectly! Thank you, my friends!


Sunday, 28 April 2019

I Grille(d) This Cube...

And Found It Wanting!
Grilles II cube - looks horrific
2 types of turns
Over a year ago, the Grilles II cube was released by MF8 (I have no idea what happened to the Grilles I cube) and I bought it without even a thought! It looked hugely complex, was much more interesting than a standard Rubik type puzzle and I knew that with its' unusual turning it would be a fascinating challenge...And then I turned it a bit! GULP!

4x4 curvy dino
This stunning puzzle is effectively a 3x3 Rubik cube i.e. face turning combined with a variant of a version of a 4x4 corner turning cube, the 4x4 curvy Dino cube which I enjoyed enormously, having reviewed it not long ago here. The 4x4 Curvy dino was a great fun puzzle and pleasant to play with - it had a nice challenge to it but was not impossibly difficult and was even soothing. Any puzzler interested in Twisties should have bought it and would be able to solve it without too much difficulty. The addition of face turning moves to the challenge looked like it would add some extra work but hopefully not too impossible for a neophyte like me. I turned it a few times to see how the pieces might interact and then threw caution to the wind and scrambled the bugger! Oh boy - that produced something quite horrific!

Houston! We might have a problem!
The scrambling process is quite a long one and takes a bit of an effort to work to separate as many adjacent colours as possible. It really does get very scrambled but straight away you come across a problem with this puzzle - the pieces catch on each other very easily - especially the face turns. Initially, I thought that it was occurring because I had not properly aligned the corner turns before carrying out the face turns - it is quite possible to keep the corners aligned because the whole puzzle is very "squishy". I started working on it over a table so that I could flatten it out properly before carrying out a face turn but at this point, it became clear that the problem was not just because of malalignment. Something inside would catch the face turns almost every single time.

It was not long before the air around me went blue:

That's a whole lotta pieces!
I had an explosion over a very deeply sleeping cat who was not at all impressed at 20 or 30 bits of plastic raining down on him! A small pop very rapidly ends up as a very major explosion. Then, having been scrambled, it is not just a matter of stuffing the pieces back in any old place - that is a way to end up with an impossibly assembled puzzle - a full disassembly is required. On several occasions, I actually lost one or two of the pieces in the crevices of my chair and thought I had a defunct puzzle.

I could not find any plastic flashing as the cause of the catching and explosion - rather I think that the corner pieces (which are assembled from 3 separate pieces) are not tightly held together and so anything which puts any stress on one side or other can make them fly apart and then the forces holding the rest of the pieces have been removed...BANG! The reassembly is not a trivial event either! This puzzle is extremely unstable until more or less the last piece has been inserted. If you attempt this then you WILL require tape - I find that light surgical tape is perfect.

Build it up section by section and tape them in place
Having successfully assembled the puzzle, it was time to scramble again...BANG! Oh Lord! Not again! A second reassembly and I put it aside for a few months to calm my nerves!

It remained stored as a potential puzzle to try for many months and I picked it up again a few months ago and scrambled it. As with a lot of puzzles which appear to be a more complex version of something already in existence, my aim would be to reduce it to one of the base puzzles - in this case, I would attempt to reduce it to a 3x3 which I could then solve as a standard Rubik cube.

As with most corner turning puzzles that are not really deep cut (like the Skewb), movement of the pieces around the edges is fairly trivial and usually can be done with the ever-helpful up, up, down, down combination. I started pairing up the larger parts of the edges - that would be pieces like the red and blue piece at the bottom of the picture above. This was very similar to solving a standard 4x4 - make the edges and then store them out of the way - easy until you have just 2 or 3 left but definitely a fun challenge. At this point I found I had a surprise:

All double edges are paired up and placed
BUT the red-yellow and opposite orange-yellow pairs need to swap
I had 2 pairs of edges that needed to be swapped. Nothing I tried would work - time to THINK©...It took me a week to sort that one out! It was time to solve the centres of the edges - using my standard up, up, down, down moves with setups too and all was going well. Or so I thought...

All the edges are done but I had 2 swapped
Again, this stumped me for a week! THINK© again! This time I had to use the up, up, down, down rather creatively and several times. Not on the small edge pieces but to reverse the entire direction of an edge. It is a standard series of moves in the "Ultimate solution" and rather fun to have to use it here. Finally, just the outer edges to move about and BINGO!

The puzzle was solved after just 10-11 months! Most of the time it was sitting on a shelf or in my bag waiting to be solved but a fair bit of time was thinking©. Time to try again and Boom! I had pieces again. Laborious reassemble and after calming my nerves TRY AGAIN. Solved it! Yay! A third time and oooooh! What is this? Another unexpected event - a single corner turned:

Nice corner parity!
Luckily this was not terribly hard to fix - if you remember the Dreidel cube (ecstatically reviewed here) then a similar event can occur with that and the solution is the same - it's not tough - just needs more thought.

I usually try to solve a puzzle 8-10 times to prove to myself that I have mastered all nuances of it but this I probably only managed 5-6 solves of this - it just kept exploding on me! For this reason, I have to come to the conclusion that this is a very nice puzzling challenge but definitely NOT one I can recommend to most puzzlers. It is just too unstable and the reassembly is neither trivial nor fun. If you are a collector then go for it and just be very careful when you play with it - you will enjoy the challenge of the solve but if it catches in any way at all then just stop and backtrack and realign before trying the move again. I am pleased that I own this puzzle and have solved it but it is going back in storage and is unlikely to ever be scrambled again.

Part way through my solution of this one, I did think there was a remarkable similarity to a puzzle I bought from Chewie's Custom Stickers, the Corona cube:

Corona Cube
As you can see it is an edge turner and a corner turner - only one level of corner cut and the depth is different - it was fun to scramble this one and see how it compared:

Very similar cuts but not quite the same - how would the solve be?
The puzzle was FDM printed and took quite a bit of effort to move and hurt my hands a bit in the process but at least there was no popping.

A nice challenge
The Corona cube was easier to solve with fewer pieces but very stable. After a couple of solves, I put it away as my hands were killing me. I still have a few more twisties awaiting my attention but they scare me to death! Plus after the Grilles II cube, we are all exhausted!

Wow! Dad! I need to lie down after solving that one!


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