Sunday, 12 August 2018

Can Bolts be Wise?

Nope! But they can be very puzzling!

3 Wise Bolts from MrPuzzle
I have barely managed to do any puzzling for a week or two due to a combination of work and fatigue! For some reason I have been doing an awful lot of on-call recently (I really should have a damn serious chat with the rota organiser sometime...oh, that would be me! Doh!) On Tuesday night I managed to achieve a whole 2¼ hours of sleep which basically wiped me out for 2 days afterwards - I had to sleep most of one day and then was fairly zombified the following day which many would say is my normal state. I'm certainly getting too old for that. Then yesterday (Saturday) was another day on call and after a fairly exciting time of major blood loss and trauma, puzzling was not really on my mind. Luckily last weekend I had finally managed to solve one of the most challenging puzzles in a long time, the 3 Wise Bolts Sequential Discovery Puzzle from the Master of the sequential discovery, Brian Young.

Bottom view
The puzzling world is a little distracted just now as the International Puzzle Party is being held in San Diego as I write this - from the photos I have seen, they are all having a fantastic time. Now before some smart alec comments to me that this is NOT a puzzle I should have bought because it is a "box", let me just say up front that I do own some puzzles that have cavities if they have some other puzzling feature to them. Yes, it does say in Brian's description that the aim is to "discover the 2 round compartments inside the box" but I am sticking with the full name of the puzzle as it calls it what it is...a sequential discovery puzzle. This type is my absolute favourite from the puzzle classification and unlike many perviously made this is a VERY reasonable price of about $123. When you consider that Brian has had to manufacture a large number of brass as well as wooden components, this is a tremendous value for money.

The wood used for the top and bottom slices is Blackbutt and the slice of reddish wood in the middle is Rose Gum. It is a nice portable 123 x 38 x 30mm and having solved it, I intend to take it to work for a while to bamboozle my colleagues.

To find the compartments, you obviously need to remove all three of the brass bolts. Turning them reveals that the two outer bolts rotate freely and trying to grip the nuts sunk into the wood does not work - they are too tight to undo easily. The middle of the 3 bolts will not turn at all. Brian wrote in the instructions:
"Brian designed the puzzle with the view that the first two bolts to be removed should be tricky but not ridiculously difficult. He wanted to keep you interested in progressing through the puzzle. But that all changes when you get to the third bolt; the wisest one of them all!  Solving this final step should give you a really good Aha! moment. 
Just like the 3 wise monkeys, you’ll need all your senses and more to do this one. Hear, see, think about it, maybe hear again.... and once you’ve solved it speak no solution!"
I started one evening with a cat on my lap and the TV distracting me. Within a few seconds I was able to turn the middle bolt and then I couldn't again...and then I could! Very odd because sometimes the same movement would not let it turn at all! Rather than just carry on fiddling I kept moving on a step and back trying to work out why it was happening. I thought for a while that I had it sussed when I suddenly had a similar blockage occurring in a different position...hmmm!

A small mental image was forming which is lucky because I am a small bloke and many of my colleagues have said that I am "mental"! I certainly have a very small brain!

Having understood the first part, I moved on and suddenly the cat was very interested in the puzzle when a small "something" landed on his head - immediately after this there was a little fight and I removed the small "something" before the cat could eat it. Oooh! This will be useful. I started to try a few things using the newfound tool but it wasn't going to work. Back to the drawing board and I realised using one of my senses that there was something else inside. A little more fiddling and the cat and I had another wrestle. NOW I was able to do something new - AHA!

After this the first of the bolts was off - as Brian had intended, it was only a little thought and discovery. Will the same thing work on the second of the bolts? Not for me it wouldn't! Think© man! I'm not very good at the think thing but I thunk and thunk and thunk and suddenly I had a second bolt! Well, if that was supposed to be easy then Lord help me with number three!

I did have an idea of what I might do for the final bolt. I had a nice image of the inside of the puzzle in my head but there was a crucial feature missing from the head of the bolt. Some construction or further discovery was going to be necessary...and here I got stuck. I tried a lot of things but none of them was quite the right size or shape and the puzzle remained closed. I'm ashamed to say that I was failing to solve it despite having solved the 4 bolt bersion that was Brian's entry into the IPP design competition last year. I had seen the puzzle at an MPP a few months ago but had been scrupulous in not watching anyone do the final solve. I worked on this on and off for a week without success.

Finally, on Friday night, I had an epiphany and after a little grunting and trying to avoid a cat, I suddenly had everything I needed to undo the final bolt. Man! That is a very clever idea! I was finally able to take it apart and reveal the compartments:

All dismantled - no hints visible here, I'm afraid!

It would appear to be a sort of box too!
The next step is to put it all back to the beginning. Most of this is not terribly difficult if you remember the dismantling sequence. I would say that it does take a bit of thought to put all the internal pieces back into the correct positions so that the strange beginning sequence is still required. Lovely!

This is one fantastic sequential discovery puzzle and one of the very few ever to be sold with a reasonable price. Go buy it from Brian and Sue's store, you really will not be disappointed.

In the meantime, go and have a quick look at Shane's site - despite vowing he would never manufacture an IPP exchange puzzle again, he has had another mental lapse and made not one but two! Like me, he is a sucker for punishment! But unlike me...he is VERY bright!

Hopefully I will get some time to do some puzzling this week or there won't be a blog post for you!


Sunday, 5 August 2018

Some You Win, Some You Lose!

In Fact, I Seem To Lose Most Often!

Kumiki Airlines - something not quite right here???
I do hope you are grateful? This will be my only weekend off work for 3 weeks and I am sitting still here writing a blog post for you...even when it is an absolutely gorgeous day outside! Mrs S is talking on the phone to the Mother-outlaw and I am trying to keep out of the way so that she might forget the chores she said I had to do! Whack! Ouch! Ooops - I guess she hasn't forgotten. I have been so busy at work and at home recently that I have barely managed to work on any puzzles at all and surprisingly not received anything new for a few weeks! My last little splurge was described here.

Today's story is about a little success and a whole lot of failure - I began with the Kumiki Airlines puzzle which I finally bought after several years of longing from Brian and Sue Young's MrPuzzle store. I had originally seen this years ago when Allard showed it off at an MPP and wrote about it on his blog back in December 2013.

The Puzzle was Brian's (assisted by the greatly missed late John Moores) exchange puzzle at the 2013 IPP in Japan. It was designed by the incredible Junichi Yananose and of course, made by Brian himself. The description and part of the spiel from Brian is that:
"The plane is incorrectly assembled and can’t possibly fly like this. You need to take the puzzle apart and reassemble it to make it more aerodynamic. To do that on reassembly you’ll have to solve the level 13.4 multiple move burr."
The base of the puzzle with instructions.
Not very helpful!
“Kumi ki” is a Japanese word that means “to assemble wood” or “put together wood”. Whilst I own a LOT of interlocking and burr puzzles, I don't own any traditional Kumiki puzzles at all. The use of the word burr in the title and description sort of filled me with hope. It would appear that this puzzle is primarily an assembly puzzle which I am usually terrible at but recently I have been having some success with assembly and was full of confidence...maybe too much confidence? This puzzle is made from Queensland Silver Ash and is a pretty decent size:

Wingspan: 140mm
Length from nose to tail: 160mm
Height of tail wing: 60mm

Brian rates this puzzle as 8/10 difficulty.

The first thing that sprung to mind to me was that it didn't look like it would fly in the form that was sent out and the first thing that sprung to Mrs S' mind was that it was "cute". I can live with that! Of course, I had forgotten the description which included the word "burr"! I only remembered the Kumiki word and only thought of the simple little plastic Kumiki puzzles I had played with as a kid. I couldn't resist and set to as soon as my photos had been taken. There are a couple of possible moves at first including a possible rotation which I tried to avoid. Within about 2 minutes with only 3 or 4 experimental moves, the puzzle split in half lengthways and crash-landed on the kitchen work surface before shooting in pieces all over the place! Well, that bit was easy!

Quite a few interesting but very similar parts and some unexpected 1/4 size cuts revealed
Having achieved the rather simple separation of the pieces, I immediately tried to reset the puzzle back to the beginning and was a little surprised to realise that I could not do it easily! I had to go and sit down at a table and work on it! The thing fell apart in 2 minutes flat and it took me about 15 minutes to reset! At least I was able to put it back to the beginning...the full solve was just a different orientation of the pieces - it couldn't possibly be that hard...could it???

Stupid boy! Brian's rating was absolutely correct - this is a difficult puzzle, at least for me. Initially, I set to attempting the proper aerodynamic assembly in the same way as the false start and of course, that was wrong. Put this down to lack of experience of Kumiki puzzles and me not being terribly bright! You might ask, "is this just a huge matter of trial and error until you find the correct burr piece positions and then assembly method? And...the answer to that is a most definite NO! I dare say that you might be able to do this by pure trial and error but that would be horrifically boring and definitely not in the spirit that was intended by either Juno or Brian. This puzzle has enough to be seen in the pieces that the assembly can actually be worked out by logic. I know! I can hear you muttering now that the fool is no good at logic and doesn't stand a chance! Damn those voices! I probably should see someone about them.

The puzzle had to be put down so I could cook our Sunday dinner and I left it at the incorrect assembly to ensure that I didn't lose any pieces to the cats who have a tendency to pick small pieces up and run off with them. After dinner, whilst drinking a nice glass of Sauvignon in front of the TV with Mrs S, I set to once more. I started with simple trial and error before gradually, over a couple of hours, I began to notice certain features of various pieces which gave clues for the start or end position and possible movements. This puzzle has a whole series of lovely Aha! moments during the solution process before one is left with an aeroplane that, let's face it, still won't fly but looks more plane-like than it arrived:

All I can say with this is AHA!
I simply ADORE THIS PUZZLE! It really is a Kumiki assembly puzzle and only has a very limited likeness to a burr. If you are not a burr person then you would still LOVE this challenge. It is very solvable and most definitely NOT one for trial and error. There is a real pathway of discovery during the exploration and eventual success that gives enormous satisfaction - every single piece and cut in the wood has been placed deliberately and paying attention to them will lead you toward success. I am sure that if you were desperate then you could model it in Burrtools but the presence of fractional height cuts make this a bugger to model. Buy it! It's not terribly expensive and you'll have an airplane on your shelf once it's done! By the way...Allard loved it too!

Having been filled with success, I decided to go straight to my other burr from Brian - the Mega Six burr (Craftsman edition):

I think it might look like this for a VERY long time (maybe forever)
Piston burr
Despite being a burr-lover, I only have 2 standard 6 piece burrs in my collection - the Piston burr made by the amazing Jerry McFarland and the Computer's choice unique 10, also made by Jerry but designed by the incredible Bill Cutler. I also have a number of very special burrs that look like standard six piece burrs in my collection but in reality, have rather unusual and special solutions which are a lovely challenge and then I have 3 burr sets (you will see these in a photo at the end of my post) which provide many hundreds (or thousands) of burr assembly challenges. I am simply rubbish at burr assemblies. I thought a while ago that if I start at the simpler level 1 challenges and move up gradually then I would start to get better...I was wrong, I am still rubbish! Quite a few years ago Nigel had told me in words of one syllable that the Mega six puzzle is fantastic and that I MUST get it. I used my recent splurge as an excuse to get a hold of a copy. If you aren't bothered about the gorgeous wood then Brian also has a version in a standard wood for less moolah. I, of course, bought the version made from Queensland Blackbean because I'm a sucker for gorgeous wood!

It arrives in a ziplock bag in pieces - make a straightforward 6 piece burr - simples! Yeah! right! Sob! Here's what Brian wrote about it:
"This puzzle really does show a case of 'don't judge a book by it's cover'. It may look like other six piece burrs on the outside but it is DEFINITELY not. The puzzle is incredibly more complicated than the commonly known six piece puzzle. 
Bill Cutler first used a computer program to analyse six piece burrs in 1974 but it took until 1990 to analyse all possible six piece burr combinations. Mega Six is the result of that search for the maximum number of moves for a six piece burr with a unique solution. This does not mean it has a unique assembly, due to the number of internal voids. In theory the pieces should fit together in 20 different ways however, the reality is that you can physically only put the puzzle together in one of the 20 assemblies. 
Mr Puzzle’s version, designed with Bill’s help, has one extra cube removed to increase the number of false assemblies.... As if the original Computer’s Choice Unique-10 was not difficult enough! 
Not only OUR hardest six piece burr but THE hardest six piece burr!"
OMG! Let's just say that I have been working on this on and off ever since I finished the Kumiki Airlines and have so far made no headway at all! I'll keep at it but may get sidetracked by other toys along the way! This one I have definitely not won - I won't say lost yet but it might be years! Thanks, Nigel!



I also lost a fight! "She who threatens unspeakable injury upon my person" got very very fed up with the state of my desk in my study! I did say that she never has to go in there herself but that only gained me a Whack! Ouch! and a Laser burning stare - yeeeouch! I took a photo of the desk - what do you think?

It's not that bad, is it?
Whilst I had some annual leave 2 weeks ago she frogmarched me upstairs and pointed out my almost empty new cabinets and said that if I didn't make use of them within a day or so then she would put her own stuff in them! I was galvanised into immediate action and decided that the new display cabinets would house some of my most gorgeous and precious puzzles. I haven't really organised everything by craftsman or by type, although my main study is sort of grouped by craftsman as well as by material. The new cabinets look like this:

My precioussss - Can you work out what they are or who made them?

It's only the beginning but I would appear to have plenty of space for new toys! The desk and the rest of the study looks great and I have even managed to take a load out of the dining room and living room. I now have an almost placated Mrs S...       FLINCH!

Here are the changed parts of the study:

The desk is clear and there are spaces for new ones
A nice gap in my Pelikan collection
Even some space above the iMac!
I'd better not tell Mrs S that a puzzle is due to be posted from Azerbaijan tomorrow! Whack! Ouch!

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Getting my Goat!

aka Kozel Zahradníkem

Kozel Zahradníkem. Part of puzzling’s deep roots in the Czech Republic.
Yet again I can say a very grateful "Thank you" to my good friend and PuzzleMad foreign correspondent, Mike Desilets, for stepping into the breach and helping me out with a truly fabulous and informative article for us. I have been really really busy recently and rather stressed as I have spent the last 3 days gathering together my appraisal information and writing it up. This has left me no time or will to write a decent blog post but luckily my hero Mike had sent me this a week or so ago. Over to you Mike...

Aloha Kākou puzzlers,

I’ve been a busy boy these past two weeks - two PuzzleMad guest submittals without a three-month gap! (Ed - yay!!!) That has to be some kind of personal record. This article was actually in the work and almost complete when it was preempted by the lovely No. 360. We return now to the vintage world but with an international flavour (Ed - aaaargh - American spelling removed!) this time. Unfortunately, there were some severe language issues researching this puzzle, so I wasn’t able to find out as much as I’d like. Be prepared for unfounded assumptions and rampant speculation (Ed - oooh my favourite!). Czech readers in particular, please feel free to correct anything and everything in this post.

Today’s feature puzzle is Kozel Zahradníkem, or in English, Goat Gardner. It’s a little-known puzzle from late 20th century, probably the 1960s or 70s, or even the early 80s perhaps. It’s hard to tell with second-wave plastic puzzles. You might deduce from the name that it is Czech, and you’d be right. Although this puzzle was clearly mass-produced, my cursory internet search indicates that it never reached a broader market outside what was then Czechoslovakia. Perhaps you can guess why, given the dates involved.

Before we get into the mechanics of Kozel Zahradníkem, let’s take a moment to acknowledge antecedents. Serious puzzlers will immediately recognize the goat theme and the overall structure of the puzzle from the early nineteenth century Get my Goat. Get my Goat is a true classic among sliders (yes, I know I say that a lot). It was patented [link PDF] in the US by John I Wiley way back on October 6, 1914. Other-themed versions were produced in accordance with the spirit of the times, such as “Katch the Kaiser” (under Wiley’s patent) and “Kapture the Kronz Prinz” (in the UK with patent applied for). Examples of these can be seen at Jim Storer’s excellent and very helpful site. The same basic puzzle was again pressed into service during World War II as “Put Hitler in the Dog House.” I’m not sure if this counts as war profiteering or patriotism. Probably a measure of both, as is often the case. Although the later versions are historically interesting, the inventor’s original concept was the charming and playful Get my Goat, so let’s stick with that.

The one that started it all.

Back-of-cover instructions, for the record. 
It is also available today in nice wooden versions:

A nice reproduction by Creative Crafthouse. Comes with handy cover.

Detail of original Get my Goat cover art. The goat has the high ground, as usual.
The object of the Get my Goat puzzle is very simple... Move the goat piece on the far right into the centre and surround it with the ‘fences.’ Once you’ve done that, you’ve gotten the goat. The element that makes the puzzle challenging is the double-width rectangular block in the upper right. All the other pieces are square. This seemingly minor feature nearly doubles the number of moves needed and it also forces you to utilize pretty much the whole board. With only square blocks, it would be more or less a 15 puzzle, strategy-wise. What makes Get my Goat a brilliant design is the single surreptitious complexifying modification, the rectangular block. (Ed - now THAT is a great sentence!)

I confess, Get my Goat gave me trouble (Ed - me too - I have the wooden version). According to Wiley’s solution, there are 31 steps. Edward Hordern was able to cut that a little to 28. I’m sure I was double that by the time I captured the goat. You know how it is with these sliders, once things start to go awry, all bets are off. You can circle around for a long time just making things worse and worse. If you are persistent enough (or for some, smart enough), you eventually begin to clean up the board and feel your way to the solution. If you do the puzzle a few more times, you might start to see patterns and visualize at least some of the solution. That’s my experience at least.

Fortunately, you don’t need to comb auction sites to find Get my Goat. Dave Janelle at Creative Crafthouse has reproduced the puzzle in a very nice hardwood edition. Those guys have really good taste in puzzles. Their craftsmanship is solid and the pricing can’t be beaten. After you have finished ingesting the weekend puzzle blogs, you should go get yourself a copy. Its required in any collection.

Kozel Zahradníkem.

An image of the outer packaging, courtesy of www.hlavolamy-puzzles.cz.
My copy, unfortunately, came without it, courtesy of some dude on eBay.
Now that we have some context, let’s get back to Kozel Zahradníkem, Goat Gardner. This take on the classic does not utilize the upper left rectangular piece which is so critical to Get my Goat. Rather, it is composed of 11 equal-sized squares. The Czech puzzle is not the only variant to use this layout. Turning again to Jim’s page, we can see a number of similar puzzles such as Bullseye and ZOT!. The idea of splitting out that rectangular piece dates back at least to 1942 when it was illustrated in Anthony Filipiak’s Mathematical Puzzles and other Brain Twisters. Using this layout, the minimum solution path is 17 moves (according to Hordern’s analysis and the ZOT! packaging). I can personally attest that it’s a lot easier than Get my Goat! Hordern believes this simpler version may have originated as an erroneous attempt to copy Get my Goat. Sounds plausible. 

ZOT! from Peterson Games. Exclamation points make puzzles more fun.

ZOT! rules of play, although I’m sure the readership can figure it out.
Using all square blocks is indeed a very significant deviation from the original design. Does that mean Goat Gardner is just a watered-down Get my Goat (like ZOT!)? Absolutely not. With one relatively simple design innovation, Goat Gardner transforms the nigh trivial bullseye structure into a multi-challenge puzzle with progressively more difficult layout objectives. The key innovation is the inclusion of two dots on each of the four corner pieces. These are painted green, as you can see in the photos. Or they should be at least; the paint tends to flake off easily.

These curious little dots are meant to represent cabbages. As I gather from google translate, the running story and theme of the puzzle involves a struggle between farmer and goat to protect and eat the cabbages respectively. It’s a very clever twist on the original Get my Goat concept, pressing into service a classic Czech cultural reference. Kozel Zahradníkem, Goat Gardner, is a play on the proverbial Czech expression "udílat kozla zahradníkem", to make the goat the Gardner. This isn’t generally recommended! Goats garden according to their nature and are steadfastly focused on one aspect, the harvest. The expression can be used in many everyday situations, especially with respect to short-sighted management. Pavla Horakova provides a much better explanation, including a bunch of other great Czech goat proverbs. If you are still hungry for goat, I also suggest checking out the 176 goat proverbs from around the world at www.listofproverbs.com. It’s interesting and also pretty hilarious, especially if you’ve ever known a goat personally. (Ed - I think you need to get out more, Mike!)

Back to the puzzle. Thanks to the addition of the cabbages, Goat Gardner presents the puzzler with four distinct challenges, each performed sequentially. The starting position for the next challenge is the ending layout of the previous challenge. As you surely know, I really enjoy the sequential approach to multi-challenge puzzles. It’s more elegant and far less bothersome. (Ed - I like the idea of these but I am sooo awful at them that I tend to shy away!)

The first challenge is basically the bullseye-ZOT! challenge: get the goat into the centre and replace all fences. The literature gives a 24-move solution, but we now know that it can be done in 17. When solved, you will quickly see that this is not an ideal place for a goat (unless you are the goat). So the next challenge is to remedy the situation by moving the cabbages outside the fence. This means moving the upper right fence to the lower left and the upper left to the lower right (and vice-versa), then returning the goat to the centre. The literature gives a 40-move solution for this. I’ll take their word for it. 

Starting position.

Challenge 1: same as ZOT!

Challenge 2: cabbages safely outside.
The goat, now feeling utterly cheated, becomes angry and charges the fence. The fence starts to give, so the farmer decides to fence the goat more closely so that he cannot run. For the third challenge, then, you must reverse the upper-lower and left-right fences to make a small box around the goat. This should take you at least 33 moves.

Challenge 3: fenced in tightly.
The farmer eventually takes pity on the goat and puts him outside the fence, with free access to half the cabbages (the ones on the right of course). The fourth challenge thus requires one to put the flat (non-cabbage) fence segments back to their original positions, and place the goat back outside the fence. If the literature is correct, this will take at least 74 moves. Remember that these solution paths were generated by hand back in the 1970s, possibly earlier. With computer assistance, one could most likely find shorter solutions. Perhaps some enterprising PuzzleMad regular can attack this issue? (Ed - if anyone does then please comment below or use my Contact page)
Finally, if you are up for it, you can return the puzzle from the end of challenge 4 back to its original starting position. The literature presents this as kind of an informal challenge, without a solution. 

Challenge 4: cabbages for dinner.
I enjoyed the whole process and found Goat Gardner delightful to play. It was reasonably challenging, but not overly so. In fact, I didn’t notice a massive difference in the solving difficulty between challenges. This is probably because I took much more time than was necessary on the easy problems and then managed to be reasonably efficient on the hard ones. It all seemed to average out. Because of the bullseye “all-square” design, there were no major time-consuming hang-ups. You just need to keep your objective in mind and, to a certain extent at least, have a rough plan of action before you start moving things around.

Overall, I would say it is a very enjoyable, low-stress puzzle, suitable for all ages and skill levels. (Ed - MUCH too difficult for me!) Veteran solvers will doubtless make short work of it. Slider specialists might find it too easy. But if you are a sliding block fanatic like my good friend Amanda, you need to find a copy. Considering they are not terribly old and are cheaply constructed, prices should be reasonable. You’ll have more luck searching European sources. I don’t know how many ever left the Czech Republic, but it can’t have been that many. Happy hunting!

Solution pathways provided with Kozel Zahradníkem. Possibly not the shortest, but fully functional.
Before we wrap up, I want to point out one final interesting aspect of this puzzle, and why my copy is dear to me. I didn’t realize until after I purchased and played with it, but my copy’s literature bears an important stamp on the first page.  It is the name and address of the great Czech puzzle designer and collector Stanislav Tvrdik. Veteran puzzlers will recall his best-known design, the Ježival style hedgehog-in-a-cage, dating to 1966. It was the biggest advance on the classic hedgehog since its introduction around 1886. Although I spend an inordinate amount of time on this hobby, I remain woefully deficient in many international aspects. Luckily I recalled Mr Tvrdik from Radek Micopulos’ description of his excellent 2015 Ježival reproduction which, as fate would have it, I had recently purchased.

How cool is this?
Ježival, produced by Radek Micopulos. Get one!
PuzzleMad Tip: Don’t even consider buying the old Bits and Pieces/Eureka version, which was produced (and patented) without the designer’s permission. Buy a quality-made puzzle with the designer’s blessing instead. Get Radek’s version (Ed - I reviewed new special versions here). You’ll have a nicer puzzle and you’ll sleep better. (Ed - oooh sleep would be nice! I am such an insomniac!)
Radek gives a great history of the hedgehog puzzle on his website; it's required reading (Ed - use Google Chrome and it will offer to translate it into English - Fab!). If you wander around the site enough, you will eventually encounter a sobering and crushing update from Radek. Stanislav Tvrdik passed away in late February of this year (Ed - yes I heard about this on FB when it happened - very very sad). Yet another great puzzle personage gone. 

Stanislov Tvrdik, a man I would have liked to meet. (photo from http://www.jezcivkleci.cz)
If you are looking for information on Mr Tvrdik, you won’t find very much, in English at least. Perhaps the best you can do is watch this Youtube video. Most of us won’t know what he is saying, but it is interesting nevertheless, and one is rewarded with a small glimpse of his collection.

Naturally, I am now extremely curious to know if Goat Gardner is a Tvrdik design. I searched and searched but could not find an answer to this. I asked Radek about it, being the only Czech I know, and he was not familiar with the puzzle nor who had invented it. I certainly would like to think it was Mr Tvrdik’s. We do know that he took the classic hedgehog, a very old puzzle, and updated it with a clever new design. Goat Gardner, very similarly, is an ingenious new take on a classic sliding puzzle. They both likely date to the late mid-century period, a period during which Mr Tvrdik was known to be quite productive. I think the circumstantial evidence leans to the positive, but I’ll leave it to our friends in the Eastern European community to resolve. Either way, it is a great puzzle to have and I treasure it as much as my artisanal puzzles, perhaps more.

This has turned out to be quite an odyssey. Thanks for sticking around until the bitter end. If you have any information, thoughts, or remembrances to share, please don’t hesitate to comment below. And don’t worry if this post is three years old by the time you read it. Blogs are like little wormholes through time, so just go for it. Back over to you Kevin...
  

Wow! Wow! Wow! What a fantastic article you have written there for us! Tremendous work and research has gone into it, I am almost ashamed of my own posts now and am wondering whether I should just hand the site over to you permanently? I'll need to buck up my ideas and produce better quality articles in the future! Thank you so much for helping me out again...I really appreciate it!

If anyone else would like to have an article published then please use my Contact page to get hold of me and we can discuss it. I have been contacted by a few professional web writers over the last few months and would like to discourage them - I really want well-informed articles and opinions from genuine puzzlers and not something generic.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend guys - see you again in a week.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

This Unicorn is Real and I'm Not Crazy!

The Crazy Unicorn Cube
After just one corner turn followed by a top face turn!
The lurgy has continued in both me and Mrs S (who is making some rather interesting gurgling/coughing noises) and has not helped my puzzle solving abilities much and has not helped her mood at all. She was seriously unimpressed at the abrupt expansion of my collection recently. Luckily she is too incapacitated to commit violence upon my person! Hopefully, our health will improve soon or I will be murdered in my bed and I hope that I will actually be in a position to solve something before I run out of puzzles to write about!

I have previously discussed the Unicorn cube - a fabulous cube that I initially found rather tough until I found my Aha! moment and understood that it could be solved by simple reduction techniques. It consists of a simple 3x3 Rubik cube with 4 deeply cut corners that can be twisted too which splits the edges in two and also cuts pieces off the centres. In the end, I found that it needed little more than intuition and simple 3x3 methods making it a rather wonderful puzzle for anyone who wants a challenge just one step up (OK maybe a BIG step) from a simple 3x3. At the same time, MF8 released a crazy version of the Unicorn puzzle which of course, I had to purchase (my arm was twisted) but I never expected to be able to solve it. In fact, when I took the top 2 photos, it scared me enough that I didn't pick the puzzle up for another 2 months after that! Eventually, an FB friend showed off his ability to solve the puzzle and encouraged me to give it a try. he said that I would be pleasantly surprised by it. GULP!

Luckily it is quite lovely scrambled - there is a high chance it would remain this way!
I threw caution to the wind and scrambled it using a similar process to the ordinary Unicorn cube. It ended up looking fairly horrific and I was fairly certain that it would stay that way forever. The first thing I realised was that this puzzle was going to have to be solved differently to the plain Unicorn cube. There would be similarities but much of it would be different. The circles are fixed and do not turn with the outer parts hence making this a full "circle cube" and not really one of the Crazy planet cubes that I extolled the virtues of many years ago. The Crazy planet cubes have various combinations where the centres do or don't turn with the outer parts making for a very challenging series (which I really should go back to). I am told that a circle cube, where all the centres are fixed, is actually a simple puzzle in its solution process. I was delighted to see that these were not going to be a crazy series although it would appear that there is a simple piece inside that can be flipped over to change the way each face functions and I guess that it will not be long before the twisty crackpots begin to turn this into a planet series too.

Generally, before I scramble a new twisty, I spend a while exploring to see how the pieces interact with each other and maybe if possible, to see whether I can work out any simple algorithms. I usually end up scrambling the damn thing before I manage to work very much out. This time, however, I did realise that some of the circle pieces are much more limited in their movements than I initially expected. Some were trapped in 1 of 3 positions and others followed a particular orbit. This would greatly simplify the process. If you have not yet solved this puzzle and do not want any help then do not read any further as I plane to describe my process...

My first step was very similar to the plain Unicorn cube. I needed to realign the faces to allow the corners to turn again. As you can see above, the use of 90º turns at the end of the scramble causes the corners to be blocked from further rotation. Unblocking the corners is mostly just intuition and judicial use of the 4 move edge piece series to ensure the edges are positioned and oriented correctly.

All the corners are now free to turn
Do you notice anything in the picture above? Look at the small triangles inside the circles - they are trapped in 1 of 3 positions. It is a trivial thing now to place them and produce a completed square in the centre:

Centre squares completed
After that, it may be that something else is obvious? I suspect that it's hard to say that from the photo but when playing with the cube it is fairly obvious that the circle edges that are not part of the turnable corner can only be on that face. There is actually no physical way to move them anywhere off the face and it is then fairly trivial to move them.

A few 180º rotations od the faces left me filled with confidence! So far the puzzle was being solved mostly by intuition and a bit of trial and error. I am not sure why I chose this order to approach the puzzle but it just seemed the right thing to do at the time. At this point, I had the squares complete and the circle edges on the non-turning corners in place with minimal effort. Now it was going to get a bit tougher!

So far, not too hard!
My next aim was for to try and complete the circles. This looks fairly impossible but I quickly noticed that there was a peculiarity of the remaining circle pieces...they are actually bound in pairs like a single edge piece. For example, in the picture above the small green circle piece below the MF8 logo is actually bound to the small white circle piece on the red face. They CANNOT be separated. This means that the G/W circle piece needs to be taken away from its current place and put back in that face but to the right where there is currently an O/Y circle piece (to the right of the MF8 logo). At least initially, it is a trivial thing to move these paired circle pieces into an unsolved position and then put them back into the correct place. Again, like the rest of the puzzle, it is mostly intuition and using a simple 4 move algorithm. As more and more of the pieces are placed there is much less room for play and the substitutions get tougher but during the movement, it quickly becomes apparent that each time you position one of these pieces, you are just carrying out a 3 cycle. Once this next Aha! moment has been passed it becomes a simple thing to arrange it such that the final 3 pieces to be placed can be done in a single 3 cycle. Once you have done the positioning sequence 4 or 5 times it becomes second nature. The process does not upset the pieces that have been solved already. One ends up with a circle cube with split edges:

All the circles are complete and now just the split edges to reduce
This is now looking rather like the plain Unicorn cube. Time now to reduce the outer edge pieces. Here it is just a simple matter of using the 4 move edge piece series to cycle the edges where you need them without upsetting the circles. Once a small edge segment is placed in an adjacent position to the corresponding large edge section, a simple turn of the corner pairs them up. Of course, that corner turn ruins the circles and hence care is required to use that same edge piece series to move the completed edge into a storage position and then turn the corner back again to re-complete the circle. Just as before (and in the plain Unicorn) it gets harder and harder to do this as there is less and less space to work in. In the end, they need to be positioned in such a way that the last 3 edges are solved simultaneously. It takes a bit of playing around to achieve this but really does not require anything fancier than an edge piece series and some planning. At this point I had a simple circle cube:

All circles are whole and the edge pieces are paired together
It still looks fairly fearsome to someone not familiar with Rubik type puzzles but this simply solves like a standard Rubik cube as long as you stick to algorithms that use paired movements. Taking advantage of Marshall's "Ultimate solution" which uses nothing more than the now infamous edge piece series and the corner piece series, it is a simple thing to solve this puzzle without ruining the centres. In fact, this puzzle is almost easier than the plain Unicorn cube! The pathway to completing the circles ensures that none of the parities that I saw in the plain version appear in the crazy version. I would again say that if you can solve a 3x3 and want a little extra challenge then the Unicorn cubes (both of them) are a really good path to take. They look great, they frighten your friends and family and solve with only a little extra from what you can do already.

Go buy them at HKNowstore or at PuzzleMaster whilst they are still in stock. You won't regret it!


Sunday, 15 July 2018

Possibly the Most Beautiful Puzzle in the World?

And of course, it's Mathematical Too!

Simply stunning! The Pi box by Jesse Born
I am forcing myself out of my deathbed to bring you a quick blog post today - this summer cold is proving really bad and even after being forced to take a couple of days off work I am still not much better. In true male fashion, I am not complaining much and just being very brave and soldiering on. Unfortunately, I have infected the current wife with what I thought had originated with her in Scotland. But, judging from the effect it has had the last few days, must have been picked up here and seems to have mutated into "She-bola". Now I am sure you will be shocked to hear that she has been muttering vile things about what she plans on inflicting upon my person should she survive. I suspect that a Whack! Ouch! will be very mild compared to what she has in mind! Gulp!

As you ALL know, I am not generally a puzzle box collector (despite what Allard's latest post says about me). Some of my puzzles do have cavities in them but to me, that is an incidental feature! I love good puzzles and if they are beautiful then that adds to the attraction for me. I have been watching Jesse Born on Facebook for a while and was very excited when he showed off something new (I had enjoyed his entry into the IPP design competition last year but had been unable to solve it). It looked to me to be a fairly classical box and hence was not something I was particularly going to buy. This one, however, whilst being a box, was simply gorgeous and I therefore had to make an enquiry about purchasing it. Jesse is great to communicate with and a month or so after my enquiry a rather large cardboard box flew across the Atlantic to Sheffield. After the usual tussle with Her Majesty's revenue and customs department and a moderate bribe was paid, it landed here.

Even the base is beautiful
A nice certificate too
Every detail about this puzzle is stunning - the choice of woods, the detailing on the slipfeathers, the unusual nonagonal shape, the design of the hinge (at least I assumed that it was a hinge at that stage) and of course, the Yosegi design on the lid. Even Mrs S admired the beauty of it before commenting on the rather large dimensions! Luckily I was able to reassure her that it was destined to go on display in the second puzzle cave upstairs.

The slices of the pie appear to slide towards the centre (at first quite a lot of them could slide) and at that point, that seemed to be the only thing that was possible. It was time to be systematic and see whether certain slices would allow other things to happen. I was not disappointed!

I continued fiddling and realised quite quickly that if I got the right moves then progression was easy to achieve. About 3 weeks into my intermittent playing I realised that there was a definite mathematical pattern to the puzzle which I was able to confirm by racing through almost all the moves towards the end. I could not believe how Jesse had managed such an amazing sequence of moves. Then....I hit a brick wall. What I thought was the final move would not seem to happen. Was I completely wrong? Had I incorrectly gone down all these moves to be stumped so close to the end? I assumed that I was wrong and started again but the clue in the name of the box kept haunting me...I could not be wrong!

One last slice of pie and it won't move!
After some help the pie was complete
In the end, I had to contact Jesse. He always responds very quickly and initially started with encouragement on the path I had taken and then when it was just not working, he gave me an instruction on using an external tool to make the final move. I did what he said with some trepidation and had my Pi box open - it is just as beautiful on the inside:

At last! Even the interior is gorgeous!
What was the problem? Nothing really that was down to Jesse's workmanship. The weather here has been VERY hot and pretty humid for the last 4-6 weeks and the simple sliding bolt latch that the final pie piece pushed was very very tight. Having used my external tool to open it I was able to gently move it back and forth a few dozen times and now it works very smoothly.  I have opened and closed the box a number of times since and it works perfectly now. I am sure that in the winter it will be very smooth.

Amazingly Jesse has made it possible to see the mechanism of the box. A pin can be pulled and the lid can be taken apart. The physical representation of a mathematical idea looks very abstract when separated into pieces but after a fair bit of play and some doodles, I was able to visualise how it works. This new puzzle designer is a genius. I know that Allard enjoyed his work as did the perpetually puzzled and inebriated surgeon, Steve.

Jesse has another design in the making just now and I cannot wait to see it. If you are interested then express your interest on his signup page here.


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