Wednesday 28 September 2011

Oh woe is me or... I think I broke my Vinco!

Whilst on my recent mini-break, I was cheeky and brought along a few puzzles to do whilst "relaxing" - this also slightly pissed off the wife. One of the puzzles I brought was the Ballerina by Vinco.

This was one of my recent batch from Vacláv Obsivac, one of the best artisan puzzle makers around. It is a 6 piece coordinate motion puzzle made from Walnut and Maple. I know I wasn't planning on buying any more coordinate motion puzzles but I couldn't resist it - after all, it is made of wood and you know how addicted I am to wooden puzzles (and metal ones... and plastic ones)!!!

Saturday 24 September 2011


Zauberflote Pieces
Recently I (and many others) received an email from Eric Fuller informing us of yet more shiny new toys available from Cubic dissection. Having bought quite a lot fairly recently and been told off by the present Mrs S for spending her shoe and handbag money, I was a little hesitant to spend any more! She packs a pretty mean whiplash tongue, you know!!!

I know from previous experience that Eric's work is beautifully made and sells very fast, so I had to get something - even if it was only a little something! I can't resist something made of wood (or metal, or plastic) so I chose a couple of items. They cleared customs pretty quickly and I have been fiddling with the first one for a while now.

This one is called Zauberflote (Magic flute) and was designed by Gregory Benedetti as one of a series of puzzles in the shape of Pan pipes (from 2 to 7 pipes) - they can be seen in all their glory at the Puzzle will be played site. This version has 4 "pipes" and the full name should be "Zauberflöte - Königin der nacht" it is made of Yellowheart (a wood I have never heard of) and acrylic. When assembled it is a diminutive 5.5cm long and 4cm high. It has been reviewed so far by Brian (who is a puzzle solving machine and managed to solve it on day 2 of play!!!) and by Neil (who managed it initially in a similar way to me albeit very much faster than I did).

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Papillon 15

Papillon 15
Whilst the 4th Midlands Puzzle Party was being held again at Allard's house, I was taking a well earned break with the present Mrs S at Rudding Park hotel. I didn't want to miss out on the fun so I snuck a few puzzles into my luggage to do whilst relaxing during the pouring rain that was predicted whilst I was on holiday.

After a particularly caffeine and scone fuelled afternoon tea, I embarked on the Papillon 15 puzzle from Puzzle Master. Whilst I really like the metal puzzles (wire and cast), I am particularly fond of wooden puzzles - for their beauty and the craftsmanship that goes into them. I really do want to have a try at making them myself but firstly I would need to clear all the crap out of my garage to built a workspace, then I would need to PVA the concrete floor to get rid of all the dust and then I would need to find some skills! None of this is likely to happen soon - also Mrs S might divorce me and I really couldn't afford that!!!! I am in awe at Neil's newly found skills. Until then I will be forced to buy as many as I can afford!

The Papillon 15 looked interesting and is pretty cheap, it was one of 5 that I took with me on my mini break (sad I know, but that's me!) This wooden puzzle was designed by the famous Jean Claude Constantin and is probably one of his simpler puzzles. It is rated 8 out of 10 (Demanding) by Puzzle Master, a rating that I think is about right. This puzzle arrives in a simple plastic shrink-wrap with no information at all, just a label stuck on it identifying it as the Papillon 15 - this certainly saves on packaging costs! It is made from 2 contrasting colours of wood and is quite attractive. It is not supplied with a solution and one is NOT available from the Puzzle Master website - this means you have to solve it to put it back on display!

Sunday 18 September 2011

Livewire puzzles part 7

Yes yet another disentanglement puzzle review! Livewire have a massive selection and I have the lot so there will be a lot of reviews and so far only one has disappointed me (see my previous group of reviews). Continuing with my remaining level 10 puzzles I decided to brave another string puzzle, the Slingshot - named for it's similarity to a catapult. I chose this one next mainly because the description said:
"The beauty of Slingshot is that, unlike most string puzzles, it does not tend to tie up in knots. This is a real bonus, especially when more than one person is working on it at one time.
Having spent quite some time in knots with the last ones and even having to actually dismantle them I welcomed a chance to puzzle without fear!!!

The aim here is to remove the large metal ring and after a short while of fiddling about I had worked out where the exit point had to be (there can only be 2!) but each time I tried it the ring came close but got a single loop of string around it preventing release. I put it down for a few minutes to think when I had a brainwave (not bad for a bear of little brain!) and within another minute the ring was in my hand and my friend who was watching me dropped his jaw!!! Unlike other puzzles from Livewire I actually remembered what I had done and apart a momentary confusion even managed to reassemble it in a short time too. The whole thing took me about 20 minutes. I have been contacted by the original designer of this puzzle (Ton Delsing). He designed this in 1982 and on his site he claims it is "easy" - apparently he has designed some variants which are much harder; I may just have to get hold of these to pit my meagre skills against.

This puzzle relies on a rather clever little idea rather than a massively complex set of moves and thus, I found it more enjoyable than the last few I tried. I am not sure it should be level 10 (probably a level 9). The aha moment was much more evident requiring a flash of inspiration rather than a brute force approach of trying lots of different possible movements.

I have given this to a few friends (none of whom have come close to solving it) and the newbie got absolutely nowhere whilst the more practiced ones got close but so far have failed to make the sudden jump of discovery for the final step. Update since my initial write-up - 1 friend whom I have been torturing for months has managed to do this with only a very tiny nudge in the right direction - I was very impressed!
My advice? If you want just one level 10 to try and also to hand around to friends then this is a really good one.

This puzzle continues my level 10 expedition and I chose it because I needed a rest from the very grueling string puzzles. This one is a very simple construction of 4 sides and a ring which needs to be removed. I was very slightly disappointed to see that the plating of the metal was not quite as well done as the rest of the puzzles I have received - I hope that mine was just a one-off. The puzzle quite similar to the Pentangle puzzle which I absolutely loved. Because of the simpler construction I would have thought it would be easier to solve but the website and my subsequent experience revealed that it is quite alot tougher.

Everyone I have given this to has failed to solve this - including someone who seen the Pentangle solution! They all quickly realised that the ring could only come from one of two possible places but no-one was able to set it up to get the ring to the correct place. Everyone ends up going round and round the contraption without any sense of progress. Despite having solved Pentangle fairly recently and thus being fairly certain of the general approach, I struggled to find the exact set of moves required. It appears that the moves required need to be very precise to fit and if not exactly lined up it will not work. I did eventually get it done after about 30-45 minutes. This is a very good puzzle and well worth purchasing - I think Pentangle is more fun and the solution more unexpected.

Chinese Rings
The Chinese Ring Puzzle is next - this is a classic puzzle going back many years, in fact it is believed to be one of the oldest puzzles known, dating back to China over 2000 years ago. The website states that:
"We believe that what makes it so popular is that it cleverly combines both logic and creative thinking. Solving this puzzle is not a simple matter. Many of our customers have reported that after many weeks of working on the puzzle, they felt no closer to the solution than when they started."

This is certainly a very complicated construction with multiple pieces intertwined. It looks initially as if it won't be too bad when the first two bits just fall off. Unfortunately it rapidly gets very difficult. I had seen something like this before somewhere so was aware of the binary maths phenomenon that is required to solve this. It is a real nightmare of moves - it must be about 70 moves to complete this and I found that I kept getting lost and winding back toward the beginning before realising and starting all over again! Overall it tool me about 45 minutes to take it apart and (oddly, seeing as it is the exact reverse) only 5 minutes to return it to one piece. I have let a couple o others loose on it - the newbie got all excited as the first rings fell off and then hot hopelessly stuck. The other more experienced person did work out the approach but after about 45 minutes were only about half way through!

This puzzle is a classic so should be in everyone's collection but I feel is less fun than the others it is just plain gruelling!

Squaring Off
Finally for this set of four is the Squaring Off puzzle. This is a classic which was originally published in "Creative Puzzles of The World" by Peter van Delft and Jack Botermans. If you live in the UK and want a copy of this tough puzzle then a version can be bought from Puzzleguru in the Professor Puzzle boxed wire series - they call it the Gridlock. Their version is also very well made.

Squaring Off looks like a fairly simple construction compared to a lot of the other level 10 puzzles. It is a spiral with only 4 blocking rings on it. It initially gives the impression that it should be solved in a simlar logical progression, rather like the Chinese Rings and having only four rings, one would expect this to be less laborious than the others. Unfortunately this one works in a completely different manner. It is NOT a logical ladder type solution. It requires only four steps but apart from the first and last ones this is really not obvious what to do. The central steps have numerous options and it will take you some time to work out which ones are the correct ones.

The Livewire site states:
"Based on feedback we've received over the last decade and a half, no particular type of person does better at it than any other. If it is any indication, it ranks #2 in the "request for solution" department (after Pentangle)."
I had received a version from Puzzleguru a few months before and so had already spent some time on this one - although this one was a freebie which had 1 less ring (their usual one is identical). This was quite early on in my puzzling journey and so it did take me some time (about a week if I remember correctly!! Blush!!)

I personally feel this is a level 9 puzzle - it should only be really tough if you have not done any of the others in the series first. Customer testimonials on the Livewire site seem to make out that it has taken 100s of hours to solve. Having given it to friends, they have all failed but not really had the opportunity to play for any real time.
It is a classic so should be in your collection.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Hanayama Cast Quartet

Cast Quartet
The Hanayama Cast Quartet came from Puzzle Master. I had been putting off attempting this one because of a number of blog posts stating how very difficult it was - Gabriel failed to open it despite his enormous puzzling experience! Brian, with his almost superhuman puzzling skills managed to open his but even he had to give up and get the solution to reassemble it! So with these ominous words ringing in my ears I decided I should have a go too. Not, I tell you, to compare myself to these seasoned puzzlers (I am still very much an amateur!) but more because I had really enjoyed my other high level Hanayama's and also because I am an eternal magpie and am terribly attracted to shiny things!

This one came in the usual immaculate Hanayama packaging and was assembled into the initial state (this puzzle can be disassembled into 4 individual pieces and an alternative assembly is also possible to try!) The difficulty level is 6 out of 6 on the Hanayama scale and 10 out of 10 on the Puzzle Master scale - this means it is about as difficult as it gets - Gulp!!! The puzzle is manufactured from the same black chromed metal as the Cast Equa I reviewed earlier and it looks absolutely lovely. My long suffering wife says that whilst it looks lovely, the sound of it has driven her to distraction (she absolutely hates me jingling constantly!) Dimensions are 5cm long and 3.2cm wide and deep, it is also a good weight in your hands. There is no solution provided with the puzzle but if you wish (YES you will need it!!!) then download it from here.

Saturday 10 September 2011

My final two puzzles from Microcubology

Elevator Pieces
These last 2 puzzles from Richard gain's Microcubology store were actually bought pre-dyed direct from the Etsy store. They are not in stock at present but if you contact Richard direct then he can make them freshly for you (Just contact me for his email address). I requested that this group be supplied in pieces for a little "extra" challenge and it certainly made them considerably harder to solve!

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Chain Gang

Chain Gang
The Chain Gang puzzle is a puzzle made by/for Puzzle Master. It is another of their disentanglement puzzles and also on the tougher side being rated as 9 out of 10 (Gruelling) in difficulty.

It is shipped in a plastic clamshell pack with the simple instructions - to remove the brass oval from the interlocked wires and loops. The puzzle is 12.6x8.8x4cm in size and is surprisingly weighty. It is very well made and my only criticism is that the 2 brass rings don't seem to be as well finished as the silver ones. No solution is provided with it but if you need one (and you might well need it) it can be downloaded from here.

This is a really tough puzzle - if it was a string puzzle then it might have reached a 10 in difficulty! Gabriel has reviewed it here and he failed to solve it! The internationally famous puzzle-solving machine, Brian Pletcher reviewed it on his blog and really struggled. If he had trouble then I am seriously afraid! In the comments at the end of his post the almost equally famous George Bell stated that he had owned the Hess original for some time and not succeeded and in a comment on Gabriel's review said that it has been 2 years! All I can say is "Gggggulp!"

Sunday 4 September 2011

MORE toys!!!!

More, More, MORE ....
I really have a serious problem!! My name is Kevin and I am a puzzleholic....

Saturday 3 September 2011

Melting Block

Melting Block
I saw the Melting block puzzle in someone's stash at the 4th Midlands Puzzle Party and didn't get to have a try at it - there was so much there to see and play with that I did not dare spend too much time on a packing puzzle when I am frankly rubbish at them. It is a particularly attractive wooden puzzle and I love stuff made out of wood (and aluminium and brass and steel and...) I did ask where it had been bought and a few days later I emailed Wil Strijbos to see whether he had any more available. Within minutes he emailed back to say he could add one to my previous order and it was a pretty reasonable €25! I am really quite determined to improve my skills at packing puzzles!

It has been reviewed by Allard here - I am sure that the version I saw at the puzzle party was not this one.