Tuesday 25 December 2012

Christmas wishes and thanks

Limited edition burr puzzles from Mr Puzzle
My good friend Roxanne posted some time ago her Christmas wish list for her puzzling year. Primarily she was hoping to chase down some bargains from the amazing puzzle sculptor Miguel Berrocal. At the end of her post, in the comment section, I added my own wishes for the next puzzling year:

"My wish? Just for the designers to keep on designing, the fabulous craftsmen to keep making me beautiful toys and for those wonderful men in China to keep manufacturing more and more amazing twisties!

I too would like to meet a few more people - hopefully next year I will get to the German and Dutch cube days to meet some people I only know by email. Japan's IPP is probably going to be out of my reach but the year after in Europe? Here's hoping I get nominated/invited."

I have now been blogging for about 2 years now and have met (in real life and virtually) some fantastic people. They are generous with their skills, their knowledge and their time and I have tried to live up to their expectations. I have tried to do this by introducing as many others to the wonderful world of puzzles as I can and to let them play with my own collection to get a taste of what can be done, a few of them have become as hooked as me and I continue to help and encourage them in their solving and collection.

Via this blog, I have been contacted by and made good friends with, puzzlers (both novices and experienced) from all over the globe who speak many different languages. Some have asked for advice on what to buy and I have aimed to help them on their journey (my post on Twisties for beginners was the result of one such series of emails). Equally, some of my friends have encouraged me to start making my own puzzles and have even sent me various pieces with which to start (I will especially be eternally grateful to Felix for all his help). Some have offered advice on tools and craftsmanship. Other friends have offered their time and experience to teach me techniques I can use to solve new puzzles.

I am now in contact with many many craftsmen from all over the world, all of whom are very generous with their time and I have acquired a lot of fabulously beautiful pieces of art as a result of these communications. Yes! The workmanship in many of my puzzles is such that they should be considered works of art - many of my non-puzzling friends who I bore to death with pictures on my phone or on Facebook also tell me that they are really beautiful.

So, as you can see, it's not just about the puzzle, it's the people in this community who make the whole process much more exciting for me and I hope to meet a few more in the flesh next year.

What avaricious wishes do I have? Well I would like to have the complete set of limited edition burr puzzles from Brian Young aka Mr Puzzle. Those are the ones pictured at the top of this post. Brian's work is spectacular and having bought his Opening bat puzzle, I know I cannot resist any of the other limited editions! I do plan on writing a review of it soon!

I would also like some "man tools" as Rox puts it, to help me make something for myself. I am considering the Proxxon modelling range including planer thicknesser, table saw, disk sander and table router as well as some nice hand tools. If any of you have any more suggestions or criticisms of this equipment then do let me know.

Proxxon "Man" tools
Finally my Christmas wish is really to say a big thank you to my lovely wife (of 18 years) for putting up with me and my new obsession whilst I have spent every waking moment thinking about puzzles, solving puzzles or buying puzzles! As many of my colleagues say, she is an absolute saint for putting up with it! I sort of agree with them BUT she has decided that if I can "collect" puzzles, then she can "collect" Mulberry handbags - and over the last few years she has worked really hard on increasing that collection (so you see - she is making me pay for my habit very dearly!)

Sunday 16 December 2012

A Searious Burr!

A Searious Burr
The Searious burr is a seriously good puzzle. I bought it from Brian Young (aka MrPuzzle) several months ago and, when it arrived, immediately had to have a play. As the name suggests it's a burr puzzle and, whilst I'm pretty rubbish at them, I absolutely adore them. Like all burrs the aim is to disassemble it and then put it back together again. It is made from just 13 pieces so should be simple? Is it? Not really! You see, it has a hidden lock in it and that makes it really quite difficult - at least for me!

I managed to obtain the very last one they had in stock for $72AUD and at present there are no more available, but according to the product page they will be coming soon. Here's what Brian has to say:

"Modelled on Chicago's tallest building, the Sears Tower, Brian created this 13 piece interlocking burr.  But it's so much more than just an interlocking burr; incorporating the use of tools supplied as part of the puzzle it's biggest challenge is to open the secret lock.  It will take 13 moves to unlock the secret internal mechanism.   (The elegant solution does not involve force, or banging, or hitting against another surface).
Considering it has no gravity pins or magnets Brian considers it to be the hardest progressive move discovery puzzle he's designed so far. 

Is 13 your lucky number?"

It is part of Brian's Craftsman range which means they tend to be made out of some rather nice hardwoods rather than the usual dyed wood in the cheaper range. This puzzle is manufactured from Queensland Black Wattle - aka Australian Blackwood. It is 60mm x 60mm x 137mm tall to the top of it's communications towers and has brass antennae on top (these metal parts are one of the features that marks Brian as different from other Wood craftsmen - he can work just as well in metal). Allard is the only blogger who has reviewed it so far.

Friday 14 December 2012

A landmark!

Yesterday my total page views passed 100,000!

I am absolutely stunned that any of you would want to read any of my drivel! I started this blog in March 2011 just to chat about some of my new toys! It was also an exercise for me to learn about web domains, hosting, HTML as well as to possibly inform people about puzzles that they might be interested in. I never dreamed that people would actually read it! In fact, according to Google Analytics, I seem to get 200-400 page views every day and if I post something good then considerably more! To date I have posted 163 posts and it has not felt like a chore ever. I have never had a hobby which I have kept going for so long.

Through the comments system, I get great feedback from you about puzzles to try and your own thoughts on those that I've reviewed - all your feedback is greatly appreciated I read and try to respond to every single one. My contact page has allowed some very interesting people from all over the world to strike up some fascinating conversations and I have made some really precious friendships that way - even though I have never met most of them. I correspond with designers, craftsmen and shop owners and am always delighted at how kind all puzzle folk seem to be!

I know I have been a little slower recently with my reviews - I apologise for this and will try to produce more but I'm afraid I do have to work quite hard to support what has now become a very expensive habit (as well as a very expensive first wife). If any of you have suggestions for the future pathway that I should take with this blog then all suggestions will be gratefully received. I have changed track a little over the last few months as I have begun to spread my expertise into the twisty arena.

I am looking forward to the next 100,000 page views! Thank you all for motivating me to keep going.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Hanayama Cast H&H

Hanayama Cast H&H
It has been quite some time since I last posted on a Hanayama puzzle and now I will review this one the Cast H&H. I received it some time ago in my last Puzzle Master delivery (which reminds me that it may be time to get some more - they have such a great variety of puzzles of every type!!)

As with all these puzzles they come in a black Hanayama box beautifully packaged with the puzzle tied to a card holder inside. It is a lovely chromed metal and is a good size at 4.8 x 2.9 x 2.9 cm in size. It has a good heft to it and feels great in the hands - most Hanayama puzzles are nicely tactile but this one is particularly so. The H&H is named because it is made of 2 pieces of cast metal each of which is an H shape. It is absolutely beautiful to look at - I'm afraid my photography setup is just not good enough to make it look as good as it does in real life. The website describes it well - the 2 Hs look identical but they are subtly different from each other and you need to use the differences to work your way through the maze of possible movements to separate it into it's 2 halves. Designed by Oskar van Deventer, this is an absolute bargain of a puzzle at $13!

It is rated as level 9 (Gruelling) on the 5-10 point Puzzle Master scale and by Hanayama themselves as 5 out of 6 and I think that is about right. On the Puzzle Master listing for this page it has been reviewed by many puzzlers and uniformly been given 4 or 5 stars (one person found it too easy!). It has been reviewed by quite a few bloggers before me and they all really enjoyed it - you can find the reviews by the various bloggers by clicking on their names; Will (found a novel solution), Neil, Brian, Gabriel and Gunnar (German) . The solution is not provided in the box. I doubt you will need it but it is available from Puzzle Master here.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Twisty Puzzle Madness - Advice to a beginner

As you can see - I have gone totally mad!!
I have noticed that puzzlers tend to fall into one of two groups. There is the main group (who are probably my primary readers) who love all aspects of puzzling EXCEPT twisty puzzles - although as a tip of the hat to Erno Rubik and the effect he had on the world starting over 30 years ago, they will have a basic cube or two in their collection (but may even be unable to solve it). The minority group are the puzzlers who are completely hooked on twisty puzzles and have very little knowledge of the rest of the world of mechanical puzzles. Bridging the gap between the 2 groups there are maniacs like myself, Rob and Rox who cannot help ourselves - we are addicted to EVERYTHING and it is our mission to entice the rest of you into our lair!!! One of the greatest puzzle collectors the world has ever seen, James Dalgetty, advised me that I should specialise - pick just one subtype of puzzle within the general classification and stick to just that. So after talking to this great guru, I have totally ignored him and collect absolutely everything! My only exceptions are jigsaws, dexterity puzzles and I think I might stop the packing puzzles (because I'm rubbish at them) unless they are particularly pretty! :-)

The purpose of this blog post is to answer some questions that I get emailed quite regularly - in particular:
"I'm new to twisty puzzles what should I buy?"
"I've done a cube but what should I get next?"

Very recently a very good puzzle friend of mine expressed a slightly wistful dismay that he couldn't possibly keep up with the collections of the guys he referred to as "the big boys". These guys have enormous collections of very expensive handmade or Shapeways puzzles which over a period will have cost them many $1000s. I expressed the opinion to him that his own collection was perfectly adequate - he did not want to get into debt and had a family to keep roofed, fed and healthy which of course should be his priority! So to him and to you I would suggest that with the twisty puzzles it should be about collecting and solving many puzzles that require different approaches and force you to think in different ways.

Thursday 1 November 2012

It's a little Gem!

4 Dayan Gems. Think they all look very similar? Not so!
This time it's back to some twisty puzzles again! I know that the majority of you aren't particularly twisty puzzle fans but you should be! We are living in a golden age of advances in design and manufacture - there have never been so many fabulous twisty puzzles available as there are now (and there are lots more coming too!)

This time we are looking at the Dayan Gem puzzles. My journey with these began with Rline on the Twisty Puzzles forum - having bought a few puzzles from him at the beginning of this year, we started up a conversation (which still continues) and seeing as, like me, he was a man of an age who should know better, I asked him for advice about which puzzles I should try to take it up a gear and challenge myself. He sent me a fairly extensive list and high up on it was the Dayan Gem 4 - he said:
"great solving experience, similar to the 4x4x4"
Seeing as he is one of the TP masters and the author of the tremendous Rubik's Ultimate solution site, who was I to refuse such advice? ....and so it began!!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

It's a Zoo in Here!

I seem to have gotten a reputation in the puzzle sphere for being a bit of a savant with wire disentanglement puzzles - so much so that at the Midlands puzzle parties the guys seem to automatically show them to me for a challenge! I personally think the reputation is unearned but ever since I solved and reviewed all the Livewire puzzles they seem to think that I must be quite good at them!

My very good friend Rox also knows how much I love wire disentanglement puzzles (in fact she knows how much I love all puzzles!) So she was kind enough to let me know when the "Master of wire disentanglement puzzles", Dick Hess, had a few little toys up for sale on eBay. I left her to bid on what she was interested in and I went for a few myself. A few emails after I won them, I ended up with a rather bigger haul than I was at first expecting and then another few emails later another huge haul arrived!! I have no willpower at all and hence I am sitting here looking at another 29 puzzles (Please don't tell Mrs S!!)

Thursday 11 October 2012

Stars - Variations on a Theme

Over the last 2 years I have tried as much as possible not to repeat myself (at least too much) and have tried not to buy the same puzzle twice. However, sometimes the woods used are too beautiful or craftsmanship of one is just too good to avoid getting a duplicate and sometimes I didn't realise what the underlying mechanism was until I opened it. I repeat (yet again!) that I'm really not very bright and I cannot help it if I'm drawn towards the shiny shiny!

Saturday 6 October 2012

Broken heart?

By George! Burr
Elvis sang:

Please don't break my heart in two
That's not hard to do
Cause I don't have a wooden heart

I can hear you all now!! "he's lost his marbles again!"

Bear with me - there is a point to this!! You all know that I just love wooden puzzles (in fact I have just realised how much I love them when I looked at my puzzle database and saw how much I have spent on them over the last 2.5 years!!). So I was heartbroken to see that wooden puzzles can be broken very easily! Now when my package arrived from Bernhard Schweitzer (Puzzlewood) it looked like the Royal Mail had been playing football with it and unfortunately 3 of pieces had broken a glue joint. This meant that when I picked it up, it just fell apart in my hands and there were a lot more than the 6 pieces there should have been! I asked Bernhard for information on the pieces and he sent me a copy of Ishino's listing of the puzzle. My DIY skills are pretty reasonable for doing things around the house but I am by no means milimeter accurate! The problem, then, is 3 fold:
  1. Can I work out which piece goes where?
  2. Can I glue it and clamp it with enough accuracy to leave me with a functioning puzzle (tolerances are really tight on these)?
  3. Can I avoid being murdered by Mrs S for getting glue where I shouldn't?
I managed to work out what went where, got my trusty clamps and wood glue out (Thanks Ali for stopping me using Superglue - I did get quite a lot everywhere and had it been Superglue then a trip to the Accident and Emergency dept would have been required - she packs a mean kick/punch/stab/laser stare and whiplash tongue). After 24 hours, I put the now perfectly formed pieces together according to Bernhard's instructions and it's a perfect fit! Nice and tight but still moveable!!!

So back to the puzzle!
George Syriaque is a prolific collector of puzzles and has recently started to design his own. This 6 piece burr is his first design and it's a cracker. This was another one of the puzzles I bought from Bernhard Schweitzer. It was available in either 3 different colour woods or as a single colour made from Robinia (pseudoacacia). I chose the latter because I think it is always such a beautiful looking wood with a lovely deep colour and great grain; also being only 1 colour will add to the difficulty. I left it for a couple of weeks to allow my feeble brain to forget the reassembly I had just done and then worked on disassembling it. It took a fair while to work out which piece moves first - whilst it is called By George Burr, and looks a normal 6 piece burr shape, it is not actually a burr puzzle! It is an interlocking solid. It is not immediately obvious which piece moves and which direction either - for an awful moment I thought I had actually stuck it together with the glue!!! Eventually I found the "sweet spot" and Thwack! it slides apart! After this it is a nice series of discoveries to take the next 2 pieces out. You are then left with a nice simple construction of three parts which can slide on each other but don't seem to come apart - Burrtools is no use to you with this one! Rotations are required. Being a bit thick, it took me about 20 minutes to get the final disassembly! It is disassembly level You end up with these pieces:

By George! Burr in pieces again (6 of them!)
It is a beautifully made puzzle and is unexpectedly difficult but not too awful. For a seasoned puzzler you might attempt to start from the disassembled state! Berhard may have a few left!

The next puzzle in that delivery is one that you cannot get at the moment. It is the Diagonal Loop 1 cube by Thai Pham:

Diagonal Loop 1
This puzzle was a very generous gift from Bernhard for helping him with a little translation work he needed. This is a prototype which may yet be produced in greater numbers. I think it has been made from Maple and Walnut. It doesn't show all the usual hallmarks of Bernhard's perfect work - there are no chamfered edges, the alignment is out by a tiny tiny amount and the fit is very very tight. But I have to say that I love this puzzle!!! It is level 1.2.4 and requires rotations.

The first piece comes out pretty quickly and is quickly followed by the next! At this point there is one move that easily occurs and bang! No further! The final 3 pieces come apart with a very carefully aligned series of coordinated rotation moves - it is beautiful when you finally get it apart. In fact I was so delighted that I immediately sat back and forgot what I had done! You end up with these pieces:

Diagonal Loop 1 Pieces - see the loop?
I realised how stupid I had been in not paying attention and left it for about an hour before trying to reassemble it! It took me an hour to put it back together!! Working out what goes where is very easy but it is really hard to work out the exact sequence and alignment to actually make it happen.

I brought all my Puzzlewood puzzles to the Midlands Puzzle Party a few days later and whilst having a play, Ali had it fall apart in his hands (he was absolutely mortified!). In a way it was good for me because he was able to give me proper advice on how to glue puzzles together! Previously I had risked life and skin using Superglue but now I am fully equipped. Thanks Ali!!!

If this puzzle ever comes available from any of the fine wood craftsmen out there then just say yes! It is is just brilliant. Having done it many times, it still taxes me when I try to do it again!!

So in Elvis' words:
Treat me nice
Treat me good
Treat me like you really should
Cause I'm not made of wood
even if you are made of wood then please do the same!!!
And you wondered where the hell I was going with it!! :-D

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Is Wood Puzzling?

Recent Puzzlewood Delivery
Is wood puzzling?? Of course it is!

Puzzlewood is a brilliant site run by the fantastic puzzle collector and puzzle craftsman, Bernhard Schweitzer. He manufactures some wonderful puzzles for various people to exchange at the yearly International Puzzle Party and afterwards puts them (and some others he finds or makes) up for sale. Recently he announced the availability of another batch and being my usual indecisive self I couldn't choose which to have so I bought them all! Luckily his prices are very reasonable - although the present Mrs S may not agree when she noticed quite how many puzzles I had bought over the last 3 months!!!

A few weeks ago I received this first batch from him - Yes!!! there are more coming!

Thursday 20 September 2012

Burrtastic & an apology!

First of all, let me please apologise to you all for not having posted for a while! I haven't lost interest (blog-fade), but I have been very busy at work and the present Mrs S has gotten rather worn out by constantly having to open the door to the postman to accept puzzle deliveries! At one point she fired up the laser stare and burnt me very badly!! So much so that I couldn't type (and even went temporarily deaf - I'm obviously wired up wrong!!) - this has meant that I have had to read about puzzles, play with puzzles (ocasionally solving puzzles), buy puzzles, photograph puzzles but I haven't dared actually sit down in front of the computer to write about puzzles!!! You can tell from this paragraph why she might have been a very teeny tiny touch miffed at me????

I've promised to improve my ways (and to do some DIY around the house!) and in exchange she will let me carry on my puzzle obsession! Oh yes, and she's out just now so I can write a blog post too! Let me know if you hear her coming back soon!!! I did figure that with the huge swathe of blog posts coming from Rox, NeilAllard, Scott, Jerry, Jeff and Brian (forgive me if I forgot anyone!!) all about exciting occurrences and puzzles discovered at the IPP then you might forgive me my small lapse!

Over the last 2 years, I initially became known for being a bit of a savant for the wire puzzles and whilst I do enjoy these (especially those by Dick Hess), they are never attractive enough to leave on display - PLUS they jingle, which puts my life at risk from Mrs S! More recently I have ventured into twisties because there is so much variety and they are so logical - all that is required is to use a few techniques and gradually you can expand them to solve almost any new puzzle - PLUS they are relatively cheap. Again, however, they are not attractive!!

I have an absolute love affair (please don't tell her!) with beautiful wooden interlocking puzzles - both burrs and cubes! They look fabulous on display and can have a real "Aha!" moment! Some can be incredibly difficult as well as beautiful - see my review here. So here we go! I think I will introduce a few new puzzles of this type that I have acquired recently.

Piston Burr

Thursday 6 September 2012

Houston! I have a problem!!

Iwahiro cylinder - firmly shut!
I am truly terrible at opening the aluminium puzzles from Wil Strijbos! It took me weeks to open the cylinders. I spent 2 months on the Opening bat from Mr Puzzle. Maybe I shouldn't have bought the Alcyl designed by Iwahiro because on arrival it was almost open and I quickly just tightened it shut and now cannot open it at all! Absolutely no movement whatsoever!!!

In my desperation! Look what I did:

Vertical view
Horizontal view
The problem? Even with these Xrays, I still can't open the damn thing!! Maybe I need to stop puzzling!!!

Sunday 2 September 2012

Hanayama Cast Square

Cast Square
Today it's time for a review of another from my last rather extensive Puzzle Master delivery! This time it is yet another of the Hanayama Cast Puzzles the Cast Square. I chose this one because being really shiny, it appealed to my inner Magpie again and also because it had been rated as a maximum difficulty - a level 6 on the Hanayama scale! Or level 10 (Mind Boggling) on the Puzzle Master scale. At maximum difficulty, I thought this would keep me going for quite some time! It was designed by Finland's Vesa Timonen who is very prolific and has designed several of my previous puzzles - see here and here.

As with all of these puzzles it arrived absolutely beautifully packaged with just the instructions to take it apart and reassemble it. Cryptically it said that putting it back together in a different way leads to a different disassembly strategy being required. This was another feature which appealed to me - more than one puzzle in a single package. It consists of 4 pieces of metal interestingly interlocked, 2 are silver chrome and 2 are gold. The only downside (as you can see from my photo is that fingerprints and dust seem to easily mark the surface. Together it makes a very attractive shape (even Mrs S admitted that), dimensions are 4.8 x 4.8 x 1.3 cm and it is a pretty decent weight. No solution is provided and as I will tell later, you WILL solve it but not in the way intended so I seriously suggest downloading the solution from here. I found it gave me a real insight into the idea behind the puzzle.

Previous reviews can be found by Brian on his blog and by Gabriel on his.

Thursday 23 August 2012


In the midst of all the wonderful coverage of the goings on at the last International Puzzle Party (IPP32) in Washington DC by my fellow bloggers I have hesitated to post a mundane puzzle review. Especially as I can't make it a positive one!

Amongst my last hoard of puzzles (a term I have taken to using to describe the suitcases of my friends who went to the IPP) from Puzzle Master, I received a wire and string puzzle called Keyhole. I got this one because I had decided that it might be a good idea to try my hand at some of the more complex wire puzzles to give myself a bit of a challenge. This one is indeed at the top of their scale at 10 out of 10 (Mind Boggling). Plus with the apparent simplicity of it, I thought it would be a pleasant solve process. Made of wire, sturdy string and painted wooden baubles it measures 12 x 4.9 x 2.5 cm and is a nice tactile puzzle to hold and play with. No solution is included but one can be downloaded from here.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Nickel Box

Nickel Box
In honour of the recently concluded 32nd International Puzzle Party in Washington DC I thought I should review a puzzle that is significantly more than just ordinary. One day I hope that I might be invited to join the great and the good in the puzzling world at an IPP and to show that I am a serious collector of "beautiful and tough puzzles", I introduce the Nickel Box!

Quite a few blind ends!
I have been playing with this on and off for a couple of weeks and have solved it today (at least half solved it). I bought this from the Arteludes webstore. This is a french-based site run by Jean-Baptiste Jacquin which I was able to browse easily courtesy of the built in translation from the Chrome browser (my French is pretty poor)!! For international customers you need to contact Jean-Baptiste himself and he is very helpful. The puzzles on this site are beautiful and most (if not all) have been crafted by the superb Maurice Vigouroux (my copy of the incredibly tough 150 move 18 piece burr, the Tiros, was made by him and is available on the site too - Allard reviewed Tiros here). I couldn't resist it and bought it and another puzzle at the same time!

This puzzle was initially designed by Donald Osselaer and Stephane Chomine added the ornamentation to make it harder. Limited to only 20 copies, it is a caged burr measuring 7.5cm on each axis and is surprisingly heavy (400g) due to the use of Ebony as its main component. The burr pieces are made of Purpleheart in my copy but it is also available as Padauk. The burrs are carved from a single piece of wood with no gluing used at all. The embellishments to the burr pieces and box are made from Beech. Even the present Mrs S (doing ok for a first wife!) immediately said that it was stunning and actually allowed it to sit on the coffee table in the living room for a few days before returning it to my study - this is a major feat for her!!

Thursday 9 August 2012

Hanayama Cast Amour

Cast Amour
Whilst we all sit and wait for news of lovely new toys to come out from the 32nd International Puzzle Party (IPP) in Washington being held just now, I thought I might try and distract you all with "tales of lurve"!!! Yep here we have a heart with what looks like a couple of tails! This is the Cast Amour from Hanayama.

There is also another Tale of Lurve here too! Whilst the present Mrs S has no interest in playing with this (or any other) puzzle, she has agreed in principle that I can go to an IPP in the future (wherever it may be) - how about that for real lurve??? I am too late to go to the current Washington one but hopefully I will get to the next (in Asia somewhere) or the following one in Europe. Now all I need is an invitation. If any of you IPPers out there happen to read my blog - how about it? I quite clearly have a good collection, I even more clearly have a "passion for puzzles"! Do I deserve an invitation to this most prestigious of puzzling events?

I received mine from Puzzle Master as part of their huge selection of Hanayama puzzles. It is rated as 5 out of 6 in the Hanayama difficulty scale or 9 (Gruelling) on the 6 to 10 scale used by Puzzle Master themselves. I personally think it may well be slightly easier than that but others have agreed with the rating. This puzzle was designed by the great Akio Yamamoto and consists of a golden coloured metal male and female symbol intertwined within/through a flattened disk which I initially thought was a heart shape but which the puzzle instructions insists is the shape of the "forbidden fruit". It is 5.2 x 5.2 x 3.1cm and is really shiny and catches my "magpie" eyes very nicely.

This one has been reviewed by Brian here (his only complaint was that the shape doesn't sit straight on a table!), by Gabriel here and Oli on his blog here. The reviews on the Puzzle Master product page for this one were all positive. All of this did make me quite keen to try this one. No solution is provided but you can obtain one here.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Maybe I'm Craaaazy!

OMG! That's a lotta twisty puzzles!
Gnarls Barkley, not so long ago, sang a song asking himself and others whether he was crazy! From some of the looks I get from colleagues and friends, I have begun asking that of myself!! The twisty puzzle collection shown above is (ahem) rather embarrassingly huge and, to put it in context, it is only a small part of my general puzzle collection! So I asked around amongst some other people:

"Does that make me craaaazy?"

Several correspondents were reassuring in an underhand manner - they said:

"I think you're craaaazy!
Just like me"  (???)

During my email conversations with Jon (SuperAntoniovivaldi), Rline and Burgo, it quickly became clear that I have developed a new and extremely rare medical condition! This new condition is quite contagious (judging from the responses of a few nearby puzzlers) and is called "Twisty fever"!

I started off in the 80s (yes! I am that old!) having solved the standard 3x3 and 4x4 cubes but that is as far as it went. Now, in my "middle years", and supposedly having grown out of all that nonsense, having rediscovered puzzles via the revomaze forums (world renowned blogger Allard always says that I should blame Oli (another internationally famous puzzle writer) but we all know that all of this is his fault really!!) I decided that I should at least be able to do 1 or 2 basic cubes and so quite early on in my collection I bought a few basic cubes and quickly rediscovered a few techniques. I then decided that I should try a few more and managed to solve those as well! "I'm a genius!" I thought! So I bought even more and hit a wall. At this point I found the Twisty Puzzles forum (this forum is more aimed at solvers of difficult puzzles and new designs rather than speed cubers) and YouTube and at this point the virus really hit! I'm now the proud owner of more than 70 twisty puzzles including a few which have been handmade at, let's just say, slightly painful expense! This sudden massive expansion of the collection is a cardinal symptom of twisty fever and I'm afraid that there is no cure!!

The only good thing about it is that, by and large, these puzzles tend to be reasonably priced (until you end up buying bespoke or Shapeways puzzles) and even more importantly these puzzles don't jingle and annoy the present Mrs S! At least until they become so numerous that they erupt out of my study and contaminate the rest of the house!!!

So why the title of this blog? It's true that twisty fever makes you go crazy but that is actually not the reason. Speaking to my puzzle friends they all really extolled the virtues of a particular group of puzzles - these are the Crazy 3x3 planet cubes and the Crazy 4x4 II. They apparently provide the challenge of several puzzles in one and also are a series of very similar looking puzzles with hugely varying solution strategies! In my twisty fever haze - I was hooked!

Thursday 26 July 2012

Hanayama Cast Laby

Hanayama Cast Laby
If you read all the way back to the beginning of my huge Puzzle Adventure you will see that it really all began with a hidden maze puzzle - the Revomaze. Since then, I have played with, and solved, quite a few other mazes (Cast L'Oeuf and Medallion, Maze burr, Cast Duet and Cast Cuby) and have really enjoyed them. Several have actually come from Hanayama but I always held off getting the Cast Laby because I never really was attracted to the look of it - all dark charcoal metal. In my recent batch I decided it was really one that I should add to the collection, especially as it is a level 5 out of 6 on the Hanayama difficulty scale or level 9 (Gruelling) on the Puzzle Master 5 to 10 scale.

As usual the Hanayama packaging is immaculate and inside is a pair of thick rings made of a dark charcoal coloured metal, one is a complete ring with a maze inscribed on both sides and the other has a gap to allow it's removal from the other. The easy removal is prevented by a couple of small pins in the gap. Together they are 6.3 x 5 x 2.5 cm in size and feel nice and sturdy. It is clear that the two mazes need to be navigated simultaneously to separate the pieces. These mazes are quite long and include a number of parts that skirt the outer rim giving the impression that this is going to be quite a long haul. The reviews on the Puzzle Master product page are overwhelmingly positive apart from one person who didn't have the attention span to work it out! Some of my fellow bloggers have reviewed it and also enjoyed it - Oli stated that it was a good challenge here, Brian Pletcher enjoyed it having taken an hour to solve it (review here) and Tom Cutrofello was also kept going for quite a while.

No solution is supplied but if you need one (I would hope you wouldn't) it can be downloaded from here.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Wood Wonders!

Does wood wonder?
Yes it does when it is in the hands of Brian Menold. This master craftsman has been making some real beauties recently. Today I'm going to mention 2 puzzles that I bought from him at "Wood Wonders".
First up is the Twin Pentominoes in a Light Box.

Twin Pentominoes in a Light Box
This puzzle was designed by Primativo Familiar Ramos and published at Ishino's Puzzle Will be Played site. My version is made from Zebra wood, Maple and Red oak (absolutely gorgeous!). It consists of 12 pentominoes of varying conformations which fit into a lattice box. The aim is to remove the pieces and then put them back again! Taking it apart was slightly challenging for me because it has been rather humid in the UK recently with more or less 3 months of continuous rain and I think the humidity had caused a little expansion (Brian had stated that he originally made it quite loose and I do remember that one piece used to just drop out). Eventually by tapping it in every direction I found the first piece to remove and thereafter it was easy to remove the lot:

Thursday 19 July 2012

Black Widow

Black Widow
By now the majority of you must know that I really lurve wire puzzles!! I am less fond of those with string because they are just so damn difficult and you just end up in knots. That's not the bad part, however! I only get upset when I then can't undo the knots and have to cut or otherwise dismantle the puzzle. I practically have a heart attack when I give it to someone else and they later hand it back to me in such a tangle that I again have to attack it with scissors (yes Rachel, this means you!!!!)

I wanted some more difficult disentanglement puzzles and so in my last order from Puzzle Master I bought some of the level 9 and level 10 wire puzzles. This one is the Black Widow - it should be a relatively easy one (for an experienced puzzler like me - Blush) at level 9 (Gruelling) and for a beginner should be a real challenge. It arrived in the usual neat Puzzle Master clamshell packaging with a card insert saying to remove the string. It consists of what looks like the olympic rings intertwined with a snake and is made out of strong wire. There is a complete loop of string fed through it with a ball preventing it being fed through any of the rings. It is 6.4 x 10.8 cm and pretty good value at $10. No solution is supplied but if you really have to give up, then it can be downloaded from here! I don't think you will need to download it to solve but it will certainly be helpful to understand what is going on.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Flabber Floovers Weaver

Flabber Floovers - Weaver
The next puzzle in my batch from Puzzle Master is the Weaver from the Flabber Floovers group of puzzles made by Family Games of America. I got this one because it is quite interesting to look at and with a lot of string around, I thought it might be a bit of a challenge. I have previously reviewed one in this series (the Pulley) and it proved pretty difficult and kept me stumped for a while! It looks a bit more pleasant than your average entanglement puzzle made from wire! This group are made fro some rather nice wood and good thick string.

They are nicely packaged displaying the puzzle and contain a solution leaflet in multiple languages. It is made of a nice wood (possibly maple) and thick black string with some very chunky beads on it. Dimensions are 6.6 x 6.6 x 2.7 cm - it is pretty good value for just $12. If you have misplaced the leaflet then you can download it again from here. To be honest - you really won't need it at all!! Puzzle Master have rated this a level 7 (Challenging) in their 6 to 10 scale. I personally would say this should be a 6 - it is very easy indeed.

Monday 9 July 2012

Dancing with Eric! (As well as Richard and Chen!)

Batch of 4 - yes 4! puzzles from Eric
Recently I acquired a rather lovely little group of puzzles from the workshop of the great Eric Fuller! When I got the email about his new "stuff" (luckily not in the middle of the night this time!) I very quickly bought 3 of the puzzles which I had never seen before and decided not to buy the 4th. As with many puzzlers I had buyers' remorse - not the "I shouldn't have bought that" or "I shouldn't have spent that much" sort of remorse! No! No! No! My remorse was I should have bought the other one too!! So, I contacted him quickly the following day and luckily he hadn't sold out and agreed to add it to my order if I would pay the extra plus postage! Needless to say I was delighted, even if my bank account wasn't!

Which one did I not buy? Which was beneath me? I hang my head in shame and say that it was the Slow Waltz puzzle. I had already bought it in printed plastic from Richard Gain, solved it and written about it here. Having danced with Richard on several occasions, I was thoroughly happy. After placing my order from Eric, I went back to the plastic Slow waltz and Wow! I remembered how fabulous a movement and how difficult a puzzle it is - I had to have it in wood! Mine is in Canarywood and Cocobolo.

Two versions of Slow waltz

Thursday 5 July 2012

Hanayama Cast Marble

Cast Marble
Outer Shell Moves
Time to review yet another one of from my large Puzzle Master hoard - this time it is the Hanayama Cast Marble. In fact I have actually played with it before - when I met with a puzzle friend who owned it and also a friend at work brought it in to show me. Each time I had only really played with it for a short while. Over the last year or so, I have heard many people rave about this one, both about it's looks and it's very sweet puzzle action. Quite a few people claim that this one is their absolute favourite Hanayama cast puzzleSo eventually I had to break down and get one for myself!

Moises (our favourite puzzle rookie) has reviewed it here, Neil expressed his opinion here (he said it was his second favourite), Oli also really enjoyed it (his review is here), Brian's review is on his site and Gabriel's review is here. All these positive reviews are despite it being a relatively easy puzzle to solve - Hanayama rate it as a 4 out of 6 and Puzzle Master put it at 8 on their scale of 5 to 10 (Demanding) - I think this rating is about right. This means that it is not the difficulty that causes the enjoyment, there must be something else special about it.

It arrived in the usual delightful Hanayama packaging and when you take it out of the box the only thing you can say is that it is absolutely gorgeous! It consists of a cuboid 3.6 x 3.6 x 2.5cm in size and feels quite substantial in your hand. Within the cuboid is a marble with cuts in it in the same configuration as the parts of a tennis ball (fitting! Seeing as it is now Wimbledon final week). No solution is provided, but if you really need one then you can download it from here. The Marble spins freely within the cuboid (although the 2 halves of the marble will not move relative to one another). The cuboid, on the other hand is obviously made of 2 parts (it could even be mistaken for 4) which move freely too but not enough to release the marble. It is made from a chromed metal in 2 colours with the block being a blackened shade. The only downfall (as you can see from my photos is that it picks up fingerprints immediately!) It was originally designed jointly by Oskar ven Deventer and Bram Cohen and produced initially by George Miller before Hanayama obtained permission to mass produce it. Puzzle Master sell it for $13.

Thursday 28 June 2012


So in my last post, I described all these rather expensive (and beautiful) handmade puzzles which I had bought from various craftsmen around the world. Whilst I absolutely love these, I am well aware that many people can't afford to buy such things and these are actually less good value in terms of puzzling than the ones I have bought from Puzzle Master and other stores. I like those for the beauty of them and the craftsmanship. In fact I have spent quite enough for a while and always find myself coming back to the various wire, twisty and Hanayama puzzles they supply. In terms of "bang for your buck" you really cannot beat this store! Plus of course - they just have so much to choose from, I spend hours surfing and choosing toys to play with without feeling guilty.

At the recent Midlands puzzle party, I discovered that the puzzling community seem to think of me as a bit of a wire puzzle specialist! This has never been my aim - I lurve ALL puzzles! But I do keep coming back to them!! They are so simple and yet can be such a tremendous challenge - real value for your puzzling money.

So this time I am going to describe the Mosquito wire puzzle. This one looks like a nice simple construction with a short length of string (meaning it is less likely to cause that horrible knotted feeling!) and a nicely made yet simple looking set of wire rings etc. This is a very reasonable $10 and is rated by Puzzle Master as 8 out of 10 (Demanding) on their difficulty scale - the only user review on the site states that it is "very difficult!", so I couldn't resist it could I? It comes in the usual nice clamshell package and has only the instructions to remove the string. Dimensions are 10.6 x 13.2cm. There are no instructions included but if you need help then get them from here.

Sunday 24 June 2012

A Bountiful Bonanza of Beautiful and Positively Perplexing Puzzles

I've been a VERY bad boy again!

After a little "issue" I decided that it was time I spoiled myself and bought some of the puzzles I had been hankering after. The present Mrs S has managed to acquire another 2 Mulberry handbags for her "collection" and so she did not mind too much when I decided that I deserved a treat.

This means that over the next few months as I solve them, you also will get a treat as I describe them to you in all their glory! (I will still discuss the more every day puzzles too!!)

All right all right! I'll spill the beans! My first acquisition after months of saving up was the Opening Bat from Mr Puzzle - from what I can gather, this is the piéce de résistance of the puzzling world - it is staggeringly lovely and very large!! I got mine just in the nick of time before the last one sold out.

I've waited a long time for this!
I couldn't resist the last batch of puzzles from Eric Fuller's Cubic dissection site! I was originally only going to buy 3 but changed my mind at the last moment and bought all 4 new ones:

Slow Waltz
I Shall be Released           Chen's 6 Board Burr             N-One
Of course that's not it - the wonderful Brian Menold also produced another batch of new puzzles for sale on his site Wood Wonders. I could resist another packing puzzle - Blockhead (designed by Bill Cutler) and you know how I love interlocking cubes, so I bought Convolution (designed by Stewart Coffin):


I am just starting to get a little embarrassed now! But what was I to do when after ordering lots of others, I heard from Wil Strijbos (my puzzle pusher) about some brand new puzzles of his own design? Well, I had to buy them too didn't I?

New Dovetail and First Box
I had also been having a conversation with Jerry McFarland for some time and reminded him about something I had ordered 9 months ago. He had one partially finished in stock so I asked him to send it out when finished and it arrived yesterday! These are stunningly beautiful and really quite large!

Quadlock 4
At the last Midlands puzzle party, I saw a few people attempting the Brandenburg gate puzzle and saw how difficult it was. After reading Allard's review, I asked the wonderful Bernhard Schweitzer whether there were any left. I managed to nab the very last one and he knows how much I love cubes, so he gave me a freebie - a prototype he has made of Jos Bergmans' Star Lock Puzzle. I have solved the latter, but the former is causing me quite a lot of grief just now - how can 3 simple pieces be so damn difficult to get apart?

Brandenburg Gate
Star Lock Puzzle

There can't be any more can there? Ahem (looks a bit sheepish!!!!)

Stellated Improved Square Face
Also at the MPP, I saw a copy of this and it reminded me that I had been emailing the amazing Scott Peterson about some cubes. I then remembered that it had been 9 months since our last contact, so I emailed again and he hadn't yet made any cubes but had another one of these available - it is based on Coffin's Improved Square Face burr puzzle but Scott had altered the ends to give them a stellated shape. It is absolutely gorgeous! Even the present Mrs S had to admit that it was lovely (although she still won't let me put it in the living room!)

Popplock T2
So how about that being the last of them? I'm afraid not. As you know I am quite partial to the occasional Popplock and one of my fellow revomaze forum members wanted to sell his T2. He posted on line and it was mine in another 1/2 hour! Gulp!!

Ghost cube
I also have a ghost cube in transit just now:

And,   Oh dear!!! Vaclav Obsivac also added more stuff to his site - luckily they are very reasonably priced so another 6 Vinco puzzles are on their way!!

So! I do apologise! I've been very very bad!

Wednesday 20 June 2012

A Parity of False Equivocation!?

Fisher Cube
Fisher cube other side
There! I bet that title made you do a double take!!! This terminology was coined by my puzzle friend Jon - he is SuperantonioVivaldi on YouTube. Go and view his channel - he is absolutely amazing! If you think that you can't do twisty puzzles then let him teach you - EVERYONE can do twisty puzzles and Jon is one of the best teachers I have ever seen. He is also starting out as a puzzle maker/designer so if you really want to try something special then have a look at his Shapeways store (this is NOT for beginners however). Whilst I am advocating good teachers for twisty puzzles, please go and view Rline's site - this teaches many twisty puzzles using just intuition and 2 (yes JUST 2) very simple algorithms. It provides some fantastic techniques. I personally use a mixture of methods and just now am working my way through the Crazy 3x3 planet series and seem to find myself mostly using Rline's techniques because they really go back to absolute basics.

The Fisher cube was designed by the world famous puzzler, Tony Fisher - he has been designing cube modifications since 1981 when he unleashed the Siamese cubes on the world and has designed at least another 100 puzzles over the years.

I got the Fisher cube from Puzzle Master as part of my recent large order - they have a huge selection of Meffert's and other manufacturers' Twisty puzzles at decent prices (if you prefer it in black then Puzzle Master have it in that colour too). This can also be bought from all the usual specialist twisty outlets. It follows the standard Rubik's cube puzzle colouring and is a 5.7 cm cube also like the standard cube. Puzzle Master rate it as a level 9 in difficulty and this is correct if you are not a twisty person but if you can solve a regular cube then it is not so hard (apart from the alleged "parity of false equivocation")!

So, if you can do a 3x3 cube should you get one of these? Absolutely yes! This uses the same basic techniques but adds some very interesting twists to them, making it a rather interesting and really fun puzzle to solve without being ridiculously tough.

Friday 15 June 2012

Broken Heart Trick Lock

Broken Heart Trick Lock
So, I couldn't resist it much longer! I had come to the end of my large Puzzle Master order (I think I had managed to ration myself quite well - I had spread them all out over 3 months!) and I had a dilemma: Should I get any more? OK you have probably guessed that I only hesitated for a nanosecond! Puzzle Master have such a huge collection in so many different subtypes that there is always a puzzle still to be tried so I placed another order and waited! (I really don't understand why the Canada post office are so much more expensive than all the others around the world!) A little tip for you - don't EVER use the overland option for Canada post to Europe - a previous order from a different Canadian based puzzle company took 4 months to arrive by this route!

Using the airmail option was more expensive but it arrived within a couple of weeks. I was like a child at a funfair unpacking another very large hoard!!!

Having recently reviewed another of Rainer Popp's fabulous Tricklocks (the T3), I have definitely gotten a taste for Puzzle Locks. So I ordered the Broken Heart Trick Lock from  Puzzle Master. It is rated as a level 5 (the easiest level). It is nicely packaged in the Puzzle Master plastic clamshell with only the instructions to open the lock. It is really quite attractive, made from brass in a heart shape and provided with 2 keys also having a heart motif. It isn't particularly large measuring 13 x 6.4 x 1.3 cm. It does feel like a nice quality puzzle. No solution is provided and it doesn't appear to be available for download either but do not worry about this - you won't need a solution.