Thursday 26 April 2012

Dancing with Microcubology

A few months ago when I met Richard Gain again at James Dalgety's Puzzle Museum, he told me that he had a few more designs nearly ready to come out from the relative newcomer to the puzzle design world called Jeff Namkung. Jeff  has specialised in interlocking solids in the form of cubes most of which do not require rotations to disassemble - he has named them all after dances! Now you know that I just cannot resist these puzzles! I obtained one of the early ones called Quickstep as soon as it was announced and reviewed it here. Richard also said that he had some more of the Jos Bergmans puzzles coming too - I was beside myself with anticipation!! Weeks passed with not a word and I forgot about it.

In early March an email went around to all the Puzzle Paradise addicts subscribers that Richard had made and dyed another batch of cubes and put them up for sale. I immediately ordered 2 of the most interesting ones and because I was too excited/lazy/stupid to read the whole page I clicked on the PayPal buy link and paid for them with the American postage fee. After a little email conversation during which I admitted to being an eedjit, we decided to make it 3 puzzles with the UK postage. A few days later I was pleased to receive both Whirlwind and Pirouette by Jos Bergmans and Jive by Jeff Namkung. Then a couple of weeks ago he announced that he had made yet more!! So what was I to do except buy them too!! So now I have 5 Namkung's and 2 Bergmans' to play with - how exciting!!! This review I will focus on the Namkung puzzles. So "I'm askin', are you dancin'"? There will be a few of you Brits who will be old enough to remember where that came from!

My first cube for review is Jive:

It is a 4 cm interlocking 4x4x4 cube with no exterior holes, consisting of 5 pieces. There is one solution only requiring no rotations. It is level 9-1-1-2.

This brightly coloured cube was my 2nd Namkung and I was really looking forward to it especially as it was sent to me in the unassembled state. Richard did say that it should be doable by any experienced puzzler in about 30 minutes! I have to say that I think it did take me a good bit longer than that! Despite this last year of shear hard work, I am obviously still just an amateur! I found it quite easy to work out where everything should go but it really took some doing to find the correct order for the assembly. I let a friend have a play yesterday and she managed to take it apart in about 10-15 minutes but had no idea at all how she did so and after 30 minutes gave up - I am totally ashamed to say that I took another hour to reassemble it (I hadn't touched it since my initial success). Here are the pieces:

Jive pieces
Next up is Bolero:

Like Jive, this is a 4 cm interlocking 4x4x4 cube with no exterior holes and 5 pieces. It also has only one solution requiring no rotations. Difficulty is rated as level 8-4-2. The colour scheme is inspired by the name.
Richard stated on the Puzzle Paradise auction:
"Bolero is probably one of the most difficult 4x4x4 interlocking cube I have ever tried to solve, even though it doesn't have the highest number of moves - after two hours I gave up and looked at the solution just so I could put the puzzles together! Now that I have made several copies I can just about manage to solve it without cheating but it's still a great challenge."
This is the reason that I bought it!!

After reading this, I absolutely had to have one but was really quite frightened of it when it arrived! I was easily able to remove the first piece but finding the 4 moves to remove the second proved to be a real problem and each time I have tried since then has been a problem at exactly the same spot. In fact writing this blog post, I have it in front of me and am struggling to get the second piece disengaged! This is one really mean damn puzzle!!! Each time I actually do it, it surprises me! Putting it back together is fine if I do it straight away but if I leave it then I either fail and have to use Burtools or it takes me ages. Here is what it looks like dismantled:

Bolero pieces
The final dancing cube is Slow Waltz:

This also is a 4 cm interlocking 4x4x4 cube. You're probably noticing a trend now! This has one exterior hole and 5 pieces. Burrtools gives two potential solutions but only one can actually be assembled - again, there are no rotations required. This is a really tough cube to solve it is a record holding level 14-8-2-3 (YES it takes 14 moves to remove the first piece!!!)
Richard states:
"Slow Waltz takes a staggering 27 moves to put together and is a real delight to try and solve. The solution is somewhat reminiscent of quickstep, with pieces gliding back and forth, one side-stepping to allow another piece past, and making full use of the space with pieces moving in all directions. This is one I just keep going back to. Watch out for the dead end!"
I have to agree with him - this one is just fabulous!! It is still available on Puzzle Paradise - just buy it!!!

The removal of the first piece is an absolute delight of to and fro movements with several places to get stuck. Once the first piece is removed it still takes a hefty set of moves to remove the next - wonderful. At this point you would expect it to just fall apart but NO! Whilst the next piece only needs 2 moves for the removal, it is rather unexpected and I love it. Even separating the very last 2 pieces still takes 3 more moves. What a tremendous sense of achievement you get when it is apart. It took me over an hour to put it back together again having mixed the pieces up and left them for half an hour!! I thought I was going to have to go back to Burrtools again! I gave this to a friend and he disassembled it in about 45 minutes but took nearly 2 hours with some hints to reassemble it. He also thought it was a marvelous experience and he s not really much of a puzzler!

The pieces look like this:

Slow Waltz pieces
These puzzles are beautifully made and dyed by Richard. They are not really cheap but are, in my opinion, good value for money. I especially think that Bolero and Slow Waltz are excellent. Go get them in Paradise!

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