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.