Sunday 25 August 2013

200 posts - I have been VERY bad!

I really cannot believe it! This is my 200th post and, looking at my analytics data, I should achieve 200,000 page views in the next week or two! Is this a cue for a torrent of mushy nonsense from me? No! Yes! Alright - just a little bit. It hardly seems long ago that I passed the 100 post mark - this time I'm going to be:
"Wondering about wood,
being 'Fuller' it,
admiring the Pelikan,
being amazed at a burl
and finally, going CraaaazyBad with Traiphum"
I've not lost my marbles yet again - it will all make sense soon! Recently I have been buying new toys like there was no tomorrow so basically, to mark this occasion, I thought I would show off a few of the most beautiful and challenging puzzles that have arrived recently and describe my experiences with them. Many are still available for you to add to your collection. Hopefully this catharsis will make me feel better and help Mrs S forgive me!!!

Wood Wonders

Brian Menold is the head honcho at Wood Wonders (actually he's the only honcho) and I have been buying from him for 2 years now - his workmanship has developed during that period until it rivals some of the best in the business and like most (if not all) puzzle people he is a delight to communicate and do business with. During the penultimate sale, due to a quirk with the sales system on his site, I had all the puzzles in my basket snatched from me whilst I used my 2 factor authentication with PayPal - yes Nigel, I hope you feel guilty! As a result of this, he held the one puzzle I had managed to keep and when the next batch came out he contacted me to assure me that I would be able to get those I lost this time. Amongst a decent batch I obtained 3 particularly interesting puzzles from him:

Pyramidal Pile
4 Piece Pyramid
The first 2 are classic designs by Stewart Coffin and are beautifully made. It must be hard enough to make puzzles which are based on a cubic piece, but to make puzzles out of all sorts of other shapes just blows my mind! The pyramidal pile is, gulp, a sort of packing puzzle/construction puzzle. The lovely pyramid (made from Bocote with a Yellowheart tray) can be tipped out to reveal the pieces!

I think each subdivision is a truncated octahedron
I blithely mixed the pieces up and admired the incredible precision that Brian had put into it and then realised that I had not even noticed which way the subcomponents had been arranged! Should the square face be upward or the hexagonal one? No idea, so time for some experimentation. It took me several hours to finally work it out. There is a real series of things to note during the solution - until you have noticed everything that is required, you will not be able to do it. I was very impressed when the 13 year old daughter of a friend managed to do it in about 20 minutes but was even more pleased when she couldn't repeat the process when challenged! I know that's rather childish - but I am a kid! I must be because I have a house full of toys!!

The 4 piece pyramid took about 20 minutes to find the first removable piece. So accurately made that no gaps or edges were visible, I had to resort to randomly pushing pieces in various direction. It consists of 2 L shapes that are mirror images and 2 other more complex pieces. I scrambled it up without paying any attention to how it came apart! Foolish boy! For the life of me I could not work out how to reassemble it. In fact I couldn't even work out how the first 2 pieces fit together! After 4 days, I was at the end of my tether - I even began surfing the internet for a solution and couldn't find one anywhere! Was I going to have to ask Brian for a solution? BLUSH! Oh the shame! At just that moment I had a breakthrough thought (I do have thoughts occasionally and I think the next one is due in 2015!) and it went together beautifully to my great relief! I have repeated it several times now but it's always a struggle!

Peg Pile
As for the Peg pile? This is one of Brian's own designs, beautifully made in red oak and Tasmanian Rosewood. It consists of 6 flat rectangles with holes in them and a hole load of pegs. The aim is to make a 2 layer square pile with all the holes filled by the pegs. At the moment, to my intense shame, this is currently in pieces on my 'puzzles to be solved' shelf. I, again, tipped it over and have spent hours trying to reconstruct it! I really am completely rubbish at packing puzzles!

Cubic Dissection

Eric Fuller regularly produces many masterpieces that I have been bankrupting myself on over the last few years. The Binary burr that I had lusted after for so long, sold out in just minutes so I find it very odd that more recently he has been producing some gorgeous burr puzzles which have not sold quite as quickly as I would have expected. They are made as brilliantly as ever and all tend to be just a little bit different from the run of the mill burr. Each one has a rather unusual shape and a rather unusual set of moves. I had already bought (from Arteludes) a copy of Fusion (designed by Logan Kleinwaks) which is a pair of 6 piece burrs which are linked together and require simultaneous solving - review here. Eric still has a few of these left and I was absolutely thrilled to see the next in the series for sale, Cold Fusion. This consists of 4 interlocked 6 piece burrs and whilst it doesn't match the woods in my Arteludes version, I had to have one!

At the front is Cold Fusion (the others are amazing too)
The others in the picture are also particularly fun (Happy New Year on the right and Sweet 16 on the left). None of these burrs are particularly high level (usually requiring 16-18 moves for the first piece) but the unusual shapes and very unusual movements make for a most enjoyable experience.

Cold Fusion took me 5 hours to disassemble - and oddly the majority of that time was to remove the third piece. Despite making absolutely certain that I kept all the pieces in the correct groups and correctly orientated, when it came to reassemble it, I really struggled. Some of the moves are so unusual that I couldn't seem to repeat them and eventually I had a big pile of sticks. Luckily, Burrtools is my hero and the final part of every burr solution is constructing my Burrtools file. I now have quite a nice collection of these. I absolutely adore wooden burrs and these are some of the most enjoyable that I own. Go take a look at Eric's site, there are quite a few left of these burrs - you won't be disappointed!

New Pelikan Workshop

Many of you have had contact with Jakub from the New Pelikan Workshop recently and have bought a few pieces from him. Many had felt that the workshop had seen better days since the sad death of the owner Joseph Pelikan in 2005. But more recently 2 of the previous workers (Jakub Dvorak and Jaroslav Svejkovsky) from the original factory have taken over and are once again producing puzzles that are every bit up to the original high standards - their website needs an overhaul but has some wonderful workmanship on it. Quite a few are available now from Bernhard Schweitzer or from MrPuzzle and are truly fantastic. I had seen a copy of the Convolution ball in Allard's collection and admired it from a distance so when a chance to buy arrived I had to jump.

Convolution ball - stunning
This is so beautiful that Mrs S spontaneously picked it up and said that it could live in our living room! This is something that has never happened before!

Convolution Cube
Now I have a copy of Convolution already (another masterpiece from Brain Menold) and adore it - I haven't solved it for a long time but do remember that finding the first piece to remove took some time and that there is a very lovely rotational move in there too. This puzzle is just a spherical transformation of the original cubic puzzle designed by the renowned Stewart Coffin. I played with this one for about 40 minutes before I worked out which piece slid out first. It is no good randomly pushing and pulling because the tolerances are so perfect that nothing will move at all unless pushed exactly so. The secret is to spend time studying the shapes to see whether any of them have an unobstructed pathway. When you finally find it and push just right then it slides out easily - a lovely motion. The rest of the disassembly is fairly straightforward apart from working out the rotation. With every piece I marvelled at the amazing accuracy. I then scrambled the pieces - how bad could that be? Doh!!!
I sort of knew the puzzle on which it was based and as a ball shape there cannot possibly be too many ways the pieces can actually fit together - can there? Doh again!!!

How hard can it be? Gulp!
It was at this point that I realised just how much attention to detail Jakub had made - the segments of the puzzle can fit together in several different places and several orientations! Mrs S looked up from her magazine with an irritated look when I uttered a profanity as I realised this. Now I had a REAL challenge on my hands! I had to refer to my photograph to work out the first section's assembly. If I hadn't, then it would probably still be in pieces. Every piece slides together beautifully but even when the wrong pieces are slid together it still slides beautifully and the curvature of the ball still matches with incorrect pieces! I spent a panicky and then happy couple of hours on this in total. If you get a chance to buy one then do so without hesitation.

Galaxy Z
Here you can see a copy of Galaxy Z (designed by Osanori Yamamoto). I think my copy is a special edition because the others I have seen photos of do not have the curved edges on the top and bottom. If it is a special version then I am VERY grateful. Now my knowledge of this puzzle goes back to the middle of last year. I have an ongoing email conversation with a very knowledgeable friend from the other side of the world who encourages me in my pursuits and who also makes puzzles for me and sends them to me purely for the mutual pleasure of them! Something for which I am eternally grateful. We have discussed the Galaxy puzzles for some time and when Jakub offered it to me I replied with a yes, YES, YES! immediately. My friend has rated this particular one as his number one burr puzzle of 2012 because of the simplicity of construction and yet complexity of solution. It has a wonderful set of moves which work up from moving 1 piece at a time to manipulating all four sticks simultaneously. The solution took about ½ hour to find and every move is accompanied by a satisfying "thwack" as the pieces fit into position. Note that all the four burr pieces are identical and the blocks on the frame are just 2x1 or 2x2 in size. Such a simple idea for such a complex puzzle.

Such complexity from such simplicity!

Burling about

Some time ago, I was spontaneously contacted via Google plus (which is odd for me because I did not know what G+ was and didn't know that I had signed up for it!) Marcus Allred has been designing the most beautiful wooden mazes for over a year now. I first drooled over his work when he posted them on the Renegades forum and received advice about craftsmanship which I didn't understand from some of the greats who lurk there. I did pay attention when he started a Kickstarter campaign to get some finance to make more. I couldn't buy at that time because I had already spent much more than my monthly allowance! After a short conversation a couple of his beautiful designs winged their way across the Atlantic and yet again the Customs and excise department held them hostage for a week! Having paid the ransom we have another puzzle that can live out-with my study! These are mazes of extreme beauty.

Hidden maze
Visible maze
On the left is a Bird's eye maple box with Cocobolo highlights and on the right is a visible maze in an acrylic box (the photo doesn't show off the beauty of the grain very well). These are absolutely stunning works of art. My puzzle career began with the hidden mazes and I was fascinated to try these. Marcus was hoping for me to give him some advice on how to improve them. There are a number of possible challenges. Firstly take a metal ball bearing and move it through the maze from one end to the other (there's another hole on another face) - this needs to be done entirely by feel and sound! You are provided with 2 balls, so the next challenge is to move both through the puzzle at the same time to the other end. Of course, having done it one way then try reversing direction. Finally, how about doing both at the same time but in opposite directions? The visible one has a start and end marked on it and 2 bearings within it. The aim is to move 1 or both balls from beginning to end and maybe attempt both in opposite directions. This is a real dexterity nightmare - the wood is so smoothly finished that controlling the balls is very hard as they go over to the next face.

I am sure I am a terrible disappointment to Marcus! Far from being able to provide any advice on developing the puzzles, I actually can't solve them repeatably! I have done the single ball each way once or twice but I certainly cannot do it repeatably which means that my mental map is wrong somewhere (I haven't worked out how to map it on paper). I certainly cannot do it with the 2 balls together and haven't even attempted doing the 2 in reverse. I keep coming back to them and trying for an hour here and there because they are so nice to pick up and fondle but these are really tough. When I posted these pics on Facebook some bright spark suggested having sink holes that require 2 balls to be able to cross a trap and other even more mean ideas. I hope to God that he doesn't incorporate them into his future designs. If you would like to buy one of these masterpieces then Contact me and I will put you in touch with him.

Traiphum puzzles and CrazyBadCuber

Finishing off this very lengthy list of my recent most beautiful and challenging puzzles, I had to come back to a new design. Those of you who are into twisty puzzles will have heard about Traiphum (from Thailand) - he is one of the 2 best puzzle modders in the world (along with Tony Fisher - the ModFather) and, over the last couple of years I have steadily increased my collection from him. One day I was chatting with him and he let slip that he had made something truly special. Dan Fast (aka CrazyBadCuber) had worked out a design to allow manufacture of another of the Ultimate shapeshifter group of cuboids. This is the 5x7x9 cuboid!

Not as bad as it looks!
Ultimate Shapeshifter?
I wrote about the classification of cuboids (using their solution method) here. It's a cuboid of the general form:
N x (N + E1) x (N + E2) where E1 and E2 are different even numbers
These are the "Ultimate shapeshifters" because they change shape in every direction and have many parities in their solution. They are wonderfully complex to solve but because they follow the "rules", there are no surprises. Until very recently this was the largest ever made in this series. It is a truly monstrous puzzle being 11 x 9 x 7.5 cm and weighing a hefty 700g! It's not for the faint-hearted and you need to rest your arms after a solve but I love it - thank's Traiphum. Jeremy Isenberg has produced 2 even-order versions - the 4x6x8 which I also own and a new world record with the 6x8x10!

Yes I couldn't resist it! Shame on me
If you have managed to reach this far in this extremely long post then congratulations! I apologise for droning on but I thought that I should show off the special puzzles for this special post. I'm looking forward to the next hundred posts - I'll keep on writing if you keep on reading! I think you must be reading this because quite soon I will have passed 200,000 page views and cannot believe that my mother is responsible for them all! If you have any suggestions for me then feel free to add a comment below or Contact Me.


  1. Congratulations on your 200 posts! That Convolution Ball is a standout among all the beautiful wood puzzles. Those are some impressive twisties, the 5x7x9 must certainly be a beast. It reminds me that I have to choose a new "someday" puzzle and start saving up for it. The flat-sided 4x6x8 looks great and I'm interested to know how long it takes to solve.

    1. Thanks Pete,
      It is sometimes hard to choose which puzzles to write about! So many are beautiful or challenging.

      The 4x6x8 is a nice compromise - not too expensive and a great challenge. It takes me about 30-45 minutes to solve it. It depends on how many parities I get!
      There are even order cube parities, floppy cuboid parities and brick parities (which can include centre pieces and edge pieces. It's fab!

  2. Hi Kevin

    Good pick of puzzles. Big pile as usual! When the Pelikan folks contacted me, I just had to have the Convolution Ball (and its stunning when I opened the wrapper!). After reading your post, I went to check if my Galaxy Z had rounded edges; unfortunately not :-(

    1. Thanks Jerry,
      Don't worry about the rounded edges! Enjoy the puzzle - it IS superb. A great design and Jakub's work is marvellous.

      I have made progress on BIC 2! I can see the other bearing but it's trapped behind the larger one!

  3. 200 Posts ! Amazing.
    I'm just at 86 posts on my blog ...
    Put the Champagne in the fridge for your 200 000 pages view !

    1. Thank you Jean-Baptiste, the 200,000 mark should be passed today (29/8) and it amazes me that people read what I jot down!

      I always visit your blog and enjoy all the beautiful wooden puzzles and really enjoyed the interview with the French puzzlers - keep it up!

  4. Nah nah you have it wrong. You're not a kid. Because the only difference between a boy and a man is in the price of their toys! :D

    1. Oh yeah!!! The price has gotten rather frightening recently!