Sunday 29 December 2013

He's so good that he can weave wood!

Woven Burr
Christmas this year was very quiet for me and Mrs S! We had a lazy day - after a small present opening ceremony which consisted only of 2 puzzles for me (Stifled Sob! Sniff!) Although, I did get some booze and goodies to eat too. We settled down to watch some TV and for me to play with my new and my old toys! I was very good and didn't touch anything that jingled and settled down with a new piece of wooden beauty from Brian Menold of Wood Wonders - this one I had been waiting for a few weeks. Brian has developed a sneaky habit of posting on his webpage about puzzles he plans to make and then allowing pre-orders! So a few weeks ago I told Mrs S that her Xmas present to me had just been announced. She was very good - she feigned interest  and grunted her assent. The puzzle arrived just before Xmas and was kept aside until the big day! I (and she) thought that was going to be it until Calvin from the HKNowstore announced the arrival of something new from Dayan - this is the Wheel of Wisdom twisty puzzle - it looked suitably horrific and so I had to have it! I'm a sucker for punishment!

L in Cage
Wheel of Wisdom

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Christmas thanks and wishes

Just a very small part of the special toys I received in 2013!
Last year at Christmas I posted my special wishes for 2013 and am truly amazed that almost all of them came true! In the picture above you can see just a tiny tiny fraction of the wonderful designer's and craftsmen's work that I acquired for my now fairly impressive collection (if I forgot something then I beg forgiveness - I just ran out of space for the photo!)

I am very lucky that I am able buy so many wonderful toys every year and am extremely grateful to my very forgiving wife who lets me get away with spending all our money on such frivolous things (even if it prevents her buying one more Mulberry handbag for her equally important collection!) - she also seems to tolerate me clicking, jingling and swearing continuously beside her with only a mildly acerbic glare! My skills don't really seem to have improved much and I confess that I am still not very bright!

I also count myself very lucky that I have been asked to be a member of the editorial board of the CFF journal, the only print puzzle journal in the world. For me this allows my love of writing to continue on paper as well as on line. I am humbled to amongst some of the greatest puzzlers in the world on that board and to be allowed to edit and even write an article or two for them - I will try to be worthy.

My greatest pleasure has been to become part of an international community who share thoughts and ideas so freely and support each other with such gusto. I have a steadily enlarging group of friends whom I have mostly never met but with whom I communicate back and forth many times - this includes designers, craftsmen and puzzlers. These conversations can continue for weeks and are a constant joy to me. In fact last week I was amazed to find myself "chatting" with a puzzler in Hong Kong, a puzzler in China and another in America all as separate conversations but all at the same time. As an old fart, I have to say "Ain't the internet an amazing thing?"

I now find myself receiving up to 10 emails every day via this blog or personal messages via Facebook or the forums. These emails are from people wanting help to find a puzzle, advice for what to buy or even to track down a designer, they may be asking for help to solve something (I try not to give outright solutions, but usually find just a small nudge is all that is required) or sometimes provide support to fix something which may be faulty. I try to respond to everyone quickly but occasionally I may need to work first! But no matter who it is or what they need, it is always my pleasure to help them and the thanks I receive in return is a marvellous reward.

So my wish for 2014?
Well last year I wished for the incredible limited edition burrs from Brian and Sue Young (MrPuzzle) and actually got them! I have solved 3 and am spreading the experience out over the year! So obviously my wish for 2014 is to buy the next limited edition puzzles from them.

In my work I see an awful lot of pain, fear and suffering (and dare I say it death). Unfortunately with my current special interests I seem to see a lot more than my fair share of dreadful cases! Every day I count myself very lucky to be healthy and happy and able to pursue this wonderful hobby. As a result of this my real Xmas wish is for you in the puzzle community to have a great Xmas and a happy healthy New Year. As my friend Michel always signs his emails:
"Lets keep puzzling!"

Sunday 22 December 2013

Cast Medal

Cast Medal
Here I go again making excuses for the quality of my post today! I have had my mum staying with me for a few days. Her 5 year old laptop is showing the advanced age and is on it's last legs. I finally convinced her to buy a Macbook (as I can't support her on Windows with ease since I have barely used it in years) so we have had a few sessions of tuition and I am completely frazzled! This may make this post a little shaky!!!

Today I'm reviewing the Cast Medal - this one I saw a couple of years ago when a friend of mine brought it to work for me to play with it. I really struggled with it despite spending probably a couple of hours on it. So when my last puzzle order at Puzzle Master went in, I had to have one of my own.

The Cast Medal is only rated as a level 2 on the Hanayama 6 point scale or 6 (Tricky) on the Puzzle Master 5-10 point scale. I would suggest that this particular puzzle is actually a good bit more difficult than the rating suggests - I'd suggest that 3 (7) is a better rating. Two of the three reviews on the product page also agree with this assessment. The reviews have, without exception, been positive and mine will be too. Gabriel's review was positive here.

It arrives in the usual black Hanayama package and is really beautiful to look at being made of 2 disks of copper coloured metal joined together and with a partial ring attached to one, The aim is simply to remove the ring using the rough pathway carved into the surface of the disk and also making use of the holes in them to rotate the ring around into different positions. Initially it is not clear why there are 2 disks but quite quickly it becomes apparent that it requires you to utilise the path way on both of them at the same time. I am not particularly good at these dual maze type puzzles and this may explain why I had so much trouble. Construction quality is very high, it is 9.7 x 4.7 x 2.2 cm in size. No solution is supplied with it but it can be downloaded from here.

Sunday 15 December 2013

It's not just a "stack of sticks"

A stack of sticks?
Mrs S has a lot to put up with really! Unlike most men, I'm not out playing golf, watching football (that's soccer to the philistine Americans!) or even chasing women or doing drink and drugs! My horrible man-habit leaves me in the house most of the time! I'm either surfing the intertubes for more toys, purchasing more toys, unwrapping more toys, solving all said toys (sometimes noisily with jingling - gulp! or with lots of swearing) and finally spending hours on the computer writing about the toys after having taken obsessive photos of them on our nice granite kitchen work surface!! So this means that I am in the house a lot and not doing the chores that she wants me to do! Well as a bloke I can't multitask! I couldn't possibly do chores and puzzle at the same time - so puzzles take priority as I'm sure you would all agree is the correct choice.

Recently I received a few deliveries (those of you who visit my Facebook pages know that I receive so many deliveries that I am on first name terms with my postman!!) and I always show them to "her" hoping for a positive response. Most times I get the "that's nice" response without her even looking up at them. To get her proper attention I would need to announce that I had received a pair of shoes or a handbag! But my last delivery got a new response:
"They all look the same! It's just a stack of sticks"
Aaaaargh!!!!! How can she say such a thing??? Can she not see the beauty, the workmanship and the soon to happen fun? Obviously not! Sob!!!

Sunday 8 December 2013

The Anomaly

The Anomaly
Believe it or not - I still have a few puzzles left from my last order from Puzzle Master - I really outdid myself at my last shopping visit! I decided this time to go back to the last of my set from their own selection of Wire disentanglement puzzles. I think this is the final one in the set of level 10 that I had not done - it's called The Anomaly, although I'm not really sure why!

It certainly looks quite a fearsome puzzle for solvers and as I said it is at the top of their difficulty scale - yep, a Level 10 (Mind Boggling) on their 5-10 point scale. It combines a very complex set of interlocking rings, loops and also a medium length of string so what could possibly go wrong? To make it even more confusing there is a knot fused onto the centre of the piece of string which limits a ball to the top half of the string. At the far end is a large triangular ring and loosely on the string is the brass coloured ring which you are supposed to remove. As with this whole series of puzzles it is well presented in a plastic clamshell package which mercifully is made to open easily - I always seem to lacerate myself when I have to open this sort of sealed plastic pack! The puzzle itself is beautifully made with high quality anodised wire and good strong string. Due to the thickness of the wire you would need to be really quite strong to force it.

So just remove the ring on a level 10 puzzle involving string? Easy peasy!! Gulp! Hopefully there'll be no awful knots! None of the usual bloggers have reviewed it yet but there has been a single review left on the product page giving it 4 stars but claiming it was easy but fun! No solution is provided for you but it is available for download if you want it from here.

Sunday 1 December 2013

It's a twofer - puzzling for the family and puzzling for me!

Believe it or not this is my first jigsaw!
My puzzle habit has been a source of hilarity amongst my friends and colleagues for some time! They often wonder whether the present Mrs S and I actually communicate at all and what about. Their vision is of me jingling or rattling away with something annoying and her just glaring at me constantly! Now to a certain extent this is true - she has almost no urge to participate in the puzzling but does actually sort of enjoy the notoriety I have achieved. Occasionally she has been known to solve something but if it takes more than 5 minutes then it get's handed back with a pained expression and the words "show me how it's done" and heaven help me if I try to force her to work on it for longer! If I show her a twisty puzzle then she immediately says they're all the same puzzle and definitely won't touch it.

So I had been wondering if there was any way I could turn some aspect of the puzzle habit into something we can do together. I have never held out any hope for this - even Rox can't really convince "Mr Man" to participate! In fact he only tolerates her habit (which is worse than mine) because she lets him keep "man tools" in the apartment. But I know that it is possible to have puzzling become a family affair when I spoke to my friend Andrew from Singapore (aka Bob Cubes after Bob the Builder). He has convinced his adorable family to join in with his madness and they each worked together to be the first to complete the then record-breaking 24,000 piece jigsaw and documented their achievement here (it has even been hung on the wall of their living room!) Later on they did it again with the current record holding (32,000 pieces) by Ravensberger and documented it here. This one is so huge it comes with a trolley!!

Now there was absolutely no way that I was ever going to attempt one of those monsters! Firstly I don't have the space, secondly I have cats and thirdly "she" would never participate. I also have been scarred for life when, as a child, our family did second hand 10,000 piece jigsaw. It took weeks and weeks, we had to eat on our laps because the dining table was out of commission and at the end of it all there were 3 pieces missing! In fact I have never seriously considered jigsaws much at all despite my current "try just about any puzzle" fetish. My good friend Nigel (the organiser of the Midlands puzzle parties) does do them - in fact he has been working on the 32,000 piece monster for at least 2 years! So I have been thinking that maybe I could give it a try. Then recently Mrs S made me stop cold in my tracks when she asked about doing them and I agreed wholeheartedly and even bought a jigsaw board to store and solve on. But nothing was done about it.