Wednesday 1 January 2014

Happy New Year - My top 10 from 2013

Happy New Year to all my puzzle friends, designers, craftsmen and anyone else who has clicked through to this post by accident! I must warn you that this post is rather long - I'm not kidding - it's very VERY long! In fact I'm not sure you should bother to read it really - I'm sure you have much better things to do with your time! But if you are going to stay then enjoy my reminiscing about what seemed to be a very good year in 2013.

3 pictures of my study as it appears from L to R - my pride and joy!

Yet again I have been forced to rearrange my study to improve the organisation! Above you can see the group photos of my displayed collection - it looks good doesn't it? It doesn't end there however - the shelves in the cupboard are loaded with twisties too!

Mass produced twisties in a cupboard
But now I have had to break out of the study due to....  ahem.... "space problems"! Now, whenever something new arrives, if it is made from wood and looks gorgeous then I ask the question:
"Is this one lovely enough to be allowed in the living room"?
This year she has actually said yes on a number of occasions! So the rest of my collection is spread out and pictured below - notice the impossible folded card from Louis - Thanks mate!

Sculpture for her (puzzles for me)
A little theme starting - She didn't realise it would end up like this!
Thank you Louis for the impossible folded card!
But this is not all - I also have the wire and metal ones in drawers in a spare bedroom. So as I say many times:
"Houston, we have a problem!"
but never fear, I will rearrange and make room and I have had permission to use the whole top surface of the sideboard in the dining room - yay!!!

As a small treat to myself for the end of the year I have had a rather long look back at the puzzles I acquired during 2013 and tried to work out what my top 10 have been. I have cheated a bit by grouping some together so there are more than 10 but it's my blog and I get to choose. My criteria? Only that I love it! It can be because it gives me a good memory of someone or something, because the craftsmanship is so gorgeous (even if I haven't yet managed to solve it), or it can be because the solution was so epic or had such a marvellous Aha! moment that I continually get the urge to resolve it or shudder away from it but with a smile at the memory!

I have looked at my database and filtered on the puzzles that I have received during this last year and immediately have hidden that screen from the present Mrs S because it includes a total spend for the year! The amount horrifies even me and if Mrs S saw it then I would be a very ex Dr S!! A nurse's propensity for violence holds no bounds!!

So here we go my top 10 puzzles of 2013:

10 - Unbelievable new Pelikan Workshop puzzles

Early this year I began a very rewarding contact with Jakub Dvorak, one of the 2 gentlemen who have taken over the New Pelikan Workshop. We have discussed new puzzles and old ones and I even dared to suggest a couple that he might want to consider producing. Since then, I have proceeded to empty my bank account into his and have obtained a very nice series of puzzles all of which have been absolutely beautifully made. Two of my absolute favourites have been fabulous designs by the very prolific Osanori Yamamoto, these are the Mysterious galaxy and Galaxy Z - they are brilliant designs with a really nice challenge (one of which requires rotations) and as with all Jakub's work, stunningly well made.

Mysterious Galaxy
Galaxy Z
Fabulous work by Jakub

9 - Hexadecimal

A very good friend of mine, Michel, often emails me when he has found puzzles that he thinks that I might enjoy or something he has found that he believes will fit into my collection more than his. He contacted me in July when his web travels found him a copy of the Hexadecimal N-ary puzzle. This wasn't a very expensive original but a beautifully worked reproduction made by Dave Janelle from Creative Crafthouse. The Hexadecimal is beautifully made puzzle with 16 challenges to try - I have yet to complete the most difficult ones in it despite reviewing it in 5 months ago!

Hexadecimal Puzzle from Creative Crafthouse

8 - The Block

Now this puzzle is really unique! Every week or so, I email back and forth with Shane, a very talented craftsman and puzzle obsessed maniac (like me) and we talk about purchases, designs, solutions, families etc. We got together and solved one of the other puzzles in this list as a team and were very effective that way. I am very proud to call him a friend and have encouraged him to continue his puzzling in any way he can. He produced only 4 copies of The Block - mine is inscribed as #1 and my name - it is one of the few that is allowed on display in the living room which is a really major feat! It has a very unique design and even stumped the amazing Louis for a while! Part of me feels guilty that it is only at number 8 but the higher up puzzles are truly amazing!

The Block

7 - Logan Kleinwaks Burrs

You all know that I am a sucker for burrs and have bought many of them over the years - and even have quite a few classic 6 piece burrs. So what sets these two burrs by relative newcomer Logan Kleinwaks from the USA apart? Well they are 6 piece burrs with a difference. They consist of 2 (Fusion) or 4 (Cold Fusion) 6 piece burrs that are linked together! This was a revolution to me - I had only come across one very cheap puzzle like this (the Arch Burr) before and I reviewed it with Fusion. I bought my copy of Fusion (made by Maurice Vigouroux) from Jean-Baptiste's Arteludes store where it is still available. The even more incredible Cold Fusion was made by Eric Fuller and I'm afraid is no longer in stock.

Fusion - Two 6 piece burrs
Cold Fusion - Four 6 piece burrs

6 - Blogger's puzzles - Conjuring Conundrum & Ball in Cylinder II

Now I cannot possibly have a top 10 without paying tribute again to 2 of my fellow puzzle bloggers who have produced 2 absolutely stunning puzzles this year. Allard entered his Conjuring Conundrum as his exchange puzzle in the IPP in Japan this year. It was codesigned by Louis (yes, he is truly multi talented) and consists of 2 puzzles in one and uses a very clever way of using magnets. The second part of the puzzle is a tray puzzle which I have solved once with help and still cannot repeat! It is still available from Wil Strijbos if you want one.

Conjuring Conundrum - opened the case but more to do!
Of course Jerry sent me the second version of his Ball in Cylinder puzzle proving yet again that he is more than just a blogger. This one was much MUCH tougher than the first and is truly a masterpiece of design. It took me many weeks to solve it and I'm proud to say that I managed it without taking an X-ray as I had with one or 2 other puzzles! It is so difficult that as far as I know only a very few people have actually managed to solve it by themselves. Fantastic! If you want one then contact him via his blog - they are still available and you won't be disappointed. I am aware that he has had some ideas and started work on a new metal puzzle and am greatly looking forward to that one too!

Looks easy?

Hell No! This is quite a feat!

5 - Kamikaze Burr

by Stephan
12 Bastards
by Alfons
No top 10 can be complete without something amazing from the great MrPuzzle - Brian Young has teamed up recently with Junichi Yananose and at the end of 2012 they released a series of 5 enormous burrs as their limited editions. I am a sucker for burrs and these were really special. I have been spacing them out over the year to try not to do them all in one go as is my urge. What is so special? Well these are not especially difficult in terms of high move level! I have bought several very hard and special designs from the amazing Alfons Eyckmans and Stephan Baumegger who have made burrs with very high difficulty and also great craftsmanship as you can see from the pictures on either side here.

The thing about the Limited edition burrs is that there is something very unique about the approach for each of them. When I picked up the Kamikaze burr I immediately realised that it was something special. As well as being gigantic and beautifully made, it is special because it is a coordinate motion puzzle with many many pieces and it moves in several directions before being dismantled. It is also unusual because it has a blind ending. One of my friends in Oz who is one of the greatest twisty puzzlers in the world bought it and has still not attempted to dismantle it because it frightens him so much.

Kamikaze Burr

4 - Special Twisties - three of them all at number 4!

You knew I couldn't have my top 10 go without inserting some twisty puzzles into the list! It is still a mystery to me why so many of you puzzlers out there are so skilled and yet the vast majority of you totally shun the twisty puzzle sphere (apart from maybe owning a couple of cubes). I always try to encourage new puzzlers to learn how to solve twisties - you get a lot of challenge for your money and they have a very high repeatability to them. The biggest issue for new puzzlers is that the learning curve is quite steep but, I maintain, not too impossible. I always direct people to a couple of YouTube channels to get the basics and extra help with more complex puzzles - these would be the channels of my friends Rline & Jon (aka SuperAntonioVivaldi) and the fantastic support from the denizens of the Twisty Puzzle forum. Now in this group I have 3 very very special puzzles that I received and solved this year. 

Dan & Traiphum's 5x7x9
Just an Ultimate shapeshifter!
My pick from the handmade mods was a design by the CrazyBadCuber, Dan Fast and was made by the best puzzle modder in the world, Traiphum. In this a 9x9x9 cube was extended and cut back to make a 5x7x9 cuboid. This is one of the group of Ultimate shapeshifters and is a truly wonderful twisty challenge - I have solved it many times and still love doing it!

Eitan's star
The hardest twisty in the world?
Next I had to include a mass produced twisty puzzle - I reviewed it recently, Eitan's star is he first ever mass produced icosahedral puzzle, it is a face turner and probably the most difficult mass produced twisty in the world. The solvers thread on the twisty puzzle forum so far lists only 13 people in the world who have solved it - I am proud to be number 11 in that august group! Once you have mastered the basics of twisties then this is a MUST HAVE! I am aware of several puzzlers who have been struggling with it for many many weeks, it has the alarming knack of getting you very close to ecstasy and then dashing your hopes at the last moment. This was one of the most rewarding solves I have ever had in my puzzling career! Buy it here.

Eitan's Master Curvy Copter
A desert island puzzle!
Finally, I would be remiss in not including a 3D printed puzzle in the group. The Master Curvy Copter was also designed by the very talented Eitan Cher and manufactured by Shapeways. I bought it direct from Eitan as I am not allowed to dye puzzles in my new kitchen! I had waxed lyrical early on in my puzzling career about the wonderful Curvy Copter - an edge turning cube and to this day still absolutely adore solving it and would recommend it to anyone wanting to go the next step beyond face turning cubes. I was astounded when I heard that Eitan had produced a 4 layer version and lusted after it for months. I was beside myself with joy when I finally bought it and then the pain began! This was so much more than the original. After 2 months I finally conquered it and must say that it is one of my top 2 twisties of all time. I would take this to a desert island with me! Don't buy it unless you want to be seriously challenged!

3 - Derek's incredible triumphs!

Stunning shape
Looks easy? Think again!
Back in May, Neil visited the UK and joined us for a Midlands puzzle party and brought with him my prototype copies of 2 puzzles from a very good friend of mine from the California, Derek Bosch (aka Smiteo on the various forums). Derek has been a puzzler for many more years than me and allegedly has a truly astounding collection. He is also a first rate puzzle solver and an amazing puzzle designer. I helped him troubleshoot, document and photograph 2 new designs. The Helical burr is just a 4 piece burr but it is seriously more fun than that description would imply. In fact it is so good that it won the Jury's grand prize at the 2013 international puzzle party - a most prestigious award. It has been sitting on my desk next to me ever since and I still pick it up every week or so and play - it is available in various colours from Derek - you should definitely get one. Everyone at the MPP who played with it expressed extreme desire to steal it from me!

A Rhombic dodecahedron version of a mazeburr
At the same time I received his Rhombic MazeBurr - this is a Rhombic dodecahedral visualisation of Kagen Schaefer's Mazeburr. I originally bought a version of the cubic Mazeburr from Tom Lensch - it was the first expensive puzzle I had ever bought at $250 and it takes pride of place in my office (in fact it was in my top 5 puzzles at my 2 year anniversary)! I love the original and a more complex version can only be a good thing. Derek spent months designing it and carrying out a computer analysis to find the best combination of maze plates for it - the final release has 10's of 1000's of possible challenges right up to a whopping 379 move monster (which I have not solved!) I have been asked by many people when it will be ready and I am pleased to say that Derek seems to have begun distributing them now.

2 - N-ary puzzles and burrs together!

YES!! At last, I can say I have managed to get copies of two of the puzzles I have wanted most of all. Eric Fuller got permission to make some puzzles which were bigger and more complex than his usual and announced it to all waiting puzzlers. We waited with baited breath for them to arrive. The Binary burr was designed by Bill Cutler and originally made by my friend Jerry MacFarland and has been unavailable for years. Eric's version has a little more looseness to it than he would like so he sold them at a cut price (thank heavens!) but a few months later he produced an absolutely perfect copy of the Ternary burr - this was designed by Goh Pit Khiam and had been one of Brian Young's limited editions, also only available at enormous price in an auction. These two puzzles are side by side on display in my living room - even Mrs S thinks they are gorgeous and I frequently sit down with one whilst watching TV and just play with the N-ary sequences for the sheer joy of such design and craftsmanship!

Binary Burr
Ternary Burr

1 - The best of the year? The Angel Box of course!

I can really say nothing more about this puzzle other than to direct you to my recent blog post about it. I love sequential discovery puzzles for the sheer longevity of the solution and the ingenuity of the designers. The angel box is an epic sequential discovery puzzle and took me more than a weekend to solve. It was designed and produced by the amazing Wil Strijbos who is not only my puzzle pusher but also my friend. The quality is superb and it sits in pride of place right in front of me as I write. It is a true puzzler's puzzle - if you can afford one then get it - you will not be disappointed. It has to be number ONE for 2013!

She's trapped
And now she's out - I had to wreck the place!!

So everyone who has got this far - well done on reading my longest post ever. 

I hope that you all have a very happy and healthy year in 2014 and are successful in whatever you turn your mind to.

Again, as Michel says:
"Let's keep puzzling"


  1. Hi Kevin, a very Happy New Year to you! Your Top 10; what a write up and I love the photos especially of your puzzle cabinets and display. I have recently fitted similar glass cabinets but have not fully and properly arranged my puzzles yet; got to install dehumidifier tubes etc, can't leave them on coffee tables like you do due to the very high humidity. Will post some photos on my blog once everything is done.

    And thank you for selecting my BIC#2 to be amongst your top 10 puzzles.

    Also fully agree with your choice of Angel Box as No1. It certainly gets my vote as one of the best puzzles in my collection for 2013.

    1. Happy new year Jerry!

      I will look forward to seeing your collection photos - I'm sure it will be impressive!

  2. I like how your "Top 10" list contains about 40 puzzles!! ;-)

    I don't have any of these, except for the Helical Burr. :-(

    1. Oh, and Conjuring Conundrum ...

    2. Was there 40? I didn't count! There are many I feel guilty missing out on. This seemed the best way.

      You need to get those puzzles George!

    3. I didn't count either, it just seemed like way more than 10!

      I'm afraid I am not that much of a collector to aquire all these ...

      Thanks for sharing your favorites!

  3. paying 390€ for a puzzle (angel box), you must be rich....

    1. Am I rich? No I'm not and neither are most of the others who bought it!

      I have a good job which I trained for many many years to get. I have no children and no other real expensive hobbies. I also don't smoke and barely drink. So buying a single expensive puzzle means I saved up for it and chose carefully what I spent my hard earned cash on! It does not mean that I'm rich!

  4. concerning that angel box, it looks nice, but seems to be simple to open

    1. It is not particularly simple - it took most of us a couple of days! But there is more to a puzzle than just difficulty! We appreciate design, clever tricks and beauty too.

  5. Hi Kevin,

    Great post. What's the book between the Slocum (Tangram) and the Coffin (Geometric) books and what's the spiral bound book at the end?


    1. I think you are seeing a reflection! The books are from the left:
      Compendium of disentanglement puzzles by Dick Hess (Spiral bound), The 15 Puzzle, The Anchor Puzzle Book, The Tangram Book (all 3 by Jerry Slocum), Geometric Puzzle design by S Coffin and then How Puzzles Improve Your Brain.

    2. Thanks! Yep I'm still seeing that shadow!

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