Saturday 6 September 2014

Some nice puzzles from IPP and torturing the sick

Load's of metal!
I'm off to a conference soon and don't have my usual amount of time on the Sunday to write a post so I thought I'd highlight some of my recent puzzle escapades and publish a day early. At the MPP, Louis showed up with 4 beautifully made bent nail disentanglement puzzles. He had bought them from the proprietor of the Majorcan puzzle shop. I solved them all fairly quickly at the MPP but with each successive puzzle solved a whoop of delight came from me. These were absolutely beautifully made, really chunky and nicely anodised. But more important than the look was the fact that each of them had something new and interesting to their solve process - they all look very similar to the cheap puzzles of our childhood but were very different to them.

I was really surprised and pleased when Louis contacted me just before IPP to tell me that he had found the same 4 puzzles available at Village games in Camden Lock (their own website appears to be dead). He bought them for me and I picked them up when we met at IPP - this was one of the first parts of my haul. I have had fun playing with them myself as they make great worry beads and don't jingle enough to invite the wrath of Mrs S. They also are perfect for taking to work as no-one can resist them.

Looks easy? It is but try it without changing your grip!
The puzzle above is the simplest and is really stunning - the fun aspect to this is that it can be solved in 2 ways. Most people (including myself) do what appears pretty obvious and with a bit of fiddling (because it isn't quite as easy as you think) you separate the 2 pieces but have one poking through the other and need to feed them apart. The real challenge for this one is that there is a really clever way to separate the pieces in one smooth movement and you never need to take your hands off at all. I have given this to quite a few people and whilst most solve the first way, only one of my colleagues has done it the beautiful way.

Just 2 bent nails but quite tricky
This one is the next hardest and is not that tough but it separates in a rather unexpected way - definitely not the way the childhood puzzles did. As a consequence of this, unless you are really paying close attention to what you did, very few people are able to reassemble it quickly.

Just like a childhood puzzle?
The usual solution is wrong - LOCKED!
This one really stands out for me because it looks identical to several of those that I had as a child and seems initially to function in the same way until you carry out the movement you remember so well and you end up locked as in the second pic above. Obviously a new approach is required and trying the reverse movement with the heads of the nails actually won't work either! This one is particularly sneaky and requires proper planning of your motions to get them apart. Very few have managed this one.

Just 2 nails - but a lovely solution!
A bad day at the office!
I return from ICU to this!
My absolute favourite is this. It requires a very satisfying and really quite long sequence of moves done exactly the right way to get them apart. I gave this to some visiting American orthopaedic surgeons to play with whilst I was anaesthetising a particularly challenging case which they had come over especially to see - it would take me 45 minutes to complete my task and so I (and my usual surgeon) needed something to keep them occupied with and out of mischief whilst I was busy. When they arrived in the operating theatre after I was done, they handed it back in the unsolved position and actually hung around at the "top end" of the patient wanting to see the solution before moving down to watch the bloody part! So far only one colleague has solved this but couldn't return it to the start position! This is where my torturing the sick comes about. A colleague of mine was due to have an arthroscopy of his knee for a meniscal tear and asked if I would do him the anaesthetic honours! Despite knowing that my nick-name was "Grim-reaper" he actually chose me! The picture on the right was what I found waiting for me when I returned from the intensive care unit at the end of a particularly challenging day. Now I know the real reason - he wanted to play with my toys - he has been caught on this blog playing before and just wanted another excuse - he chose to have a spinal anaesthetic purely to allow him to play. With his permission, here he is again lying down on the job and playing with toys! Hope you feel better soon Steve!

Lying down on the job? Not me!!!
He's just found the easy solution to nail #1
Another lovely set of puzzles that I managed to get hold of at IPP came courtesy of John Haché from Winnipeg, Canada. Over the last year I have got to know John rather well. He is a very young puzzler but very addicted indeed and he shares my addiction to twisty puzzles. On the Twisty Puzzles forum he is quicksolver and he is responsible for setting up one of the largest Facebook groups there is: The Puzzle photography group. Along with John and Otis Cheng, I am one of the administrators of the group - come and join us - we are a nice bunch with the same mad interest! Knowing that John was coming to IPP and that he lived very close to Lee Valley tools, I asked him if he could pick up their Trick bolt sets and I'd pay him for them at IPP. This would save on currency changing and postage costs (the Canadian postal service is truly broken!) When we met at IPP we had so much to talk about that we ended up chatting for hours over the 3 day conference and managed to get the obligatory trip to Starbucks for coffee and puzzling! He handed over the trick bolts and would not accept payment for them at all and even gave me some Canadian coffee and Maple syrup sweets! See! The generosity of puzzlers can never be doubted!

Hideous! 3 Amigos!
Much more attractive - puzzles and coffee!
The original bolts were produced years ago and had always been a big hit with puzzlers but I had not actually managed to play with them and then fairly recently they had produced a second set which were supposedly a little tougher to solve:

An innocuous tube
With beautiful engineering within!
It took me about 15 minutes to solve them all and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. They are beautifully made and the visiting orthopaedic surgeons really liked the engineering that had gone into them. I have several of Wil Strijbos' bolts as well as these and now have the urge again to buy the complete set from the amazing Rocky Chiaro - I daren't tell Mrs S because that set works out really quite a lot of money!!! If you get the opportunity to obtain these then you will not be disappointed!

The Cray Twins by Steve Nichols
Finally in this little meandering story, I want to show you a puzzle that is what has tipped me over towards buying my own 3D printer. Ever since meeting Richard Gain and playing with his 3D printed puzzles made by Shapeways and then seeing those he has made on his own machine, I have lusted after a 3D printer. The one thing that has stopped me getting one...... Actually there have been 3 things stopping me! Firstly it would be explaining to Mrs S that I had bought another large gadget to go with my puzzle collection and then all the new plastic puzzles that would go with it - she barely tolerates the beautiful wooden ones and would murder me in my sleep if I filled the house with garishly coloured plastic ones! Secondly, these machines have been very expensive up until very recently - they are still not cheap but now are just about within the reach of the ordinary man. Finally, I have avoided buying one because they have never been usable out of the box - they have always required a lot of tinkering and calibrating before you actually end up with a usable machine.

My good friends Steve Nicholls and Simon Bexfield have spent the best part of the last 2 years developing a home/school 3D printer which is available as a kit or as a fully ready to use printer and they are now available for a reasonably affordable sum. The important thing for me is that they print from an SD card and don't need to be connected to a computer (hence it can be kept in the garage) and also it is ready to go from the moment it is plugged in and the spool of plastic is put in place.

Steve is a superb puzzle designer and has recently moved away from the standard Cartesian grid for his designs and has moved to a triangular or rhombic grid which is much harder to design for because Burrtools will not solve the assemblies and also because it is much harder to produce shapes that stay stable throughout their solution. I was delighted to see that Steve had printed a really stunning 6 piece burr as his exchange puzzle and called it the Cray Twins after the notorious East London crime lords! It was made in the red, white and blue of the British flag and initially separates into the 2 twins before total dismemberment! Whilst chatting to him at the puzzle party he gave me a copy to play with because he knows how much I love burrs and also because I had been so enthusiastic about his first attempt at a triangular burr - Triburrlism - it was stunning and a huge amount of fun to solve. The triangular grid really makes life difficult for a solver!

3 pieces - looks easy - it's NOT!
Having really enjoyed the process of solving the 3 piece burr above, I was really looking forward to having a go at the new 6 piece puzzle. Steve has said that it is a level 6 and, whilst this might be technically correct, I have to maintain that it is MUCH more difficult than that! The level 6 is just to separate the construction into the 2 twins - it is probably about level 30 before you have the first single piece removed. The movements are very precise and there are few problems caused by instability and rotation of the pieces. Towards the end of the separation it is important to maintain the orientation of the pieces and you can separate them a little early using a rotation. Adin, who designed the Symmple puzzle I discussed a few weeks ago is a burr solving machine and said on Facebook that it took him a good couple of hours to work it out and still has problems despite doing it several times. I would agree - this is a really tough one to solve because the triangular grid is not one we are used to and also because there are several blind ends and awkward moves to find. I took about 3 hours before I could comfortably dismantle it and reassemble. Remember that you really must be sure of yourself with this one - Burrtools won't help you reassemble it and you could end up with 6 brightly coloured slabs of plastic if you are not careful!

6 slabs of brightly coloured plastic - beautiful!!!
I highly recommend this puzzle - if you got it at the exchange or get one from Steve (or even print your own copy) then you will have a fantastic challenge ahead of you! Thanks so much Steve - really looking forward to your next one!

Oh yes - I have that ready to go now: (pics from imaterialise). The Tripod puzzle is also based on the triangular grid but is an assembly puzzle rather than a burr. To avoid disharmony at home I unpacked and washed the powder off at work - Mrs S hates the white powder almost as much as she hates jingling!

I have a whole lot of washed triangular sticks ready to go!
You cut a hole in the box and a pile of powder and a few sticks fall out - well 30 of them and they apparently assemble into something the size of a tennis ball. How hard can it be? Very hard apparently! I very much doubt that I will manage it!

There's almost no chance I will manage to build this!
I bought mine direct from Steve (you can too - if you wish to contact him then go via my Contact page) or you can get this from the iMaterialise site.

This turned out to be quite a long post - I apologise for so much drivel - if you would prefer shorter posts then some feedback would be good. Either post a comment below or use my Contact page. I have shown off some varied types of puzzle, none of which are particularly expensive and all of which are fun and fairly easily obtainable. I hope you enjoyed it.


  1. Do I understand correctly that your colleague chose to play with puzzles during his arthroscopy? That is a guy who knows how to cut out some free time for himself. I'll enjoy telling my orthopedist about this when I see him next week.

    1. Yes Kathleen, he did! I quite often give puzzles to my patients if they show interest and are having their surgery under 'regional anaesthesia'. He enjoyed himself I think. I've had one patient complain when he came back for a 4th operation that it wasn't me anaesthetising and he didn't get another puzzle to play with!