Sunday 25 January 2015

He called me a genius!

Positively devilish - the HELLical Burr
If you follow me on FaceBook then you will have seen a late night post from me with a puzzle finally solved and an exclamation about the incredible skills of two of my friends! I posted this:
Derek Bosch - you are a genius! This HELLical burr is phenomenal - it took me quite a few hours to dismantle it! Lots of blind ends and even a loop and a hidden exit! Steve Nicholls - your 3D printing of this puzzle is nothing short of stunning! Everyone should go to to see the machine you use - I WANT one!!!
In part of the subsequent conversation that follows, Derek actually said that I was a genius too!
Kevin, you are the genius, for solving it (and remembering how it goes back together!) Even I need my cheat sheet! 
This came as a bit of a shock to me because I remain convinced that I am a puzzling amateur. Yep! I still think of myself as a newbie to this game with a bit of a fetish for burrs, twisties, disentanglements, N-ary puzzles, sequential discovery puzzles and assorted wooden interlocking puzzles. Oh dear! That’s quite a list isn’t it? BLUSH!! The present Mrs S would definitely say that I am no genius as I barely remember my own name some days and have much more purchasing power than sense!

It's Helical - such fun!
So what is all this about? You may think you recognise the puzzle at the top of the post - it is a 4 piece burr puzzle which has been twisted into a helical conformation. I wrote about the predecessor of this a long time ago - The Helical Burr. Derek Bosch designed it and won the Jury's grand prize for it in the 2013 IPP puzzle design competition. More importantly it was very high (number 3) in my 2013 puzzles of the year list! At last year's IPP he showed off a follow up puzzle which required significantly more moves which was subsequently named the HELLical burr because it was HELLishly difficult. Shortly after that, Shapeways killed off affordable puzzle production and I mourned the fact that I would probably never manage to obtain a copy. Luckily, earlier this year we heard from the equally brilliant designer and puzzle producer Steve Nicholls (one of the coproducers of the Threedy printer) and he showed off the first copy of the HELLical burr produced using an FDM printer. I drooled and told him that I wanted one as soon as he was able to produce them for sale. An email exchange took place between Steve, Derek and I and over a couple of days,  and I got progressively more excited! Between the two of them they had managed to produce an animation of the disassembly which stuttered away on my iPad and definitely did not give me much of a clue but really whetted my appetite! I was then recruited (as had occured with the original version) to use my photography and editing skills, along with my now famous kitchen granite to make a solution sheet for it. I played all keen to the boys but was actually quite worried that I would be completely unable to solve it at all!

Saturday 17 January 2015

He's opinionated, abrasive, very talented and a friend!

Now that got your attention didn't it?
Shake Something
I'm a day early! I'm working in trauma all day on Sunday and I didn't want to miss out on producing a review for you so I used a couple of hours today to put something together for you.

I know that the twisty puzzlers amongst you immediately know who I'm talking about - it can be none other than Dan Fast aka CrazyBadCuber and also now after a career change the CrazyBadTrucker. Over the years he has appeared and disappeared (because of arguments or disagreements) from various twisty forums including my favourite Twisty Puzzle forum. He's upset quite a few people along the way so why on earth would I even think about having an article about him?

Well over the years, I have come to consider him a friend! We chat fairly frequently on FaceBook and I've always found him to be very polite. He has many reasons for his personality which the world saw in a very candid interview (now made private) that he did with Rline on the TwistyPuzzling YouTube channel and let's just say that he has really done very well for himself despite occurrences in his past. One thing to say about Dan is that when he puts his mind to something, he really throws himself into it and does it properly. He started with cubing and became a fairly good speedcuber and then moved onto other twisty puzzles and now has the most extensive collection of puzzle mods by Traiphum anywhere in the world (something I'm rather jealous of) and then he went into puzzle modification himself and made quite a few fabulous puzzles (more of that later) which have sold for large sums of money.

His recent "fetish" has been for burr puzzles and he and I have communicated a lot about these. He solves them rather like me - he basically moves things randomly hundreds of times until he finds what he is looking for and then progresses by luck! It's sad for me to admit it but whilst I adore burr puzzles and the gorgeous woods and craftsmanship, I (and he) are not particularly good at them but we just can't stop trying to solve them and can't stop collecting. I did have a small try at designing them - most modern designers have learned to utilise the incredible Burrtools software from Andreas Röver to produce more and more complex burr puzzles of ever higher level of difficulty. My ability (and time to stick with it) was very limited and I produced only a few poor designs but Dan, as is his usual, stuck doggedly with it and mastered the program bit by bit (a teeny little bit of help from me) and has designed some fabulous puzzles which have even made it to production by craftsmen. Dan is aware that not everyone wants super high level burrs but we want puzzles that are interesting in shape or solve process. Two of these I will show today.

Sunday 11 January 2015

Cast Dolce

Cast Dolce
Yet again, I have spent a fair bit of the weekend doing the much hated DIY! This meant little puzzling time and work meant I had very little opportunity during the week to try anything new (apart from my latest twisty, the Rhombic Triacontrahedron - yes 30 sides). So this morning after being sent out to do the weekly food shopping (my chore as Mrs S does most of the rest of the household chores), I decided to try one of my stash of Hanayama puzzles that I got from my last Puzzle Master foray.

With very little time available, I chose the one of the easier ones I had, the Cast Dolce which is rated by Hanayama as level 3/6 and by Puzzle Master as level 7 (Challenging) on their scale of 5-10.
This one was designed by Akio Yamamoto and adjusted by Nob to make it trickier. The aim is, as with most of them, to "take it apart and then put it back together". There's a bit of other philosophical stuff on the box which can happily be ignored.

The reviews on the Puzzle Master product page are mostly 4 and 5 stars and other bloggers have enjoyed it:
Tom Cutrofello (who usually only reviews puzzle apps enjoyed it and reviewed it here.
Gabriel reviewed it here and interestingly he found an alternative single move solution which I have not yet been able to repeat.

This puzzle is simply gorgeous - it is a nice size (12cm x 4.7cm x 4.7cm) and made of both silver and gold anodised cast metal in the shapes of the male and female symbols - the flash in the photography shows up every fingerprint and speck of dust, it looks much better than my photo really shows. This puzzle is shiny enough to appeal to anyone like me, with advanced magpie tendencies! The packaging that it came in was the standard black box and, as always, is beautifully displayed!

Sunday 4 January 2015

An old puzzle teaches something new!

4x5x6 Cuboid
Shapeshifts on 2 faces
Yep you've seen that one before! It is TomZ's amazing 4x5x6 cuboid. I struggled this week to think of something to write about for you - I have published 2 extra posts over the holiday period and actually not done much puzzling. Then I remembered, I had actually worked on a pretty wonderful twisty and learned something rather special from it!

It had been an aim of mine for a very long time to get this puzzle and I even met and asked Tom Van der Zanden about it at the last IPP. When Shapeways effectively killed puzzle development with their "priceapocalypse", I more or less gave up on the idea! A lucky occurrence happened when a Facebook puzzle friend, Austin (yes he does actually live in Texas) had a spare one going at pre-rise prices. I jumped fast and it arrived in Sheffield in mid December. Yippee - Happy Xmas!!!

As another gratuitous twisty photo here it is scrambled! It is monstrous!!!

Fun fun fun!!! I know not al of you believe it but bear with me!
Why have I shown it again? Is there method in my madness? Well yes! This particular puzzle taught me a very hard earned lesson! When you think you truly understand a puzzle or puzzle type, another one can come up with something totally unexpected that kicks you in the butt and makes you actually go back to basics and THINK©! This one really hit me hard and took me several days to beat!

Thursday 1 January 2015

Happy New Year - My best puzzles from 2014

I would dearly have loved to provide some up to date photos of the entire collection but my acquisitions have now completely outstripped my ability to store them! At the present moment my desk is absolutely littered with puzzles that I have no space to store. They are absolutely everywhere! I have expanded into the living room (only the most beautiful ones) and also into the dining room (for puzzles that are just too huge). The present Mrs S has actually threatened to come into my study and help me tidy it up! This thought frightens me to death as she may choose to get rid of a few of them!

Every year Peter Hajek sends an email to the IPP puzzlers asking for their top 3 acquisitions of the year - he then produces a book giving the results which he distributes to everyone. It makes for a great read and is a wonderful resource for us all. This year his email request set me to thinking about my best puzzles of the year. It has become a bit of a tradition for me to give a summary of my favourite puzzles but I only include the ones that I have both acquired AND solved in the year up to this point. This task is made much easier using my database but on looking back I see that there are a few that I might need to alter my ratings.

So in sort of reverse order (although many were very difficult to place above or below the others):

Almost made it to the top 10 - lots of burrs!
During 2014 I developed a very rewarding friendship with several designers and craftsmen who have kept me amused with many burrs. There are so many that I find it impossible to choose any one (or even two or three) that should appear in my top 10 puzzles of the year so I have a few honourable mentions to describe first.

11a) Six of One, Half A Dozen of the Other
Complete with Limited edition medallion
Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Brian Young
I received both 2013 limited edition puzzles from MrPuzzle just a month ago and have only solved this one so far. It looks just like a 6 piece burr but is actually 12 pieces and solves in a very unique manner. It is not particularly difficult but is extremely clever and a joy to play with. The wood is a much deeper colour than the picture reveals and it still sits next to me to be played with regularly.

11b) Gobi
Simple 12 piece burr?
Of course not!
Goetz has produced a page specifically for a wonderful group of puzzles. Both Stephan Baumegger and Alfons Eyckmans have begun designing and making burrs of various sizes that have special shaped pieces hidden inside and the aim is to release those pieces by dismantling the puzzle. Gobi (by Alfons) was special for several reasons - it was beautifully made by Eric Fuller and unusually, it contained 2 pieces to free. What is more appropriate in a desert than a nomad and his camel. The very special feature of this one was that the nomad had to be moved independently within the puzzle at several times to unlock other moves. Eric's superb craftsmanship meant these moves were entirely possible using gravity alone. I actually have several other burrs in this group and all are wonderful.

11c) Doors and Drawers
Is it a door or a drawer?
A joint effort by the New Pelikan Workshop under the stewardship of Jakub Dvorak and Mike Toulouzas produced a combination of a framed burr and a packing puzzle. Stunningly made and a joy to solve. Not too difficult but requiring the ingenious use of gravity and friction as well as basic burr solving techniques. My review gushed about it here.