Sunday 29 March 2015

A gift out of the blue!

2 Piece Cube - Home made but very high quality
Just a quickie this weekend - unfortunately I have to work and won't have much time for writing a long review.

One of the things I love about the puzzle world is the people within it! They are always helpful and often go way beyond what one would expect to provide assistance or advice. I regularly am contacted by puzzlers for either advice or for help solving puzzles and do my best to provide what they need without giving too much away and spoiling a puzzle. I was completely surprised when I received an email from Germany, from a relatively new puzzler by the name of Carsten.

My first contact with him was about the Angel box combination plate code and must have been rather unsatisfactory for him because as far as I can tell the plates and codes were assigned randomly. After that we had no contact until earlier this month when he contacted me to inform me that he had designed a puzzle himself and would like to send me a copy. Why? because:
I would like to send you one of them as a little thank you for your great blog which helped me alot finding my way through the jungle of countless puzzles out there!
Aw shucks! Blush! This really filled me with emotion - I do this because I love to puzzle, I love to communicate and I love to help people. I never expect anything in return. I returned his offer saying that it was totally unnecessary but I did give him my home address and thought nothing more of it. Well at couple of weeks later a very big box arrived from Germany and I was completely mystified as my tiny memory had no recollection of anything being on its way. Finally it dawned on me what was inside and I was staggered at the quality of this "home made" puzzle.

Sunday 22 March 2015

Pelikan is reborn and they are truly great!

I couldn't resist these three!
Over the years you have seen me receive and review many many beautiful puzzles made by the New Pelikan workshop. I have also collected many from the original workshop under the care of Josef Pelikan. Most of the originals were sold via Bernhard’s amazing website, Puzzlewood. But after the sad premature death of Josef the company was taken over by two of the original employees, Jakub Dvořák and Jaroslav Švejkovský who continued to turn out some absolutely stunning puzzles. They still work with Bernhard to produce some specials - don't forget to buy the amazing Doors and Drawers (a collaboration between Pelikan and Mike Toulouzas) which I reviewed last September and may still be available from Bernhard and also more recently the incredible Walton cube currently available which I still need to buy when my finances recover a bit.

The only downside to buying from the New Pelikan workshop was that their website was really useless and impossible to tell what was available and how much anything cost. I advised Jakub about it repeatedly and the answer was that it was a work in progress. Now finally you all can see their wares easily and order from them with ease. Due to the vagaries of international postage you still need to order by email rather than a shopping cart but this, for me, actually makes for a much more personal service.

The new website:

is absolutely stunning and shows off the available puzzles in all their glory with detailed information and prices. The one thing you will all see immediately is that the prices are VERY reasonable indeed! This does not mean that the puzzles are made cheaply! Absolutely not! The workmanship is definitely first rate - the finish is wonderful and the fit of the pieces is as perfect as it is possible to be! One new feature with the current batch of puzzles is that the name of the puzzles is deeply engraved into the wood. I don’t think it is laser engraved either because there is none of the characteristic burning or smell of laser work. I assume it is done on a computer controlled mill.

Engraving on the puzzles
Recently (as you have all seen) I have spent quite a lot of money with a few other craftsmen and had to limit myself to just 3 of the 6 available puzzles. I chose the ones with the highest difficulty level and most interesting design to me.

Sunday 15 March 2015

Cast Plate

Hanayama Cast Plate
Unfortunately this weekend has passed in a haze of office work and DIY rather than puzzling - unfortunately writing a lecture, getting my paperwork up to date and regrouting my bathroom had to take priority - she TOLD me so in no uncertain terms and backed it up with a few lashes of the 'Cat O'Nine tails' tongue! So this afternoon I needed a fairly quick and easy puzzle to review.

Luckily, I still have one or two fairly easy ones left in my stash. The last Hanayama puzzle left unopened is the Cast Plate. This little beauty is just a level 2 on Hanayama's own 6 point difficulty scale and level 6 (Tricky) on Puzzle Master's odd scale. I did not expect to be stuck for long and would be able to write something for you fairly quickly and then could continue my chores (sob!)

As with all the Hanayama puzzles, it is beautifully packaged and the instructions are simply to take it apart and then reassemble it. With only 2 pieces this should not be too much of a challenge. This is a new version of a truly classic puzzle which has been around for hundreds of years in a number of forms. The version by Hanayama was (re)designed by Nob Yashigahara in collaboration with Jerry Slocum. In fact it appears to have been the last puzzle that Nob designed - it actually says "Nob's last present" on the back of the disk to commemorate this fact. If you want some more information then just have a look at Rob Stegmann's treatise on them - he has quite a few and has a magnificent write up (in fact he has a magnificent write up on just about everything!)

Cast Medal
These all share the same common feature they are in reality maze puzzles. The aim is to walk the ring from hole to hole on the plate to try and edge towards the exit point and remove it. It has the same idea as the similar difficulty level Cast Medal which I really enjoyed (and reviewed here at the end of 2013) because of the little extras within the solution. The puzzle is beautifully made and looks like it is made from old iron. I doubt it will rust however! Gabriel reviewed it back in 2012 and Brian did too in 2010. No solution is provided but Rob has put one on his page or you can download the official Hanayama solution sheet here.

Sunday 8 March 2015

Blood, sweat and tears PLUS I'm on Fire!

Yes! You are going to get 2 posts for the price of one today! At least you will if I can write this before Mrs S drags me out of my study to cook dinner! First up, I am going to give a quick resume of how I went about solving one of the most complex twisty puzzles produced this year, Eric Vergo's Pentagram puzzle. After that, I really think I should highlight one of the best new sequential discovery puzzles produced in a long time - The Fire puzzle from Pyro Puzzles designed and produced by the incredible Stephen Miller.

Pentagram - looks innocuous!
Scrambled hell!
Bauhinia dodecahedron
This puzzle was produced by MF8 after Eric Vergo produced it several years earlier using a commercial 3D printing service. It is another dodecahedron in the series which I discussed at length back in May 2014. To reiterate a little, the first dodecahedron was very similar to the 3x3 cube in that it was face turning and could actually be solved using only minor modifications of the cube techniques. Later on the clever designers produced the Starminx 1 which was a corner turning dodecahedron and, similar to the Dino cube, it was a fairly trivial thing to solve using intuition alone. Last year they produced a corner turning dodecahedron where the cuts were curved and cut deeper into the mechanism - this was the infamous Bauhinia dodecahedron which caused so many of us such incredible difficulty. You can see the curved cuts on the picture going from corner to corner tip and the particular challenge with that puzzle was how to get all those tiny star tips into position. Eric's achievement was to make the cut even deeper and instead of going from corner to corner tip, it encroaches into the adjacent face and this produces not only the star tips but also corner pieces which need to be positioned and oriented.

Obviously the the solution of Pentagram shares some processes in common with the Bauhinia but you must remember that I am a puzzler who wakes up each morning with no recollection of what I did yesterday and many times cannot recall my own name!! Yes, I am not terribly bright and it tells you that I have absolutely no recollection of how the Bauhinia was solved - Whilst I solved most of it alone, I did rely heavily on a couple of algorithms from my friend Rline who has the most incredible YouTube channel. I was determined this time to solve this one by myself and this is a quick run through of some techniques I used.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Wise Up - He snatches defeat from from the jaws of victory

Wise Up
Why the title? The jaws of victory refers to my epic battle involving blood, sweat, tears and swearing with Eric Vergo's Pentagram twisty puzzle over the last 10 days. It is a corner turning dodecahedron with fairly deep cuts so that, unlike the Bauhinia and Starminx 1 (also corner turning), it has corner pieces. I received it in a recent batch from Calvin's HKNowstore and after stickering it, I began taking notes and hunting for my own algorithms for it. I gradually found various algorithms to allow me to move specific piece types without upsetting others and despite a partial inadvertent scramble during my exploration, I was ready to play! I solved my partial scramble and hence proved to myself that I had it right and scrambled it properly. Oh boy! I was totally unprepared for the battle that would commence! Not only was the turning poor due to so many pieces meeting at a point, but those points gradually sharpened themselves as they moved. During the multiple attempts at solving it I got stabbed quite badly and bled profusely over myself and my puzzle! I kept losing track of my setup moves during the solve and had to start again at least 8 times (once was really close to the final solution too)! I was nearly ready to give up when a final push last night snatched a victory for me!

Phew! I was ready for something a little less painful and hopefully a bit more easily successful! Lord! was I wrong about that!

I adore most puzzles (except packing puzzles and dexterity puzzles) and deliberately don't collect boxes to save the tattered remains of my finances. But one of my favourite types of puzzle is the disentanglement group - they are such a varied group and such a huge challenge at a very affordable price that I just cannot resist them. My favourites are the wire puzzles but having had a bit of success with the string puzzles that I got from Markus Götz I decided to try a few more.

The Wise up puzzle was designed by Markus (you can almost see his signature design in it) and manufactured by Eureka games and I got this from Puzzle Master in their "Other wood" section. It's a level 9 (Gruelling) on Puzzle Master's 5-10 scale and I have to say that this might be an underestimate of the difficulty. It is made of a plain wood (possibly maple) post with a nice sturdy thick string and coloured wooden bits as well as an anodised wire ring. The aim here is to remove the red ring from around the post. Unusually, this puzzle is packed in a plastic tube rather than the usual clamshell box. No solution is provided but it can be downloaded from Puzzle Master here.