Sunday 28 June 2015

Time for a Day Trip - Except......

It took MUCH longer than a day!

The Day Trip Puzzle aka Tricky Dick
Having run out of "affordable" puzzles recently, I decided it was time to get a few more disentanglements to solve and write about and I would appear to have solved all of the selection available from Puzzle Master. So I headed off to the webstore of my friend Tomas Linden whom I met for the first time at last years International Puzzle Party in London. He runs (based in Finland) and has a huge selection of puzzles for reasonable prices. The only downside of his store is that to order from outside Finland you need to email him or use their contact page to ensure that the postage costs can be calculated and then payment arranged. This delays the shopping by a day but Tomas is very responsive. The only exception to this rapid response was for this time when I ordered my current stash! I had caught him suffering a particularly nasty bout of food poisoning and we sent each other some hilarious and rather graphic messages about the state of his gastrointestinal tract!!

I had been particularly interested in the more difficult puzzles in the Bon Voyage series made by Eureka puzzles. I nearly got them from Puzzle Master in my last order but they did not sell them individually, only as a set which I didn't really want (some look very simple indeed). If you are interested in the whole set then they are currently on special just now. I was delighted to see them available individually from Sloyd. I picked the ones that I wanted (just the hard ones) and a few days after Tomas recovered full control of his bowels, my puzzles arrived along with just one or erm... several others:

Toyz, toyz, TOYZ!
My attention was first drawn to this particular puzzle a few years ago when a friend in one of the private hospitals that I work in (he had caught my awful puzzle affliction) brought a puzzle for me to play with that he had bought from Brian Young called the Tricky Dick. I played a bit and loved it and decided that at some point I had to get a copy of my own. I subsequently forgot about it for a year or more when I decided to look into getting some more disentanglements and looking at Rick Eason's (the designer of the puzzle) site and contacting him he told me about two versions from Eureka - one called the Tricky Dick in their Mini-string range and the other called the Day Trip puzzle in their Bon Voyage series. This brought my attention to these series - bad news for my bank balance!

Sunday 21 June 2015

Wil causes pleasure.....and MUCH pain!

The butterfly lock box comes in a butterfly box
I apologise to those of you who expect my posts at the same time every Sunday afternoon! I know that I am a bit late - I had written a lot of the post yesterday but didn't have time to finish it. Unfortunately I have spent most of the day (from 7:30am) in Sheffield's emergency operating theatres and have only just got home to finish it off. I guess that since my work finances this expensive habit of mine, I really shouldn't complain too much!

It has been a very long time since we had any sort of update from Wil Strijbos. There have been intermittent reports of "it's coming" or nearly there but we have this problem to be sorted. Then suddenly out of the blue we got a couple of newsletters each mentioning just 1 new puzzle.

Beautiful and heavy metal inside! A pleasure to look at! 
The first newsletter described the Butterfly lock box which was quickly also named by Wil as the Pleasure and pain  puzzle. I have to say that the initial pleasure of seeing an update from Wil and a delighted read through the instructions and the history was followed by an "OMG!" of pain. In fact the OMG! was loud enough to make the present Mrs S look up from the Mulberry handbag website to look at what was wrong! Believe me, almost nothing can tear Mrs S away from handbags unless it is shoes..... or diamonds!! Whack!! Ouch! Sorry dear! This puzzle is eye watering in price. It is a staggering €380 and I know that you are all immediately wondering whether it is worth it? Well bear with me a little while and I will try and come to a conclusion. The first thing to be aware of is that Wil first had the idea for it in September 2013 and sketched the idea down. It has taken nearly 2 years to bring it to fruition, multiple trips to China where it is fabricated and several iterations to get it working fully. I am sure that the development cost for this will have been huge. The other thing to consider is that it is milled from a block of Aluminium, some of which is anodised and engraved, there's also some steel components and also a particularly large and handsome padlock. This monstrous thing weighs in at a mighty 1.5Kg and is huge at 133 x 90 x 47mm. It should be borne in mind that this is a limited production run of 100 pieces which will be numbered: 00/99 - 99/99 (mine is number 21/99 which matches with the number of my Angel box).

There are the usual hints and instructions that went with the puzzle:
  • No force (in fact Wil deliberately stated "when you feel friction, stop!")
  • No Banging
  • No Rotational Moves
  • No external tools allowed
  • No Force Required at all! (This was actually stated twice!!!)
  • Just turn things over, slide things back and forth carefully, change positions etc.
"Don't bother asking me for hints or solutions."
The aim is to move from the start position with the little plastic LOCK tube upside down on the pin to the same position as everything again but with the LOCK tube the correct way up.

Start position
Finish position
He also was very careful in his newsletter to say this:
"...and remember there is No Hurry, please take your time, and be sure you don't forget anything at the end... or pain awaits"
I would say that this statement is VERY important! Don't go rushing in headlong! Understand the puzzle as you go or it will end in pain!

The important thing with this is the stipulation that EVERYTHING should be in the same positions as they were with ONLY the LOCK tube changed. This particular distinction is very important. Then of course, the next thing to do is return it all right back to the start position. The start position is so special that Wil gave an explanation of how to know when you have got there. Not only should it look identical externally BUT it should also have the mechanism reset to the beginning internally and the only way that you will know when you have it correctly positioned is when the sliding green 'lid' can only be moved a single millimeter downwards:

The lid can only move 1mm in the start AND end position
As far as I know Shane was pretty much the first to receive this puzzle and he sent me a delighted email and set to work. I got a running commentary from him and a howl of delight when he fathomed it out. He was pretty skilled - he only experienced a small amount of the pain! You should be aware that if you follow the rules and work on the puzzle there are varying degrees of pain that can be experienced. Let me tell you that I am aware of some puzzlers who managed the entire puzzle with no pain at all and others like me who experienced the full gamut of pain! Of course during the experience it is possible to feel quite a lot of pleasure too. During my solve I definitely started out with pleasure! but it didn't last very long.

The most important thing to realise is that when you have experienced your pain and informed Wil about it then that causes him to experience much pleasure! Wil experiences the pleasure of receiving your cash, the pleasure of your enjoying his puzzle but even more the pleasure of your pain!

What are my thoughts about this? I was shocked at the price but as I said last week it is not expensive it is just rather a lot of money. The sequence of moves required initially appears pretty easy but believe me, it is not! To get it right and not experience pain requires a serious understanding of the complexity of the mechanism. You could argue that the more pain that you experience, the better value for money! But maybe that is just me trying to justify my masochism? I have now fully understood the puzzle and can achieve the required positions in about a minute - I love it and have solved it repeatedly since getting it. The repeatability is not in the solve it is in the pleasure of the very clever mechanism. Should you buy one? That is hard to say - if you can afford it without getting into financial trouble then it is a great addition to your collection and will maintain it's value over time but it is not for beginners to this mad addiction of ours!

The Ying Yang 69 Puzzle

Ying Yang 69
The other puzzle which was in Wil's second newsletter was the Ying Yang 69 puzzle. As soon as I saw the picture in the email I recalled how I had played with the prototype at the MPP last year just before the IPP. It had been designed by Ayi Liu and my friend Otis Cheng (a fellow admin of the Puzzle Photography Facebook group) had brought Ayi's prototype over for people to play with. I had tried to solve it for about 30-45 minutes and had singularly failed.

I thought nothing more of it until it appeared in Wil's newsletter. It transpired that Wil had seen it and decided that it was worth developing. He took it from the prototype phase and arranged for it to be mass produced. The final version is absolutely stunning - it is 60mm in diameter, 26mm in height and weighs 200g. The puzzle is made from aluminium (some pieces of which are anodised) and has steel components too. The aim is to disassemble it into (at least) the 4 component sections and then of course to reassemble it. It also is not a cheap puzzle at €110 but is absolutely beautifully made.

When mine arrived, I was struck by the gorgeous packaging:

It arrived in a lovely container
The first thing I did was take it to work - I was doing a vascular surgery and interventional radiology operating list the following Monday and I have often managed to sweet-talk the radiographers into taking a quick pic of my new metal goodies. I convinced the superintendent radiographer that she wanted to see the inside of my new toy and duly got a plane film in both axes. I was very careful not to actually look at the images as I didn't want to get any hints for solving the puzzle. I then put it away for a day to ensure that I definitely didn't remember anything.

The following day I took it out and began to explore - I did remember a bit of my findings from the MPP and so managed the first move fairly quickly. After that I was quite stuck for a while. Nothing else seemed to work until by pure accident something changed. At this point I jumped and reset it by accident. Stupid boy!!! Back to square one and I only managed to repeat my feat after another 20 minutes! It took a few new moves and I managed to separate the puzzle into 4 segments. It actually comes apart even further than that but I don't want to give too much away by showing you all of the pieces.

Eventually you will get this:

4 separate pieces - it does go further but would give too much away
I absolutely love this puzzle - it is a great worry bead and is a very slick idea. My Xray would not really give too much away but it's definitely better to solve it before seeing the Xray.

All in all, I have spent a fortune recently and am delighted with Wil's latest offerings - I am sure you will be too if you can afford the high starting price!

Thanks Wil - I am already looking forward to the next newsletter but do hope for the sake of my bank balance that you do actually wait a while.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Funzzle Puzzles - Beta followed by some PAIN!

Funnzle puzzle - Beta
This is the last of my Puzzle Master hoard! Sob! I really must get back to them and place another order soon but I seem to have been pretty busy recently. In fact I have been so busy that I have had a huge number of deliveries over the last few weeks (see here and here for a shameful list) and actually not had time to do any more than unpack them and take photos! I haven't solved any of them yet at all!!!

Permission was given for this!
They have recently stocked a new range of Bamboo puzzles all named for greek letters by a new company Funzzle. They were designed by someone I had not heard of until that time,Y Gong Yong Ming from China and he does not put his designs on Ishino's site. After my initial review (positive) of the Epsilon puzzle, I was contacted by more than one person who was rather indignant of the ethics of this designer and his company - I was informed by my correspondents and also by Gabriel who reviewed another one that these are a case of apparent plagiarism. It would appear that Mr Ming has taken the designs of other designers and just made a minor change or two and then produced it as his own design without any permission or even acknowledgement of the original designer. This is very much frowned upon by the puzzle world and leaves me with mixed feelings about these puzzles. It would appear that Puzzle Master now has the original designers acknowledged but I do not know whether permission was granted. It is expected that before a craftsman produces someone's work for profit (even if it is freely visible on Ishino's site that the original designer give permission and receive either payment or a copy. I know that Eric Fuller always does this, as does Brian Menold. In fact my recently acquired copy of the Really Bent Board Burr from Johan was only with the blessing of my mate Derek Bosch.

Sunday 7 June 2015

Not Terribly Bright - My Hall of Shame!

Or puzzles that I just cannot solve! Sob!!!

The Ultimate burr set with a level 1 puzzle assembled
I've been puzzling a fairly long time now (5 years) and have amassed a moderately decent collection of toys. In fact my collection has burst out of my study into the living room, dining room, a spare bedroom and now I've had to put a box of the less beautiful puzzles into storage in my garage! Mrs S has even suggested I just start at the beginning again and resolve all my old ones rather than buy more. My response to that was to ask her to wash her mouth out with soap and I told her that it was too late as I have a whole bunch of new disentanglements coming from my friend Tomas Linden at Sloyd and there might just be a few craftsman puzzles on order too! Whack!! Ouch! Sorry dear - I should have asked you first!

I'm still well behind most other serious puzzlers (I've not yet hit the 1000 puzzle mark) so she should be pleased that I'm working to catch up! Whack!! Ouch! Damn! Despite all this experience and the hope that it would expand the feeble brain that I have, I still have quite a few puzzles that I just cannot solve! To me, this is yet more proof that I'm not terribly bright. One day I hope that I just might manage to solve them.

Assembly of 6 piece burrs

At the top of the post is the gorgeous Ultimate burr set made by Jack Krijnen. It was originally documented in Creative Puzzles of the World by Van Delft and Botermans (1978) and several copies have been produced over the years - one is still available from Dave Janelle at Creative Crafthouse. The set consists of 27 pieces (all unique) that can be used 6 at a time to assemble a burr puzzle and was fully analysed by Ken Irvine. He showed that there are 59 level 1 puzzles that use the solid key piece in which the first move removes the first piece, 255 level 2 puzzles, 127 level 3 puzzles, 75 level 4 puzzles, 44 level 5 puzzles, 33 level 6 puzzles, 33 level 8 puzzles and finally 9 level 9 puzzles. At a total of 635 puzzles I would expect this to keep me busy well beyond my normal boredom threshold and after boredom sets in it will look fantastic on display in my study (which has been turned back into a shithole again!)

6 simple pieces!
That's as close as I can get!
Visible burr - stunning and very tough
After an initial problem caused by my lack of brain power, I finally (after about an hour of confusion) worked out how to go about solving the solid 6 piece burrs with the key piece and I surged through the first 59 puzzles in the list over 3 pleasant evenings in front of the TV with Mrs S. I took a break at that point and the following evening embarked on the very first of the level 2 burrs. I was on a roll, I thought, I would manage these with no problem, I thought and then Mrs S reminded me that I am not very bright and I hit a brick wall! Yep! Or Yip as Allard would say, I couldn't even solve the very first of the higher level 6 piece burrs! You all know how addicted I am to beautiful wood and that I have managed to accumulate a fair number of gorgeous burrs from the various craftsmen around the world. BUT I have always received them assembled and worked for hours, days, weeks or months on the disassembly and then reassembled them after having a lot of fun playing with Burrtools. Only a very few of these puzzles have I managed to reassemble from scratch and when I did do that, it was because of memory! One burr that was reputed to be very tough is the Gordian's Knot and I was proud to report to the world that I had managed to both disassemble it and even reassemble it without aid. BUT I can honestly say that I have NEVER assembled a burr from the pieces without having disassembled it first. In fact when Eric sold the Visible burr recently, I paid the supplemental $10 to receive it assembled so I could have the puzzling experience that Bill Cutler originally intended. In my defence with that I am not aware of any of the puzzlers who bought having assembled it without burrtools.

I have been trying to assemble the first of the level 2 puzzles for 4 evenings now and have not even come close! I have managed to find 2 possible assemblies of the completed puzzle but cannot work out the moves required to get that last piece in place. So far I have resisted using Burrtools - the humiliation is just too much! At this rate it might take me decades to solve the whole set and Lord help me when/if I get another set (there is still the 42 piece set that Allard described for me to obtain). I have been advised also that I REALLY SHOULD get the Mega Six burr from MrPuzzle. Brian says this about it:
The puzzle is incredibly more complicated than the commonly known six piece puzzle. 
Bill Cutler first used a computer program to analyse six piece burrs in 1974 but it took until 1990 to analyse all possible six piece burr combinations. Mega Six is the result of that search for the maximum number of moves for a six piece burr with a unique solution. This does not mean it has a unique assembly, due to the number of internal voids. In theory the pieces should fit together in 20 different ways however, the reality is that you can physically only put the puzzle together in one of the 20 assemblies. 
Mr Puzzle’s version, designed with Bill’s help, has one extra cube removed to increase the number of false assemblies....
The Mega Six is shipped completely disassembled! If I cannot even solve the first of the level 2 burrs in the set then what chance to I stand with this. But...... I really have to have it don't I? Whack!! Ouch! Sorry dear!

An impossible N-ary Puzzle

Another puzzle that I have been playing with for a long time is the Mysterians puzzle! I bought this from Sloyd over 2 years ago and it has been sitting on the shelf above me almost that whole time taunting me. I purchased it when I was told that it is an N-ary puzzle. This was confirmed by both Nick Baxter (the head Honcho of the IPP) and Goetz Schwandtner both of whom are amongst the greatest puzzlers in the world. Apparently this puzzle is a Quinary puzzle - it was designed by the amazing Oskar van Deventer and was Nick's exchange puzzle at the 23rd IPP. Mine arrived with a cracked stem which was easy to fix and I must have tried to solve it almost every month since it's arrival 2 years ago. I did get the solution and proof of its N-ary-ness direct from Nick but just could not solve it myself. Finally yesterday, I gave in and followed the solution and achieved this:

Finally in pieces and I have no idea how!
Even using the solution was tough! I will reassemble soon and try to solve it again without it but I reckon that I will still fail - it requires 60 moves to solve and despite being logical, I cannot see the logic! Sigh!! Whack!! Ouch! No dear, I don't think it was a waste of money - after all that time it must be considered good value for money! Whack!! Ouch! Sorry dear!


Fermium - truly gorgeous and still unsolved
2½ years ago I was absolutely blown away by a discussion on a forum by the burr solving machine that is Guillaume Largounez. Apparently Donald Osselaer published three versions of the Fermium puzzle and he said this of it:
I am very glad ... in fact I am ecstatic ... that it works 'completely' as intended! This means that it uses 100 logical human moves to free the first piece, which comes out in the same rotating fashion as with the Xenon.
He says (and even in a direct communication with me) that it is entirely a logical solution and should be possible by a human. But at level I am completely incapable of solving it. Several times I have gotten completely lost and then spent days desperately trying to return it to the start position. Luckily it is truly gorgeous and looks great on the shelf above me! One day I hope to manage it. Just don't tell Mrs S how much it cost! Whack!! Ouch! Sorry dear! Too late! Who did that?

Bottles, bottle, bottles - Sob!!

My bottle nemeses
When my supplier emails me, I immediately jump and unload the contents of my bank account into his bank account! Whack!! Ouch! Sorry dear! Over the last few years, I have bought almost everything that Wil has suggested to me - as well as a good friend, he is a tremendous puzzle designer and his stuff is just beautiful. I started with his Cola Bottle # 1 which embarrassingly took me over a year to solve despite having seen someone else do it! Of course I couldn't stop just there and have bought several more of his bottle puzzles over the years. BUT to my eternal shame there are 3 of them that have refused all my attempts to solve since I got them - yes it's been years!

I have even muttered to Wil at an MPP whether he could provide just a small hint and on one occasion he did give me a hint in fluent Dutch which of course was no help at all and another time he appears to have completely failed to understand what hint or solution means! Please don't ever ask Wil for a solution - he NEVER gives them out - in fact when people email him for assistance, he sends their emails on to me to help them out. Just don't ask me for help with any of these damned bottles!

Kevin's 'C... and B...' bottle

This particular puzzle has nearly killed me. Every single time I go to an MPP, I get asked by the guys whether I have solved "Kevin's bottle" and every single time I utter some nasty profanities and have to admit that I haven't! Kevin's bottle was a very unique gift to me from Mr Strijbos. A few years ago, at the last moment, I was unable to go to the Dutch Cube Day due to work commitments and the boys came back with a gift for me. It's a bottle puzzle with the usual aim - to remove the marble. Now this particular puzzle is totally unique - I am the only one who owns a copy and I am completely flattered that Wil would produce something unique for me but I suspect there is something mean underlying the gift! I took it to work for a few weeks to show my colleagues and try and get some fresh ideas and my Orthopaedic colleagues (who are well known to be very basic in terms of surgical skills and erm.....rather course) have named it "Kevin's cock and balls" for erm..... obvious reasons! They have suggested to use their own "special" solution on it and I always snatch it back quickly! An Orthopod's solution to anything is to whack it with a hammer and if that doesn't work then to get a bigger hammer!! Hmmm maybe I should let Mrs S try to solve it?? Whack!! Ouch! Sorry dear!

I have even gone as far as to Xray it to see whether there are any hidden mechanisms but nope - apparently it should be solvable by my own brain power!

Nothing hidden inside!


28 "simple" triangular sticks - how hard can it be?
My good friend Steve, sold me something special, something which he thought I could solve, something which several other puzzlers including Oli, Chris and Allard have managed to solve, something which I have failed dismally to assemble! The Tripod was designed by Steve in 2014 and looked like fun - it comes in a plastic container that you need to cut open to get at the sticks and then has lots of nice pieces which, like Lego, you should be able to build into a great shape:

No! Of course that's not mine! 
It looks fabulous and I promise that I have tried many many many times to assemble it but I just don't know where to start! This puzzle sits in it's little box just a foot (30cm to you Europeans) away from me on my desk and I can hear it throwing insults at me - it is questioning my puzzle manhood! Luckily for me, as you can tell from this article, I am quite used to that by now and my puzzle manhood is in tatters. Currently Mrs S keeps it in a pickling jar next to her bedside and taunts me with it on regular occasions! Maybe one day she'll let me have it back or possibly borrow it for a while?

I actually have quite a few more puzzles that I still need to solve but at present I'm calling them a "backlog" and not placing them in my hall of shame. I do really hope that upcoming puzzles won't be in that group as I do have my sights on quite a few more. Whack!! Ouch! Sorry dear!

If you have any suggestions for how to solve any of these puzzles then please either post a comment below or contact me using my Contact page. Hopefully this will prevent any further "Whack!! Ouch! Sorry dear!" episodes!

Now it's time for me to curl up into my ball of sorrow and then try and assemble that damned level 2 6 piece burr! AAAAARGH!!!