Sunday 30 August 2015

Coordinated and Interlocked with a Pelikan

The attendees of the Taiwanese Puzzle Party
Not my usual top of blog post photo above! I'm first of all sending you off to read a fascinating blog post on Rox's site. It was written by my good friend Otis Cheng for the mf8 forum in Chinese and then he translated it (for me) to be a guest article here which I was going to publish this coming week. Roxanne, being the cheeky minx that she is, hijacked it before I could get to it but it makes such great reading that I need to send you away from my site to hers for a jolly good read. The Hong Kong and Chinese puzzlers all had a wonderful trip to Taiwan and attended several days of events which looked absolutely marvelous. I followed their escapades on Facebook with great interest and was delighted to be able to put faces to some of the very famous names in the puzzling world. I even got to see a photo of a very good friend!

Now to the main subject of my post this weekend - last week I noticed with huge interest when Jakub Dvorak of the New Pelikan Workshop posted some gorgeous pictures of new puzzles that he and his partner Jaroslav Švejkovský had manufactured and were about to bring out for sale. Of course I couldn't resist buying all 3 of them and this week they arrived much to the disgust of the present Mrs S. Luckily for me she had been on her own little shopping trip on the internet and couldn't really complain at me too much or deliver a Whack! Ouch! After placing my order, I was amazed that it only took 5 days for the puzzles to arrive here from the Czech Republic. As always beautifully boxed and safe from damage. If you are thinking about getting into wooden interlocking puzzles then you cannot beat Pelikan for quality and value for money.

Co-Mo Cross

Saturday 22 August 2015

The Naga Puzzle - Another Unexpected Gift

How can this be the work of a beginner?

The Naga Puzzle
We have a post a day early this week because I have to work all day tomorrow in the Trauma operating theatre and won’t have time to write anything for you. Luckily the present Mrs S knows how important my blog is to me (and hopefully to you) so she has allowed me time on Saturday away from DIY etc to produce a review of something very special.

I do tend to consider myself very lucky. I have a very tolerant wife who puts up with this truly ridiculous hobby of mine with only the occasional Whack! Ouch! I have great friends in the puzzling community who are happy to discuss my obsession with me and share their thoughts and even let me play with their new toys and I even have the great good fortune to be in contact with (and even be great friends with) some fantastic puzzle designers like Shane, Wil, Steve, Stephan and Alfons.

The Hales Puzzle collection - I am honoured
She won't let it be on display!
One of my greatest puzzle friendships has been with Shane, who initially contacted me to discuss the blog, collecting and solving puzzles and over a period I discovered that he was a Master woodworker (with a certificate too!) and I sort of encouraged him to turn some of his ideas into a real puzzle. It started slowly but Hales Puzzles was established and his work is now highly sought after. In fact, his work now stands on display on the sideboard of my dining room with huge pride (although that hideous dirty case from the Pentagon has been put in the loft on pains of another Whack Ouch!).

I have always hoped that someone else would do what Shane has done so generously but because puzzle design and production is so difficult, it could not happen frequently. Steve Miller sent me his Spam puzzle last week and I investigated it with trepidation - it had a curious smell of burnt wood which luckily was not from some explosive that he had set up but actually came from laser cut and engraved wood. The Spam puzzle will prove to me an absolutely horrific challenge for even the most ardent of packing puzzle fans - thank heavens I didn't just up-end the tin and shake it all out. It would probably be a pile of sticks forever more. I think even Dave Holt (THE metagrobologist) who adores packing puzzles might even be stumped by it!
What is so tough about it?  Remember that Steve is an evil genius! At the top of the tin I have removed the title spam and you see just the top puzzling layer - each layer is about 5 mm thick! Just look at this:

Just one layer!
Now imagine upending a tin containing 15 layers! Each with a different way of dissecting a slice of "spam" up into many pieces with many different orientations and shapes, some of which are very small! Yet again, thank heavens I didn't up-end the tin! Phew! Have a look at my New Additions page to get a view of true horror!

2 Piece cube
Earlier this year I was contacted by a new designer called Carsten Elsäßer from Germany who wanted to gift me a new design of his so that I could play with it and review it for him. At that time I had no real expectations of quality from him and was absolutely amazed when the Two Piece Cube arrived. Not only was it simply gorgeous, but it turned out to be a really clever puzzle with a nice Aha! moment. Then, when it came to the second and third challenges it revealed itself to be a truly elegant idea. I took this to the last Midlands Puzzle Party and a few people attempted it. What amazed me most was when the Puzzle solving machine that is Louis Coolen sat down and played with it. Of course he solved it! But he had a big smile on his face when he realised the nuances of what is required. Approval from Louis is a VERY big thing - he really appreciates elegance.

Sunday 16 August 2015

Double Lock

Double lock puzzle - looks horrendous
Today's will be a pretty short blog post unfortunately! I am absolutely shattered - my mother has become quite ill (still at home for now) and I decided to drop in on her yesterday without warning so I could assess her myself and establish whether I would need to kick the arse of the NHS! The vagaries of the UK motorway network meant that my journey from Sheffield (about 160 miles) took 5½ hours and nearly ruptured my bladder! Steve!!! I might have needed your assistance with that! (He's a urologist!!). Needless to say a repeat journey home taking 4½ hours today has left me just a tad fatigued! So today's post is a quicker than usual one.

This is another of my beloved disentanglement puzzles from Tomas Linden's Sloyd store. I had basically chosen a whole bunch of the toughest ones I could find on his site and intended to work my way through them. This one is the Double Lock puzzle which is available in the Eureka Mini-string series. They are beautifully made, well packaged and an absolute bargain at €5.04 each. You cannot go wrong with these puzzles. I have also realised since I got them both that the Summer Holiday puzzle in the Bon Voyage series is the same puzzle and a bit cheaper at €4.90! It serves me right for not looking at the puzzle itself before buying and just looking at the difficulty level!

Reef knot
It arrives in the same small green box as last week's Hemi-sphere's puzzle with the only instruction being a diagram showing that the solved state has the 2 reef knots undone and the wooden ring removed from the puzzle. Dimensions are 4 x 4 x 2 cm when scrunched up but it spreads out well when you lay it all out to examine it. The difficulty level on the box is 3 stars out of 4 and on Tomas' site it is described as 3/3. Puzzle Master only stock the Bon Voyage puzzles as a whole set  but within that it is rated as 8 (Demanding) on their scale of 5-10. This should be a piece of cake right? Just you wait and see! No solution is provided but if you find that you really need one then it is available to download from here or for Summer holiday here.

Sunday 9 August 2015

Part 2 of the "Two fer" in Honour of IPP35 - a BOX!

Not just any box! It's the Stickman Edelweiss Puzzlebox

It's not a box! It's a packing puzzle!
The decision on the winners of the 2015 IPP design competition should have been decided by now so I can safely publish my review of my latest toy!

At this time of the year certain select people on the Stickman mailing list will receive an email informing them of the availability of a new puzzle box. The number made has increased recently but it is still a pretty limited edition run. I have been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of the list for a few years. I reviewed the Pirate’s wallet chest last year and reviewed it here. I had heard rumours of a collaboration between the Stickman (Robert Yarger) and the incredible William Waite this year and was very excited to receive an email again a few weeks ago. It was in my inbox when I woke up in the morning and before I had even eaten my breakfast some PayPal electronic money was sent! It's such a shame that PayPal money ends up being real money!

Now you all know by now that I don’t collect boxes (I have been threatened with a lot more Whack! Ouch! occasions if I do begin collecting boxes) so I can hear you all screaming at me how can you possibly justify these? Not only is it a box but it is a pretty expensive box! My excuse is that I CAN buy a box if there is some other puzzling aspect to it. Last year’s puzzle was a sequential discovery puzzle and this year it is a 2D packing puzzle (hence the connection with William who specialises in this sort of puzzle). Therefore I CAN justify it. Plus of course, I can justify it because IT’S A STICKMAN! So the Stickman Edelweiss Puzzlebox #28 was purchased and on it’s way across the pond to me.

Perpetual Hinge
remains unsolved
My friend Shane got his copy first and immediately set to work and sent me tales of woe at how difficult it was and how much he was struggling to solve it. That didn't surprise me - I have a Perpetual hinge which I have owned for 3 or 4 years and have yet to solve it. Stickman does describe it as "Difficult" which gives me a small excuse. I refuse to look at the solution so that might stay closed for a few more years yet!

The customs officials held my Edelweiss puzzlebox hostage for a few days and extracted their ransom before it finally arrive chez moi. The first thing I did was admire the fantastic woodwork and finish. Mine appears to be made from Walnut and Maple with a very nice laser cut laminated wood on the top and bottom forming a pattern. It is hexagonal in shape and layered too. The diameter is 12 cm edge to edge and it is 7.5cm high. There are different pieces on the top and bottom. The bottom revealed that mine was limited edition number 73 out of 100.

Bottom of the Edelweiss Puzzlebox/packing puzzle
The instructions say there are:
2 secret compartments which become accessible only after fitting the pieces into the tray to produce either a flower or a snowflake.
Flower and snowflake solutions vary somewhat in difficulty, but both are extremely challenging. As an aid to solving this puzzle a simpler 3-section puzzle is also included on the reverse side, and its solution will provide the correct position of all pieces.
I was not sure that I understood the instructions but I sort of realised it was a tray packing puzzle (which I am rubbish at) but like Shane I threw caution to the wind and removed all the pieces from the top. I decided I was not going to use the clues on the 3 pieces below for help  and set to trying to put it back together. At this point I gained a little idea of the internal mechanism - the pieces sort of “snap” into place in the tray and also when you put them all in a heap they link together. Yep! There are magnets inside these beautifully made pieces. They must interact with something under the lid to release a locking mechanism (although for the life of me, I could not envisage how that might work).

Lot's of pieces - different colours and some even etched
Like Shane, I struggled to get the pieces back into anything resembling a flower or snowflake - I am so bad at this sort of thing that it took me 3 days to make anything that would fit in the tray. Having finally made a shape that would fit, with great glee I tugged on the tray in the opening direction and……. it was still locked! Hmmm! Now I was really stumped. I tried different orientations and it didn't work. I then decided that there must be another way these pieces went together so I took them all off and tried again - another day went by and I couldn't find an alternate assembly! Oh the pain!! Now I was buggered!

So I eventually decided to try to solve it using the simpler 3 piece puzzle and put them in place in LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of different directions and orientations and NOPE! Still locked! I'm not good at combinatorics but I think there are 72 different ways to put the 3 pieces in the tray and I really struggled to keep track of what I had tried. I gave up in disgust! What next? I was stumped but still determined not to look at the instructions. I was discussing my failure with Derek last Friday evening and was pleased to hear that he had the same problems as me. He made a little suggestion which I’m not sure he really meant but something inside my tiny mind clicked and I tried something new. Suddenly the first compartment was open and I was able to see the locking mechanism. Very clever and actually a very simple locking mechanism but really not an easy thing to fathom or solve  intuitively. I took a quick pic and emailed Shane who was rather stunned that I had managed it (not as stunned as me). Having done one side, I put it down to eat dinner with Mrs S - I couldn't risk another Whack! Ouch!

Try balancing puzzle pieces
on that!
After eating and cleaning up, with thoughts whirring in my head I sat down in the living room to watch some TV and continue puzzling in the pleasant company of Mrs S and a cat or 2. It is unbelievably difficult to solve a tray puzzle with a cat on your lap but I was determined to finish it.

After a bit of thought and some fiddling I was delighted to have the second compartment open and a second mechanism was revealed. I idly wondered why there was any need for a second mechanism at all - it is not like Rob to put anything unnecessary into one of his masterpieces. I sat and examined all the pieces I had in my lap and thought for a while. I then had an incredibly amazed moment of understanding - 2 mechanisms are required for a very unusual reason. And I cannot tell you that reason without giving too much away but needless to say, I was amazed that he had carried such a thing off - in Yiddish it would be described as Chutzpah! When any of you who own this puzzle open yours, you will realise what I mean and maybe one day I can reveal why.

Opened both compartments - NO hints given in this picture!
Robert and William have this entered into the IPP design competition and hence my delayed publication of this review. By the time you read this (and when I have woken up on Monday morning) the world will know whether they have won. I think it does stand a good chance - it has the right combination of beauty, craftsmanship, cleverness and also simplicity! I love it and am very grateful to have had the opportunity to solve and own it. I think this will live outside my study with other spectacular puzzles!

Part 1 of a "Two fer" in Honour of IPP35 - Hemi-spheres Puzzle

Hemi-spheres puzzle - looks simple doesn't it?
Last year was my first ever attendance at the international puzzle party and I had the most amazing time finally meeting puzzle friends from all over the world. I dragged the present Mrs S with me and she had a good time too (even if it was non-puzzling) - I was very proud that there were barely any Whack! Ouch! episodes at all (except when she discovered how much I had spent!) This year the IPP is, at this very moment, being held in Ottawa and unfortunately I could not afford to go and had to pull out at the last moment before the booking deadline. I was absolutely gutted and I miss all my friends dreadfully.

I know that at least 3 of the puzzle bloggers are out there just now and so the reading matter for those of you who are also unable to attend will have been a bit sparse. So today, I am giving you a “twofer” to make up for it! Yes it’s going to be two blog posts today instead of my usual one. The first (this one) will be my usual regular affordable and easy to obtain puzzle and the next will be a really special puzzle which is more expensive and much harder to come by. The second puzzle is actually an entrant in the 2015 IPP design competition and I don't want to spoil the entrant's chances of winning by publishing my own review too early. The judging should all be done by 18:00 Ottawa time which will be 23:00 here in the UK (BST) and so the second part of the "two fer" will be published at that time.

This is one of my alternate weeks so I have to start with an affordable puzzle for you. Again I am dipping in to my disentanglements from Tomas Linden’s Sloyd webstore. This puzzle is a real treat which I enjoyed immensely. The Hemi-spheres puzzle from Eureka puzzles in their Mini string range is very affordable at €5.04 and nicely packaged in a small dark green box. It was designed by Bernhard Wiezorke (whom I have never heard of before but I plan to keep my eye out for him in future). The difficulty rating on the box is 3 stars out of 4 (although as far as I can see there are no 4 star puzzles in this range) and I actually think it might be a bit simpler than that rating - maybe a 2½. Removing it from the box reveals a complete loop of a good quality string, a wooden ring on one end which has a strange loop of the string through it - I guessed that this odd looping must be important in the solve process. In the middle is a brown wooden sphere with the string entirely passed through the centre and at the other end to the loop is a nice pair of maple hemispheres pointing away from each other.

Sunday 2 August 2015

Daedalus or....

A Frenchman Reveals my Feeble Brain! 

Looks innocent? Daedalus - "Just" a 3x3 interlocking cube
Recently I've gone Dutch, tried a Finn or two, been to Siam, sampled some Czech and Afrikaner and definitely gone to the US and Austria! Now I'd really like to show off something French!

Last week I showed you something cheap and available to everyone and now as a complete contrast I'm exhibiting something very rare indeed. It was bought quite near the beginning of my addiction in October 2011 and for me, at that time, it was a very significant purchase having cost me €100! Lord how my madness has worsened since then! I now consider that price quite reasonable!

Ambigram burr
Pictured at the top and the subject of today's blog post is the Daedalus puzzle - it is another unique design by the amazing Gregory Benedetti (from France) and made by the hugely talented Maurice Vigouroux (also French). This was one of three puzzles that Gregory had entered in the 2011 IPP design competition held in Berlin. That year his Ambigram Burr was one of the top ten vote "getters" and was so good that I had to obtain a copy for myself - one day I will review that too. The first few were made in Marblewood and sold very quickly. Maurice made a couple more batches in assorted hardwoods and they all sold very quickly on Puzzle Paradise. I was lucky enough to be in touch with Gregory and got mine from him personally - I was less discerning in my knowledge of woods at that time and I think the only wood that I recognised was Walnut so that was what I chose. I've not seen one at auction in years and so have no idea what it might cost today.

Nicely presented solution booklet

Wireframe diagrams - a lot of effort went into this puzzle
The cube arrived with a rather beautifully made spiral bound booklet with 52 pages of wire frame pictures showing the step by step solution process - I was very careful to admire the booklet quickly and then file it away without really paying any attention to the steps it showed. I wanted to solve it myself! I wanted to become a puzzle maestro like Allard and then be able to boast on my blog that I was able to solve a puzzle so difficult that Burrtools could not solve it. Silly me! I have many times on this blog mentioned that I am "a bear of very little brain" and this puzzle has proved it - my insistence in not looking at the booklet meant that it has taken nearly 4 years to solve the blasted thing! Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised - Brian discussed it here and found it VERY difficult. Neil managed it without too much difficulty and wrote a stunning review here.

When I first got it I fiddled for a few weeks and got stuck - it was very early in my puzzling career and I had really not gotten much practice at interlocking solids and almost none with rotational puzzles. I was completely overwhelmed by all the directions and options. After a month or so this went on my shelf above my computer (where my most prized puzzles go) and I gazed at it periodically with longing and even tried to solve it intermittently but, to be honest, it frightened me to death! I know! I'm a puzzle wimp!