Sunday 18 October 2015

Trials, Tribulations and Forbidden Techniques

Four Mirror One
Last week I mentioned that shortly after returning from London I received a large series of puzzle deliveries. I wasn't terribly bright because I left the delivered puzzles in a large pile in the "to be photographed and solved" area of the study where of course Mrs S happened to pass by whilst delivering an errant toy from the living room back onto my computer keyboard. Even she could not fail to notice that there was a rather LARGE pile of toys she had never seen before. I did try to emulate her "girl's" standard response of "I've had these for ages" but she didn't believe a word of it and a Whack! Ouch! was duly delivered! It's odd how with her clothes and shoes etc. the same approach works on me nearly every time!

I therefore decided that I had better actually make some headway and clear a bit of the backlog - otherwise she will have an absolute fit when any more arrive! I started with one of the beauties from Brian Menold's Wood Wonders - his 2 recent updates had produced quite a lot of stunning new toys and, whilst I couldn't buy them all, I did obtain a few special ones that I had had my eye on for a while. Brian has become a full time puzzle maker since he was made redundant so please buy what he makes so we can keep him in business - the Four Mirror One is still available. The Four Mirror One (designed by Osanori Yamamoto) was the first to be tried because I figured that it shouldn't be too hard because of it's similarity to his hourglass puzzle (the one to the left was made by Jakub Dvořák's New Pelikan workshop). This designer specialises in puzzles that have a rotational element to the solution and hence cannot be solved by Burrtools. Within a few minutes I had managed to separate the pieces and realised that they were really very similar to the hourglass (in fact the frame is identical).

Identical pieces with the frame
Stairs cube
I left the pieces on the work surface for an hour after I had taken the photo and then went back to it for reassembly. Let's just say that reassembly is a very nice challenge if you cannot remember the exact moves that you used for disassembly. Lots of rotations are possible but when you have put 3 of the pieces back in the frame it then becomes quite difficult to get them into position to allow the 4th in such that they can then be rotated back to the start. It must have taken me about 40 minutes of sweating to get it back. Another fun puzzle requiring a series of rotations from Osanori is the Stairs cube - it is slightly easier than Four Mirror One. I also bought this some time ago from Jakub but Brian has it available for sale just now - go on treat yourself!

L-I-Vator Cube
The next puzzle I had to try in my Wood Wonders pile was the L-I-Vator cube - I had noticed this amongst the IPP35 design competition entries and immediately thought that I should try and get it when it came up. I am still kicking myself that I never bought the Caramel box at last year's IPP so as soon as Brian announced that he would be making them, I placed my order. Designed by Laszlo Molnar this looked like a fun challenge and when Brian offered it in Holly and Marblewood I knew I could not resist! The aim is to form a 3x3 cube from the pieces and then form the cube within the box - those blocking pieces at the top really do cause a problem:

The cube is easy!
The cube shape is pretty easy to make - at that point I realised that the designer had used pieces of incremental size from 2 cubes up to 7. How hard could it be to get the cube inside? I decided one evening with a cat on my lap and the TV on to give this a go. My aim was to be systematic and work with the starting cube in each position and try every possible orientation. Needless to say, the cat was not going to make it easy and he kept batting the pieces around which made my aim of being systematic impossible. This along with some very disturbing goings on during an episode of "The Strain" on TV led to a total failure! Me and the cat battled with this for 3 consecutive evenings before one of us finally had a breakthrough! I then took it to work to torture David, my regular anaesthetic assistant and so far he has failed which does make me feel slightly better. Let's just say that this is not as straightforward as it looks and there are a couple of very interesting and unexpected moves required:

Only took me 3 days - I think the cat solved it before I did!
Next up for me to solve were the variants on the classic Ball and Chain puzzle. One I had received quite a while ago but 2 more had arrived in my last series of deliveries.

2 Layer Ball & Chain
3 Layer Ball & Chain
These have had me quite frightened for quite some time! I am very familiar with the basic Ball and Chain puzzle and find that if I leave it for more than 6 or 8 weeks between solves then I just cannot do it and then have to spend an hour or so working it out all over again. At the last MPP there was a particularly chunky version which Jamie and I homed in on and for the life of me I couldn't solve it. So with trepidation I picked up the 2 layer version very nicely made for me by Wang Yulong in China (I really hope that some Western puzzle company contacts him to get some of his designs and to make an easier way to sell his puzzles). Over a few days I managed to make quite a lot of beautiful tangles with the rather long piece of string. Each time I had to use a "FORBIDDEN TECHNIQUE" - yes I consistently managed to get it so entangled that I had to dismantle the whole thing to start afresh. Luckily the string is attached to the wire with a very simple knot and not a fused string. Eventually after 30 or more attempts, I recalled advice from Rick Eason that the way to solve his Tricky Dick puzzle was to envision how you would assemble the puzzle from the end position. Unfortunately this was much too complex for me to do in my head so after my last catastrophe I reassembled it into the solved position and tried back tracking from that to the start. YESSSSS! That worked nicely! I was able to reassemble the puzzle and so immediately tried to do it all in reverse and.....failed totally! After 4 or 5 attempts I finally had worked out what was needed and managed to solve it in both directions:

My goodness that was tough!
Next up it was time to try the 3 layer version. There is a LOT of string in that puzzle and it makes a very LARGE knot! I have been trying this on and off for a month and so far have completely failed - I even tried to do the reverse process as I did for the 2 layer version and that won't work either. There is a high chance that this is going to elude me forever! On Puzzle Master's scale of 5-10 the 2 layer is a 10 and the 3 layer is an 11!

Fishing hook
Finally for today are 2 more puzzles from Wang Yulong. These were designed by one of the masters of disentanglement design, Mr Zhou Jian and are also based on the Ball and Chain idea but made much much harder. The Fishing hook produces a knot quite quickly but is reasonably easy to backtrack out and return to the beginning. The Aftersound puzzle is horrendous! I had put this in my bag to take to work and it was spotted by a medical student who thought he was a whizz at puzzles. He begged me to let him play from a few minutes saying he could immediately see what was required to set it up. Yes, I stupidly relented and left it with him for ½ an hour and when it came back he sheepishly handed me this:

OUCH! (Without the Whack)
At this point I need to have a catharsis and admit to doing something terrible! So far I have already admitted to using a forbidden technique and I did feel better for owning up but now I have to admit to using this:

I know! It's terrible!
I hope that you can find it in you to forgive such an awful transgression! There is no easy knot to undo and unlike the lovely puzzles made by Abraham Jacob which have an unscrewable link or the wonderful exchange puzzle from Wil Strijbos which I presented last month in which there is a removable pin, these puzzles can only be unknotted with the aid of force. Luckily the wire is not anodised and is not too thick!

My trick of starting from the solved position worked very nicely from the Fishing Hook puzzle and after a couple of hours I had managed to work out a technique which is absolutely beautiful to solve this puzzle:

The Fishing Hook is absolutely brilliant!
So far I have completely failed to solve the Aftersound puzzle. No matter what direction I am going in I end up with a knot and my pliers are getting quite a lot of use! Even Mrs S has noticed their use and has begun to make snide comments about that not being the correct approach to wire puzzles! I glared at her for reminding me and received another Whack! Ouch! for my collection. The Fishing hook is an 11 of Puzzle Master's scale and the Aftersound must be a 15! I hope that Alan and Leon Stein from Puzzle Master read this and get in touch with Wang Yulong to have these puzzles mass produced - they are a really serious challenge! 


  1. Those entanglement puzzles look so confusing Kevin. I'm amazed and a little scared at how adept you are with ropes and knots ...

    1. Thanks Steve, if I was that adept then I wouldn't need the pliers! Maybe I really have aspirations at achieving bondage nirvana?