Sunday 28 February 2016

Diagonal Moves are Great!

In fact they are bloody marvelous!

3 Gorgeous packing puzzles from Brian Menold and Laszlo Kmolnar
You will need to excuse any editing errors in this post - I have been desperate to improve my writing methods to make them easier to achieve and less work. The Blogger on-line system is not particularly responsive and I have been trying to move to a plain text editing system using Multimarkdown in a special editor called Scrivener which allows me to keep all my thoughts and plans etc in a single document and organise everything without having to worry much about formatting and having the distraction of the web browser open at the same time. It also means that I have full copies of all my blog posts outside of Google’s system if I ever wish to move elsewhere (for example SquareSpace looks fun as does a self hosted WordPress site). So I am trying out an entirely new system here and my grammar and spelling may wander off whilst I learn new methods - just bear with me.

Today’s topic is based on some gorgeous puzzles I received this week from both Brian Menold and Eric Fuller - all the puzzles that I will discuss today are made considerably more confusing and definitely more interesting by the fact that they do not require simple linear movements. The addition of diagonal (and also rotational in one puzzle) really up the ante on the puzzle. They may well make the puzzle harder to manufacture but it is more than worth it for such a fantastic end result.

The first beauty that I am going to mention is the third in a series from Brian Menold and designed by the genius that is Laszlo Molnar (also known as Lacika Kmolnar) - I reviewed the first 2 in a blog about think Outside the box. In that post I described how I spent many hours struggling to find first the special fancy move that would allow the crucial piece to fit in the box and also the particular assembly of the pieces that would make it possible. Brian emailed to let me know that he was planning on making the third in the series - called No Holes Barred by Laszlo and asked whether I would be wanting it and if so would I want it in the same woods as the previous 2? He said he had just enough of those woods to allow one more puzzle to be made - I absolutely lurve the combination of Marblewood and Holly so I immediately emailed a definite yes back to him and I knew that I didn’t have to worry about the scrum that occurs when Brian posts an update (pretty much every time I get a puzzle stolen out of my shopping cart before I manage to login and pay). I was blown away by the look of Brian’s new additions and so bought more than I anticipated - Mrs S really did not approve when they arrived and the laser burning stare was utilised to maximum effect as well as the whiplash tongue.

No Holes Barred - Marblewood and Holly
The No Holes Barred puzzle was offered in quite a few gorgeous woods and they all got snapped up very quickly. Brian said this about it:
The latest packing puzzle brain teaser from Laszlo is cool! He told me he thought is was easier than Triagonal Agony but after three days of playing with my prototype I had to get back to work and ask him to send me the solution! This is another of his Aha! moment puzzles.
I was very much hoping for a puzzle that was a bit easier than the Triagonal Agony! That one took me weeks before my Aha! moment. Of course it had to be the first one I tried. The puzzle had arrived with the pieces outside of the box and all shrink-wrapped together - no chance to cheat by having a quick peek at the solution. I tipped them out and took the photo above and had a play that evening with a cat on my lap whilst watching TV with the “first wife”. Needless to say I failed to solve it when the little bugger (cat not wife! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear!) romped off with one of the pieces in his mouth. That night I put it in my bag to take to work for the next few days (just in case I got a chance to play).

The key feature of this puzzle is that there is a half block stuck to the box which severely limits the way the pieces can be inserted and also one of the 5 identical pieces is differentiated by having a block diagonally cut away. The first thing I did was try to work out what the special pieces might allow and then see if I could utilise that special feature. There are several possibilities and I obviously would need to try them all out. Then I had to “think outside the box” again - doing it in the box would make it far harder. I failed for the first couple of days and one evening, I had a late finish because of an educational evening I had to attend. Whilst waiting in the Ivory Tower for the meeting to begin, I had a spare hour and under the watchful eye of one of my colleagues, I proceeded to investigate systematically. There are 4 or 5 possible assemblies that might fit in place which can be doubled by rotating the cube through 180º. There was one that looked particularly interesting because it potentially required a ver fancy coordinate motion to work. I tried to get this to happen for about ½ an hour making loud clacking noises and both amusing and annoying nearby colleagues who were struggling to concentrate on more academic topics. Eventually I had to give up on that particular approach and look elsewhere. Just before the meeting was about to begin I had my Aha! moment and all of a sudden I knew how it worked - I got a round of applause from my bemused colleague and a sigh of relief from several others. It’s amazing how annoying I can be to many other people and not just Mrs S!

Finally solved - now it can be put away on show
Another puzzle I couldn’t resist from Brian was a design by Gregory Benedetti - Little Slide Plank. My version was made from Red Oak and Black Palm. I have previously bought a few coordinate motion puzzles from the amazing Vinco (aka Václav Obšivač) - but haven’t bought any coordinate motion puzzles for a while. This new one by Greg was a good price so it had to be added to my shopping cart:

Mrs S says all my puzzle are just cubes - she might actually be right!
Brian said the following about it:
I made this coordinate motion cube just for fun. The three pieces sometimes take a bit of pushing and pulling to get moving but it is not that difficult to take apart. And with only three piece, reassembly is quite easy too. Only a few made of each as these were made from stock left over from another project and a bit of a last minute decision.
Scary movements!
Picking it up in just the right places causes it to literally slide apart and then the pieces drop on the cat who is sleeping on your lap:

He didn't seem to mind!
Good view of the pieces
He didn’t even wake up this time! Putting it back together is not difficult as Brian said but it makes a fabulous worry bead to play with. What a bargain at $19!

Finally today I have to show off yet another amazing design by Gregory Benedetti. The New Old School Puzzles were designed in time for last years’ IPP and Greg worked on Eric to make them in wood. Eventually the convincing worked and Eric said yes. I reviewed the first two of them here and was completely bowled over by the amazing design and production. When Eric said that he planned on making some more in the series then I knew that I had to have them - on the predicted day I sat refreshing my browser repeatedly until the update went live. Another 2 were available and I snapped up both - I did want some of the others but after splashing out with Brian, I had to be careful. I really didn’t want to give Mrs S another excuse for a Whack! Ouch! Pictured below is the Crenel puzzle which is the number 5 in the NOS series:

Just another 6 piece burr? I don't think so!
It is gorgeous in Purpleheart and looks just like a standard 6 piece burr except that no standard linear moves will work. The hallmark of this series is that odd diagonal movements are required and many are coordinate motion. This means that the standard Burrtools application cannot solve it for you.

Eric said this about it:

Crenel is the fifth of the NOS designs and is difficult to disassemble and assemble. It has extremely unusual movements that will have you muttering under your breath when you take it apart, and exclaming admiration for Gregory’s genius when you reassemble. The peculiar back and forth gate movements are extraordinary.

The first thing I noticed was that it was much looser than Eric’s usual output but after playing with it I reckon that is required to ensure that everything slides properly in all the required directions. Literally after a minute or so you get an idea of the complexity of what is happening inside. Notice in that picture the diagonally oriented slots and cuts.

As I played, I noticed that there are several blind ends and even unexpected back tracking is required - this must be the “back and forth gate movement” that he meant. The disassembly is not horrifically difficult - and after a short while the puzzle splits into two halves. One half falls apart easily and the other needs further moves before you end up with this:

These must have been a nightmare to fashion!
Make sure you have noted which pieces belong where before you scramble the pieces as the reassembly from scratch is a real challenge. I absolutely loved it - it is my favourite of the series so far. The fourth one - Transfer (NOS2) remains unsolved - it frightens me to death! Every piece moves at the same time!

Of course I had to take a group photo:

4 seemingly simple 6 piece burrs - don't let the looks fool you
I really hope that Eric makes the others in the series - if he does I will be sure to throw my money at him again. I suggest you go to Cubic now - there seems to be a few of each of the NOS puzzles left just now.

I have made a video of the Crenel puzzle to show off the amazing movements to those of you who haven’t managed to get a copy and also if you have managed to disassemble it but not managed to work out the reassembly then the video may help you.

Hopefully I have convinced you that diagonal moves are great? Now I need to get back to solving puzzles with circular moves - Derek and Steve's last productions - Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum are causing me some problems! Twiddle Dum is in pieces and I cannot put it back together and Twiddle Dee just will not come apart! They are MUCH tougher than previous helical burrs.

Damn these are tough!!!

I hope you have enjoyed the post - if you do have any suggestions on writing methods and platforms then I’m open to suggestions. Just comment below or drop me a line via my Contact page.

Sunday 21 February 2016

Looking a Gift Horse (or Dragon or Lock or Wire Thingy) in the Mouth

It's a horse!
I have a very good puzzle friend in the Far East who is very good to me and always on the look out for puzzles that he thinks I might enjoy. We email often and I am constantly amazed at the sheer breadth of his puzzling knowledge and skills. I also am amazed when he sends me the occasional package. These packages contain puzzles that he has found for me or managed to obtain from his own friends. He never accepts payment for them so these are always gifts. Occasionally he asks me to source puzzles for him and I buy them and send them his way (which I am always delighted to do) but the majority of the giving is to my advantage. I consider myself a very lucky man to have such a great friend. Mrs S doesn't favour him so much because a lot of the puzzles are jingly and you all know how she hates that - the laser burning stare is terribly painful! I have told her this time that I can never look a gift horse in the mouth - this time literally.

Some time ago I received another package of puzzles from him which included some rare disentanglement puzzles and some new designs from Wang Yulong. The first one that I attempted was The Horse by Binary Arts - produced in 1985. I had noticed this many years ago and tried a time or two to get one on ebay but always missed it by a few $$. Knowing how much I love N-ary puzzles, my friend managed to get me this copy and I have to say it is lovely. In fact it is pretty enough that it sits on show next to me on my shelves unlike my other disentanglement puzzles which get shoved into a drawer. I love that the string in this is a piece of leather just like the reins of a real horse. The aim, obviously, is to remove the loop of cord and the wooden block which impairs movements. There are a few moves that need to be done in the right sequence - it is a lovely satisfying thing to do. Even Mrs S said it was a pretty one.

Well trained horse - not run away with the reins off

Thursday 18 February 2016

I must be locking crazy!

Haleslock 1 with instructions
An extra post today just to show off something that arrived from my buddy Shane. I have known for ages that Shane has been working on another lock - this is the Haleslock 1 and is the first puzzle that Shane has produced for sale. He made a "big bunch" (don't ask how many) and let puzzlers know by email. We all did him proud as the whole lot all sold out in just a few hours - this shows just how sought after his work is. There will still be a few available from a number of other puzzle lock outlets/sellers but I am not sure when this will be as he still has to put them together.

For some strange reason Shane keeps insisting on sending me puzzle number 01 of whatever comes out and I am hugely grateful to him.

Lock number 01
So far I have done a little exploring and noticed the "obvious" features and had a play. Unlike Shane, who has been a professional locksmith, I have very little idea of the details of how locks work and suspect that this will keep me stumped for quite some time! With all of Shane's puzzles the "rules" are that they can never be sold on - if a puzzler no longer wants one then it should be returned to him (like a puzzle loan) but with this series he has relaxed the rules. These can be sold on but Shane would like to keep track of where they are and so he should be notified when they are sold and who to. Good luck getting one - there are not many and they went to select puzzlers around the world so I doubt many will be resold any time soon.

I have already received a couple of the interval puzzles - including his fantastic "Imitation" puzzle lock based on a design by Marcel Gillen and marvelled at the workmanship that went into making something like that at home. From the pictures it looks like an ordinary padlock but just like the Gillen lock there is a distinct knack to opening it.

Looks just like a simple lock!
Took a fair while to open
I think Shane must be taunting me because he knows that I have still not managed to open the Popplock that I received a couple of weeks ago at the MPP. It does all sorts of strange things but I still cannot open the damned thing! I'm just not very bright.

The other Hales interval puzzle that I have and which sits in my dining room looking lovely with all the other wooden beauties is the Wirecutter. This was reviewed by Allard here and is based on a very clever physical principal. In a slightly simpler form, it is used to embarrass apprentice joiners and I have to say that it took me a good hour to work out what was going on and be confident enough to do what was required. Of course Shane would not have left it as the basic version - he added something to make it a little tougher and it had me stumped. The initials are  proudly displayed!

Wire cutter
Thanks for everything mate - you have once again done the puzzle world a great service!

Sunday 14 February 2016

You have nothing to fear......

Except fear itself!

Lucky Clover - it frightened me to death!
It's Valentine's day and Mrs S loves me enough to let me continue my hobby even on this special day! However I had better not take too long at it and risk losing her good will - a Whack! Ouch! would not be good today!

About a year ago I was at an MPP which was held at Allard's house and Wil was also present. As usual, I spent a fair bit of money that I didn't have lining Wil's bank account and at some point that day Wil showed off the Lucky Clover puzzle. This gorgeous thing was designed by Hans van der Zon who seems to have been moderately prolific at designing what I call sequential movement puzzles. When Wil showed me (and Jamie too) the wonderful clickety clack movements and the sheets of paper giving numerous challenges then I (and he) just couldn't resist. I bought it immediately and Jamie did too when he had saved up the cash.

Most of Hans' puzzles are made by laser cutter at LaserExact in the Netherlands and the quality is just superb. It is a great weight to hold (not too light and flimsy but not too heavy) and 13.4mm square. It is sold in a box with 3 sheets of paper with the various challenges/patterns you need to aim for and the extra pieces that effectively bandage the movements to give more challenges and also make it much MUCH tougher!

Constructing another in the series
In the picture above you can see the beautiful accuracy with which these are made. Even the screws are acrylic and turn smoothly. There are 3 square sheets of paper each with 4 conformations to aim for.

Sunday 7 February 2016

Fourfold and a brief MPP tale

Today will need to be a fairly quick blog post. I spent all day yesterday down in Birmingham at the 21st Midlands Puzzle Party and so really owe the present Mrs S some of my time this weekend. She has had me doing chores and the weekly shopping but has generously allowed me to write my weekend post as long as I don't spend too long. I don't want to risk a Whack! Ouch! or worse so this is a quickie (but still a good puzzle to be reviewed).

The puzzle pictured above is the Fourfold puzzle which I bought from Tomas Linden's Sloyd puzzle store. It was designed by Ad van der Schagt who seems to have been reasonably prolific in several puzzle areas. Puzzle Master have some of his burr designs and Sloyd have quite a few disentanglement designs. I picked this because it looked horrific with a very long string intertwining everything and because it was rated as 4 stars out of a possible 4 in difficulty by the producers - Eureka puzzles. I have had quite a few new disentanglement puzzles recently and have singularly failed to solve most of them. Either I have lost my mojo or I have picked out some seriously tough puzzles to work on! I took the Fourfold to work one day in the hope of finding a moment to have a play. Several of my colleagues were fairly horrified at the complexity of it and I expressed the fear that a very large knot may ensue which I might not be able to undo. But these challenges are sent to try us!