Sunday 10 July 2016

A Gift Extravaganza!

I didn't know what it was!
I do hope that the blog post today isn't too incomprehensible! Having come back from annual leave, I've had a huge mound of paperwork to do on top of my normal clinical work. I stupidly put myself down to do the trauma list on Saturday and so at this moment it time I am absolutely shattered! My ramblings are meandering and full of rubbish at the best of times but today may well be worse than ever! If you think you can write something good like my friends Mike and Otis then write something and contact me to see if you can publish something better. My theme today is to show people my gratitude for some recent gifts.

At the top of this post is a twisty puzzle - one that I did not know what it was. At the last Midlands puzzle party in honour of the great Dick Hess a number of gifts were given out. I mentioned in my last post (focussing on memory) that a few puzzles had been given away. Dick gave everyone a small copy of his 5 keys disentanglement puzzle which I actually did recall how to solve and Big Steve gave me a pile of pieces which he couldn't remember how to assemble into Stewart Coffin's 12 piece separation puzzle.

Half way through the day Dick sidled up to me with another bag of puzzle pieces and asked me (as the only significant twisty solver present) whether I could make this pile of pieces into a working puzzle. He didn't remember what it was. I sat on Allard's sofa and proceded to work on the assembly which is something I find oddly soothing. I managed to produce an almost working puzzle before finding a piece that was broken with the tiny screw having ripped out of the connecting core piece. I handed the partially completed puzzle back to Dick and informed him of the issue that he might be able to fix with glue and some wadding and also said that I could not identify the puzzle. Dick was very generous and gave away his broken puzzle with instructions that if I could fix it then I could keep it! Gee! Thanks!

After a few days at home with the broken puzzle on my desk, I had a brainwave! It's not often that happens to me! I took a tiny strip of paper and rolled it into the screw hole and filled it with a tiny blob of glue and quickly screwed the screw into the hole. Miraculously it worked and I had a functioning puzzle which I photographed and promptly scrambled:

I couldn't even work out the geometry of it!
Having scrambled it, I went to work and seriously struggled! It rotates about the small corners (like the blue/white/green one above) and to my feeble brain had a 3 way rotational symmetry. This really bamboozled me - I could not recall any puzzle before that had this symmetry and shape. I was able (like many beginners to the Rubik cube) to assemble a single layer but was stuck at that. I went back to my triangular/tetrahedral puzzles to see whether there was any similarity but nope! I was stymied.

Later that evening I was chatting with my mate Derek and sent him the photo that had flustered me. Like the puzzle genius he is, he immediately informed me that the puzzle is a skewb based puzzle called the Skewb Ultimate and sent me a link to Jaap's site for a description. I had suspected that it was skeb based but just couldn't seem to see the wood for the trees. I stared at it for a while and noticed that there are 8 of those small corners that are the centre of rotation. It was a head-slap moment and suddenly I could see the geometry.

Squished Skewb
Squished and scrambled
The Skewb solve is actually pretty straight forward with only one single algorithm require! Can you do down, down, up, up? Of course you can so therefore you can solve the skewb! It's easy! Now this puzzle is not quite so easy - like the Squished Skewb pictured above that I reviewed over 2 years ago, every single piece of the puzzle has an orientation. The normal Skewb has square centres that can be oriented any way around but the squished version as well as this "Ultimate" version has a definite orientation to every piece which makes it MUCH more confusing and makes it a little more awkward to solve. BUT NOT too hard - do you remember that down, down, up, up? Of course you do, it was only a few sentences ago!  It still uses the same algorithm but just more often and more creatively!

I couldn't remember the method so got a little notepad out (I lurve pens and paper!!!) and after a few minutes of fiddling with puzzle and taking notes, I had enough knowledge. 5 minutes later I received a burn from the laser stare of Mrs S and a cat shot off my lap because a shout came out! To prove that I really understood it, I have solved it a few more times and was very happy that I understood it.....until it wouldnt work anymore! Very odd! I seemed to have made as configuration that was impossible - the edges wouldn't match up with the corners. Hmmm! It hadn't occurred to me that this broken gift had even more to it than I expected. The puzzle has 12 faces and my version only has 6 colours (there were two versions 12 and 6 colour versions). After a little thought I realised that the effect of the 6 colours was that I could position the corners around an edge at the very beginning and get two of them positioned in what looks like the correct place but it makes the rest of the puzzle impossible. Having realised this, it was a matter of finding the correct corners for the correct edges and off we go - down, down, up, up again and again and I had a fully understood puzzle. It's brilliant and you should get one if you like twisties - certainly not too hard and a lot of fun. It has taught me not to look askance at a broken puzzle gift. Thanks Dick!

I have been friends of Facebook with Tamás Vanyó for quite a few years and have watched him design a huge number of puzzles with some very interesting shapes. He spends his time designing puzzles that are very different to the standard burrs and many have weird and wonderful shapes and pieces. A few of his designs have been produced by the usual puzzle craftsmen and I have bought a few and really enjoyed their novelty and challenge. I have watched recently as he has made some of his own designs for sale in his local area. He contacted me some time ago and offered to send me a puzzle for my collection and just a few weeks ago he decided to send me a gift and would not accept payment - such a gentleman. I was delighted when one of his most recent designs arrived - the Galaktika.

Looking at the design I am really surprised that he could actually make it and that it would be robust enough to stand up to puzzling but the Galaktika beautifully made from Walnut and Oak is very nice and stable. It did cause a Whack! Ouch! to land on the back of my head because this was just one puzzle to many on the "to solve" pile on the tray in my living room! I resolved that I had better try and solve a few and put them away before she turns the laser to full power!

There are lots of possible moves at the beginning and each one looks like a great start but quickly you find yourself blocked in. I moved sequentially through a lot of starts and managed to get nowhere because every onward move was blocked. I had to sit back and look at it and plan - it was very similar to solving a maze as well as a burr. After doing that I had the pieces separating into a new conformation before it all got stuck again. Every piece is full visible so it is possible to try something and see where it fails and then try something else in a calculated manner. Last night I got another Whack! Ouch! when I stupidly shouted again. I really must learn to keep my big mouth shut and solve them quietly! I had this:

Just look at the complexity of those pieces
It's a stunning puzzle and I am soon going to make the BT file to help me put it back together again! If you get the chance to buy a puzzle designed or even made by Tamás then jump at the chance - quality and puzzling is fantastic. Thanks Tamás!

Wimble-already-don Puzzle
Big Steve was really generous to everyone (especially me) at the MPP. he gave out a puzzle that he had designed called "Wimble-already-don Puzzle" in honour of the soon to be starting Wimbledon which had brought Dick Hess over to visit. It is a derivative of Stewart Coffin's Pennyhedron and other designs but never actually described by the great man (or anyone else). Stephen Chin (the crazy Australian Dentist) is famous for his huge collection of beautifully made Pennyhedron puzzles - he has made all of the ones described by Coffin and designed a few of his own. A set of them was shown off in Brian Young's collection in the guest blog post by Mike D here. Chinny's productions are beautiful things and tremendously challenging which I drool over but unfortunately cannot afford - they have sold at auction for huge sums recently. Maybe one day if Mrs S relinquishes her grip on my throat and wallet then I will get the whole lot! Although Lord knows where I will put them!

Like all the pennyhedron puzzles, it is just a matter of working out where to put your fingers and which direction to push/pull in and you have some pieces - Steve's version is a little easier that Chinny's because the printed plastic doesn't quite come together as seamlessly as the wooden ones. But after a few minutes I was delighted to have this:

I really must get a 3D printer sometime!
There are a few reassemblies but only one provides the most pleasing separation of the colours and it does take a bit of dexterity. I love it and it certainly makes for a rather nice worry bead! Thanks Steve!

So never look a gift puzzle in the mouth (I have no idea where the original expression came from) - if someone gives you a puzzle then accept and be grateful - even broken puzzles can be fixed and can be fun! Now I need to rejoin Mrs S and watch the men's final of Wimbledon and hopefully see a Brit gain the trophy! Have a nice day!


  1. I was also given a broken puzzle at Allard's !!! And I'm very pleased to also say I fixed it too! You are absolutely right Kevin, so a big thank you (again) to that very generous person (you know who you both are I'm unsure if to say?), also a big thank you to Dick for the 5 keys and other puzzles, and a big thank you to big Steve !!! And of course to Ben for taking care of us while Allard played taxi :-)

  2. I think the original expression regarding gift horses comes from the fact that you can tell a horse's health from its teeth, so looking at its teeth when gifted it is kind of impolite. It's like getting a present and asking how much it cost or how fancy it is.
    The galaktika looks like a lot of fun!!

    1. Aha! Now I understand! Thanks for the explanation.

      The Galaktika looks wonderful on display and also is an unusual solve for a burr - very enjoyable.

  3. Very true Kevin they are. Some with there gifts, some with using up enormous amounts of there spare time and sharing there beautiful collections with us to read and admire !!!

    Also thanks for educating me to William :-)