Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year - My top puzzles of 2017

Hi folks, it's that time of year again....time for me to show off the top puzzles of the year and if I can, I try to show the "state of the unioncollection". I do this in parallel with the top 3 post booklet that is produced by Peter Hajek to coincide with his end of the year puzzle party where puzzlers visit his house for a get together and they present their opinions for the top puzzles they have acquired in the preceding 12 months. Unfortunately I live just a bit too far away to get to Peter's to attend the party but I always look forward to participating by email and receiving the pdf of what puzzlers around the world have bought and consider their very best of the year.

My own particular post here, however, differs slightly from the rules sent out by Peter. He wants to know the best puzzles acquired whilst I insist that this post shows ONLY the puzzles that I have solved in the previous 12 months. It does not include fabulous puzzles that I have purchased but not managed to solve yet - I feel that until I have solved them I cannot possibly fully assess how much I enjoy them. For example the Popplock T10 is a truly amazing puzzle which will surely one day reach my top 10 but so far in more than a year I have been unable to solve it. This is also the reason why there is no Hales puzzle in my top puzzle list this year (I received 2 new ones from Shane after the IPP but so far have singularly failed to solve them!)

It was a great delight and honour to post yesterday that, with your amazing tolerance, I have reached over 1 million pageviews before the year is out. This has really helped motivate me to write this final blog post of 2017 - I hope that you have managed to get at least a few of these fabulous toys for your own collection (some are still available with links given) and if you have anything to say about my choices then do please leave a comment at the bottom of the post.

So without further ado here are my top puzzles of 2017:

Honourable mention

Die Doolhof - a hidden maze with packing puzzle inside
Numlock with stand and Quinary pieces
Each year when I go through my database and look at how I have scored my puzzles I realise that I have far far more highly ranked puzzles than I can fit into my top ten. I therefore have been forced to add a "pipped at the post" section for some truly wondrous puzzles that are almost there. This year I received quite a few from my friend Johan Heyns and 2 really stood out because of either their beauty or complexity. Numlock is a member of one of my favourite categories, the N-ary puzzles. Johan made it beautifully and added extra dimensions to the original - how could I possibly resist? Then he also made something similar to the puzzle that got it all started - Die Doolhof is a hidden maze like a Revomaze which as a bonus contains an extra packing puzzle. Being made of wonderful Olivewood it is truly gorgeous!

10) Crazy Comet and Flowercopter

Crazy Comet
Yes, as usual I am cheating a bit! 10 puzzles is far too short a list for anyone (especially me). This has been a very good year for twisty puzzlers with quite a few new designs coming out and a good few of them being mass produced. I personally like twisty puzzles that add something new to the process with maybe an alternative way of looking at a puzzle or with something extra added to the solution of an existing easier one. The Crazy Comet (purchase here (UK) or here (USA)) looks really fearsome but it can be thought of as a rhombic dodecahedral shape modification of one of my all time favourites, the Curvy Copter. It adds an alternative view point and has just a little extra which shows up as an unexpected parity. This is wonderful and not impossibly difficult.

The Flowercopter (purchase here (UK)) is another fabulous new design that mixes (yet again) the Curvy Copter with something else...this time it is the Dino cube. It makes for a fabulously scrambling puzzle which again solves like both those puzzles but requiring an extra step or two. Even I, who am OK at twisties but certainly not anywhere near in the ranks of the brilliant solvers on the Twisty Puzzles forum, was able to work out what was required and produce my own fairly simple commutator for it. It is brilliant! I can see that I am going to run out of superlatives during this post!

9) Santa's Socks

Santa's Socks - aim to remove the shackle binding the 2 legs
Disentanglement puzzles seldom make it into peoples' top 10 but I adore this genre and I own dozens of them. The Santa's Socks was one of a batch of puzzles designed by the amazing Aaron Wang (many are available from the Felix Puzzle Company). He is one of the greatest disentanglement designers and solvers in the world and I always try to make sure that I get every single one of his designs when they come out. The Santa's Socks doesn't look like much but for me it had just the right amount of difficulty which was made perfect by the addition of the 2 tiny rings across the shackle. The Aha! moment is truly delicious! It is hand made and very nicely done and has a lovely amount of exploration and discovery. I left the reassembly for a while and then was stumped for quite some time.

8) Tronc Commun 3 and 4

Tronc Commun 3
Tronc Commun 4
No top 10 of mine could possibly be complete without something wonderful produced by the incredible Brian Menold. Over the last year or so he has begun to produce a number of puzzles that require rotations. At the beginning of 2017 I reviewed the Tronc Commun 4 and called it "probably the best turning puzzle ever" - it was simply amazing in it's solving strategy as well as the gorgeous woods used by Brian. A good friend of mine had told me that this puzzle would be good and when it arrived it beat my expectations. Then a few months later Brian produced the earlier Tronc Commun 3 and I had to have it partly to continue the set but also because Gregory Benedetti's designs are generally stupendous. The number 3 was just a shade less wonderful but I couldn't bear to keep it out of my top 10 - gratuitous wood photos always are welcome here!

7) Tortoise and Giegeldonk

2017 has been an absolutely incredible year for Jakub and Jaroslav's New Pelikan Workshop and I think I have bought every single puzzle they produced! The quality is stupendous and, like Brian above, they seem to choose some really interesting and challenging puzzles. It was no surprise to me that quite a number of their puzzles turned up in the top of my list and in the end I had to include 2 of them (it was nearly 4 or 5!) The Tortoise (available here)was one of several designs by a new man on the puzzle block, Alexander Haydon O'Brien. He seems to have the knack of producing very interesting shapes which also have rather ingenious solutions - some of the moves are very well hidden and can take quite a long time to discover. The Tortoise is not a particularly high level puzzle but it really took me quite a long time to dismantle. I also had to include the Giegeldonk (available here) is a design from the very prolific Klaas Jan Damstra. It is "just" another framed 6 piece burr but with a real twist to it! All the sticks are identical and it has a surprisingly high level solution. It kept me going for several days and despite being able to see easily inside it took quite a while to plan the escape of the first piece (and even several subsequent ones). Beautiful and fun - I am lucky to have a special version made by Jakub and Jaroslav for a few special friends.

6) Jerry's masterpieces (Burrnova and Pinhole grand cross)

Burrnova - this is AFTER the automatically solving part has done itself!
After so many years of communicating with Jerry McFarland I finally got to meet him at the IPP in Paris. He showed off his entry into the design competition (and winner of a Jury Honourable mention award) which I promptly purchased. The Burrnova must be the world's first self-solving burr puzzle (at least part way solved) - it has the absolutely characteristic look of a McFarland puzzle which is a wonderful thing and the sound made by the first 11 moves is something I keep doing just for giggles. Following that by a very well hidden sequence before removal of the first pieces makes this an absolutely unique puzzle - I love it!

At the same IPP I also picked up a puzzle that he had made called the Grand Pinhole Cross. Here I am cheating my rules a little - I have still not yet completed the full set of challenges yet (including the big cross) but I have made 4 or 5 of the challenges. This incredible Stewart Coffin design has been made like a Masterpiece here and I adore it! It is still sitting next to my armchair in the living room for me to take up the final 3 or 4 challenges. The attention to detail here is stunning!

Coffin's Pinhole Puzzle set (#20)
The 90º bend which caused me real difficulty

5) Sliding Tetris (hardcore edition)

Sliding Tetris (hardcore edition)
Amazing! My top 10 includes wire, twisties and now even a plastic puzzle! The Sliding Tetris (hardcore edition) is just too good not to appear here in my number 5 slot. Diniar Damdarian is well known as the King of the sliding piece puzzle - every year he has an entry into the IPP design competition with a new design which is often incredibly complex and often has a very high level solution. Usually these puzzles take the form of trays with sliding tiles. I have bought a number of these over the years and, whilst I enjoy the play, I am truly terrible at them and a number of the very difficult ones end up as random movement games for me. I just don't seem to have the skills to solve them systematically. This year he produced a 3D sliding piece puzzle with pieces that look like a Tetris piece. When I saw and played with the basic version at the IPP I found that I really enjoyed it and learned to plan my approach. A month or so afterwards, Diniar contacted me offering a greatly enhanced version of the one in the competition. How could I possibly say no? So many challenges and so beautifully made! Moving the ball through an ever changing maze towards the exit hole is surprisingly difficult and mesmerizingly enjoyable! Definitely worthy of a prize here. You can contact Diniar if you would like a copy for yourself

4) The Louvre

The Louvre
The Louvre was the 2017 sequential discovery release from the amazing Brian Young - made to coincide with the IPP in Paris. This puzzle has several steps and, like most previous designs is beautifully made from wood and several other metal parts (Brian has so much skill!) The aim is to open the gallery and find the French flag and pole as well as the missing Mona Lisa. This puzzle kicked my butt for a very long time. The mechanism is totally ingenious and requires a very "fingers out" approach. Yes, make sure that you obey Ali's instructions and "Don't put you finger in it"! Sequential discovery puzzles are my favourite genre of all and they are very difficult to design and make. This is really wonderful and is still available to buy here.

3) 3x3 Mixup Ultimate

3x3 Mixup Ultimate
A scrambled nightmare?
I couldn't resist having a twisty puzzle in my top 3 - especially if it is as good as the 3x3 Mixup Ultimate (purchase here (UK) or here (USA)). This wonderful twisty puzzle was designed Guan Yang and mass-produced by LimCubes. The basic premise is that of Oskar's mixup cube but instead of enabling 45º equatorial turns, it allows 30º turns and mixing up of centres and segments of edges into an unholy mess. It is particularly special because it adds something to a standard 3x3 that can be solved by anyone who can solve that with some additional intuitive logic and thought. There's also a fabulous parity! I am not a huge fan of massively complicated twisty puzzles - I want a puzzle that is based on something I know but forces me to think© a little more and advance my knowledge and skills further. This puzzle is absolutely perfect for that. If you are a twisty puzzler, this and the other 2 I have listed here are essential purchases for solving and collecting.

2) The Pirate's casket

The Pirate's Casket
Just last week I reviewed this! It was one of the last puzzles I received this year and smashed it straight into my number 2 slot (to be honest, it was difficult to decide between the top 2 - I nearly went for both puzzles in joint top position but that is avoiding making a decision). Designed and manufactured by the incredibly talented Carsten Elsäßer, this is a sequential discovery puzzle plus follow on information challenge. I am always amazed that some puzzle designers send me their puzzles for review and this one was one of the best of the year. With 3D printing in plastic and metal as well as judicious use of magnets this puzzle was something totally new and very exciting for me just before Xmas - it is stunning and only just beaten into second place. Everything that Carsten has ever made has been amazing and I cannot wait to show this one off at the next MPP. Thank you my friend you deserve your slot here!

1) Revenge Lock aka The Wanderer

The Revenge Lock aka The wanderer
Yet again one of Wil's amazing designs makes my top puzzle of the year. The Revenge Lock has been beautifully manufactured and is a wonderful voyage of dexterity, discovery and logic with multiple challenges for the unwary puzzler that has been beautifully thought out. How can anyone resist a puzzle that comes with a set of instructions/challenges like this:
"First Part:
1 - Discover your Number
2 - Open the Shackle
3 - Remove the Brass Key
4 - Find the Tiny Wanderer
Second Part:
5 - Replace the Wanderer - Brass Key - Shackle
6 - Put the Lock back in the Frame.
7 - Fix the Lock back into the Frame.
No Magnets - No Banging - No force needed - Spring-loaded
     Take care of the "Spring" and the "Wanderer".
Even having done the first part and disassembled it, I left the reassembly too long and it subsequently proved to be a massive challenge for me which took me several weeks to resolve. I still enjoy opening and closing this one and admiring the manufacturing perfection as well as the beautiful sequence of moves required.

Thank you Wil!  It is one of the best puzzles in my collection.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

An Amazing Thing Has Happened! Thank You All!

Main blog statistics

New additions statistics

Over 1 MILLION pageviews since I began! Incredible!

When I began my little website in March 2011 I did it just for some fun. I wanted somewhere to chat about these new toys that were taking over my head and also it would be a chance to learn a little bit about web publishing and html. I’ve certainly learned a lot about puzzles, met/communicated with a whole lot of wonderful puzzlers around the world, chatted to some incredibly talented designers and craftsmen and can even call a lot of them my friends. My pageview stats just crept up gradually and I suspected that most of them may have been my mother keeping an eye on my drivel but after she passed away the numbers continued to rise so someone else must be responsible! I am continually amazed that anyone reads the garbage I publish but I’m pleased that my words get read.

Thank you all for your time! Having just passed the 1 million pageviews just before New Year I am very grateful. I will try to keep you all entertained for another million! The first million took 448 posts, let’s see how many the next requires.

Tune in for my Top 10 puzzles of 2017 on the last day of the year....that would be tomorrow.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Avast Me Hearties It's the Pirate's Casket

The Pirate's Casket from Carsten Elsäßer
Back in 2015 I received, totally out of the blue, 2 separate deliveries from an amateur puzzle designer and craftsman called Carsten Elsäßer. In March I really enjoyed his 2 Piece cube and marvelled at the craftsmanship which not only was of wood but included some very nicely made metal components which really takes some skill for an amateur to create. The whole idea was very clever and nicely implemented with a great Aha! moment. Then in August he completely blew me away with a mostly metal construction called the Naga puzzle which was a sequential discovery puzzle of similar scope and wonder to the limited edition puzzles made by the great Brian Young. A truly amazing thing also is that Carsten spends most of his time living and working aboard a cruise ship travelling all over the world! This gives him very little time at home to actually manufacture his puzzles.

I had communicated with Carsten earlier this year and was aware that he was busily designing away but, to be honest, I had totally forgotten about it. Then out of the blue earlier this month he asked for my address again and sent me another lovely new toy through the post. To make this even more incredible, he has become a father for the first time just a month ago and still managed to work on a fabulous new puzzle! Congratulations my friend! You are amazing! Helping with the development of this puzzle Carsten has discovered the amazing capabilities of 3D printing. The Pirate's casket is made from sintered nylon and has many magnets. It is also one of the first times I have ever come across a puzzle pade with 3D printed metal components too.

The pirate's casket was found after centuries at the bottom of the ocean.....OK it's nylon so maybe it wasn't! But it has been aged to look like it has - apparently judicious use of coffee and charcoal has given it the "bottom of the sea" look. The aim of this puzzle is firstly to find the gold coin inside and then as a secondary challenge I have to establish which pirate it belonged to. YES!!!! I lurve sequential discovery puzzles! I was told that it is strong enough to resist a bit of abuse but banging and prying at it is entirely unnecessary.

The skull ball rotates and can be removed
A keyhole in the bottom
The puzzle is surprisingly weighty for a plastic printed puzzle - it feels like there is metal inside. Maybe it's a gold doubloon? Time to explore....the ball on top rotates freely but has a tendency to ping into certain positions - if you hold a compass near this then the needle goes haywire all over the place! There seems to be magnets involved....LOTS of them! With a bit of a tug the ball will come out too. Underneath the casket there's a keyhole but no key...yet. In fact, looking in the keyhole gives no clue of what's inside as there doesn't seem to be any way for the key to turn inside. It gets more and more intriguing.

The panels rotate
Obviously the next thing to try is look closer at the panels on the faces of the casket. They appear to rotate fairly freely but in 45º increments they click into place. Try this with each in turn and aha! One won't move at all! Explore, explore, explore. My usual is to move things over and over again in the hope that one day I will prove Einstein wrong. Of course that is not the correct thing to do but I do find it therapeutic. OK! Time to be more systematic....rotate each of the panels in turn and see what happens....nothing! Puzzles like this actually require a light touch and during my investigation something feels different and I'm not sure why. Back-track and Aha! again. A panel shifts slightly and seems to require a bit more. What if??? YES!!! I seem to have a key.

A key has come out.
I am told that the key has also been 3D printed! Incredible! I can hear you shouting at me...try it in the keyhole! These damned voices are really starting to worry me!

A perfect fit
The key goes into the keyhole perfectly and..... well you know that NEVER works in the puzzling world. My friend Shane keeps sending me puzzles with keys and so far I don't think any of them have done anything. Puzzle designers are nasty that way - they raise your hopes and dash them.

I give up on the keyhole and notice that the key is held inside fairly firmly. Interestingly there is another magnet stuck inside the key itself. Maybe the key has other uses? I am aware that there are rather a lot of magnets in the casket as floating the key over various parts makes pushing and pulling motions all over the place. I proceed to go round and round in circles for a while and get nowhere. I do make a useful discovery during my further exploration but at this stage it doesn't help me at all. Interestingly moving the key over the ball makes exciting clicking noises and something rather heavy moves around inside it. I have a brainwave which as always doesn't work and give up for the day. After a couple of evenings of attempts my main thought doesn't seem to be working so I contact Carsten for a clue. As a Dad of a new baby, I suspect he doesn't get out very much just now and he replies very quickly. My thoughts had been nearly right and his very teeny tiny hint got me my next step.

The ball can be split
The mechanism is totally ingenious! I love it and I could see why I missed it for so long! Inside the ball is another "thing" to help you on your way but of course it is not quite that straight forward. The interior of the casket is still locked tight. Moving "things" around makes a very tiny change on the outside and this with my earlier finding gives me a bit of a bwainwave. Yet again another very clever mechanism has been implemented and I suddenly find that the locked panel can be moved and then removed:

A revealing movement
A panel comes off and...
I think I am almost there! It has taken me 4 evenings of gentle play and discovery and I finally have found the pirate's coin. I don't think it is a doubloon or even gold but 3D printing makes for a very nice and beautifully detailed momento.

Heads - CE 2016
Coordinates on the edge
What about the final piece of the quest? Finding out who was the original owner of the casket? This takes good eyesight, some GoogleFu and a bit of reading. I learned there are things you can look up on the internet with only very tiny pieces of information. It would appear that Captain Arthur Catt may have been a very wealthy man before he lost his 3D printed coin and chest in an ocean with coffee in it!

This puzzle has been nearly 2 years in the design and manufacture - it is truly wonderful! Yet again, I am aghast at the incredible skills and design ability of Carsten Elsäßer whilst he spends half his life at sea and also finishing off with a newborn in the house. Thank you so much my friend, I will be bringing this to a Midlands Puzzle Party in the 2018 to let the guys have a play. I am sure that they will solve it quicker than me but will still greatly enjoy it.

Now all that is left for me to do is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year - may it be happy, healthy and puzzling. I hope you all receive what you have been asking for and that next year is truly puzzling for you. I have to quote another friend, Michel,  who always signs his emails and letters with this:

"Let's keep puzzling."

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Jakub Does it Again - In Time for Xmas

Latest batch currently available
I count myself very very lucky for many reasons. First of all, not only have I been at home with Mrs S for a month after surgery, I have been on a "too much time on my hands" spending spree and bought lots and lots of wonderful toys (see my New Additions page) and despite all of the deliveries and being underfoot, she has not murdered me in bed! I suspect, listening some of the not so under her breath muttering, that it has been a pretty close thing and I damn well better get back to work soon or I will be an ex-puzzlemad! A particular reason for me to feel lucky is that my friendship with Jakub and Jaroslav at Pelikan puzzles allows me the opportunity to buy their latest offerings ever so slightly early and this year I have some reviews for you that may help you with your last minute Xmas gift buying for the special puzzler in your life. Yes there are some fabulous new toys available and I got 'em all!


Lucida by Osanori Yamamoto
Arrives with pieces locked together
Simple pieces
Just beautiful in Wenge and Ash
Only 27€ is a bargain
Lucida is another brilliant design by Osanori Yamamoto. When you see that name you should straight away think of rotations. Allard had already recommended this one to a few people on Facebook and I had seen that another very talented puzzler (my friend Richard Gain) had 3D printed it and then spent 3 weeks before managing to assemble it. This made be ever so slightly fearful of this one. It has been beautifully made and is sent out disassembled with the pieces cleverly locked together. So far in 6 days of concerted play, a number of ideas have occurred to me but so far none have worked - I am blocked at every turn - my head hurts just now because I seem to have run out of ideas. I did find for 5 heart-stopping minutes I had everything locked together and couldn’t get them apart at all - eventually I managed to undo what I had done! Just like the Identical Twins, this puzzle is such a simple idea and yet this one is tremendously difficult. I will keep going and hopefully not take 3 weeks! This is a great puzzle for the true puzzler - if Allard says it's good and Rich found it tough then you can be sure that this is well worth buying!


Coriolis by Lucie Pauwels
Coriolis is another new design by the incredibly prolific Lucie Pauwels and has been made by Jakub and Jaroslav in a number of different finishes (I chose Ash and Purpleheart). Recently Lucie has been focusing on puzzles that require rotational moves in their solution - the Knobbel puzzles are more traditional Turning Interlocking Cubes or cuboids but she also has been looking at other interesting shapes. It consists of just 4 simple pieces in a complex frame and the aim is disassembly and then reassembly again. The first disassembly is a nice voyage of discovery - it is not really difficult but does make you realise that what looks so simple in construction is actually much more complex inside.

Coriolis pieces - more complex than you would expect!
The real challenge however is the reassembly after you have scrambled all the pieces and left them a while. It is not hugely tough but takes a little thought and planning. This is certainly suitable for a beginner but experienced puzzlers and collectors will want a copy too. It also looks lovely on display.


Top by Osanori Yamamoto
Top is another fabulous design by Osanori. Again you should straight away think of rotations. This puzzle has been beautifully made by Pelikan from Ash and Bubinga with perfect tolerances and a couple of tiny magnets prevent the pieces falling out of position. The aim again is disassembly and then subsequent reassembly. There are a good few linear sliding and rotational movements possible and careful analysis of the board shapes is required to get the pieces into just the right positions to allow a clever rotation to occur. After a few more moves the first piece comes out. I expected the other piece to come out linearly after that but no, Osanori would never make it that easy. There are 2 choices for the last piece removal – both require more shuffling and rotations. A similar but opposite movement to the first piece surprisingly failed. Further thought required and I had 4 separate gorgeously made pieces.

Just look at the grain on that Ash!
I heartily recommend scrambling the pieces and leaving them a while before reassembly. Then you have a real challenge on your hands! The reassembly of this puzzle requires some real thought if you make a proper attempt to ensure that you haven't just memorised the moves. It is perfectly manageable and great fun. A similar design is available from Brian Young's MrPuzzle store. He has made another puzzle by Osanori with similar moves - the 2 & 2 in Acrylic and Western Australian Jarrah. It is just as much fun but much smaller. Of course all serious collectors need to have both!


Recede by Alexander Haydon O'Brien
Recede is, I'm afraid, already sold out on the Pelikan site. This is the third of Alexander's designs to be commercially produced (I raved about the first two here). This is just slightly more conventional in shape than the Tortoise and Knot on my watch puzzles but still has elements that are highly unusual. It actually looks like a packing puzzle (when I posted my initial picture on Instagram someone actually asked whether it was a packing puzzle) and bears a similarity to some produced in the past by Eric Fuller (One Hole - reviewed here, or The Core which I regret I didn't buy). However do not be fooled - this is a burr/interlocking puzzle with very unusual shaped pieces which lock together in a really interesting way. There are a few blind ends and it is a delight to get lost in them and have to work back and discover where you went wrong. Gradually as you work through the level solution you can see more and more of the maze like complex interior but still cannot see enough to plan the disassembly. When the first piece is removed it is with a breath of relief and the rest follow quite quickly.

Seriously complex pieces - well done Jakub making something so stable!
The disassembly took me so long that I thought I had memorised the movements but apparently I had not done it well enough. That final 4 pieces come apart fairly quickly (although they are very stable right to the end and as you can see 3 of them are very similar. This meant (and still does now when I repeat it) that it didn't just slide back together easily! I knew the rough configuration but not particularly well and had to spend quite a while figuring out the correct piece orientation from scratch. I am not like the late (and sorely missed) Laurie Brokenshire - I really struggle to work things like this out but it is just just possible for me to manage and for those of you who have obtained a copy, I suggest that you have a go at scrambling the pieces and leaving them a while. Burrtools will be able to get you out of trouble if you need it but I don't think you will. Simply fabulous Alexander and Jakub!

All but Recede are still available at the moment on the Pelikan site so do yourselves a favour and go and buy them now. They will make a nice Xmas present to yourself or another puzzler in your life. Thank you Jakub for letting me have these.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Locks, locks, locks....Some solved, some forever in purgatory

3 Coolen locks
As most of the UK settles into a rare snow filled excitement, we in Sheffield are still waiting with baited breath for a coating of the white stuff. Several friends are very upset that the stuff that brings the whole city to a standstill and fills our hospitals up with the elderly sick and the fallen fractured has not hit yet. Whilst I am not fond of the white stuff outside, I am delighted to play with some of the white things indoors. These are three successive years of lock creations by the "puzzle solving machine" that is Louis Coolen. Allard frequently has him stay over before and after an MPP and I suspect that he relies on him to solve half of his puzzles! I very seldom write about locks because I am frankly rubbish at them! My good friend Shane has been a locksmith as well as a Master carpenter for years and recently added the accolade of Master Locksmith to his list of qualifications. This means that he understands the damned things and seems to be able to solve them all with minimal struggle and even seems to have enough knowledge to manufacture his own (more of that later). If you do need a Locksmith in London and the South East of England then he's your man!

Over successive MPPs I have seen and played with Louis' devices and to my shame up until recently only had a 50% success rate in opening them. Each year I passed on buying one for my collection because I had always spent my pocket money earlier (not that they were expensive). At the last MPP Louis had a set of all 3 available for the meagre sum of £15 each - my recent spending spree had inured me to the pain of bank account depletion and I couldn't resist 3 as a set! These puzzles are produced in the Shapeways 3D printer from WSF (White, strong and flexible) plastic which is a substance that is definitely Verboten in this house! I have 2 or 3 twisties made from it and they leave a trail of dyed black power over everything when I play with them which usually leads to an inevitable Whack! Ouch! These however don't really have much movement to be done and don't shed powder. At least that is what I have told the fearsome Mrs S.

The 2015 version is the original and by far the toughest - initially it doesn't even appear to be provided with a key! I recall working on this at an MPP and was only able to solve it with the aid of Louis and a chorus of jeering MMPers helping me. The solution requires just a smidgeon of force in places and that is where the WSF holds its own - it is really rather strong as well as flexible and of course.....white! With a little cajoling and help I was able to solve it there and to prove to myself that dementia has not set in yet I was able to solve it after I bought the trio of them in November. Only a hint of trouble and I had a nice open puzzle.

Coolen 2015 lock solved
It needs at least 4 separate movements to open it and is a nice discovery sequence. It would appear that a copy has been manufactured in wood and despite not having the same material properties as the WSF it works beautifully.

I am very proud to say that at an MPP last year I actually managed to solve the 2016 Coolen lock. This one has a particularly clever start. There are only two possible moves at first and the obvious one does nothing leading you on a hunt for anything else that you can do. The second move needs to be done repeatedly until something changes inside and then you've had a great Aha! moment ending in an Oh! not there yet! At this point it required a very light touch and what I can only imagine picking a  real lock feels like. It requires a nice delicate touch and a certain movement to produce this:

Coolen 2016 lock solved
Everything is there for a particular reason and it does sort of lead you to the solution.  Only 3 particular steps but very very clever indeed. I did remember how to solve this a year after my original success and still no white powder on our precious black granite surface.

Now the 2017 Coolen lock was one I had not seen until it was available in November and I deliberately did not watch anyone play with it there. Having boosted my confidence with the first 2, I started on the 2017 version. Unlike Allard's copy, my key was not trapped inside but turning it revealed a couple of "interruptions" to the turning circle. Of course, no matter how many times I twiddled with it the turning never did anything. Taking out the key and looking at it and looking for other places to put it was also unhelpful. The only clue really was the strange shape of the keyhole. Time to think© which is something I am not very good at! After an hour or so of fruitless thunking, I had a bwainwave. What if I.......Aha! Things changed and moved. What if I now.....Aha! more movement and it stopped dead....Damn! I should have known Louis would put an extra step in! Of course I tried repeating the earlier moves but they weren't going to do anything. More thinking required no matter how painful. Something is definitely odd about that....maybe I can....what if I....Aha! Very clever that Coolen fellow! Perfect use of the properties of WSF and a very nice little sequential discovery puzzle.

Coolen 2017 lock solved
Again the mechanism is hidden from view. The shackle has been placed behind the main body for the picture above. The wonderful 2017 lock puzzle is now available from Puzzle Paradise here and the older versions are available on request from Louis if you contact him using the Paradise messaging system. They are inexpensive and Louis will even consider puzzle swaps if you have anything of interest to him.

Next up is a puzzle that I had to get a copy of, the B-Lock by Boaz Feldman. Yes that name is very familiar! Boaz is the son of Dan Feldman maker of the incredible Danlock. Boaz learned a lot from his dad! He also seemed to have learned a few new tricks. The B-Lock was exchanged by Boaz at the IPP and many of us were desperate to get a copy later. I was accused by a good friend who is not a puzzler (but was accompanying one) of behaving like a druggie with Boaz as my "dealer" at one point when in a corridor of the hotel I sidled up to him and made a casual enquiry about getting hold of his "special thing". Luckily for me Boaz came through with the "good stuff" the following day.

Looks like a standard Israeli padlock? It is.
I saw this being solved at the IPP dinner and so never got to try it from scratch myself. I seem to be unable to forget the solution method but every time I go through the process of opening the lock, I marvel at the incredible machining skills that Boaz has developed to carry out that incredible modification with such subtlety. You need amazing eyes to notice the teeny tiny thing that is required to open this lock. I cannot wait for the next puzzle he produces.

After this I have nothing but pain!! Shane's most recent creations have so far completely defeated me! Haleslocks 3 and 4 were the IPP exchange gifts of my friends Peter Hajek and Allard Walker and hence 100 of them were handed out in Paris. I had planned to purchase a copy from the creator or the 2 humble gentlemen at the puzzle party (I was an exchange assistant only and so did not participate in the receiving part of the exchange, only in the record keeping and the repair of my exchanger's puzzles). At the end of the exchange I was truly grateful when Shane sidled up to me and handed me 2 nice heavy metal objects! This meant I had money left over for the party the following day! Oh boy! I certainly used all of that!

Haleslock 3

Haleslock 4
So far I have worked on both of these for 3 months and got absolutely nowhere! I did find an unintentional shortcut in Haleslock 4 but this was so obviously trivial that I knew it could not possibly be the solution. I have 2 little brown envelopes sitting in my drawer that are enticing me but so far I have held off opening the solution - I am not sure how much longer I will last! I just don't really understand locks very much apart from the very basics of a mechanism.

Still closed! I'm rubbish! Sob...
Shane is not the only Puzzle lock maker who has me beaten! I have been working on the Popplock T10 for a year and still not got the damned thing open! It sits on my desk throwing insults at my puzzle manhood! I look at it sadly and have to admit that it has me beat....I am a puzzle wimp!

I cannot wait for the T11 to be released. I got a look and a hold of a copy at the IPP (it was a delight to finally meet Rainer) and apparently it is incredible. For a preview photo have a look at Goetz' page. It will be significantly expensive but I cannot wait! Whack! Ouch! Oh well, I'm only going to live once even if it might not be for very long now!


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