Sunday 27 August 2017

Packing with Purpose

The highly sought after Caramel Box
The "Master" of the Metagrobologist website (currently under reconstruction), Dave Holt will be most delighted to read this post. He is an educationalist who has a special interest in teaching people who are "educationally challenged" and he often uses packing puzzles in his classes to encourage thought and perseverance. Whilst I understand this use, I personally find that these puzzles often don't "do it" for me. In fact, after all these years of by talking drivel on this site, most of you should well know that I don't really enjoy or collect packing puzzles. In fact I have only ever sold 2 puzzles from my collection and they were from that category.  However, I do have a few in my collection and I still buy the occasional one. You might well ask why after that preamble......the reason that one is bought is either that it is truly gorgeous with very lovely woods or unusual materials or that there is something truly special in the solution process. I usually take advice on this matter from my friends; especially Allard or Louis who have such an in depth knowledge of all things puzzling that if they say something is worthwhile then I sit up and listen. This post is about a few recent packing puzzles that fulfilled these criteria.

The puzzle at the top of the post is the Caramel box which was entered in the 2014 Nob Yoshigahara design competition at the London IPP and was recognised in the top 10 vote getters category. I have a vague memory of playing with it in the design room and marvelling at how beautiful it was and how unusual it was to have a box to be packed made of painted tin. Being rubbish at packing puzzles I completely failed to solve it but enjoyed the tactile nature and craftsmanship of it. Lots of people were very enthusiastic about it at the time and when they were sold in a Japanese store they sold out very very quickly. After Allard and Jerry reviewed it with glowing reports of thought processes rather than random trial and error, I decided that I ought to get a copy and play myself - I failed that too. Over the intervening 3 years I have tried to get a copy a few times and each time lost the auction. I had more or less given up. I was not the only person who was really after a copy (I could hear the wails of woe from Dave whenever one sold and it wasn't to him.

Sunday 20 August 2017

A New Essential Twisty

That's a whole lot of pieces to move!
Well I must be officially getting old! Not only do I catch a cold at IPP and it poleaxes me for a week but a 24 hour on call yesterday which had me at work from 8am to half past midnight completely kills me! I have relapsed my cold and am shattered - definitely too old! Despite feeling crap, I have dragged my carcass to my computer to produce a quick something for you.

A month or so ago the Chinese company LanLan showed off on the TwistyPuzzle Forum a new production of theirs. It really didn't seem to get much fanfair and there has been very little written about it. Originally designed by Minh Sanghsu in 2011, it is a hybrid of one of my favourite puzzles of all time, the Curvy Copter, as well as a nice easy twisty puzzle, the Dino cube which I have never reviewed because it is pretty simple to solve but was mentioned in my discussion on depth of cut in Twisty puzzling.

The edge turn - Curvy copter style
The corner turn - Dino cube style
This puzzle has only just been released on the market and as far as I am aware is only available at present in the Chinese stores like HKNowstore but I am sure it will be available in Europe from Martin's Puzzlestore UK and in North America from PuzzleMaster. I managed to get an early copy of the puzzle courtesy of my good friend Otis. He is a solid member of the Twisty puzzling fraternity and is an absolutely superb solver. Being Chinese he also has some fabulous connections with the incredible Chinese designers and manufacturers and his Facebook page often shows him playing with some amazing puzzles. He had been given a bunch of LanLan's latest creations to bring along to the Paris IPP and I was very much drawn to them during the Twisty Puzzle meetup there (some pictures are included in John Haché's blog post). At the end of the TP meetup, prior to the awards banquet, Otis said to everyone that he didn't want to take the Lanlan puzzle's back home with him and they were available to anyone to take. When people didn't leap on them I casually sauntered up and lifted the Flowercopter (named for pretty obvious reasons).

Sunday 13 August 2017

Unintended Consequences of IPP and Puzzles Solved on the way

The dining room table held my IPP haul
Having been at IPP last week, you might expect me to have an extravaganza blog post for you today. I certainly would have expected it too! BUT there were some unintended consequences of IPP that have conspired against me and this will only be a very short post - I do apologise but it will have a few good photos.

First of all, IPP is fantastic for catching up with friends from all over the world. Most of these guys I only ever communicate with via Facebook or email and as you can imagine there's a fair bit of hand shaking and hugging that occurs and even the odd kiss (purely for the girls of course). I was very pleased to catch up with the spouses of Neil and Peter Wiltshire and of course am always delighted to receive a little kiss. However this time one of them (or maybe both) had transformed into Typhoid Mary and infected me with a rather nasty version of the plague! I have spent the last 4 or 5 days gurgling with mucus and annoying Mrs S with other various sound effects both day and night.

Mrs S was feeling generally peeved with me because of my very talented sound effects and the prodigious quantity of goo that was being produced so when she saw the amount of new toys that I brought back from IPP and the state of the dining room table after my unpacking, she insisted that I put things away quickly. In my fevered state I whined that I didn't have any space to put them away and so she marched into my study to see absolute chaos! My desk was pandemonium. You MUST do something about this NOW!

A panoramic view of the desk - worth clicking on to get a full impression!
I do have a few shelves with either sci-fi books or my popular science books on them and she has decided that these can go into boxes in the garage and this will leave me some more shelf space for puzzles.

Unintended consequence number 1 - I am reorganising my study!

Seeing my crestfallen face (especially as I was feeling fairly shocking at this time), she actually felt sorry for me! At least I think she did......I have never seen such a thing occur before so I may be mistaken.

Unintended consequence number 2 - I will be allowed another set of shelves in our newly redecorated conservatory! Yay!!! Maybe I can get some more puzzles to fill it?

Unintended consequence number 3 - she said that the puzzles in the dining room are quite attractive! I had better pack some more in there quickly before she changes her mind.

A panoramic view of the sideboard in the dining room - sorry about the odd distortion
Before I reorganised it all, I had to take a quick set of pics to record the current state of the collection:

They are packed quite tight but I know where they all are!

Lord help me if there's a little earth tremor!

She wants me to move the bottom shelf into a cupboard!

But the cupboard is already quite full!
The collection has also spread into the living room:

I think the lamp table looks lovely

Puzzles awaiting play!

She says things are too messy - she may have a point!

An animal collection - only one puzzle which is just not right!

Puzzles solved on the way to IPP

A good friend of mine had managed to acquire a few new ones from Jan Sturm. I was offered the chance to join in with a purchase and....well you all know that I cannot resist a disentanglement puzzle or 10. I chose a few of the ones rated 4 or 5 stars on Jan's difficulty scale and they arrived a week before I went to IPP. I had to put a few in my bag to play with on the train to Paris. The first one was this Stake. The string loop was linked to the chain but not to the main puzzle and it looked initially to me to be quite tough. I sat down on the train from Sheffield to St Pancras and after we set off started to play. I was before 7am and I got a few very strange looks from my fellow travellers as well as the train guard.

5 minutes later.....

Well that wasn't particularly tough
There's a fairly nice little sequence to unlink from the chain and then unlink from the main puzzle but I would rate the difficulty of this one as 2-3 stars only. I solved it a few more times to be sure that I understood it and then put it away. Maybe I was going to be a genius at the IPP and solve everything in sight? I thus moved on to the next one - also 5 stars:

This one is significantly harder! Despite having on obvious exit point, the circular loop within the body of the steamer causes the string loop to twist and ruins any quick solution plans. After about 20 minutes I had this:

Solved - no idea how!
The trouble with many of these puzzles is the solution route is impossible to remember and more often than not I have absolutely no idea how I managed it. In this case I took it apart and immediately tried to reassemble it but seriously struggled to get it back to the initial conformation - I had to rely on the picture on the packet to be sure when it was back. In the end, it took me another hour and almost the whole way to St Pancras station to be sure that I understood the puzzle and could do it repeatedly. There is a distinct 4 steps to the solution of this and I would agree that it is a 5 star difficulty level.

Just before I got to London I attempted one final wire puzzle from Jan. This is called Cactus and the aim is to move the barrel to the other side of the wire. Needless to say, it is too big to fit through the wire. This puzzle was designed originally by Lambert Bright and called Saguarro (it was auctioned in Nov 2011).

The solution to this puzzle uses a basic technique that is common to quite a few puzzles that require you to move things from one side to another. Of course, I had no recollection of the techniques I had used before and so I needed to work it out for myself afresh. Part of the fun of having almost no memory is that puzzles always seem new to me and are a challenge each time I solve them. Don't anyone tell Mrs S please! With about 10 minutes of play I had managed this:

A fun little challenge!
This had got me from Sheffield to London and had entertained me on the way to the upcoming puzzle extravaganza!

Wish me luck rearranging my study - I will try to post some more pictures after I am done.

Sunday 6 August 2017

The IPP was a great success!

Dear Lord how am I going to explain this to Mrs S?
There's not going to be a proper blog post today. I am currently in Paris attending the madness that is the International Puzzle Party. Luckily for me it is the one place where crazy misfits like me can feel at home - puzzlists from around the world meet up to catch up on news, new developments in the design of puzzles and also to meet new friends. There's a design competition and an exchange - I was very privileged to be the exchange assistant for a very talented young man called Jean-Marc Haché. Even after a catastrophic failure of most of his exchange puzzles due to freight damage, with a large pot of superglue we managed to make good many of them and he still managed to exchange a good number of puzzles and I was so pleased to see him smiling at the end.

Today there was the "free for all" which is the puzzle party itself - puzzles are given and bought. I spend pretty much all my cash in next to no time and then moved on to PayPal. My haul is pictured above and I am delighted! Mrs S on the other hand will be deeply unhappy as I have no idea where they are going to go. I may end up sleeping in the street if I survive the night that I get home.

My thanks go to the organisers for arranging such a wonderful event and I am already looking forward to meeting my friends again at both the next Midlands Puzzle Party as well as everyone at a future IPP.