Sunday 29 October 2017

When in France One Should Buy French

Or...... Jean-Baptiste Pushes Me Over the Edge!

A trio of caged 6 piece burrs - one of these is new to the collection
From the left: Nickel box, Congestion and Chrysalide
The IPP this year was held in Paris and was my chance to catch up with friends old and new. Two friends that I did not know were members and whom I was delighted to finally meet after many years of knowing each other, were Jean-Baptiste Jacquin who is the proprietor of the wonderful Arteludes puzzle store, one of the two puzzle bloggers in France with his "Jeu-et-casse-tete" site (for completeness, the other French blogger is Guy Brette at The other French puzzler I met for the first time in years was Guillaume Largounez who is one of the greatest burr puzzlers and analysers in the world - he writes on the puzzle-place forum as Pio2001.

It was fabulous catching up with them and, for some reason, I did not expect them to set up a store at the main puzzle party on Sunday - yes, I know..... I am not very bright! The day of the party, I shot down to the main hall armed with what I thought was enough cash for the day (again, not very bright) and promptly ran out of money in under an hour! Don't tell Mrs S! After that I had to resort to PayPal and thanked the stars for the iPhone app. Having spent a fortune already, I suddenly came across my two friends with a fantastic table full of the wooden wares that I frequently drool over on the store and also some new ones not seen before. They caught me already feeling rather guilty at how much I had spent and then tempted me with more. The table looked so good that I stopped to admire all the new toys and that was my downfall! First of all Jean-Baptiste gave me a lovely bag of nutty sweeties which he said were for Mrs S as an apology for all the puzzling that had come from him over the years (let me say that I DID give them to her and she has NOT forgiven him for littering her house with new toys). After receiving the little gift/bribe, I felt it would have been rude not to add a French puzzle (or 2....or 3) to my collection. One thing I should add is that all of the puzzles in the Arteludes store are made by the amazing Maurice Vigouroux and are always beautifully made.

The first puzzle that I HAD to buy was to complete a collection - I am actually not sure whether I will ever solve it! The Chrysalide puzzle, designed by the incredible Stéphane Chomine, is a standard 6 piece burr in a frame made from Ebony and Padauk with Beech dowels to give an orientation and ensure a single solution. This puzzle is the 3rd in the series that began many years ago with Nickel Box and which took me 2 weeks of work despite being rated as only an 8/10 difficulty. It was followed a couple of years later by the incredibly tough Congestion puzzle which is still available and which I have yet to solve despite trying it on and off for 3 years! Chrysalide is supposed to be halfway between them in difficulty and maybe will help me bridge the gap. They certainly look wonderful together on display as the top photo shows. Chrysalide is next on my to be attempted list and is currently sitting on my armchair in the living room calling to me now.

I have bought several burr puzzles over the years with animals (or other objects) inside which contribute to the puzzling - Goetz has called these the puzzle zoo and I absolutely love this idea. Several were made by Alfons Eyckmans, a couple by Stephan Baumegger and even one by Eric Fuller.  A couple of these made it to the Arteludes store but I had already bought them from Alfons years ago. I was astounded to see some new ones on Jean-Baptiste's table which were not on the store and I HAD to have them. Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear!

They do look identical but they have different animals inside and have a very different solve process each. These have been on my "to be played with" pile for a couple of months and only recently did I manage to spend a decent amount of time working on them. I had been idly fiddling on and off in the evenings but with my back and forth approach to this type of puzzle, I did not really make any progress other than to find a few interesting moves.

I had got to the point of being stuck on each and unable to make any headway so I needed a decent amount of time to sit and think and experiment. This week I have had some annual leave - at this time of year I usually use the leave to do the chores I haven't done during the year like tax return, optician, visit doctor etc). I actually had not been terribly well during the week and was forced to take it easy for a couple of days and so I started on the Rhino. The puzzle is beautifully made by Maurice as always and slides smoothly. Back and forth to the dead end was getting me nowhere and now I was forced to just sit and think and experiment. The Aha! moment was wonderful when it arrived. After about a couple of hours of solid play I had the Rhino released:

Rhino - The back 7 pieces are identical
I had managed to dismantle almost all of it and keep the process in my head quite well when the customary sleeping cat turned over on my lap and I dropped the remaining precariously held pieces thus any chance of a reassembly by brain power was lost! Oh well, Burrtools to the rescue! The reassembly is fun and doesn't require 4 pairs of hands and double jointed fingers. I am amazed that the puzzle has 7 identical pieces. I love it and will do it again soon to prove that it wasn't a fluke!

Moving on to Bull, the disassembly was much harder for me. It seemed less rhythmic and intuitive. There were some very well hidden moves before the first 2 pieces came out and after I removed a 3rd and 4th I was hopelessly lost. No chance at all of a reassembly from scratch with this - I lined everything up for a photo and made my BT file.

Bull - brilliant fun!
If these two do get put up for sale then I can heartily recommend them (in either case you should certainly try the Free the Monkeys 2 and Save the Gorilla which are available just now). All of these puzzle have the characteristic 'MV' stamp from Maurice which I have been unable to photograph in a way that shows up.

Even if Mrs S is not impressed with the cost of my IPP splurge, I am delighted to have added yet another few french puzzles to my collection (Don't forget the Stand by cubes by Gregory Benedetti which I wrote about here). My current French puzzle photo will need to be updated:

French puzzles - completely out of date now!

Sunday 22 October 2017

When Ali Says Don't put Your Finger In It.....

Just DON'T!!!!!

The Louvre from Brian Young
I stuck my finger in here too!
I have had this puzzle for a few months now and have been stuck for a rather embarrassingly long time. The reason for being stuck? I didn't do what Ali told me! I have already learned that occasionally sticking my finger in a puzzle can cause pain - I still vividly recall what happened when I tried to solve the Viper puzzle made by the amazing Shane Hales. With the Viper it caused physical pain and really made me jump (embarrassingly many times). With Brian Young's latest sequential discovery masterpiece, putting your finger in it will cause mental anguish instead. My advice is to BUY IT! Then follow Ali's advice and stick no digits inside—only stick your brain in it....figuratively. Who is Ali? and why should you take his advice? I have known Ali since the beginning of my puzzling fetish, he was one of the revomaze support forum torturers who kept me going on the revomazes and provided just enough encouragement to get me through them. He's a big bloke (although not as big as BIG Steve) who runs a team of guys undertaking major building works in London. Generally people do what he says because he knows his stuff and if they don't they usually come to regret it. He is also one of the best puzzlers in the world - very few puzzles stump him for long! So with those words said you can imagine how sorry for myself I have been feeling having not taken his sage advice!

I bought The Louvre puzzle at the MPP before heading off to Paris for the IPP in August. I cannot resist sequential discovery puzzles and no matter how much they have cost, I have never baulked at the price and never regretted it. At AU$130 ($102 US) this puzzle is a bargain. The story is that you need to find and use tools to allow the lost Mona Lisa to be found and the French flag raised to full mast.

Instructions - no "undue" force but hitting is allowed.
It is made from Papua New Guinean Rosewood with lovely honey brown tones and inside there are many machined brass parts and some small magnets. It is a nice size and weight—145 x 45 x 65mm in size. With the laser engraved front face really does look like the front façade of the Louvre:

The Louvre looks just like the puzzle! Amazing!
Photo courtesy of Jean-Pierre Dalbéra on Wikimedia
I did not get much time to play until after returning from IPP. I do distinctly recall Ali telling me that putting a finger in the puzzle was a distinctly bad idea but in my stupidity I ignored his advice. There are several locks here which need to be opened. Initially there is only a single mm of play in the sliding door in the base and it is locked very tight with absolutely nothing happening as I do all the usual tapping, spinning, blowing and submerging in gin. Eventually after about a ½ hour the first lock succumbed and I had a whole cm visible inside. AHA!!! The flag was there but no way to get to it. I opened and closed and locked and unlocked that cm several times without really understanding how (that will come back to haunt me later). Rule number one with Brian's puzzles are to use your eyes and rule two is to use your is where I have problems! Eventually I remembered to use my eyes and noticing something through a little hole I was able to open the door further and retrieve the first tool. This also gave me the flag but only after another 10 minutes before I remembered to use my eyes again.

At this point quite a lot of the mechanism inside is visible but this does not make it obvious what to do. The next step, to my shame, took me several more days to work out and I had made my next discovery. Here is where it all went horribly wrong. You see it's all so inviting inside! There are several thingummyjigs that you want to play with and see what they will do. In my excitement I forgot Ali's excellent advice and I put my finger in! It didn't help me at all! Nothing would move or happen and here I remained......for 2 months! Sob! I am not terribly bright! Downright dim according to "She who frightens the Bejeeezus out of me".

When I finally recalled the words "don't put your finger inside" and realised that I had committed a cardinal sin, I took a proper look inside.....with decent light.....and my reading glasses on! Yes not only am I rather stupid but I am also getting old and my close up vision is rapidly worsening. I need reading glasses for the fine work I do in the hospital (I had noticed that putting in cannulae and threading arterial and central lines over wires was getting harder as I needed longer and longer arms). Having donned my reading glasses I noticed something absolutely critical inside and could not utilise my finding at all. NOTHING would work - I even resorted to poking with things other than my finger but nope! Nada! After a panicked email to Brian and Sue, I had to wait a bit because they were still travelling around Europe. After a month (ish) I was able to communicate properly and receive their wise advice.

YES! By not following Ali's instructions I had completely buggered my chance of solving it in the normal accepted fashion. I actually did more or less understand what was required (although not why it was) but physically couldn't do it. I actually worried that it would need to go back to Oz. Luckily, Brian sent me a photo of a tool I could make to overcome the stupidity. A large hospital paperclip was duly unfurled and bent to a nice shape and with just a little bit of manipulation in the appropriate direction I had undone the finger damage. Just 15 minutes later I was the hero of France:

Flag unfurled and a rather large Mona Lisa recovered
Of course that is not the whole puzzle. Having saved a major work of art it was important to put her (and everything else) back inside. Most of this I was able to do having finally understood the last locking mechanism properly. BUT remember that I had not really understood the initial lock? Yet again I was stumped for a bit. I knew where everything went but having placed the pieces, the sliding door wouldn't close completely. I am ashamed to admit that it took me another ½ hour before I remembered to put my blasted reading glasses on and peer inside. Another AHA! At last I understood the whole puzzle and it was all set back to the beginning. I can now do the whole thing from beginning to end in just a few minutes but that first time must have taken me many many hours!

It's a genius piece of work by Brian and with all those steps, it is well worth your investment. Just remember to ALWAYS pay attention to Ali:


Sunday 15 October 2017

Back to the Beginning Plus a Bit More

Locked Domino Tower
I'm a bit knackered today having spent 10 hours yesterday and 2 more hours today writing the Dec/Jan rotas for my department and also being on call for 24 hours today. So this post will be a quickie.....but hopefully as high quality as the puzzle I will write about.

Die Doolhof
This time I couldn't resist something that takes me back to the beginning. My puzzling began just about 7 years ago back in October 2010 (after a horrific occurrence at work) and I began blogging my crazy progress in March 2011. For me the puzzle that started off my "obsession" was the Revomaze, a hidden maze inside a cylinder. Those first puzzles were made of metal and very finely engineered. After I went through months and months and more months of effort solving the series - Blue, Green, Bronze, Silver, the defective Gold (which I did not write about) and also the fabulous Orange, I ended up stopping because the company wasn't able to fulfil the orders that people had made - this issue has apparently improved a bit now. But my habit now tends more towards wood (although I do love some seriously good metal like that from Wil Strijbos) so how great is it to get a similar hidden maze puzzle made just as finely in wood? Thanks to my South African friend, Johan Heyns, I have a Die Doolhof made from Wild Olive and a copy of Oskar's Domino Tower with a locking central piece which is also a hidden maze which must be navigated before the coordinate motion puzzle can be unlocked. It is beautifully made from Silky Oak and Sugarbush. Johan makes puzzles as his sole means of income and I always try to buy something from his offerings each time he makes them.

The mark of a Johan Heyns puzzle.....there is a special stand
My puzzle was held up by customs for several weeks and Johan was worried that his stand was the cause. One of the features of a Johan Heyns puzzle is that if they are not naturally flat or are best displayed at an angle then he ALWAYS makes an interesting display stand for them. This particular puzzle has a Warthog tooth as the stand. It is stunning and full of character but he did worry that the customs men had a problem with an animal tooth being sent in the post to the UK. Luckily when it finally arrived (after I had paid a ransom for the pleasure) there was no sign that they had even opened the box.

When I finally got some time to play one evening, I decided to start with the Domino tower (I will save the Die Doolhof until I am on leave in a week or so). I knew there was a locking puzzle but only when I initially investigated did I realise that it was a mini revomaze:

It's a mini revomaze!!! But not fully hidden.
It is not quite a revomaze as the maze here is far less complex, the maze becomes visible during the solve and there are no traps or resets inside. But it was a very pleasant experience to work my way through it and then remove the lock from the tower:

I then moved onto the Domino tower which I do have a similar type of puzzle from My friend Neil - the Hex stair:

I was familiar with how these puzzles work and it was just a matter of finding which bits to push in which direction. It is remarkably stable right until the very very end of the travel:

Perfectly stable
Just an extra mm of pushing and it breaks apart into 2 pieces and then another 2 after a further push. The quality and accuracy of the craftsmanship now becomes apparent!

The reassembly is also fun and being able to finish it off with the reverse solve of the maze is a nice icing on the cake for me. Well I have just finished in the nick of time - I will need to go in to the hospital in the next 30 minutes for a motorcycle crash victim......perfect timing. Enjoy the rest of your weekend everybody.

Sunday 8 October 2017

Juno's Tribute to Yavuz

Pseudo Ovolo
Just a short post today as I really haven't had much time for solving much recently. A did manage to solve the second of the burrs that I bought from Junichi Yananose at the IPP in Paris and thought I should tell you about it. As you can see from the picture above it is a combination of a board and a stick burr (with some very odd sticks) and at Juno's table, it looked so gorgeous that I couldn't resist it even though I knew almost nothing about it. The name immediately makes you question it as it is a "pseudo" Ovolo when I did not even know what a real Ovolo was! Apparently the whole thing is down to my good friend Yavuz Demirhan who is one of the most prolific and talented puzzle designers in the world (over 500 published designs) and also a craftsman of considerable skill. Yavuz' Etsy store is well worth a visit. The Ovolo puzzle was designed by Yavuz in 2015 and was considered good enough that one of the world's foremost puzzlers, Brian Young, actually made this in wood and acrylic and used it as his exchange puzzle at the Kyoto IPP in 2016 - it is still for sale on Brian and Sue's store, MrPuzzle. I should probably pick up a copy soon!

Apparently the first time Juno saw the Ovolo design, he really liked the concept of the puzzle and thought that the shape of the puzzle was also attractive so he set out to design a similar puzzle with some alterations. Here is what he said he wanted to do:
"He didn’t want to copy the shape of the puzzle and made a slight modification to the assembled shape. Now, what is the difference in the shape of the two puzzles? Both puzzles, Ovolo and Pseudo Ovolo consist of six sticks. Comparing the orientation of those six sticks in the assembled shape, the difference is obvious. Two sets of three sticks are used for Ovolo and those two pieces don’t touch each other. Three sets of two sticks are used for Pseudo Ovolo and the three pieces touch each other and make a loop shape."

The original Ovolo is a level 5 solution but the Pseudo Ovolo was designed as a level 13 which to me is just the right difficulty level to be enjoyable (I can do tougher puzzles but I find that above level 20 they suddenly change from being fun to being work and I only choose puzzles of that difficulty if there is something really special about them). Juno made some modifications to the pieces to increase the structural strength whilst not changing the level of the puzzle (he added small blocks to the joins  of the stick pieces to increase the gluing area).

The store site claims:
"Pseudo Ovolo is a very difficult puzzle because of its unusual transformation of the shape when it is assembled or disassembled. There are also lots of false movements to be disassembled."
How could I possibly resist that? Plus I am a Magpie and I love puzzles of beauty - made from Karry and Silver Ash with reinforcing Splines on the board burr pieces, it is truly gorgeous and I knew it would look great on display.

Picking it up to play with it, I realised that it is the perfect size too (87.5mm on each side) - it is easy to manipulate and to see what is happening inside. The level 13 did not particularly frighten me but what did was the huge amount of movement in the puzzle. It really slides apart a long way in several orientations without becoming unstable and without showing an easy solution. Unlike many board burrs there is no rotational shortcut because the pieces are held very captive.

One of the fascinating things with this is that the design allows the inside and the interactions of the pieces to be seen with ease and theoretically it should make planning the moves rather easy. That's the theory but for me it did not meet that theory! I spent a good hour moving everything around before I noticed a very well disguised move. It should have been obvious (and maybe it would be to you) but I must have moved past that position dozens and dozens of times. Having taken that particular move the pathway becomes more and more obvious but it doesn't fall apart. It still needs a bit more thought before suddenly 2 pieces come out together. From this point the remaining disassembly is a very pleasant sequence (which can be done in 2 different orders) and a bunch of beautifully made sticks and boards were arranged on the customary sleeping cat on my lap:

Just look at how beautifully made those pieces are and notice the branded mark!
There is the customary branded mark that I mentioned on a previous blog post and the making of which was described fully by Juno on his own blog. We have 3 identical boards, a pair of identical boards and 2 identical sticks. The quality is stunning!

The reassembly would be completely impossible for me from scratch but I had spent enough time on the disassembly that I had a reasonable memory and, more importantly, had a fairly good understanding of the structure. I managed most of the reassembly with relative ease until the last pair of pieces and realised that I hadn't paid enough attention to the orientation of all the pieces......Aaaargh! - it wouldn't fully go together. After an initial minor panic (I knew that I would be making a Burrtools file in any case), I persevered and actually had a very pleasant time working my way back to see where I had made my error. This was a really fun puzzle. It is also so tactile that over the next few days I enjoyed just taking it apart, scrambling the pieces and putting it back together again.

I realised that I quite enjoyed this challenge and especially the fact that I could see inside and try to plan my moves/attack. I enjoyed it so much that I bought another puzzle with a similar premise: The Visible Framed Burr also is supposed to be very tricky yet after a few moves it is possible to see all the pieces and how they can interact by peering inside - these puzzles are also good value with the conversion of the Australian Dollar to GBP being quite good.

Visible Framed Burr
I can heartily recommend these puzzles - Juno is a great craftsman and Yukari, who runs the shop, is lovely to deal with. They have also just released a new new 6 piece burr "with a difference", the AMazing burr which looks great fun. I will definitely need to order one of those when my wallet has recovered from the dual shock of Eric Fuller and Brian Menold's recent dual releases.

I hope you all enjoyed your weekend? Mine has been full of gym (at my advanced age I have to work to maintain my fitness!!) and chores, with no puzzling yet at all. Sob! Maybe this evening if I am lucky?

Sunday 1 October 2017

New Kid on the Block and he's Very Good

Coffin's Diagonal Cube
First of all, I must send some Happy Birthday wishes to my brilliant puzzling friends Allard and Frank who (Thursday and today respectively) have both had VERY big birthdays - catching up with me to become very old men! I hope you both had great days and maybe a puzzle or two was received to commemorate the landmark?

Most weeks, during my perusal of the various buzzle blogs and information pages, I routinely visit the "what's new" page on my friend Rob Stegmann. I noticed that he had bought some new interlocking solid puzzles made by someone new and they looked fabulous. Rob always gives attribution and I duly followed the link to the Etsy store of Andrew Crowell - it is named arcWood Puzzles. At the time he had almost nothing available and I contacted him to ask about one of the puzzles that he had sold to Rob. The diagonal cube designed by Stewart Coffin (number 58 to be exact) is one of my favourite puzzles of all time. Coffin often started with a basic idea and took it as far as he possibly could making variations that became increasingly challenging and enormous fun too. The Diagonal burr was initially changed to become the Diagonal star which almost all of us have come across and most own a copy (I seem to own 3 from various craftsmen!)

I wrote about the star and some of the variants back in 2012 and since then have added more to my collection. Amongst the many variants of the Diagonal burr are the Triumph, Fusion confusion and Triumph companion series as well as the Augmented square face which I bought several years ago from Scott Peterson as well as the Second stellation bought from Brian Menold (have you seen his recent puzzles by the way?) Last year I also admired the diagonal cube made by Big Steve on his 3D printer and he was kind enough to give me a copy which I duly solved (after quite a bit of swearing and a few laser burning stares) and then tortured several med students at work with it (I cannot seem to find the photos just now). I have been looking for a wooden version for some time and was very excited when I saw the copy that Rob had bought. After a few emails I had established that Andrew was making a few more copies and he'd let me know when they were ready. They were stunning and I couldn't resist the one with Zebrawood and Walnut and some PayPal was moved across the pond. After a week or so another package arrived chez moi much to the annoyance of Mrs S and the above beauty was inside. It is surprisingly heavy!

I immediately went about the disassembly - this proved a little awkward because, like the Pennyhedron set, this needs to be held in just the right way before it will come apart. After 5 minutes of sweating I had it in two:

All the star based puzzles look similar when separated
Of course I did not pay any attention to the patterns on the halves and immediately proceeded to a full disassembly and scrambled the 6 pieces:

As usual I left them like this for an hour or so to make sure that I had forgotten the positioning completely (who am I kidding? I barely remember who I am so there's no way I will remember minor details of grain and diagonals!) After dinner I balanced all the pieces on a slumbering (and dribbling) cat and set about the reassembly. This puzzle is different to most of the other star variants in that there is only one assembly that will go all the way. The Triumph trio will make lots of interesting shapes but only one has the correct colouring of the pieces but the Diagonal cube requires each of the 2 halves to be assembled correctly before putting them together. This is also a dexterity puzzle as they have the tendency to fall to bits as you pick them up, swivel them around, reorder the partial assemblies, or even look at them too long! To my shame it to me over an hour to get my cube back to shape but at least I refrained from swearing too much and receiving another burn. I have solved it 3 or 4 times since then and interestingly, do not seem to be getting any quicker at it which probably is a reflection of how dim I am more than how difficult a puzzle it is.

I have to say this is a wonderful puzzle that in some form should be in every puzzler's collection - it looks beautiful in wood and is a great challenge suitable for beginners and experienced puzzlers alike.

Locked cube III
Andrew put a few other puzzles up for sale at the same time as the Diagonal cube. I couldn't buy just one could I? I resisted buying one of everything (Mrs S would have murdered me) and I bought a copy of the most eye catching puzzle he had made. The picture is of Locked Cube III made from Purpleheart, Maple and what looks like Box Elder in the corners. I am not sure whether this is Andrew's own design but I am a sucker for interlocking solid puzzles and have really enjoyed playing with this.

It is also significantly heavy and when tilted rattles quite a bit. This is nothing to worry about because there are ball bearings inside which make the disassembly and reassembly more challenging. I own one other similar puzzle - the King's court made by Pentangle many years ago. It also is a 4x4 interlocking cube with a marble inside which requires variations in the positioning to manipulate the ball to allow the puzzle to be taken apart and then again to reassemble. I couldn't resist another one of the same type!

Kings Court
4 complex pieces and a marble
When I set to work on the Locked cube 3, I expected a similar experience but this quickly established itself as a tougher puzzle. The pieces seemed to lock more than expected and required absolutely specific orientation before another move was possible and when I took my first pieces out I was a little perturbed when not one but 3 ball bearings dropped on the cat and rolled under my foot stool.

4 pieces and 3 ball bearings
To ensure that I definitely forgot what I had done, the cat had not stirred at all despite the bearings dropping on his head. He was sound asleep and I didn't have the heart to move him to retrieve them. I was forced to put the pieces down and wait until he got off before I could get the errant balls. In fact he got off at my bedtime so I was forced to wait until the following day before attempting the reassembly. It is a very nice logical sequence which is not too difficult and well worth the small amount of money this puzzle cost me. I will need to try and get copies of numbers 1 and 2 in the series too.

I suggest you keep an eye on Andrew's Etsy page to see what he brings out - you really won't be disappointed.

Just for titillation here are my other puzzles based on the Diagonal burr/star:

Triumph companion
Fusion confusion
Stellated improved square face
Second stellation
They all look fairly similar but all have rather different solutions and are delightful to solve as well as to look at in a collection.