Sunday 26 November 2017

Continuing my Pelikan Romp

Giegeldonk special version
Giegeldonk available now
You will be pleased (at least I hope you will) to read that I am feeling much better today! The pain is greatly improved after my operation and I am on much less painkillers and the really strong stuff is no longer clouding my already feeble bwain! I might even manage to solve something now.

Last week I wrote about 2 most unusual designs on sale at the New Pelikan Workshop. There are just 1 or 2 of each of those designs left just now so go get them whilst you can - you really will not regret it. At the same time that Jakub and Jaroslav released these they also produced some more "conventional" puzzles which I left until later. The Giegeldonk is a design by the extremely talented Klaas Jan Damstra which he made during a carnival week in Holland. It was named after the district that he lives in and began with the shape of the external frame. It is available in 2 versions just now (limited numbers left) Cherry and Padauk (right hand version above) or Elm and Wenge and I was really delighted when Jakub offered me a chance to buy a special one that he would not be selling to the general public - the left hand copy is Wenge and Padauk. I know that means I have 2 copies of one puzzle but it is gorgeous!

The Geigeldonk looks like a conventional 6 piece burr in a beautifully complex frame and initial play doesn't change this idea but there is actually very little movement possible at first. I think 4 of the sticks can move just a single unit along and that seems to be it. I was a little flummoxed for a few minutes before I noticed something special which led to something REALLY interesting. After that there seemed to be a lot of space inside but surprisingly little unlocking of the pieces. I love it when a burr doesn't just become a huge unstable mess with pieces that can move every which way. I always use my "back and forth" technique which lays down memories of pathways but does make it very longwinded if there are a lot of blind paths. After 3 rather big moves had been made and memorised, I could see inside and was surprised at how much space there was. It should allow me to plan an attack path through. BUT for some reason I could find quite a few small possible paths but nothing that seemed to go anywhere. I was stuck in this place for 3 evenings and becoming convinced that I had been wrong despite making what seemed like good progress. Finally I pissed off Mrs S by shouting aloud when I found a crucial move that had been hiding in plain sight! Phew! At the moment in my recuperating state, she is still being gentle with me! This might explain why I have managed to survive receiving 3 new packages of toys in 3 days this week!

Having removed the first piece, these puzzles usually get much easier after that but because of the shape of the frame here and the way the sticks seem to interlock with each other, the puzzle remains a challenge to remove each subsequent piece - even the last 2 pieces don't just slip out easily they require careful looking and planning to unhook. After 4 days of strife I was overjoyed to solve the puzzle and have the full glory of the level 51( revealed. At that point I had the very sudden realisation that all the 6 sticks were identical which was most unexpected as well as a delight to see:

A gorgeous frame and 6 identical sticks
The difficulty was partially explained by the fact that it is an 8x8x8 grid aalowing much more complexity. Interestingly I was able to reassemble this puzzle from scratch too. Part of it was sheer memory but also it seems to be a nice logical sequence to work through as long as one remembers the rough orientation of the pieces as they enter. I absolutely love this puzzle! It is one of the very best designs that Klaas has produced - just the right difficulty level. Get one now whilst the stocks last!

The Four Hands Puzzle
The final puzzle today is sadly sold out already, the Four Hands puzzle is another fantastic design by the amazing Ray Stanton who seems to specialise in coordinate motion puzzles of varying complexity. I have quite a few by him (made beautifully by Pelikan of course) and they are always a wonder to behold. Ray wrote the spiel for it on the site and said:
"This is called the ‘Four Hands Puzzle’ because even after you have figured out how the pieces should go together, it helps if you have four hands to complete the assembly. This is the most difficult puzzle in the series, and my personal favorite. Given the complexity of both the relative motion and the geometry of the pieces, I believe that this is one of the most complex coordinate motion puzzles ever made. The puzzle is difficult to fabricate because all the interaction between the pieces requires that very tight tolerances be maintained. The craftsmen at Pelikan did a great job as usual, and they created a really really nice looking puzzle with beautiful contrasting woods. Enjoy."
I first saw this in the design competition room in Paris. Ray had entered it and unfortunately it did not win a prize but several of us had great fun playing with it and scaring ourselves to death by its' sudden movements and bid for freedom! I recall my first play with it, I picked it up whilst standing at the table and casually pushing and pulling in various places. It took a few minutes before I had found the correct finger positions before very smoothly and VERY quickly it began to slide apart. I yelped and nearly dropped it on the floor!!! Scared me half to death - I read the name and counted my own upper limbs and thought there was a deficiency somewhere! Over the weekend I went back to it a couple of times and took it to just the point where a single piece would come out and then I would stop and reassemble. I never got the courage to take it any further in that room.

Push and pull just right and this happens
I was delighted when I got the chance to buy my own copy - if Ray says this is his favourite and one of the most complex coordinate motion puzzles ever made then I have to have one! Although I have to say that the Kamikaze Burr Limited Edition puzzle from Brian Young is pretty damned complex too! It also scared me half to death when I solved it - review is here. The Four Hands Puzzle is stunningly made from Wenge, acacia, padauk and purpleheart and turned to sheer spherical perfection. Like all of Jakub's "balls" the feel is wonderful! When I got my own copy I couldn't resist quickly having a play. With the humidity recently here, it was a little stiff but at least it didn't attempt to detonate itself like the Kamikaze burr and the version I played with in Paris. After I found the starting movement I took my photo and threw caution to the wind and just "went for it":

Nice pile o' pieces
I was quickly left with a pile of pieces and a bit of a dilemma! Unlike Ray and many other good puzzlers, I only have 2 hands and my brain power leaves a lot to be desired. I was very unsure whether I would be able to assemble it ever again! I did not dare ask "she who holds my recovery in her grasp" to lend me one or 2 of her own hands! I was going to have to force myself to work this out myself. I assembled the pieces into an order to allow me to see how they differed and was flabbergasted at the number of bevels there were:

Looks impossible! Anybody got any spare hands?
It took me 2 days before I had it back together and required both hands, a knee and the tip of my nose! I was certain that was not the best way to do it but at least I had assembled it myself and without endangering my life. After that I admit that I did look at the instructions that Jakub had sent out. Apparently there are just just enough mm available on certain pieces that it can be done with one pair of hands! Amazing! I did it several times after that and love it! It really is a masterpiece of geometric design and manufacture. I cannot wait to see what Ray comes up with next. If one of these comes up at auction then jump on it - you really don't want to miss out on one of the best coordinate motion designs ever.

There is a wonderful YouTube video on the Pelikan site from Tim Rowett showing off various IPP puzzles that may be available on Grand Illusions soon. At 2m 35s he shows the Four Hands Puzzle coming apart. I have added it below:

Sunday 19 November 2017

A New Designer Stuns Me - Or is it the Meds?

Knot on my Watch designed by Alexander Haydon O'Brien
Today's post will be even less coherent than my usual babble! How can that be? I had to undergo some abdominal surgery last Thursday. It went well and provided me with a very good sleep for a couple of hours but has left me on some VERY strong painkillers and just a little bit "off my face" right now. Luckily Mrs S is looking after me and has put all future Whack! Ouch!'s on hold until later - I think she doesn't want the painkillers to decrease the full effectiveness of her punishment for me! I will be off work for a minimum of 6 weeks which will allow me to catch up on some puzzling and reading and hopefully leave me refreshed and raring to go next year. I have even had a little spending splurge to provide me with some new toys to play with - I thought I should make the most of the punishment free period!!!

A few weeks ago I bought the full set of new puzzles from Jakub and Jaroslav's New Pelikan Workshop and have taken a while to solve them. Let me first say that these are all absolutely fabulous and well worth your pocket money. Today's shorter, drug-hazed, blog post is about a newer designer who I have not heard of before but whose designs are wonderful and brilliantly executed by Jakub and Jaroslav. Alexander Haydon O'Brien (possibly Irish but it doesn't say on Puzzlewillbeplayed) has just 4 designs published by Ishino and all since August this year. Jakub has just produced 2 of them and I must say that they are really something special and very well priced for the quality of the workmanship.

The first and most unusual design is "Knot on my Watch" made from Wenge, Maple, Cherry and American Walnut. It is an absolutely delightful idea. It has been made to look just like a wristwatch (I do have a bit of a "thing" for nice watches as well as puzzles) and, unlike most watches, has been designed with disassembly in mind. There are a few very smooth moves possible at the beginning which just show off how beautifully made this puzzle is. The disassembly is not too tough with only a couple of blind ends and not too far down a path. The final movements are particularly delightful and the pieces wonderfully simple.

Not many pieces but just look at the accuracy/detailing!
The workmanship here is very reminiscent of the recent Camera Conundrum which I reviewed here. The accuracy is stupendous and the sharp edges just slide over each other smoothly. With only a few pieces, this puzzle is definitely a good one for practicing your reassembly techniques. I scrambled all the pieces on my sleeping lapcat and left them for a while. I had enough memory to ensure that this was not too much of a problem but I think that even as a primary assembly puzzle this might still be possible. It was greatly enjoyed by Johan and Daniel, a couple of the new boys who attended the last MPP. As I write this article there are just 5 left so go and pick one up quickly.

Tortoise - complete with head, eyes and feet
and a nuisance tail!
The Tortoise puzzle is another fantastic design by Alexander. It has been beautifully produced by Jakub in Dark Oak, Acacia and Wenge and the detail on it is a joy to behold. Even the scales on the shell are added to the burr sticks that pass vertically through the puzzle. Again, there is a lot of possible movement at first but everything seems to stop you in your tracks. The design has been altered to keep you working at it for a bit and after an hour of fiddling I made a delightful and unexpected discovery which allowed further progress. Unfortunately it didn't allow very much extra progress and I got stuck for well over a week. I took it to the MPP without having fully solved it and was selfishly quite pleased that no one else solved it there. It was only the evening before my operation this week that I actually completed the disassembly (I took this as a good omen) and the full beauty of the design finally was revealed to me. There is actually a really nice logical progress to the disassembly but my dense brain was unable to find the critical move. It was great to finally manage it and have a bit less blog pressure for now.

Tremendous detail and accuracy in this puzzle.
 At this moment there are another 4 of these in stock so I would hurry over and get one quickly. You won't be disappointed!

Now I think I'll have a little lie down! I'm pretty spaced out just now which Mrs S says is a great improvement on my usual "witty" self! Rule number one - NEVER marry a nurse! Hopefully the new purchases will arrive soon and I can show them off to you having triumphantly solved them and without receiving a beating from "she who can catch me easily just now"!

Sunday 12 November 2017

Not Jingly But Still Worthy of a Whack! Ouch!

I think that many puzzlers tend to consider most of the N-ary puzzles as more of a curiosity than as a puzzle and I can certainly see why they might think that way. I have to say that I absolutely adore this group of puzzles but new ones tend not to come up for sale very often. The last time I wrote about any of them was back in March when I showed off a fantastic variety from plastic to wood (including hand made and laser cut). One of the fascinations for me is that they can be made as a series of puzzles in one giving plenty of value for money. Are they puzzles? Well it is for better bwains than mine to decide that - I certainly find them puzzling because it is not usually a simple sequence of moves, it often takes (me at least) a good while before the pattern of the movement sequence has been fathomed out. I personally don't like dexterity puzzles and barely consider them puzzles because no thought is required usually, just careful movement and indeed, a LOT of concentration. My N-ary puzzles also take a LOT of concentration - just a tiny lapse can lead one to move along a path all the way back to the beginning and can add hours on to the solve process.

The Numlock puzzle began in the tremendous brain of Goh Pit Khiam (as so many puzzles do) and was an entry in the IPP Design competition in 2014. The version in the competition was beautifully made by Tom Lensch and reviewed by Jerry Loo here. That version only had ternary pieces and only 4 of them to boot - at 143 moves most of us hardcore N-ary lovers would consider that just a beginner puzzle but still a bit of fun. It didn't stay on my radar for long until at an MPP a couple of years ago, Big Steve 3D printed a nice big one with more sliders and over a period of months people borrowed it and spent many hours solving it - a true show of hardcore puzzling strength. I was on the verge of asking to borrow it myself when my South African friend Johan Heyns got permission to make a copy and with help from the incredible Jack Krijnen managed to improve the design with extra pieces of higher 'arity. Kits could be ordered with different pieces. The price for the mega huge kit was too steep for me and I chose the intermediate set.

Numlock at back right
Pic is a little distorted as it was taken as a panarama
I was not disappointed! It is a fantastically beautiful puzzle which screams to be on display - It currently lives on my dining room sideboard as you can see above. The puzzles were made with a mixture of Cherry, Tulipwood and Kiaat (aka African Teak). Having chosen my kit to have both Ternary and Quinary pieces, I was informed that there would be 30 different combinations available to me - who could resist that? When it arrived I was delighted with the look and as always with Johan's puzzles, pleased to have a stand. But where were the extra pieces? He's a genius, that Johan! The stand had a double purpose:

A closer look at the stand was helpful
Quinary pieces held in place.
The puzzle had been sent out with the 8 ternary sliders and one start piece which I was informed would require 34,991 moves to complete. I have only this week had time to play with the long solution and I am ashamed to say that my powers of concentration were found to be inadequate! I probably had to perform well over 1000 more than that due to getting lost and back-tracking quite a long way before realising it. I did this over several evenings in front of the TV with Mrs S. Let us just say that there were plenty of Whack! Ouch!s given but I persisted with the solution despite the terrible fear of reprisals. I eventually had this:

OMG! If the puzzle didn't kill me then "she" nearly did!
Now, a hardcore puzzler would then do the whole thing in reverse to get back to the beginning. Did I do that? I thought about it for just a few moments and received another Whack! Ouch! when she caught me having such thoughts. I backed away and used the very nicely hidden setup/reset mechanism that Johan had designed:

Pull the leftmost piece and the magnets release.
This allows an easy reset
From the left: Quinary end, Ternary end,
Quinary main, Ternary main, Start piece

I have set it up with other shorter puzzles and have definitely had a lot of fun! I just dare not try any more really long ones otherwise she will either murder me or divorce me - none of which sound very pleasant!

Mixed Ternary and Quinary using only 5 sliders.
The above mixed puzzle still took me over an hour to solve! Thank you so much Johan (and Jack).

I Have Several Brains!

The plastic ones are fabulous but my own is NOT terribly bright

I have few brains - but here are some of them!
Having seen one at an MPP, in 2014, with the help of my good friend Michel van Ipenburg, I managed to obtain one of The Brain puzzles produced in 1979 by Mag-nif. I got mine for a brilliant £9.95 on Ebay and have actually taken it out and solved it quite a few times. I find it a rather soothing thing to play with. If you want one now then they do come up occasionally but are now reaching the dizzy heights of nearly £40! I think that is a bit over the top but I guess supply and demand controls the price.

I was contacted a few weeks ago by another good friend from the Far East and told about David Guo who had designed versions of the Brain but with Ternary and Quaternary mechanisms. Yes! I know! I should control myself better's N-ary and I could control myself. A few emails and some PayPal and I waited for a little package. David had 3D printed his own versions and made me a lovely set of 3. Mrs S was distinctly unimpressed as I crowed over them and, after photos, set to. The mechanism is beautifully smooth and exactly as logical as one would expect. After a couple of hours (yes, I did get lost during the solution of the Quaternary version) I had this little photogenic set:

All solved!
I did decide to reset them by working back through the solution process and received another Whack! Ouch! for counting my moves aloud. Having marvelled at the beauty of the set, I couldn't resist dismantling them to see how they worked. This sort of thing really makes me want to buy a 3D printer but at the moment I have no time to play with one and no room to store one. Maybe someday?

Lid off
Plates revealed
Lid off
Plates revealed
Lid off
Plates revealed
It is fun to go through the solution of these puzzles with the lids off to see how the plates interact. I am delighted to add these to my collection. David Guo does have a puzzle website of his own - it is in Chinese so most of you will rely heavily on Google translate but it's worth a look here. Thank you David for the opportunity to own something new and special.

Sunday 5 November 2017

Diniar Goes Hardcore

All the pieces of the Sliding Tetris (Hardcore version)
Today's post may be even less coherent than my usual drivel! I am stuffed with a cold and drugged to the eyeballs with all sorts of medication intended to stop me dribbling nasal goo all over my keyboard. An unfortunate side effect of this is that my bwain is fairly foggy just now. This doesn't help me with my puzzling and definitely doesn't improve my ability to write interesting articles. Bear with me if you can.

Remove the ball
Today I feel the urge to talk about one of the best value puzzles ever! The Sliding Tetris puzzle was Diniar Namdarian's entry into the 2017 IPP puzzle design competition. Brian seemed to like it in his roundup of all the competition puzzles. I remember playing with it a little bit during my time at the IPP and finding it somewhat challenging but I was very easily distracted by all the wood around and bits of shiny metal (I am a very shallow puzzler) and after solving a couple of the challenges I moved on. A few weeks Diniar let it be known to a bunch of previous customers that he had some of these for sale and also had created a "collectors edition" with an additional 11 pieces and a "Hardcore version" with a total of 25 pieces and a huge number of challenges. How could I resist? Well I couldn't and a quick FB message placed my order for the full Hardcore set.

The clips that hold the lid onto the frame get quite a lot of use and Diniar provided a whole envelope full of spares just in case one snapped. I had forgotten how chunky everything was and when they arrived I realised that I might have an extra packing puzzle of where to put them all. Mrs S hid her irritation and provided me with a nice big Tupperware box (she seems to collect them as they are everywhere!) and I had a nice little container to put next to my living room chair whilst I worked on an assembled puzzle:

Very convenient - maybe I need a nice wooden box for them?
Over the few days after it arrived Diniar sent me various iterations of the puzzle booklet as a pdf which got bigger and bigger each time. Eventually the final version had 125 sliding piece challenges and 18 packing challenges (which I had not expected). For a fab price of 67€ plus postage this is tremendous value for money. During my conversation with him I exclaimed that it would take me months! He seems to think that a weekend is adequate but then he is a genius at sliding puzzles. The puzzles range from 25 up to 46 moves and, for me, even the easier ones are a decent challenge.

The size is perfect so as not to be too fiddly and to allow fingers to poke through the sides to manipulate the pieces or the ball. Gravity can be helpful at times but often a nuisance as things keep sliding where they are not wanted. The first few puzzles seemed to be a lot of random movements to me but after that I did get the hang of the idea and was able to make more calculated attempts. After the third or fourth challenge I attempted, I seemed to get stuck for a bit. At that point, I discovered a very ingenious extra twist to the design. The square hole for removal of the blue ball was just the right size to allow this to happen:

A piece pokes out
For some reason it had not occurred to me to let the pieces slip through the exit hole. For a number of the puzzles doing this is essential to create enough space for the ball or other pieces to move into an appropriate position. I have to say that this adds a whole new dimension to the challenge and makes it even more interesting for me.

Having done about 20 so far and before writing this blog post, I decided to have a go at one of the packing puzzles. I am sure that most of you have owned a Soma cube and if not, why not? It's an essential puzzle for every collector. I got mine made from Rubberwood from Creative crafthouse and I recently bought the Restricted soma reborn set from Brian Menold. The soma cube uses a set of very simple shapes to make a 3x3 and Brian and C. M. Huang used an ingenious way to restrict the ability to assemble the cube by adding a lid with a cutout (a finger hole is required in the box to allow sliding and rotation of the pieces after they have been inserted through the lid. So far I have singularly failed to solve any of the 3 challenges in this one.

Rubberwood Soma cube
Restricted Soma reborn
Another fun variation on this theme is Coffin's Half hour puzzle which I bought as part of a set from Brian as well as a cheap version from Village games in Camden.

A lovely set of three (including a half hour puzzle)
Now let me say that I am just terrible at these "make a cube" puzzles! They are supposed to be relatively straight forward and after my initial success within 5 minutes at the half hour puzzle being due to a fault, it took me a LOT longer than the proposed 30 minutes. The Soma cube also takes me ages to solve. The packing challenges that Diniar created with his set require far fewer pieces but they tend to be much more complex in shape - I gave it a go!

Only 5 shapes but.....
I always end up like this!
Blush!!! I somehow find these incredibly tough! Just the first challenge alone took me 45 minutes:

Proof that I did solve one of them
This 67€ set will definitely keep me busy for a VERY long time (not just the weekend that Diniar suggested) and is fabulous value for money! I love it - definitely worth every penny/cent. Diniar is great to deal with and as these are 3D printed by him they may still be available if you ask.

Thank you my friend!

Now I need to lie down in my deathbed and feel sorry for myself - this bubonic plague is very unpleasant. Mrs S really hates all the coughing, wheezing and snortering noises that I cannot seem to control. She has several times asked me to "stop breathing" which I think is not very nice!