Sunday, 18 February 2018

A Small Tribute to Brian (and Denise)

Bent Board Burr #4 Too
This is a short blog post because I have just not had enough time this week to solve anything new. My attempt at solving the Popplock T11 has ended up with me just finding what I think might be the first step and nothing further as yet. This leaves me deeply ashamed when Ali has managed to solve his copy in just a week with no clues and no peeking at the solution. He is a MUCH better solver than me and obviously must have more hands than me to have managed it (or maybe more brain)!!!

My dear friend Brian Menold has continued to toil in his workshop over many years despite having to support his wife who has become progressively sicker over the last few months and years. Denise has been battling against one of the most dreadful conditions to affect women I have ever seen. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and despite such a shock they both supported each other through thick and thin and continued to maintain a good family life (Brian's daughter had died of breast cancer quite a few years ago and a proportion of the proceeds from his sales was sent to a breast cancer charity after that). I had seen some lovely photos on Facebook of Brian and his family which brought a tear to my eyes. Surviving 12 years with ovarian cancer is a tremendous feat but after such a heroic struggle she passed away on January 16th! I wrote in reply to his announcement:
My deepest condolences Brian. I have watched her (and your) fight against this terrible disease with utter awe. The resilience and strength that she showed over so many years has been truly amazing. You are both fabulous examples of how a family can support each other and an example to us all.
All Brian did, despite such a terrible event, was to apologise for the late update on his site! I know that I would have been a wreck and out of action for quite a long time. He even had a new release of puzzles for his voracious customers on St Valentine's day less than a month later. True to form, he was contributing even more of the proceeds to charities close to his heart. With that in mind, I was lucky enough to be in time to order a few new toys for my collection. The puzzles I am showing today are from my last purchase back in November 2017.

I adore board burrs (as long as they are not too horrifically complex) and was particularly impressed when Brian produced the Bent Board Burr #4 designed by Frans de Vreugt. The original (which is still available here) is level and looked fun but I particularly liked the look of a redesign by another puzzler which ups the ante to level 11.15.2 which is a much better challenge and also has a secondary assembly with an easier level of It also was made with special woods (Purpleheart and Yellowheart) with a beautiful detailing on the burr ends. The modified version was named Bent Board Burr #4 Too as a homage to the original.

This burr has quite a lot of possible moves from the beginning but despite a number of dead ends it is not too tough to find a rather interesting path. With caps on the ends of the boards, it is possible for some to apparently be released from the central 'knot' and yet still be held captive in the puzzle. This is one reason for such a high level for just 6 boards. The first piece was removed in a very unexpected way. I continued to explore and had to backtrack almost back to the beginning with the first piece missing before continuing down a new path (which had been a dead end at first) - the structure remained stable right to the end.

Gorgeous pieces and detailing
This one kept me busy for a few hours and despite my recently found skill at assembling puzzles, I have been completely unable to find the easier assembly myself. Obviously, my skillz are still very meagre!

Another puzzle I bought in that batch (because it would be criminal to buy just a single puzzle at a time from Brian) is the Liliput designed by the very talented Christophe Lohe (who has thought up some of my most prized puzzles). This version is beautifully made from Lacewood with Redheart pieces and consist of just 2 pieces to be removed from a simple frame. Despite only 2 relatively simple pieces to be removed it achieves a high level of 21.3.

It is a pretty diminutive puzzle at 6.4 x 5.1 x 5.1cm but is a perfect size to play with. Christophe has a knack for this sort of design and they can be incredibly challenging. He also designed the Trenta puzzle (pictured right) is similar, with 2 pieces captive in the frame and 1 requiring insertion. He periodically emails to check/tease me about my (lack of) progress with it. Another good friend of mine has actually managed to find a rotational method to remove the two captive pieces and I should probably try that again too. I'm supposed to be better at disassembly!

This puzzle also is a real delight - there are few (if any) blind ends and a very nice path through to the disassembly with some moves which are nicely hidden. It is truly amazing that so many moves are required to separate such a small number of pieces.

More complex than expected
As is usual with this type of puzzle, I scrambled the pieces before attempting reassembly and was astounded, and pleased, that I did actually manage to put it back together again. There are a couple of pitfalls to overcome where you start with the first piece the wrong way around but a little logic can help resolve that. This one became a very pleasant worry bead for me after I had solved it. It is sitting on my desk next to me begging for me to play again. But I really should get back to Trenta, and the Popplock, and the Cast Trinity, and the Chinese 99-ring puzzles, and the burrs from Alfons, and...... Help!!!

There are still quite a few puzzles left for sale on Woodwonders - feel free to peruse and purchase. You won't be disappointed. Brian always makes great choices in puzzle challenge as well as wood and it is good to know that part of the proceeds goes to a worthy charity. In particular look at Castle and the Colonel's Bouquet - I was generously given a copy of this challenge by my friend Nigel at the Paris IPP. I have not completely solved all the challenges yet but it is a VERY nice idea. My copy was made by Brian Young but Brian M's version is just as beautiful.

The Colonel's Bouquet - 4 simple pieces with several challenges
I appear to have 2 copies - only managed 2 challenges so far!

Thank you, Brian, for these wonderful puzzles - I am looking forward to the new ones which look like they are about to leave US soil. I wish you and your family all the best for 2018 and beyond.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

More Blame is Cast

Arne's Cube
Anke's Cube
Yesterday was a fantastic Midlands Puzzle Party (MPP) in Birmingham at which more fun was had at my expense (as usual) and today I am on call again. I will, therefore, need to keep this short and sweet to ensure that I actually get it finished before being asked to go into the hospital again. I thought I would continue to divert the blame away from me and lay the responsibility at others' feet.

First of all, I have to blame Ali! Yes again! He is one of the founder members of the MPP and is responsible for much of my downfall. He is an astounding puzzler and a tremendous collector. His interests very much overlap with mine in that they include metal, and gorgeous wood - in particular, he enjoys complex interlocking puzzles - burrs, cubes and puzzles with rotations. Every few days on Facebook I see when the master designer and craftsman, Alfons Eyckmans, posts his new creations and fairly frequently Ali chimes in with a request to add a new puzzle to his shopping basket. A few months ago Alfons showed off a couple of gorgeous looking cubes and of course, Ali bought them. I expressed my admiration and sort of forgot about them (after adding them to my list of puzzles to buy on my phone). At the end of last year, Ali's batch arrived and he showed them off - he expressed the view to me that these were ESSENTIAL purchases. A bit later on, my friend Michel (who incidentally managed to raise €600 for charity with his puzzle auction) also showed off the latest additions to his collection and reinforced the view.

I was helpless to resist! On New Years Day I emailed Alfons and placed an order - I did not dare tell "she who freezes the air around her" how much they cost! It took Alfons a few weeks to make them all and my lovely 'little' package arrived:

How gorgeous is that?
The cubes were the ones I was particularly enamoured with. After taking some photos I started work on the first of the designs (that with the lowest, and hence easiest, level). I have no idea as yet where the names come from but they are particularly beautiful. Arne's cube is made from Pine, Afzelia, Ipe (aka Brazilian Walnut), Zebrano, Ash, and Maple. I am sure you will all agree that it is stunning. The solution is a pleasant

I absolutely adore this sort of puzzle - it is just the right level of challenge and with only a few blind ends, it is a fun puzzle to play with and explore without ending up feeling like a chore to solve. The first piece fell out in my lap (it is so perfectly made with expert tightness) after about an hour of fiddling and I quickly reinserted it before making my way back to the beginning. I then spent another hour trying to find the path to the second piece removal. I expected more burr type movements. At this point, I realised why everyone had been so impressed with this series - the next piece to come out was part of the frame and it really caught me by surprise and delight. After that, there was an easy sequence of piece removal and I had a nice array of pieces laid out over my lap and sleeping cat. I got to the last 10 or so and again got a bit stuck - this thing remains stable for ages and actually requires ongoing sequences to remove later pieces. It was a wonderful experience!

Lots of lovely pieces!
I actually finished the disassembly whilst at work (I had 10 minutes in a coffee room) - A bunch of colleagues watched with amazement as it all came apart and then laughed at me when the final few pieces were separated and I immediately couldn't put it back together again! That will teach me not to chat to a friend whilst finishing a puzzle! I had been having an animated discussion about retirement plans and had stopped paying attention to the orientation of the last 6 pieces. I was lost and unfortunately had to go back to the operating theatre fairly soon. My only option was, unfortunately, to bundle all the pieces into a bag and take them home for Burrtools to assist me with the reassembly! Even a second and third attempt has proven to be fantastic fun - Ali, you were completely correct!

I then had a short dalliance with this:

Yin Yang Master Puzzlebox
More on that another time - I know I do not collect boxes but when the Master, Robert Yarger, offers, the answer is always yes! This is a box originally designed and made by the late Randall Gatewood and Rob finished off the series after he passed away.

I then moved on to the Anke's cube which is identical in size but slightly tougher with a solution level of It is made from Padauk, Oak, Zebrano, Teak, and Afzelia (plus 'Adobe' which I cannot find in the Wood database). Externally, apart from the colours, the two cubes look identical. However, internally, they are very different and an entirely new sequence has to be found to dismantle it. I actually found this one even more enjoyable than the first one. There are a few blind ends and some surprising moves to remove various pieces. The other very enjoyable feature is that there are very few sequences that require simultaneous moves of multiple pieces. Fantastic!

Very similar pieces to Arne's cube but very different solution
Yet again, I was unable to reassemble the damned thing! I have no excuse really... it was all laid out in order and orientation but I was watching Silent Witness on TV at the same time and the thrilling conclusion of that program just as I took it apart proved to me that I really cannot multitask like a woman! I multitask like a bloke.......BADLY! Back to Burrtools again!

Ali and Michel, you are forgiven for leading me further into my madness. There are 2 more cubes in the series and Alfons knows they are in my next order from him!

Following on from the blame that I laid on Goetz and Aaron last week, I could not resist playing with another few of the wonderful series that I showed off last week. A quick look at the second and third order Chinese rings made me think that they might be fun to solve and very logical too. The naming of these comes from the count of the overlap of the top rings. In a traditional Chinese rings puzzle - the ring on one rod is held on the shuttle and beneath that it covers straddles the next rod in front. In the second order puzzle, it straddles two and in the third, three. This considerably adds to the initial confusion.

Beginning with the Second order puzzle I quickly realised that there are 3 possible start sequences and had to work out which one to take. After that, I discovered that there is a delicious logic to the path taken. It is actually possible to solve these ones by pure thought and planning without having to recognise a long sequence and repeating it multiple times (of course, you could do that if you wished) and despite there being a fearsome number of rods and rings (especially on the third order puzzle), this pair of puzzles is nowhere near as arduous as the reverse Chinese rings that I reviewed last time. In the end, I solved both of them sequentially and kept them in the solved position until I had a chance to take my photos.

You can really see the overlap here
Essentially the same idea
The reassembly was just as much as much fun as the disassembly - I did not memorise anything - I just worked out each sequence as I moved through.

These two were taken to the MPP yesterday where big Steve seemed completely fascinated (I suspect that Aaron will be receiving another order) but despite that, he proceeded to get at least one of them into a fairly awful position before abandoning it with a wicked grin! I may have to scramble a few of his twisty puzzles for him next time to get my revenge! Allard seemed to think that shaking it vigorously might solve them and seemed disappointed when it didn't! If only more of these could be solved that way.

Finally, I have to blame Jamie! He has been posting lots of pictures of padlocks and picks and stuff with information how he has progressed in his lockpicking skills (or is it 'skillz'?) I have been aware that several other puzzlers have been into lockpicking as a sport/hobby and never really thought about it much. Jamie left a bunch of links on FB with some initial advice and I could not help surfing about. Damn him! I was hooked on the idea and have made a few purchases - picks etc. I don't really understand how locks work (I'm sorry Shane! I am trying to change that!) but my interest has been piqued and I couldn't resist. As well as some picks I have also bought a selection of acrylic locks to help me understand what is inside:

This should help
What it will not help me with is understanding how the Popplock T11 works - this gigantic puzzle (weighing in at 2.5Kg/5.51Lb) is almost certainly the most complex puzzle lock ever designed. It was not cheap but the price was very reasonable for the time and effort that went into the design and manufacture.

If Mrs S hits me with this then I'm a goner!
None of this is my fault - Rainer showed this off at the IPP and most of us were hopelessly lost in puzzle lust afterwards!

It would appear that my "short and sweet" blog post has ended up anything but! I do feel much better for having gotten the blame off my chest. I am sure that you all agree that none of this is my fault! Please let Mrs S know that I am entirely blameless.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

The Blame Game....

Reza 4-4 - designed and made by Junichi Yananose
It would appear that Allard has once again outgrown his puzzle cave and is undergoing a reorganisation/extension and I am just a little jealous that he is being allowed to do that. I mentioned this to the present wife and she gave me "the look"! When I regained consciousness, I thought better of mentioning it again but I did chance my arm by telling her that the state of my collection and the fact that there are lots of new toys arriving and bits and pieces everywhere in the house and in my work bag is not my fault - ALL of this is down to other members of the puzzling community! We all like to blame Oli for pretty much everything (including global warming) and he certainly plays a large part in my present overwhelmed state but I seem to remember that it was actually Allard and Ali who also played a huge part in diverting my attention from my original Revomazes to "other puzzles". It is therefore all THEIR FAULT! The aim of this blog post is to apportion blame to others too - none of this is down to me. I am merely a helpless and not terribly bright pawn in their twisted plans. I don't understand what those plans are but it looks like it is heading towards my destruction...or at least total insanity!

The puzzle above is the Reza 4-4 designed and made by the incredible Junichi Yananose. It is particularly lovely made from Silver Ash and Jarrah, and would appear to be 2 tetrahedra one inside the other (i.e. a compound of them). The fact that I have it is NOT MY FAULT! At the Paris IPP I saw the incredible puzzle presented to Frans de Vreugt who was the lead organiser (so Frans must take some of the blame here). Part of that gift was one of the Reza 12-20 creations by Juno. The idea of these geometric shapes interlocked within other geometric shapes intrigued me and I started to surf around the intertubes. That puzzle was very expensive but sold out quite quickly luckily a few months later the series expanded with the addition of some more designs. Once Juno had added an odd burr with a maze built in then I was hooked and he FORCED me to buy them (that was what I told Mrs S at least). So the arrival of these puzzles is entirely due to Frans and Juno!

I put these on display and picked them up periodically. They frightened me to death! I have said recently that I am truly awful at assembly puzzles and only play with them when pushed or am feeling adventurous/brave. I kept shying away from these puzzles when last week I was chatting with Derek (yes, the genius) about these interlocking geometric puzzles. He had won an auction for a prototype of the Mirii 4x3 and was working on assembling it. In the end he FORCED me to disassemble my Reza 4-4.

See? It really was down to Derek!
Even if he was apologetic afterwards.
It comes apart very easily and I thought I was keeping track of what went where but then the cat on my lap stirred and they all moved. Yep! I now had a pile of sticks. Thanks Derek and Juno!

At least they look nice if I never get them back together!
Over the next week, I spent every evening trying to put them back. Derek gave what he thought was a bunch of helpful hints but in reality they meant nothing to me at all! Gradually I sort of worked out how to assemble the outer tetrahedron and felt enormous pride....until it fell to bits in my lap! I did it again and again and again until I found a way to put it down that was sort of stable. Apparently the puzzle does not need rubber bands to assemble it but I was not so convinced. Over the next 2 nights I tried to assemble the inner tetrahedron by itself but discovered that it was really not stable at all. After that I moved on to trying to assemble the complete puzzle only to again end up with a pile of sticks! Aaaargh! OK! Time for a specialist tool....I don't have any rubber bands in the house because the cats love them and have a tendency to eat them. This makes what comes out the other end like a rather horrific kebab that can sometimes get dragged around the house by the nether-end of said cat. Instead I appropriated a ribbon which had been wrapped around a particularly lovely box of chocolates. With said ribbon I tied a corner of the first tetrahedron and proceeded to play with the inner one. Let's just say this took me a rather LONG time but again that was NOT MY FAULT - I had quite a lot of interruptions:

Stable at last - but someone kept pulling the ribbon and puzzle around the work surface!
He actually undid the puzzle at one point and I had to start again! It took me a week but eventually I had my assembled puzzle without resorting to the solution. The sense of achievement was incredible and I am claiming full responsibility for that! Thanks Frans, Juno and....grudgingly....thanks to Derek who FORCED me to do it.

At last! If he pulls the ribbon off now then I think it is stable!

My next portion of blame has to go to the masters of the N-ary puzzles. Yes both Aaron Wang and Goetz Schwandtner. Both of them (amongst others) have got me completely addicted to the N-ary puzzle group. Some of my most beautiful wooden puzzles are also N-ary and I adore them but when Aaron shows off pretty much anything new I have to buy it. The little voices in my head tell me too and I am convinced that it is Aaron talking to me. The most recent ones that he showed off were part of what he calls the Chinese 99-ring series and as soon as those words echoed around my empty skull they were quickly joined by Goetz' voice so of course the arrival of a whole lot of wire jingly stuff was NOT MY FAULT!

9 more Chinese 99-ring puzzles
I find having these plan diagrams very useful

Boxing gloves (not N-ary)
Standard Chinese rings
After these arrived and I took my customary photos I couldn't resist working on one straight away. Again I blame the boys! Mrs S was seriously unhappy with me for jingling......for hours and hours and hours! I told her to take her complaints to Goetz and Aaron so you both should watch out. I started out with the Reverse Chinese rings - they look the simplest. They are very similar to the standard Chinese rings which I have written about before. A straightforward version is available from Puzzle Master here and for a general experience of this type of puzzle it is just perfect. I was interested to see how reversing the top rings could change the solution:

You can see that the top rings that are pierced by the shuttle are pointing backwards
It proved to be a very interesting experience solving this version - the pattern was much more involved than the original puzzle and required probably 3 times the number of moves with an even bigger risk of being turned around and ending up back at the beginning.

It took me 2 days of effing and blinding and being burned by the laser burning stare before I finally separated the shuttle off the rings. Phew! It was worth it! Mrs S doesn't seem to be believing my blame game any more. If I disappear please send help!

2 days and several hundred moves later
I still need to reassemble it - wish me luck!

In another episode I will be blaming Ali and Alfons! Look forward to a future post.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Wood is Good But.....

......So is Acrylic

Dwarf Planet D
You all know how much I lurve my wooden toys (in fact just have a look at the latest post on my New additions page to see just how much I lurve wood) but sometimes a craftsman produces something (or several somethings) made from acrylic and I just cannot resist. Actually you know I struggle to resist any new puzzles no matter what they are made of.

Just before the Paris IPP we were joined by the brilliant Brian Young (MrPuzzle himself) in Birmingham for one of our MPP gatherings. Brian was showing off quite a few new and old toys (including the fantastic sequential discovery puzzle, the Louvre which kept me occupied for a VERY long time - still available here). He roamed the room chatting and solving things before finally putting us out of our misery and opening his suitcase of goodies that he had brought from Oz. We all pounced like a pack of starving hyenas and I left the MPP later that evening with quite a nice stash of toys and the knowledge that I would still have some (not enough) cash left for the IPP itself.

One of the toys I brought home was the Dwarf Planet D which is a 3 piece board burr with what looks like a captive cube inside (I had seen this before at Allard's house and decided at that time that if possible I should get one. This puzzle was designed by the incredibly talented William Hu and was the exchange puzzle given out by Jerry Slocum at the IPP in Japan in 2016 (the reason I saw it at Allard's).

Ali told me that I should have someone else dismantle it and then assemble it myself from scratch. I was rather hesitant about this because I am truly awful at assembling things even if they have very few pieces. Remember if a designer confidently presents you with an assembly puzzle constructed from just 3 or 4 pieces then there must be something really complex about it! When I got home I quickly hid all my new purchases (except the Louvre) from Mrs S to try and fool her that I had been very restrained with our money. Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear! A few days later I broached the idea that she take it apart for me so I could put it back together again - this suggestion led to me receiving a near fatal burn from the laser burning stare and I quickly dropped the idea! For some reason she really doesn't like puzzles much and will only play with something if it is truly gorgeous or contains diamonds! I was left to do it myself. The disassembly is a very nice little voyage and has some rather unexpected moves in it

There's actually 6 pieces in it!
The sandblasting of the cube pieces makes it look like a single piece
After my surprise at seeing the cube was 3 smaller pieces, I just put them all away in a cloth bag and left them for a week to give my sieve like brain a chance to forget the whole thing. It is only level 6-8-2-3-3 so I figured that it shouldn't take me too long. WRONG!!!! I think I worked on this for a week before I finally got it back together - either this is pretty tough or I am really REALLY bad at assembly puzzles. I'll let you choose which of those is correct. At various times in the evenings in late July, Mrs S actually wondered whether I was having a heart attack! There was so much muttering and groaning going on from my chair in the living room! When I finally got it back together again, I shouted aloud and further upset "she who must be plactated with shoes and handbags". I should not have been surprised at my failure - apparently there are 69 false assemblies and only one possible solution.

The Dwarf Planet D may only be Acrylic and only be 6 pieces but it is a terrific puzzle when approached as an assembly. It also is surprisingly cheap and still available to purchase from Brian and Sue's wonderful store. Go get one now and have someone else disassemble it for you first. Then be prepared for a fabulous challenge!

Pulsar Burr
Another puzzle which I bought from Brian at that MPP was the Pulsar burr by the incredible Junichi Yananose (his blog is here and puzzle store is here - run by him and his wonderful wife, Yukari). This puzzle was the exchange from Lambert Bright at the 2015 IPP in Ottawa. I was originally not going to buy it because partly it was only acrylic and also it was an assembly puzzle (sold as a pack of pieces) which I acknowledge freely that I cannot seem to cope with. Again at the suggestion of Ali (I sometimes think he doesn't like me much!) I was convinced that I should buy this one too and it was added to my pile o' puzzles. This one was then taken home and put on my shelf of stuff to be played with and then forgotten about during IPP. After that I kept picking it up in the packaging and then shying away and putting it down again - yes, I am THAT bad and frightened of them! This puzzle has a photo of the finished shape on the packaging but even with that I was too frightened of it!

Finally I saw a photo the completed puzzle amongst the collection of my good friend and fellow moderator of the Facebook Puzzle Photography group, John Haché (blog here). After mentioning that I had still not solved mine, John sort of goaded me into giving it a try.

Taking the pieces out of the package, I saw 4 acrylic boards and a wooden stick which was supposed to traverse them. Looking at the provided picture is helpful for this one. Brian wrote:
"The puzzle consists of 4 pieces of 10mm acrylic and a single wooden piece from Western Australian Jarrah. One of the acrylic pieces is quite unique to any other burr we’ve ever made. Junichi designed it with a sweeping curve cut out of the piece. 
This is a very doable puzzle from someone who’s had a little experience assembling burrs. But it is designed by Junichi so it’s not a pushover that’s for sure!"
Well, I guess I am an experienced burr solver but not assembler. There seems to be a few possible orientations of the boards but the ones pierced by the stick are pretty obvious with a little thought. After that a little experimenting is required and you quickly discover that the "sweeping curve" provides some really lovely moves. As is usual, the first few attempts trying out the more obvious assemblies just won't work. After about 30 minutes I began to take John's name in vain and put it down to stare at it and Think©. Unusually for me this actually worked! There is nothing unexpected about the solution of this puzzle, no rotations, no tricky moves, but the order and positioning to assemble this one is entirely unexpected. In the end after about 45 minutes I had it assembled and congratulated myself on taking John's advice - this is a really clever puzzle too. It is easier than the Dwarf Planet D but just as much fun. In fact, I would suggest that this is perfect for both novice and experienced puzzlers alike. Perfect despite being acrylic!

Glitter was also bought at the same time as the other ones. Again, I would not have been planning on buying it but a good friend of mine had mentioned this design to me over a year ago as being very very tough and worth purchasing. So for a very reasonable $45AUD this became mine. Designed by Osanori Yamamoto, this puzzle was also an exchange puzzle in Canada - this time by Frans de Vreugt. The description by Sue on the website is quite dramatic and made me a little worried about it:
"There are so many peculiar moves due to the rotations that it even makes it difficult to know exactly what disassembly level to classify this burr as. The printed solution has been draw with 61 steps. 
The puzzle requires rotational moves, so BurrTools can't help you much with this one!
No force at all is required to rotate the pieces;  everything just needs to be lined up just right so you’re ready to make the move. 
Sold assembled. It would be way too difficult if we sold it apart. Even though we sell this puzzle assembled we still don't think that many people will ever take it apart and reassemble it again without the aid of the solution or a computer."
I get the distinct feeling that this one is rather difficult!!! I have played with it intermittently ever since I got it and am sort of ashamed to have to admit that I have not really got very far! Initially there are not very many moves possible but as you work your way in there are more and more possibilities and most seem to end up at a dead end. Except there may be rotational moves at the dead end and I haven't noticed. I have done several rotational moves but they don't seem to help. I think I am about 20 moves in and that is it. It's back on the shelf just now and maybe I will try again soon - when I have finished with my recent new purchases. Unfortunately this one has now sold out. If enough of you pester him then maybe you can convince Brian to make some more?

Now I really must solve something or I will very soon be running out of stuff to write about. I just don't seem to get the time to solve much recently.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Puzzles to Return to

During my sick leave I had a major splurge on puzzle deliveries to give me something to do whilst forced to sit on my arse doing very little (Whack! Ouch! - sorry dear but the doctor told me to!!!) As you can tell, I had been home for so long that "she who must be feared" started to get shirty with me. She went so far as to get pretty gobby at times and on several occasions told me that I really needed to bugger off back to work! If I hadn't gone back when I did then this blog would have been no more and Mrs S might have been spending time at Her Majesty's pleasure. I do apologise for all that....I have not lost the plot - a certain Matthew Dawson challenged me to use some "special" British terms in my next blog post and ahem...there it is. One batch of puzzles that I bought came from the amazing Yavuz Demirrhan and I have to say that they are "The Dog's Bollocks"! Ok, Ok! Enough already!

One of the puzzles I had been really keen to get my hands on was the Transenna. It is a fabulous looking interlocking puzzle made from Walnut and Maple with reinforcing dowels in contrasting colours. I love this type of puzzle because it looks fantastic on display and can be a nice challenge for a rainy Sunday afternoon or a day during sick leave. This particular one was of interest because it would go on display next to another one that I had reviewed in March 2016, Volantis.

Transenna and Volantis - fabulous together
I set to with this puzzle and quite quickly disassembled it into 6 of each type of board and admired the woodwork skills that went into them.

Stunning workmanship
I left the boards for a day and then worked on the reassembly. In my own personal puzzle database I have a classification for each of my puzzles and I refer to these as interlocking puzzles rather than burrs because the main challenge here is an assembly one and it doesn't really require multiple back and forth movements of the pieces. I suspect this is not a very good system but it works for me. The reassembly is a little tricky but not terribly hard with a level of (total of 33 moves). Had the puzzle been sent out in pieces then it might have been a little more challenging. I did enjoy the process and did it a few times before returning it to the shelf. I completely forgot that this one had 2 challenges to it. I was perusing through Facebook and saw Yavuz' original post about it and with a start I was reminded that I had more to do. Time to return to this puzzle and attempt the alternative assembly. This one looked easier on paper being only level (27 moves) and not requiring all the pieces. In reality, because I had not disassembled it and also did not know which of the 2 types of large boards were needed, this proved a much bigger challenge - it took me pretty much a whole evening to find the correct approach and order. Mrs S was happy that I had recently returned to work and was no longer doing Sweet Fanny Adams (aaargh! It's all Matt's fault!) and she even didn't mind me muttering to myself as I attempted the reassembly. She did flinch a little after I yelled Bob's yer Uncle as the last piece slid home. I promise....that's it, there will be no more!

Second assembly of Transenna - simpler but took me much longer.
It was definitely worth returning to this puzzle as it gave me even more of a challenge and appreciation of Yavuz design skills. It is still available on Cubozone if you want a copy for yourself.

Pinocchio - original challenge
Alternative assembly
Last week I showed off a few wire puzzles that I had failed to solve for many many months. After I returned to them and finally worked out the little trick that each of them required, Aaron posted on my Facebook page that the Pinocchio has an alternative challenge. The aim was much the same - one of the rings on one side of the string needed to be moved to join the other one on the other side. This new challenge looked really fearsome - there are a lot more interactions between the string and the main frame of the puzzle. I suspected that this one shared something in common with one or more of the puzzles discussed last week. I took it to work and had a chance to play with it whilst waiting for a critical care bed to be available for a big case I had to do. At work I could mutter to myself and jingle to my heart's content without fear of a Whack! Ouch! The current horrific state of the NHS winter bed crisis was in my favour as I ended up having about an hour to work on it.

The Pinocchio alternative shares a few moves in common with the original but after that it changes and needs some more thought - there was quite a big tangle at one point with several loops being around that central ring. After a little adjustment of the string I saw a similarity with the Balance and Wedding Vows puzzles and my Aha! moment was complete:

That was quite a challenge!
Finally I have to show off one puzzle that I have been returning to pretty much every evening since it arrived in mid December. I had showed off the recent puzzles produced by Jakub and Jaroslav's New Pelikan Workshop and over the last month I have singularly failed to solve the Lucida puzzle. Allard had told everyone who would listen that it was a fabulous puzzle and my friend Rich Gain had taken a few weeks to assemble his 3D printed copy. The premise is simple take the 2 pieces and the frame and combine them without having any sticking out bits!

Looks simple? Maybe it is but I couldn't do it!
Every single evening since mid December I have spent at least 15 minutes (if not longer) attempting this and had gotten absolutely nowhere! I definitely tested Einstein's theory of insanity (and yes I am!!) I just could not seem to work it out. During play it is quickly obvious what needs to be done but getting the pieces into a position where it is possible eluded me. Suddenly after a month a few evenings ago, I started from a new position and suddenly I saw a possibility. I have no idea why I hadn't tried or seen this sooner - my only excuse is either insanity or stupidity (I'll let Mrs choose). The first attempt with my new starting position wasn't quite right but a small adjustment and I had it! The Aha! moment was one of the best ever - this will definitely be considered for my top puzzles of 2018! I showed my success to Goetz and he mentioned that there are 2 assemblies! I felt bad that I had missed not just one but two for so long until I realised that they are mirror images of each other resulting in the grain going in different directions and the text being hidden in one:

Two solutions and I struggled to find even one!

Yet again, I prove to myself that perseverance is crucial and it's a good idea to keep returning to puzzles that haven't been solved yet or have extra challenges to them!

MiSenary box update

Last week I reviewed Michel's excellent MiSenary box and announced his auction for charity. It seems to be going well and has reached a reasonable level. To try and increase the amount earned for the very worthy cancer charity Michel has added some extra prizes which will be added if the bidding passes certain targets:

Bid above €250 : two prototypes of the CFF100 limited edition puzzle will be added.
Bid above €300 : first prototype of Larva and a second pair of sliders will be added as well.
Bid above €375 : first prototype of Ladybird will be added as well.
Bid above €450 : first prototype of 8 stars labyrinth will be added also!
This is a seriously special set of puzzles and includes prototypes which are not available any other way. Get bidding!

Sunday, 14 January 2018

A Chance For You to Win and Perseverance Pays Off...

MiSenary Box from Michel van Ipenburg and Robrecht Louage
It's being auctioned for charity on Puzzle Paradise
OK! Normal service resumed! My first week back at work was fairly horrific! I had got quite used to getting up at 8am instead of just before 6 and definitely got used to having a very leisurely start to the day! After 7 weeks off for recuperation (including a week of annual leave) I got thrown in at the deep end and had to sink or swim with 3 of VERY big complex cases! Luckily, after 25 years as an anaesthetist I had not forgotten everything and the patient survival rate was 100%!! I, on the other hand, was absolutely shattered! I was so tired and haven't been able to solve anything all week! Thank goodness I have a few things saved up to write about.

I'm going to start off with a lovely little puzzle which I bought from my friend Michel van Ipenburg and which you now have the chance to win in a charity auction. I have communicated with him for several years now and know he is one of the foremost puzzlers in Europe with tremendous skills at both solving as well as design. I got to meet him for the first time in person at the IPP in Paris last year and enjoyed playing with his latest design in the design competition. The MiSenary box has a strange name which I did not fully understand at the time (partly because I did not realise it was Michel's entry). It is a box....yes I know! I don't collect boxes, but I DO collect N-ary puzzles and this is a Box AND N-ary. In fact, being 7-ary and made by Mi-chel, it is actually MiSenary. Get it? Yeah! It took me a while.

I first picked this up at one of the design competition tables and had absolutely no idea what was going on inside (the description did not hint at being N-ary). There are things sliding around inside as you rock it back and forth and sometimes it opens a bit and other times closes a bit. Occasionally it seems to close all the way and others it won't. I was totally confused and expressed this to Goetz, who was sitting next to me playing with something else. It was he who finally told me that it was N-ary and he finally had pity on me and said that someone had left it at a midway point of the solution. He gently took it from me and using what seemed to me to be a fantastically complex sequence of moves with multiple turns and twists, he reset it to the beginning and handed it back saying it was ready for me to solve. I am sure I must have looked rather foolish looking at him with my mouth agape but he was polite enough to not mention it. I played again for another 10 minutes or so before it was time for another event and needless to say, being not terribly bright, I got absolutely nowhere with it. I just had no inkling of what was happening inside.

Over the 3 days of the IPP I kept going back to it (it was usually partly solved when I picked it up) and at no point did I manage to understand it. Mental note to one of these after IPP if Michel makes them available.

At the beginning of November Michel let me know that he had made a second batch of the box and offered me a chance to purchase one. Needless to say I practically bit his emailed hand off! The whole world knows that I am a sucker for N-ary puzzles and having struggled so much during IPP I could not possibly resist (Mrs S says I seem unable to resist any puzzles and she has a point!) Just before Xmas a nicely packaged copy arrived - mine is no 1 out of 10 from batch 2. It would appear that Ali had also got one and promptly opened his so I set straight to it. This time I spent time looking through the slot at the front at the grid and tried to imagine what it was. I slowly experimented and got things moving. An small inkling began and I made about 10 moves before having a minor panic attack and back-tracking and failing to manage it! Aaaargh! I was stuck part way into it. Yet again I had moved without really visualising what I was doing. Mrs S told me in no uncertain terms that I had to put it down because it was Xmas eve and I had to cook - it was cheese fondue (yummy!).

After dinner and having eaten more cheese in one sitting than I should have eaten in 2 or 3 months, I settled down with Mrs S in front of the TV and made more attempts at the MiSenary box. In my cheese induced hallucinating state, I suddenly had a vision of what might be inside the box and what was happening as I made various moves. With lots of annoying muttering and counting to upset Mrs S I finally managed to open it. Very clever idea and beautifully made.

Solved! Michel and Robrecht say "Well done!"
This puzzle is a delight and you now have a chance to get hold of a copy for your own collection. The very last one in batch 2 and the last one that will ever be made has been put up for auction on Puzzle Paradise. It is 125x50x60mm in size made from Tropical hardwood, Trespa and Steel - Michel says that the copy for auction is the best looking of them all. If the price goes particularly high then Michel has said that he may add a bonus prize for the winner. The important thing is that the auction is for charity - the beneficiary will be The Antoni van Leeuwenhoek foundation / Netherlands Cancer Institute. This is a very worthy charity so please bid high and often.

Keep on trying.....

Back in March last year I showed off a nice big batch of puzzles designed and made by my friend Aaron Wang. I managed to solve a few over the subsequent weeks and one of those (Santa's socks) even became one of my top puzzles of 2017. The Clover was Aaron's entry into the design competition and was one of the most complex puzzles to solve from that batch but still possible for me within a reasonable amount of time. There were, however, 3 puzzles in the group that I struggled with....for months and months and months! I really don't know why they took me so long but I just could not seem to get my head round them at all.

Between Christmas and New Year's eve I got the 3 remaining puzzles out again - Mrs S was feeling mellow after Xmas and I decided to risk jingling a bit in the hope that firstly I might have a moment of genius (or more likely, luck) and secondly that I might get away without a Whack! Ouch! I was lucky on both counts. The aim of the Balance (and the theme of this bunch) is that the balls must end up grouped together on one side of the puzzle. The idea should have been very similar to the Wedding Vows puzzle from PuzzleMaster that I reviewed way back in May 2015. The Wedding vows looks impossible but with a bit of fiddling with the loop in the middle it quickly becomes clear what to do. I was certain that the Balance was a variant of this but for some reason I just could not see the trick to it. I went back to it on and off for 9 months without finding that breakthrough Aha! moment. I spent a whole evening fiddling with this and developing a knot in the centre of the puzzle around that pesky ring. After a couple of hours of back and forth I noticed something familiar. I must have been at exactly that position many many times over the 9 months and just not recognised what was going on. Having noticed that familiarity I knew what to do and a few minutes later I had this:

OMG! It took 9 months!
Balance IS very similar to the Wedding Vows puzzle but has just enough difference to it that it confused me a lot and took me such a long time. I am sure that most of you would be able to solve it within an hour but I, being not terribly bright, took a while! This one is not currently for sale as yet but a decent collection of Aaron's puzzles (he is also known as Wang Yulong) are available from the Felix puzzle company.

The Elephant was immediately attempted after my success with Balance and again it kicked my butt! Just like Balance and Wedding Vows, the aim is to arrange the rings next to each other on one side of the puzzle. I thought that the same things I had done with balance would help me with Elephant and I set to. Oh boy! I was seriously wrong! I'm sure that you geniuses out there can see straight away that this one does not share much in common with Balance. The central loop is trapped but doesn't form the same string configuration as the previous 2 and again I got stuck! There was a fair bit of effing and blinding before Mrs S gave me "the look" and I put it down again.

Over the next few days I tried again and again to understand this damned puzzle. In the end I gave up on my thinking that it shared anything in common with the Balance and had a good look at it. Unfortunately looking doesn't help! It took me several hours before my Aha! moment occurred and it was fantastic!

At last!
It has a totally different solution path to Balance and is really clever! Unfortunately I am not really clever.... I couldn't reset the puzzle to the beginning. Luckily Aaron has started using these nice little catches on his puzzles to allow quick reset (especially if you have a big knot). I cheated with the catch and started took me another 24 hours and I finally properly understood the puzzle. This puzzle forced me to think© and it hurt! Absolutely brilliant and finally time to crack the last remaining puzzle, Pinocchio.

This puzzle again is similar in basic shape and premise to the antecedent but, with the extra ring and the loop in a different place, it was a significantly tougher challenge. Just like before I was filled with hope at my success at the Elephant and I immediately tried the same type of moves...I got a knot! Quite a big knot! Thank heavens for the catch again. Clearly this puzzle is totally different and I should have realised that Aaron would not release 2 puzzles with identical solutions at the same time!

I played with this one for a couple of weeks again and failed repeatedly. One morning in despair, I actually emailed Aaron to ask for just a small clue. Yes it was that bad! That very evening I had not had a reply and I sat down again with the puzzle and had a proper think. Something began to filter into my dense skull and I had an idea, tried it and failed but noticed something else. I tried something counterintuitive and AHA!!!!

My goodness! That was difficult!
The general technique is similar to the Elephant puzzle but the new morphology changes the exact sequence of moves. Half of it is quite simple and then it requires some fairly complex reorganisation of the string before the next critical move is possible! I was able to email Aaron back and tell him that no help was needed even before he had responded - Phew! That is one VERY clever puzzle.

All of these share a basic idea but have radically different solutions - they all need one to Think© which is something I am not good at.

Thank you Aaron, I cannot wait for some new ones from you!

Don't forget the auction on Puzzle Paradise everyone - bid high and often for charity!


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