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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