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.


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