Sunday 25 February 2018

The McGenniss Transpose Puzzle

Garage-crafted version of David McGenniss’ 1899 transpose puzzle (U.S. Patent No. 639,602).
Just when I seem to be struggling to find something to write about, the Puzzlemad foreign correspondent (North America) steps in and takes the pressure off! I have been working on both the Popplock T11 and Hanayama Cast Trinity, and failing badly! This means that I have very little to write about myself just now. There might well have been a few new puzzles arrive as well as a bit more lock-picking paraphernalia arrive recently but very little solving has gone on. Have a quick look at the New additions page to keep up with my recent arrivals. In the meantime let me hand you over to Mike Desilets for a fascinating expose of a puzzle travesty! After reading, if any of you mathematicians out there can formally prove or disprove the travesty then please get in touch.

Aloha Kākou puzzlers,

If you are reading this, it means another of my dubious posts had passed the stringent Puzzlemad quality assurance process. Barely, I’m sure. (Ed - it is the QA which is dubious; the posts are fabulous). Fortunately for me, Kevin is required to complete a number of burdensome domestic chores each weekend (dispensed with a firm but fair hand by the lovely Mrs S, current) (Ed - she's all yours! Whack! Ouch!). This frees up space for my ramblings, for which I am very grateful. In this episode, we are going further into uncharted territory. How can that be, you ask? Has Puzzlemad not already covered every nook and cranny of the puzzle world? Sadly no, not yet. But this entry will get us one step closer. (Ed - remember I don't collect boxes)

Like you, I enjoy reading about, seeing, and playing with the latest and greatest puzzles. But I also have a soft spot for all things old-timey. You may have picked that up from the vintage puzzle articles. In this post, however, we are going beyond vintage to the antique. By my unscientific reckoning, that means stuff from before the twentieth century. (Ed - I think some auction houses define antique as being more than 100 years old)

Today’s offering is an early transposition puzzle invented by David McGenniss at the close of the nineteenth century. We’ll call it the McGenniss Transpose. A copy of the full patent specification is here. As you will read, the patent was applied for in April of 1899 and awarded in December of the same year. That’s an eight-month turn-around. Very fast! It was a simpler time in many ways. Today you can expect no less than a two-year wait, more likely three. In 2014 the average pendency period (before the US Patent Office would even glance at the application) was just over 18 months.

I came across this interesting puzzle while doing some other unrelated research and the design really struck me—nice symmetry and well proportioned. I’ll admit, I also figured it was well within my skill level to solve. It looked to be a straightforward transposition exercise. I filed the patent pdf for later study. Then, during the recent holidays, I returned to the McGenniss Transpose and tried to track down a physical copy of the puzzle, or at least something closely based on it. No success. Many puzzles from the Victorian period ring through history, either as reproductions made when patents expire or by spawning families of related puzzles. I had expected this to be the case for such an attractive and simple design, but it apparently wasn’t.

The McGenniss Transpose in isometric projection.
I thereupon retired to the Puzzlemad workshop (Ed - I have a workshop??? Why did no-one tell me?) and set about crafting (loosely defined) a copy for myself. Although no measurements are given in the patent, the specifications are very clear on how the puzzle is to operate and the proper spacing between elements. One trip to the hardware store for wood scraps and another to the craft shop for little wooden discs and I was all set. After nearly a full day of fiddling, I managed to kludge together something half respectable and wholly functional. (Ed - I have to say it looks pretty good)

Now things get interesting. It was time to sit down and play with the McGenniss Transpose. I began by shifting pieces around semi-systematically, as one tends to do with this type of puzzle, exploring the movement and especially the bypass routes. After a little while, I got serious and figured I’d have a go at a proper solve. I worked and worked, but could not seem to get the entire field transposed. Most of the pieces switched very easily using the offset containers, but there was always a specific piece that seemed impossible to move. Now, as a seasoned puzzler, I know that the seemingly impossible is just what good puzzles are about. So I kept at it, trying to find the secret manoeuvre. No luck. I reread the specifications, checked the patent drawing, checked my copy. Everything seemed in order.  After some more study, I began to think there was a design flaw. 

Sticky wicket?
Examine the image above and you will see the offending piece in purple. That particularly piece seemingly cannot escape its slot if there are only four ‘spaces’ (each the size of one disc) with which to manoeuvre. I couldn’t find any logical way to circumvent the basic geometry of the puzzle. The next step in such situations is to get a second opinion. I promptly took the McGenniss Transpose to my office and foisted it upon Amanda and the rest of my co-workers. Was I missing something obvious? It wouldn’t be the first time. Thankfully for my ego, everyone else had the same experience. The final piece, four deep in its slot, would not budge.

So as of this post, I am declaring the McGenniss Transpose puzzle unsolvable. If anyone can present a solution, I will immediately retract that statement and humbly lick my wounds. You will also become my personal hero (Ed - mine too). Just be sure to study the specs carefully and note the spacing of all elements. Use the patent drawing for reference, not my very low-tolerance reproduction. Mine gives the appearance of more space than should actually be present.

The purple disc is four-deep in the hole. How can it escape? An n+1 situation, if you catch my meaning.
Insolvability is a very interesting development, assuming you accept my conclusion. It begs the question, why in the world would someone go through all the trouble and expense of applying for a patent on an unsolvable puzzle? The first possibility is that it was a complete mistake. David McGenniss thought he had invented a great puzzle but had not actually played with it or solved it himself, and therefore did not realize it was unsolvable. This seems unlikely, on the face of it. Would McGenniss, and also his co-patentee Oren Burt, really not know how their own invention functioned?

The second possibility is that there was an error in the specification and drawing. Perhaps some miscommunication between the inventor and the lawyer who drafted up the documents. If the offset box on the offending side were shifted down one position in the direction of the entrapped disc, for example, then the puzzle is solvable. Perhaps this is the answer. But then again, an inventor would probably know at a glance if the drawing were not correct. It’s hard to believe he didn’t check it before it went out the door. What kind of a man are we dealing with here anyway?

Let’s take a step back for a moment and look a little closer at our protagonists. What, did you think you were going to get away without a history lesson? Feel free to skip ahead if it’s not your thing. For me, puzzle people are as interesting as puzzles themselves. Even more so when they lived over 120 years ago. 

Like many of today’s puzzle designers, our heroes McGenniss and Burt had full-time day jobs. They were in the textile business. To be specific, they worked in undergarments - as does my editor (Ed - have you been looking through my computer webcam? I'd better get dressed!). Knit ribbed underwear, to be unnecessarily specific.

McGenniss worked for the Ionic Knitting Company in Easthampton Massachusetts, alongside his erstwhile companion Oren Burt. Burt was the manager of the company, McGenniss was superintendent. Reading between the lines of the source material, I take that to indicate that Burt took care of the boring but vital paperwork and McGenniss was the hands-on guy making sure the machines worked and things got done. Fiber and Fabric (1894, Vol. 20) reports that McGenniss was “setting up the machines.” Have you ever seen a textile machine? He was basically a mechanical engineer and an inventor as well. Prior to the Transpose puzzle patent, McGenniss had acquired three patents for improvements to textile manufacture machinery. One of these was filed prior to incorporation of the Ionic Knitting Company and it is likely that McGenniss and Burt started the company specifically to implement their patent ideas.

Early textile machines, mechanical puzzles of frightening complexity.

The Ionic Knitting Company started operations in 1894, an ambitious undertaking given the stiff regional competition and the still-fresh financial panic of 1893. Somehow they were able to secure credit and launch the business. Soon after starting, they went into production day and night, doubling the workforce in their first year of business. Within five years, however, they experienced serious financial difficulty and by 1899 the bank had seized the company’s assets. $15,000 was owed. Given that the operation was originally capitalized at $20,000, it seems that not a lot of progress had been made, profit-wise, in the intervening years. Now, don’t you wish you’d skipped ahead? (Ed - no! It's fascinating)

Admittedly, this isn’t a nineteenth-century textile industry blog, but it is important to get into the heads of our designers. At the very time that McGenniss and Burt applied for their transposition puzzle patent, they were in serious financial trouble with their company about to go belly up. I couldn’t find any clear end date for the Ionic Knitting Company, but I don’t think it survived beyond 1899. Certainly, a strange time to be investing time and effort in a puzzle patent, of all things. But then again, McGenniss and Burt had grown up during puzzling’s Golden Age. They had witnessed the 15 Puzzle craze, the Sam Loyd phenomenon, and all the other puzzle happenings of the late Victorian period. They knew that puzzles could be converted into money, and they were nothing if not entrepreneurs. So perhaps the McGenniss Transpose was a final gambit to become financially solvent. Or, more generously, perhaps McGenniss and Burt were just really into puzzles, and this was a way to keep their minds off a crumbling business and nasty bank letters. We won’t ever really know. 

That concludes the history portion of the post. Now back to the present. Having found the puzzle to be unsolvable, and knowing the historical context of the designer, let us revisit the initial question of whether or not the McGenniss Transpose had ever been produced. In fact, the question seems more urgent than ever. I made some inquiries with certain large puzzle collections and collectors to see if examples could be found. First stop was the Hordern-Dalgety Collection. Mr Dalgety was kind enough to weigh in on the topic. Although he understandably did not have time to conduct an intensive search of the collection, he was not aware of anything matching the description of the McGenniss Transpose. James noted a certain similarity with the Perplexity Puzzle, which came out a little later. Allard and Jerry both have reviews of the Perplexity puzzle which you should check out. It does make for an interesting comparison. Given the strictly two-dimensional nature of the McGenniss Transpose, however, a puzzler cannot take advantage of the tricky mechanics used in Perplexity. James also noted that the French use undersized discs, which apparently allows for otherwise impossible bypassing. This is clearly not the case with the McGenniss Transpose.

The Perplexity Puzzle. A real classic from the early twentieth century.
Patented in 1900 and produced in a variety of forms over the following two decades.
Next stop was the Slocum Collection, housed at the University of Indiana’s Lilly Library. Andrew Rhoda, Curator of Puzzles, was kind enough to conduct a thorough search of the puzzle database and could find no published version of the McGenniss Transpose. Andrew also searched the Slocum papers and found no evidence there either. He noted some other transposition/sequential movement puzzles of interest - the French Les Roues Du Char- 8 Discs, for example:

The Les Roues Du Char- 8 Discs, a nice-looking puzzle in the transpose family.
(Photo courtesy of The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.)
Based on these results, I conclude that it is unlikely that the McGenniss Transpose was ever produced commercially. This is not particularly unusual for patents, even puzzle patents. The fact that the puzzle is unsolvable was also likely a factor. This would certainly have become apparent to the designer at some point and would mean either producing a modified version not covered by a patent, or, humiliatingly, redesigning and submitting another patent application. With all the other things McGenniss and Burt had on their minds at this time, namely paying creditors and finding new employment, both options were probably equally unattractive.

Thus ends the story of the McGenniss Transpose, a puzzle that was not to be. Yet another odd footnote in puzzle history. I’m pretty sure I have the only copy in existence. I briefly considered modifying my reproduction to make it solvable, but I think I will leave it alone. It will be a good test for unsuspecting victims and gives me an excuse to launch into impromptu lectures about New England textile entrepreneurialism (Ed - that sounds riveting!).
“What, you can’t solve it? Well . . . funny story. How much time do to you have?” 
Ok, folks, that’s it for today. I know this brand of puzzle post isn’t for everyone, but I hope it is for someone. Regardless, if the Puzzlemad editorial board continues to let this stuff slip through, I will continue to produce it. Back over to you Kevin...

Thank you so much, Mike! I have to say that I was enthralled - even with the knitting machine history. You seem to have a real fascination with what I call sequential movement puzzles as well as the history. I am really awful at that type and only manage to solve them by random trial and error - I just don't have the ability to conduct a proper analysis of this sort of puzzle.

I am always open to something new as long as it is puzzle related and interesting to proper puzzlers. If you feel the urge to get your literary creativity out then feel free to contact me to discuss it.

[1] Clothiers' and Haberdashers' Weekly. Volume 14, No. 1. June 16, 1899.
[2] Fibre & Fabric: A Record of American Textile Industries in the Cotton and Woolen Trade. Volume 28, December 31, 1897 and Volume 28, December 31, 1894.
[3] The Annual Statistics of Manufactures. 1894. Public Document No. 36. Ninth Report. Published 1895, Wright& Potter Printing Co., State Printers: Boston. 

Finally, before you all go off and do the important things that you should have been doing before you got side-tracked by my blog and Mike's wonderful article, can I ask a question on behalf of a friend? He has been trying to complete his collection of Wil Strijbos puzzles and is desperate to obtain a copy of the Butterfly Lock box/Pleasure and Pain puzzle that I reviewed here. If you are willing to sell your copy then please contact me and I will put you in touch with him to negotiate a price. He has already managed to buy the Angel box and Washer cylinder recently and the transactions have gone through without hitch. I am sure he will be very grateful.

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.