Sunday 25 March 2018

Locks, Locks, Locks - Worth the Wait

T11 - It's big, it's heavy, it's tough and it's VERY VERY good!!
Last August at the Paris IPP my friend Shane introduced me to Rainer Popp. I have corresponded with him once or twice over the years but never met him. He is a very low key man! Quietly spoken, unassuming and not prone to boasting. This is a very marked contrast to the loud enthusiastic whirlwind that is Shane Hales, puzzle master extraordinaire and master locksmith. When Shane tells me something, I listen! He knows what he talks about and if he doesn't then he says so. Shane knows locks....he said at IPP that the Popplock T11 was the best puzzle lock in the none! OMG! I got to have a look at it whilst I was there but was not allowed to play with it (no one was). We were told that it would be coming out in early 2018 and would be more limited in number than previous editions.

So we waited, and waited, and waited a bit longer. Shane taunted me periodically by saying how fantastic it was and how I had to be sure to buy a copy. He also said 'sotto voce' that I should expect a rather large hole in my bank balance. Even Google knew it was going to be expensive (see right - when I checked the spelling for that expression it produced the perfect result!) Shane said that no matter what the price, it would be worth it! I spoke to Wil and asked him to reserve me one if I was not getting one direct from Rainer. From early this year, after the newsletter came out, pretty much the entire hungry lock collecting puzzle bunch emailed him and asked for a copy and we were told that there was going to be far less than usual production run and they would be released in batches as they were finished.

I saw quite a few people receive their copies and became hopeful that I would be next. Nope! No email...wait longer you impatient man! Eventually, Wil managed to get his batch from Rainer and mine was released to me with a bill that makes you hide your emails from your wife! This thing is soooo big and soooo heavy that the postage alone from the Netherlands is €25!

The characteristic Popplock motif on the base - a beautiful key too
When it arrived, my usually goodnatured DPD delivery man did comment that it was bloody heavy for a small package and was I importing cannonballs? I unpacked it with glee and Mrs S acknowledged that it looked fabulous ("for a padlock") and looked expensive! She's not stupid is my wife! When I mumbled about the cost she gave me "the look" and, after sniffing at the aroma of burning arising from the area between my eyes, I told her the cost. Whack! Ouch! Whack! Ouch! Whack! Ouch! Yes - the cost was worth 3 Whack! Ouch!s!! She then conceded that it was probably a good buy from a puzzle perspective and discarded that issue. She moved very rapidly to the huge weight (2.5Kg) and the large chunk of metal aspects of it. She said:
"Get that out of my kitchen right now - if you break a tile or the granite then I will break all your puzzles and then break you too!"
She's a strong woman is Mrs S and with the Scottish ancestry in her, she is extra violent too! Whack! Ouch!

The first thing that is noticeable is that there is a rather lovely key, complete with T11 etched into it, but no keyhole to insert it. Interesting! There are 2 faceplates on the front and back and they obviously move or come off or something because there is a teeny tiny wiggle in them but no obvious way to accomplish this. This beast is steel and brass and screws and rivets with no obvious place to start. My fingernails definitely did not enjoy trying to pry those plates off! Not terribly bright! The instructions are specific - open it with no banging or force. I proceeded to play with it each evening in my armchair after dinner whilst watching TV with "her". There are lots of places to focus your attention on and nothing really moves. After 2 evenings I found a small movement - just a rotation and only about 120º. Yay!!! On my way! Nooo! It did nothing at all! It is amazing how many times I can twiddle the same thing over quite a few days and hope that something new will show never does!

After another few days, I found something else which would move. Yay! A whole 7mm! And....still nothing further. With my 2 "thingies" moving I played with them for ages! Of course, I got absolutely nowhere. After about a fortnight I found something else - my "thingies" worked together! Yay! And....still nothing further! I am really not very good at locks OR Rainer is a master! Both of those statements are true. Playing with this puzzle is quite a workout - my arms and fingers were aching from constant attempts to do something. The cat was not amused when I rested and leaned it against him.

After a month, I had to admit with shame and humiliation to Shane that I was not getting anywhere! It was all the more humiliating to hear that Ali had opened his copy in just a week with no help/clues at all (He's a bloody good puzzler is Ali!) I told Shane where I had got to and he placated me by saying that he was amazed I had found what I had! It made me feel a little better but I know he was just being nice. A very tiny clue was given to me which just made me focus my attention somewhere. I had already been focussing on that because something was just plain odd about it. Another few days of doing the same thing over and over again suddenly showed me something new. All of a sudden my jaw dropped and I had released something! I really wasn't expecting that to happen and especially not what followed it:

Knowing that this happens doesn't tell you anything you didn't expect!
Look! A keyhole!
The mechanism for this is astounding! I had made a major breakthrough and found somewhere to use the key! Yes, I know! The key never opens the lock! The key goes in with a lovely satisfying click and turns just a bit and....nada! Think©, you idiot!! So I "thunk" for quite a long time! I thunk and thunk and thunk and did come up with an idea. I couldn't implement my idea so I headed back to Shane who encouraged me to continue in that approach. It was possible to feel things using the key. AHA!!! Something new happened. Suddenly things were happening and I seemed to be on my way. Except the keyhole was no longer usable. Now what? Push, pull, prod! Aha! again. At this point, I cannot give much more away but let's just say we have a Danlock moment and a leap of faith. Shane encouraged me to do what I wanted to.

Suddenly there were some more things going on for approximately 270º before I was trapped and I could neither go forward nor back. Rainer had put a trap in this thing too! Aaaaargh! Shane warned me that this trap existed but he had not been caught in it. Of course, I am nowhere near as bright as him and it was inevitable that I would fall into every trap! I spent another evening playing in this trap. You need good light to notice something crucial and when you do it's not immediately obvious what it's for. It took another few days experimenting with this new feature before I realised it interacted with another feature which was obvious from the very beginning of unwrapping the puzzle. Yes, another Aha! moment! I was out of the trap and I was hoping that I was in the home stretch to opening the behemoth - my arms were now killing me!

A further week went by and I needed to ask Shane for yet another clue. He suggested that I move it to a certain position and play like that. I always do as I'm told and after another few days of feeling all sorts of incomprehensible things going on inside I suddenly had an urge. Normally I am not allowed urges in the house but I was very surreptitious about this one and BAM! there was a big CLICK!

OMG! It's the Carlsberg of puzzle locks - "probably the best in the world!"
In fact, this IS the best puzzle lock ever made.
My conclusion...Rainer's T11 is the most amazing complex lock design ever. So complex that it took me over 6 weeks of constant endeavour to solve it. It is a sequential discovery puzzle made of metal and the engineering feat involved is simply staggering. Even though I needed quite a lot of help from my friend, this actually did not detract from the enjoyment of it. Is it worth the huge cost? For me yes. I am not a lock specialist. Hell! I'm not even any good at them! But this puzzle is simply incredible! It is highly likely to be at the top of my "Best of the Year" list next New year's day.

Thank you, Rainer, for continuing to design and innovate and thank you, Wil, for allowing me to buy one of the very few you received. Finally, thank you, Shane, for the assistance and encouragement, I could not have done it without you.

Haleslock 3
Also at the IPP, Peter Hajek exchanged the Haleslock number 3 with 100 other puzzlers. I watched them all get handed out whilst I was assisting my friend John Haché. Later that day Shane sidled up to me and handed me a copy of each of the 2 puzzles of his that were being exchanged. The Haleslock 3 is a chunky lock with a key that screams "insert me and turn". So I did, again, and again, and again. Of course, nothing happened...the lock remained stubbornly shut. I have been working on this on and off for 8 months and surprisingly doing the same thing over and over and over again never seems to work for me.

I have pushed and pulled on all the rivets and tried to rotate the front plate and used the key in places where it won't fit. I have put it away and picked it up countless times since I got it. During the week, I had another of those urges (I really should see someone about them) and picked it up again. It occurred to me that I don't actually know how these locks work but I did know how the shackle is held closed. Maybe there are other ways to manipulate the locking mechanism than using the key? Out of the blue, the lightbulb above my head switched on and BAM! again:

I have absolutely no idea how he did what he did but it is remarkably clever in its simplicity! It is very repeatable and also fun. Simple? Yes! Clever? Yes! Great puzzle? Yes - it kept me busy for 8 months!

Finally, I have to mention another puzzle from IPP. Boaz Feldman, the son of the very famous Dan Feldman (of Danlock fame) has taken up the mantle from his dad. He has learned the engineering skills required to subtly alter a lock without it being obvious what has been done. He exchanged a new design called the BLock (Boazlock like Danlock) which is based on a Nabob lock just like the earlier one.

Just another padlock? Definitely not!
As with most of this type of puzzle, the key is provided and it is mandatory to try the conventional opening technique. Of course, it doesn't work! In fact, the key won't even go into the keyway. It's blocked by something inside. I never did get to solve this myself - I was at a dinner table with the MPP guys when someone handed a copy to Allard to look at. We were all watching when Allard had the Aha! moment and after a few odd little moves he opened it whilst a bunch of us sat there with mouths hanging open! How on earth did Boaz manage that? It is all in front of you and all there to see if you use your eyes and brain properly. Even though I would never be able to unsee the solution, I knew that I needed (yes NEEDED) a copy.

I met Boaz in a corridor the following day and I am reliably informed by one of the ladies who attended (a wife of an attendee) that the two of us sounded like a drug dealer and junkie arranging for a fix to be sold. The following day, Boaz sidled up to me with a nice little blue bag and I handed him some cash - yes, just like a drug deal!

Just looks like a simple lock - fabulous mechanism!
It was with great pleasure that I opened my lock when I got home from IPP and even Mrs S was impressed with the engineering feat and subtlety of the solution! Dan has retired from making locks but Boaz has definitely taken up the family tradition and I cannot wait to see the next one he produces.

Sunday 18 March 2018

Thank Goodness for a Puzzle that Broke on me!

Wormhole II Cube
OMG! What have I done?
I have a twisty problem
I've not forgotten about my Popplock T11 - I'm just stuck.....still!
Sorry to all you non-twisty puzzlers but I had to follow last week’s post with another one about a rather fabulous twisty puzzle. At the same time as Martin and Paul forced me to buy the 4x4x3 Mixup plus cube, they also bullied me into buying a couple of the Wormhole cubes. I had shied away from these when they first came out because they had frightened me to death! The Mixup plus puzzles with their 45° turns were already too much of a challenge for me at that stage of my twisty career and the thought of adding a puzzle inside of one of those monsters was just too horrific for my teeny tiny brain to cope with. Moving on 6 years, I’d reached an advanced enough stage of dementia to not remember how bad I am and to not remember that I’d deliberately stayed away. I ended up agreeing with their suggestion nearly a year ago and when the Mixup plus cuboid arrived, it was accompanied by the Wormhole II (PuzzleMaster link)and Wormhole III cubes. Having quickly looked at the Mixup plus cuboid and the 2 Wormholes when they arrived, I immediately shied away and put them somewhere “safe” in the twisty puzzle cupboard.

Why did I shy away? Because just turning a single face makes odd things happen inside and on top of that it has Mixup moves too!

Odd things happen inside
This is after JUST 3 TURNS!!!
It took me nearly a year to get up the courage to try any of them and I enjoyed the cuboid so much I felt a little ashamed! Yes, it was time to “screw my courage to the sticking place” and play with the others. It was time to get out the Wormhole II and investigate. Straight away I could see that it looked and worked very similarly to the standard 3x3 Mixup cube (see left) which had been a fantastic and enjoyable challenge but this time there was something extra happening. First of all, the 45° turns were only possible in the 4 equatorial edge regions and in other 8 edge pieces, there were little windows. Through those windows there appeared to be another puzzle… colours were showing through and confusingly the internal colours sometimes moved with the external face and sometimes didn’t! I began to investigate carefully and within a few minutes of exceedingly careful movements I had to call Houston…I had a problem! Yep! I’d scrambled it beyond my ability to get it back to the beginning. Damn! Ok in for a penny, in for a pound… I did the whole thing!

Now what? To be perfectly honest, I had no idea! My first thought was to just solve the outer Mixup cube and hopefully, the inner puzzle would just miraculously solve itself! Yes, sometimes it’s good to be optimistic/hopeful. I had forgotten mostly how to solve the Mixup plus cube so it took me a while. I did sort of realise that the inner cube was not behaving how I’d hoped but maybe it would wait until the very end? After about an hour I was sort of on my way to the outer solve and not really understanding when BAM! Catastrophe! A good few pieces flew out:

The edges separate and ping out en masse
It gives a good view but not helpful
OMG! I did not think I should just stuff them back in because quite a few pieces had shot out and I did not think that I could put them back the way that they came and I might end up with an impossible to solve puzzle. So, I had no option but to remove the rest of the pieces and solve the inner portion and then reassemble the outer cube later. It was time to just go ahead and solve the inner 3x3.

How hard could it be? It's just a 3x3 with big corners....or is it? GULP!
Except, blush, I couldn’t understand it! Things weren’t working right! It took me a half day of playing with my mostly disassembled puzzle before I understood what was happening and why I’d really struggled before it flew apart. It would seem that the sudden suicidal destruction of this puzzle had been a real blessing. Without being able to see inside, there was no way that I would have been able to understand what was happening in this puzzle. I made a video below to show you how it works.

I apologise that I seem to have played with it off to the right side of the video - I'm a rank amateur!

Halfminx - similar idea
It would appear that the internal puzzle is effectively a corner block puzzle or functionally equivalent to the Halfminx puzzle with only 3 usable sides. This means that the interior (and later the exterior) has to be solved without moving the 3 sides containing the green/white/orange corner piece. It sounds horrifying (and it was an awful thought to me when I realised what was going on inside) but in my efforts to solve just the inner puzzle with outer corners in place, I realised that I knew a possible method and it was VERY basic…it involved nothing more than the use of a 4 move sequence - the edge piece series (yes, you read that correctly, just 4 moves!) I can hear you all shouting out in disbelief (I really should restart my meds to prevent those voices) and I reiterate that the vast majority of this puzzle is solved using nothing more than a 4 move algorithm! It’s “easy”!! Having used my edge piece series (EPS) to solve the inner puzzle and then reassembled the external puzzle around it, I quickly rescrambled it and played again.

Having finally understood the puzzle, I set to work on the solution. First of all get it back to cube shape. This is only a little tougher than the Mixup plus cube (due to the fact that only 4 of the edge pieces will split up) and once done the equatorial edges need to be combined with the corresponding colour inner edges. Now we have a recognisable cube! I discovered that solving the external puzzle does not miraculously solve the internal one (DUH!) and it was obvious that the internal edges must be combined with the corresponding external ones (including the ones that have no window). This phase proved a bit tough and I found the parity:

The inner puzzle is solved but a single matching exterior edge is flipped

This is all part of the fun and is very enjoyable - "Just" flip that edge.....except the windowed edges cannot be flipped. Oh dear! A little thought© and I had flipped something and undone everything else! Laboriously matching up and solving the puzzle again showed me that breaking the puzzle the first time had been a very good thing to do - it was solved.

Wormhole III - appears to be a 3x3x4 Mixup plus WITH inner cube! NICE!
I've done it several times now and have to say that yet again, Martin and Paul were absolutely correct! This is a fabulous challenge that involves understanding and then planning an attack with some very serious constraints. I have still got the Wormhole III left to solve and will definitely get to that soon - it appears to be a 3x3x4 Mixup plus cube (which I don't own) with an interior cube visible through the 8 windowed pieces. I might also have ordered a couple more goodies from Martin's store too which should arrive pretty soon. Don't tell Mrs S - Whack! Ouch! Too late!

At some point, I will make a post with videos to show all you non-twisty puzzlers how to solve a cube using nothing more than the 4 move edge piece series. This means there is nothing to memorise and just some understanding and thought to be used. Leave a comment below if you would be interested to see this.

Sunday 11 March 2018

Friends Can be Helpful (or not)

A 4x4 Turning interlocking cube.
I didn't know what it was at first!
I’m still beavering away on my Popplock T11 and can definitely say that it is the best and most complex one so far. I would not have gotten very far if it was not for my good friend and lock expert Shane. Not only has he helped me replace all my door locks with ultra-secure ones but he has also given me subtle and not so subtle hints to allow me to progress in my T11 odyssey. I’m not finished yet but I have made considerable progress. The final steps seem to be still eluding me.

At the last MPP, I received a copy of a 4x4 Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) from Jamie (another friend who’s leading me astray into the fascinating world of lock picking). I don’t actually know what the cube is because the label on the box is definitely incorrect (and definitely not helpful) as it tells me this is the 2 Temps 3 Movements by Gregory Benedetti. I’ve been carrying it with me for a few weeks because I’ve been unable to completely dismantle it despite trying most evenings when I get stuck with the T11. Every now and then when I get a moment at work I take it out of my unfeasibly heavy bag and try to remove the 3rd and 4th pieces - I’ve managed the first 2 which need linear moves but the rotational moves have eluded me.

A few days ago whilst waiting in the coffee room I showed off my current challenges to the assembled boys and girls including my ODP (anaesthetic assistant), David. They looked at the twisty with horror and, as usual, thought that I was a crazy person for even attempting such a thing. David asked to play with the TIC. In a surprisingly short period time, he managed to remove those first 2 pieces and I told him that was as far as I had managed to get. Unconvinced of the extreme difficulty of the challenge he continued to play whilst I resumed work on another challenge that has kept me stumped for nearly a year, the 4x4x3 mixup plus cuboid. This was bought at the suggestion of 2 (almost) helpful friends, Martin and Paul who insisted that it was a fabulous fun challenge. Having bought it nearly a year ago I was still unable to solve it but had thought I might have worked out a method in bed at night last week.

4x4x3 Mixup plus as it has been for nearly a year!
Just as I finished showing everyone how horrific the twisty puzzle is (they think I might have a small degree of Asperger’s syndrome!!!) I saw out of the corner of my eye that David was removing the 3rd piece from the puzzle and then the last one. My jaw dropped and I blurted out that I hoped he’d been paying attention to how he did it. At this point, his jaw dropped and he said he was unsure if he remembered. OMG!! I nervously laughed and challenged him to put it back together! Quickly before he completely forgot!

By close to the end of the day David had still not managed to put it back together and I began to worry. Whilst I continued with my twisty I began to encourage him more and more earnestly that he really had to manage at least the rotational moves! After encouragement and threats to his physical well-being, he still failed.

Beautiful pieces - no idea what of or how they went together!
I put the twisty down and, between the two of us, we resorted to taking several of the last pieces and seeing how they could fit together, at least theoretically. This proved to be a bit of a problem. Why? Firstly because we(I) were not terribly bright (as usual) and secondly because it had failed to imprint on my consciousness that the assembled cube had a 1x1x2 section missing from an edge. We had found an assembly of the last 3 pieces several times that had an isolated space and discounted it each time because we assumed that having this gap would leave an impossible space.

Partial assembly discounted
Bloody fool had forgotten this!
Finally, it was time for David to head home and another of the ODPs (Gary) decided to take over the challenge. Together we worked on it for another 20 minutes or so before realising the error of our ways and had our fabulous Aha! moment.

It’s good to have clever friends!
In general, I am extremely poor at puzzle assembly and usually resort to Burrtools, but with the TICs, this is not helpful. It’s important to either be good at assembly or attentive to the disassembly method with these puzzles. Having a “friend” take something apart and fail to put it back together was a huge problem which really challenged my rather feeble brain. Thank heavens for Gary this time. I may have to swap my Wednesday ODP for a more able version!

I must also say Thank Heavens for the Internet archive - the ability to go back in time has allowed me to identify the puzzle as Ka'apuni designed by Jos Bergmans (level and made by Brian Menold in November last year. It turned out to be an absolutely fabulous challenge that kept me and several friends going for quite a while. I even learned how to go about assembling from scratch!

4x4x3 Mixup plus - looks innocuous like this
Just a few turns - centres and edges can be swapped
Now back to the mixup cuboid…..having solved the wonderful 3x3 Mixup Ultimate cube (Puzzlemaster link), (PuzzlestoreUK link) last year and even made a solution video of it on my YouTube channel, I had been discussing this sort of puzzle with Martin and Paul and they had both recommended the Mixup plus cuboids as well as the Wormhole puzzles. I placed a nice order with Martin and when they arrived I shied away from the Wormhole puzzles in abject terror! They are twisty puzzles inside of twisty puzzles and I had absolutely no idea how to go about them. Looking at the Mixup plus and thinking back to my simple algorithm for the Ultimate, I decided to have a play with that one. After a quick fiddle to look at possible algorithms, I discovered that I had accidentally scrambled it (whoops) and from then on had no option other than to complete the scramble. Of course, I had not managed to find any suitable useful algorithms but I was hopeful that I might manage it anyway.

For the next two months, I said "whoops" several more times (or words with a slightly stronger meaning). This puzzle was proving a huge challenge and seemed to be beyond me. I was able to use basic techniques from previous puzzles like the edge piece series to make a little headway and, with some intuition, I thought I might get somewhere….

  • White and yellow centres? Check! 
  • Other centres? Check! 
  • Centres in the centre? Check! 
  • Recreate large edge pieces? Erm….sort of! With some sticky out bits...Oh alright! Nope!
  • Recreate little edge pieces? Hell no!
No way on earth was I going to manage that! Too many pieces sticking out at funny angles! Time to think©….nope! not happening! I was at it for months with no progress and eventually put it down. Beaten!     Again!!

Recently, I had been playing with my 4x4 and 6x6 standard cubes as well as the Moyu Wheel of Time cubes and noticed that the technique used for 3cycling the centre pieces could also be used on edge pieces too. This is effectively a corner piece series (a very basic algorithm). I went to bed thinking about this last week and woke up one morning with a real Aha! moment and stuffed the long-abandoned mixup puzzle in my bag. It took me a couple of days and evenings to manoeuvre the cube into a suitable configuration to test my theorem and I realised that most of the first half of the puzzle is solved by intuition and then I was able to prove my dream was correct….almost! My technique (very similar to the Mixup ultimate) worked beautifully for the small edge pieces but the 4 larger ones wouldn’t work. More thought© required. I knew that the CPS was the way to go but I was missing something. Much to the amusement of surgeons and nurses at work, I kept effing and blinding in the coffee room as I continuously broke and remade my previous progress. It took me a couple of days of experiments before I found it.

The Aha! moment was exquisite! So much pain and anguish had gone into it!

Single flipped edge standard 4x4 parity
2 opposite swapped edges - another one
During the final throes of the solution process I did find that the usual 4x4 parities were possible (single flipped edge and/or a pair of swapped edges) but with the shape of the puzzle, it was easy to repair that with standard 4x4 methods. I do wonder whether the 4x3x3 version has these parities and whether other techniques are required? I guess I will need to buy one to find out.

My 2 puzzle friends were, in the end, quite right and helpful - the 4x4x3 Mixup plus cube was a fabulous challenge and I suspect it may well be in my top 10 of the year! Maybe I should go back to the Wormholes and try them? Shudder!

All in all, it is really good to have puzzle friends even if they are not very helpful.

Now I had better get back to the T11, and those Chinese rings from Aaron, and the burrs from Alfons, and.....OMG!

Sunday 4 March 2018

Not Getting Very Far - Some "Rest" Puzzles

Cross in cross
Over the last few weeks I have been struggling with the Popplock T11 - it is one huge heavy honking lump of brass and steel and looks wonderful but it's also one incredibly complex feat of engineering. I have been spending almost every evening playing with it and testing Einstein's Parable of Insanity (which incidentally, may not have come from the great man himself). There is an awful lot to the puzzle and after managing the first step in a very long sequence, I had gotten no further! In the end, I have had to resort to asking my own tamed (but still ferocious) lock expert, Shane Hales for little hints to help me on my way. Despite the depth of my own madness, even I cannot continue doing the same thing more than 2 or 3 hundred times and every now and then I have had to put the bloody thing down (gently because it could take out a floorboard) and play with something else.

Recently Brian Menold released a few new toys and I romped through his site and picked a few that really appealed to me. One of the first that jumped into my shopping cart of its own volition was the Cross in Cross burr designed by the amazing Yavuz Demirrhan (this does remind me that I still have a couple more that I bought from Yavuz to play with). I love Brian's board burrs as I mentioned in a recent post and the one by Yavuz looked fun - Brian said this about it.
"I always try to have a board burr in my updates. While this is not just a board burr, it is a three piece burr within a four piece board burr. I found the assembly of these to be way beyond my ability to memorize the steps."
With that endorsement, how could I resist? It also has the advantage of being simply stunning being made out of Box Elder (burr sticks) and Tigerwood (boards). So in the end, each time I have been forced to put down the Popplock to try and save the last vestiges of my sanity, I have picked up this. The solution is level so not trivial but I would hope that it would not prove too much of a challenge.

The biggest challenge with burrs is not so much finding the path, I find that I get lost in false pathways and it takes me a long time to figure out that I have taken a wrong direction. The Cross in cross starts with only a single move possible but after that, it is easy to head in the wrong direction - the incorrect route is also the easiest path to take and, to my shame, I got fixated on this pathway for 2 nights. The path is only 4 or 5 moves long but it just feels so right! Finally, after that, I gave up on it and found the correct direction and was rewarded with quite a few more steps. The whole thing expands quite a lot and thoughts of lifting the whole central 3 piece burr out appear in my fevered brain but despite looking possible it just never quite happens. Several moves are quite well hidden and need a little thought to find the pathway. Suddenly it clicks and the first 3 pieces come out.

The 3 burr sticks come out first (not as a whole burr)
The board burr remains in a near fully assembled state after the burr sticks are removed. It was a bit of a surprise to me that separating these pieces was another considerable challenge. The boards are a little unstable and can rotate but it is quite easy to hold them in place and investigate further. After another 15 minutes I was rather surprised to see that the boards were all identical - now that is a real touch of design genius!

3 sticks plus 4 identical boards
After separating them all, I expected that I would have to resort to Burrtools for the reassembly. Despite that, I always have a try at doing it by myself and I figured that at the very least I could reassemble the board burr hashtag shape. How hard can it be with 4 identical pieces? Erm!!! It proved quite tough for a poor dim doctor like me! It took me a whole evening in front of the TV with Mrs S and a pair of very sleepy cats before I realised that the beautiful regular pattern that I was trying to make was not possible - one of the identical pieces needed to be inverted and that was the only way they could all be intertwined. Phew! Maybe my dim(mer) switch had been turned up a notch? Having created the board shape, I then surprised myself by easily reassembling the 3 piece burr inside and collapsing it all back to the beginning. This is a TERRIFIC design and beautifully made by Brian. It is great to have in my collection and will look fabulous on display!

Another fabulous puzzle which diverted me from the Popplock was another of the Chinese 99-ring series by the incredible Aaron Wang:

Disordered Chinese Rings
Something looks "not quite right" here
In early February I showed off the fact that I had solved a couple of variants in this series. The Second-order and Third-order Chinese rings were a fun challenge which was related to the standard Chinese rings puzzle but made different and more challenging by the fact that each ring held captive not just the next along rod but the next two (or even three) rods. This meant that a whole lot of thought and planning was required to complete the sequence. The disordered Chinese rings mixed the whole thing up. Looking at the diagram (starting on the left) you can clearly see that the first ring covers one adjacent rod, the next ring covers 2 and the 3rd one covers 3. Seems like a pattern? It would seem so but that's as far as it goes. The fourth one reverts to 1 jump and this does not reach as far along the puzzle as the preceding ring. Let's just say this lack of a sequence, plus the fact that early rings travel further than later ones and also the fact that some rings end together makes this puzzle a huge challenge. It does require planning but there is a whole heap of understanding that goes with it too as it is easy to get to a position where a chunk of the puzzle is released from the shuttle and then no further moves are possible at all except to go back to the beginning.

I think it took me a week to solve this one - I kept channelling my inner Einstein and getting nowhere before the solution hit me like a lightning bolt whilst at work one day. After a night on call, whilst working on emails in my office (I was not fit to be let loose on patients!), I had a sudden epiphany and the whole solution came to me! Luckily I always carry puzzles to work for me and colleagues to play with during a few free moments. 15 minutes later I had this:

This one was great fun
The disorder is really obvious when you try to spread the completed puzzle out. The reassembly is just as much fun. I have done this a few times since to prove to myself that it is not a fluke and I love it. The 3 puzzles as a group are a brilliant set - Thank you very much, Aaron. I will have to get to work on a few more in the 99-ring series soon. These are horrifically complex and even my friend Goetz (who is one of the best at this sort of puzzle in the world) has struggled to do more than a few of them. Periodically, I search his amazing compendium of N-ary type puzzles to see whether he has solved any extra ones in the sequence and to gain some insight into the types of sequences involved (small hint - I never understand his descriptions!!!)

Right! Now I had better get back to the Popplock. I really don't want it unsolved after a year like my T10! Shane! Are you near your email???