Sunday 24 June 2018

Never Look a Gift Unicorn in the Mouth

Unicorn Cube
Having spent a week or so with wire and sequential discovery puzzles (with cavities), I decided it was time to move to something different. Yep, time for a twisty puzzle! I have bought a bunch of new MF8 twisties recently from the HKnowstore (Martin seems to struggle to obtain a stock of MF8 puzzles even if he does have pretty much everything else). If you are in the US then PuzzleMaster have the Crazy version of this which I have shied away from so far because it looks so horrific!

I love twisty puzzles that are an extension of existing standard puzzles. This one, the Unicorn cube, consists of a standard 3x3 Rubik cube with additional cuts to allow the 4 diagonally opposite corners to rotate. The effect of this is to split all the edges in two and two mobilise small triangles from the centres:

One face turned and one corner turned
This could get tough!
It turns fairly well but catches a little as one might expect for a puzzle with so many moving pieces. The important thing to remember when scrambling it is that initially at least, the faces should only be turned through 180º. As you can see above after a 90º turn the splits in the edges don't line up and limit the corner turns. Only after a whole lot of 180º turns interspersed with corner turns, should the standard 3x3 scramble be made. After that, it is worthwhile creating lined up corners and doing further corner turns. After a few minutes one ends up with something moderately frightening:

Looks fun?
I was determined (as I usually am) to solve this one without assistance and watched on the Puzzle photography Facebook group as well as the Twisty puzzles forum as people reported their successes and difficulties but I was careful not to read any solution methods or algorithms. There did appear to be a number of different approaches.

For me, it seemed that the best thing to start with was to reassemble the edges just as I would do when solving a 4x4 cube. This proved only a little awkward and involved nothing more than the edge piece series - a very basic 4 move sequence. After storing all of the assembled edges in unused slots, I was left with just 3 to go and a problem...two of them were facing the wrong way around and blocked any attempt to rotate that corner. Stuck already! One feature of the edge piece series is that it cycles 3 edges and flips one over so, in my infinite dimness, I tried for half an hour to get them to flip into a position that would allow me to no avail. It eventually occurred to me to flip one of the stored assembled edges and then continue. Not too much trouble but a nice little challenge so far.

At this point, I had no idea how I was going to solve the little centre triangles but I was hoping for a brainwave later on. Next step for me was a 3x3 solve. No problem at all - I usually take about 45-60 seconds to solve a 3x3 (very very slow by speedcuber standards but I cannot be bothered practising or learning extra algorithms to get faster). I thought that I was on to a winning technique when I was hit with another problem. This was what the guys had been referring to as the Unicorn cube parity:

Single rotated corner
In the picture above I have recreated the Unicorn parity on a solved cube - when I did it the first time, the little triangles were also scrambled. A single rotated corner is an impossibility in a standard Rubik cube unless you have forcibly twisted a piece in place. This must be caused by an incorrect reassembly of the edges but I did not know of any way to fix it without scrambling the cube. Here I got stuck for a week! I started trying all sorts of corner movements and rotations using my standard 3x3 methods which of course did not work. I should have known they wouldn't work as standard 3x3 methods would never produce this issue. I watched Pete (the geek) report his success with jealousy and shortly afterwards, whilst just playing idly I discovered the solution! Fixing that issue was EASY - it did not require any algorithms at all! All that is needed is an intuitive sequence of moves to separate the matched edges, turn the corner and reassemble them. Yessss! I was down to my final challenge:

How hard can this be?
All that was left for me to do was move the small triangles around...preferably without scrambling what I had. Surely that couldn't be hard? I was assured by Pete that it was definitely possible and fairly easy but Pete is a twisty genius and I am not terribly bright! Stuck again!

I was stuck like that for a few days when another brainwave struck me (that makes two in a fortnight!) There is a nice little algorithm to rotate centres of cubes through 180º. This is often used when solving Supercubes (i.e. puzzles in which the centres have an orientation). A few setup moves and numerous uses of this algorithm and it was solved. Only 2 weeks of work! Not bad for a beginner!

At this point, I had a look at methods that other puzzlers had described. I think that my method is by far the simplest approach.

This cube is definitely worth a place in any puzzler's collection. It really doesn't need a lot more than standard 3x3 methods with a bit of intuition and thought. The only extra algorithm used was that required for the rotation of the centres which is only 4 move sequence done 5 times. I think that the crazy version is going to be much tougher and will need to screw my courage to the sticking place before I attempt it.

Sunday 17 June 2018

Et tu Juno?

Or even Junichi and Yukari wind me up!

The Heart Case - Mrs S lurved this one!
I was delighted to receive a nice package from Australia earlier this week after watching the very quick passage halfway around the world. It moved 20,000km very fast and then went through Her majesty's excise and customs department VERY slowly. In fact, it seemed to go through them twice before I was presented with my ransom. It finally arrived just after I read on Goetz' site (and in a nice email from him) about his enjoyment of the puzzles he bought from Junichi and Yukari Yananose's Pluredro shop.

I am sure that you are all wondering why I have slipped into French for the title of today's post but rest assured that I am not aiming to make this a french blog (my French is very poor to my eternal shame). My title is actually Latin!!! Those few words were uttered by Julius Caesar to Marcus Brutus in Shakespeare's play when Caesar realised he had been betrayed by a friend. When I was emailing Yukari about the purchase and delivery of these puzzles part of the conversation ended up with a cryptic message that there was something very special specifically for me in the Heart case. I was intrigued but not sure what to expect. Little did I realise that the delightful Japanese cum Australian couple would be poking me and laughing at me!

In the package were two of Juno's most recent creations - they looked stunning when announced on their blog and I just couldn't resist - one of them was the third in the suits series which has begun with the Diamond case and the Club case (both reviewed here - remember the title of that post!). Mrs S has been in a very good mood recently because I bribed her for her birthday! Let us just say that her expensive handbag collection increased by 3 and my bank balance went into freefall for her birthday and she will not be able to complain about my puzzle purchases for a considerable period of time (like maybe a year!!)

She was actually quite pleased to see the heart case and wondered whether I had bought it for her. I quickly agreed that it was all hers but I would look after it for her. It is a stunning piece made from Rosewood, Jarrah and Koto and measures 86 x 83 x 56mm (so a nice hand filling size). I was quite intrigued to find out what was inside that was going to be a nice surprise for me so this was the puzzle I started on. Initially, nothing seems to be possible and I had to examine it more closely. In the process of doing so, I was able to make something begin to happen and a pathway of moves was begun. After about 5 minutes I seemed to have made a nice sequence of moves and then no more. At that point more was visible inside and one little feature caused an Aha! moment and I made one final move before it was open. I had this:

The lid off and another heart with Juno's stamp on it
I was very pleased - I am not very good at "cases" and was pleased that this one was solved. It did explain the rather funny cartoon sequence that Yukari had drawn for their site. It was bedtime and off we went with Mrs S pleased with her handbags and the heart-shaped puzzle.

Quite a deep puzzle
I awoke the following morning just wondering whether I had missed something! There was supposed to be something particular for me inside and unless Juno was giving me his heart (unlikely I hope) I had not found it. Then it occurred to me that the puzzle was quite thick and the mechanism I had seen did not use much of that thickness. Then I realised there was something else under the lid that I had not used during my solution...Yes, you idiot, you have NOT solved it! Immediately after breakfast yesterday (after going to the gym with Mrs S) I went back to my intriguing puzzle and explored further. This puzzle is a "sequential discovery puzzle" as it has tools to use! Using the tools for a bit revealed the true solution to the heart case and then all was clear to me. It also made me roar with laughter...

Here is the real cavity of the "sequential discovery puzzle"
The reason for my laughter and the Shakespeare quote as my title? I am now quite famous for claiming that I "don't collect boxes" and many people on Facebook have pulled me up on it. I even claimed in my review of the Diamond and Heart cases that I had really tried to maintain my principles but Allard forced me to break them. At the end of that post, in the comments, my friend George Bell (brilliant puzzler and mathematician) had left a supportive comment confirming my feelings:
"Lol! It's not a box if you can't fit a loaf of bread inside!"
I definitely could not fit a loaf of bread in any of these cavities and hence they are NOT boxes but this time Juno had thought of a way to defeat me again. The "special something" that was in the puzzle cavity was revealed:

Not only a loaf of bread but a fully laden hotdog too!
A rather wild looking George has been twisted into saying something that I don't really want to hear! I could not believe what I was seeing (they had been packed quite well so they did not rattle around and give me a clue that there was a second cavity). I thought that Juno had been on my side calling these puzzles 'cases' and not boxes but he has betrayed me! LOL! I have to repeat:
"et tu Juno?"

(Whilst you are following links, you should visit George's Etsy store. I have played with his Housing crunch puzzle as a prototype as well as the final version and can confirm that it is fabulous. The peg solitaire also looks very interesting and I will need to get a copy of that for myself soon)

Quartet Box

Quartet Box - Yes, a box! Sob!
Next up I have to discuss the Quartet box. This was also released recently by Juno and Yukari and I could not resist it. It's a definite box, so why couldn't I resist it? Firstly, the Ixia box is still beating me and I needed another with these wonderful gears on them...maybe it would help? Secondly, the description said that it took six months to make and looking at it, that implies that there must be something spectacularly complex inside. Finally the description sort of implied that it was sequential discovery and I certainly DO  collect that sort of puzzle. Plus of course, I feel the need to support my favourite 2 Japanese Australians!

Taking this one out of the packaging actually made me gasp aloud! It is simply gorgeous! The colours are fabulous and it immediately becomes apparent that this is a rather complex construction. It is made from Burmese Teak, Jarrah, Koto, eight species of timber for the gears, metal parts and magnets. It is a nice size at 98 x 98 x 58mm. Having recovered from my shock at the contents of the Heart case I moved on to exploring this one.

The gears all turn and interact as you would expect except there is a sensation of magnets taking hold occasionally as you turn them. As I moved things around I pushed and pulled at the lid and of course, nothing happened. I felt the urge to see what was underneath the gears - this may have been a mistake:

Gears off and I was none the wiser
The gears are held on with magnets in the centre and the circular track in the lid holds a little pin. Again, it is not clear what this pin does. I put them all back (randomly because I had not taken a picture first - yes I know...I am not terribly bright). Nothing appeared to have changed but also I was no further forward. Time to investigate other facets of the construction then. The box walls were not solid like the other puzzles I have from Juno; they appear to be created like a brick wall with overlapping sticks and this makes the puzzle just a little bit "squishy". It is an odd sensation playing with a squishy puzzle box and not immediately obvious why. There MUST be a reason for it but for the life of me I could not work out what it was:

Side details
Whilst watching a movie with Mrs S who was pleased that my current puzzles don't jingle ( I have still not solved all of the new wire ones from Jean Claude and Wil). I noticed a little something during my play which led to a further play and then some movement. I wasn't getting any further and decided to move the gears around a bit and try my initial moves again. After a lot of moving "stuff" around something really really surprising happened! I have NEVER seen a box do that before! The move that occurred was astonishing and even Mrs S showed mild interest when I showed her. At this point, the lid had detached from the box but would only lift a tiny bit. Something was holding it on. I was completely bemused by all the movements that had occurred so far and this led me to try an even stranger idea...and it worked! The lid moved more and raised off the puzzle. I had a cavity:

Mechanism carefully hidden!
I was very pleased with myself but something was nagging at me...where was Juno's stamp? Looking at the lid of the puzzle there was an obvious further step to be done but no obvious way to achieve it. I tried using one of the gears but that was not going to work and I obviously needed a new tool. Here I got stuck for quite a while before remembering something that Goetz had written on his site about these puzzles. I tried something new and nearly dropped the puzzle! If the movements before had been unusual then this was simply astounding! A tool was available but not reachable so...try something else/different? Aha!!! Even the tool is beautifully made! Finally, I was able to see the true cavity of the puzzle and Juno's branded mark and a little note:

Thank you for the message
I have opened and closed it a few times and have yet to completely understand the gear section of the puzzle - there is quite a lot to explore and understand with this puzzle.

This puzzle is not cheap at £270 but let me say that it is well worth every single penny! The workmanship is amazing and the construction is totally unique. It looks and feels gorgeous and has a solution sequence that is amazing and fun. I absolutely love it! This was very difficult to make and I suspect will not be available again, so go and get one whilst stocks last - you will NOT regret it.

Are things really that bad?

I love receiving emails from you and welcome them via my contact page (or email kevin@the website). I was delighted to hear from Asher who questioned whether all is Ok between myself and the present wife (she IS doing Ok for a first wife!) and made some suggestions for me. I have to say thank you so much, Ash, for your contact AND your concern and also for suggesting that I try not to put myself down so much. Let me try and explain to him and you a little about me. I don't often do personal stuff but I feel a public reply may help.

Mrs S and I have been together for 28 years and married for 24 of them (as of July). I have to apologise to everyone (and her) if they feel that I have aired our "issues" on this blog - we actually don't have any - the angry violent Mrs S is all a charade for your entertainment! We are very happily married despite the duration and my terrible habit of filling the house with toys and making jingling noises all the time when she wants to watch TV. I love it that she gets so excited about shoes, handbags and jewellery and I encourage her to indulge herself or I indulge her myself as I enjoy them too. She actually enjoys my hobby even if she doesn't participate as long as I don't clutter up the house. We are very playful both together and apart and it has been commented by others who meet us for the first time that our banter is hilarious. The taking the p!$$ out of each other is all part of the fun - we both give as good as we get and have a lot of fun in the process. I really wouldn't be publishing stuff on my website if I wasn't happy for her to see it. In fact, she has actually suggested things to put on the site a few times. We both have different interests but are delighted to support each other in those. I tell her frequently that my habit is much safer than drink, drugs or a motorbike, much more acceptable than gambling or getting a girlfriend (girls tend to run away from me for some reason!) and this hobby keeps me available to her much more than if I took up golf or sports car racing. To that, she has to grudgingly agree!

Ash also commented that I should not put myself down so much. Yes, I am aware that I am a senior doctor and work in a major UK teaching hospital so I really cannot be as dim as I claim! For me, this is all a wonderful piece of fun! I am a 50-year-old (and a bit) man who spends most of his spare time playing with toys and then writing about them online. I am basically a very old kid at heart whose hobby is TOYS! I have to say that I love what I do but do find the whole thing rather hilarious. My solution success rate is based purely on trying sooooo many puzzles and playing for so long that the solution eventually just happens (I have been working on a few of them for over 5 years!) I am quite good at disentanglement puzzles now, but still feel like a beginner at many puzzles (Yes, Derek, I am still a newbie!). To all my readers, please take my writing as a big dose of fun and humour, as it is intended. Enjoy your lives as I do and enjoy your families alongside the toys (just as I do).

Sunday 10 June 2018

Jean Claude Invents a New Sub-genre

A whole new bunch of wire puzzles
Over the last year, a number of my email conversations with Goetz has ended up with the 2 of us discussing the fact that we often seem to struggle with the reassembly of wire (+/- string) disentanglement puzzles. Goetz several times used the term "entanglement puzzle" to describe a puzzle that has more of the challenge when trying to put them back together. We both noticed this phenomenon with a number of the puzzle designs from Aaron Wang and I think that Jean Claude Constantin might well have taken this to another level!

The group photo above is a bunch of the recent designs from JCC which he made for my wonderful friend and puzzle pusher, Wil Strijbos. These puzzles are mostly prototypes but if they are enjoyed by the few people Wil has sold them to (including me and Allard) then they will be made available in larger numbers for Wil to sell. I don't have names for them and so have named them in descriptive terms. The one feature they all share in common is the use of the U piece (and sometimes two of them). This U piece is a very interesting topological shape and allows for some incredibly interesting moves - to me, it almost acts like a Möbius strip providing a sort of continuous surface to play with and makes the solution of many of these very tough. They vary considerably in their difficulty level and quite a few of them seem to be very easy to disassemble and VERY tough to put back together - hence, as Goetz has stated before, some of these are better named as "Entanglement puzzles". Needless to say, Mrs S has been distinctly unimpressed at the amount of jingling that has emanated from me in the evenings and also has complained at the creative use of swear words whilst watching TV in the evenings.

The imaginatively named O-U-Rod!
All of these puzzles are beautifully made out of very heavy gauge anodised steel wire/rods and will stand up to a beating if you should happen to give one to an orthopaedic surgeon. I started with this one (O-U-Rod) and solved it pretty quickly. It is a very nice little sequence of moves that are really quite unexpected but not tough. It took me about 5 minutes to take it apart and after leaving the pieces for a while, about the same to put back together. This is a suitable puzzle for a beginner but also good for experienced wire puzzlers because of the unusual moves.

A perfect starter puzzle
I did hope that the rest would be a bit more challenging and I wasn't disappointed!

 My second puzzle (attempted immediately after the first one) came as a bit of a shock! A little casual exploration (basically fiddling with it and not paying too much attention) revealed that there a few new moves that can be made with the interlinked chain and these moves can get quite confusing rather quickly. Again, I took it apart in a fairly short period of time...about 15 minutes, but in doing so, had no real idea of how I had done it. Note to self.....
"Always pay attention when taking puzzles apart! Especially when they don't come with solutions".
I had these pieces in my hands and only a small idea of the final position when they separated. I laid them down on the sleeping cat and admired my enormous if inadvertent, skills.

More complex pieces mean more complex assembly
OK...after 15 minutes, it was time to put it back to the beginning. Except I couldn't do it! The interesting possibilities did lead to an assembly of sorts but the ring and chain were inverted in the U and this was not hard to take back apart. Everything I tried failed and a little panic crept in. Mrs S laughed at me and told me that my "Plug face" was being revealed. In the end, I had to go to bed with this in pieces and come back to it another day! I hate doing that because the longer I leave it the less chance of success. After work the following day, I picked it up and failed many times. It looks so easy and really didn't take long to disassemble! It took the whole evening that day to get it done...PHEW! That is a very sweet puzzle with some very unintuitive moves and a hugely challenging entanglement phase.

 My goodness! My naming skills are incredible! This was my third puzzle from the batch. It has string. String means danger! Beware of the string will hurt your head and may even hurt your ego!

The O-U-Oval-String is another simple construction but does not come apart easily. There are quite a few moves in the sequence and these moves are very hard to remember. I most definitely attempted to concentrate on the sequence very hard whilst I took it apart. BUT this is a really difficult thing to do. I had no real technique for the disentanglement and so just tried lots and lots of different moves (some of which involved multiple loops of the string). As is usual for me being a true professional at these, it suddenly fell apart in my hands:

I have no idea how I did this!
The disassembly was slightly longer here but still only about ½ an hour. The reassembly was another matter entirely! There are a LOT of things you can do with these pieces and I think I did ALL of them many times before I had a fantastic Aha! moment. It was ecstasy - only a puzzle but the pleasure and relief I got from putting it back together was incredible. I would suggest this is not for beginners but any decent puzzler will love this one.

The final one today is the Spiral-U-U which looks pretty simple but really isn't. I left this one a bit because it is particularly jingly and I didn't want to anger Mrs S any more than I had earlier after Big Steve's latest puzzle arrived (see my New arrivals page) and really pissed her off! The combination of two of the Möbius like U shapes as well as a spiral actually made this one a serious challenge to take apart. It took me a couple of evenings and a good burn from the laser burning stare. As usual, there are a fair number of very subtle moves that need to be done and as usual, I had no idea how it happened. I suddenly had 3 pieces in my hands and yet again no idea how.

It looks so easy
This puzzle remains in pieces! I have tried to put it back together for several days now and am no further forward than the first time. Very deceptive - it is a medium disentanglement puzzle and a VERY tough entanglement puzzle. I will keep at it but I may end up leaving this in pieces because Wil NEVER EVER gives solutions. Don't even ask for one as it will end badly.

I will write about the others in a later blog post and hopefully even solve them all. At least one of the other string puzzles is proving a real challenge to take apart.

Sunday 3 June 2018

The Stickman Hexagram Box

The Stickman Hexagram Box (number 33)

Rob Yarger has always released his boxes by randomly picking names from his subscriber list and offering the lucky winners the chance to buy his latest offering. He has thought for a little while that this may be unfair and so, starting with the last box, he moved to a first come first served method to allow all-comers a chance of buying if you are on his mailing list. The other big advantage of the new system is that he is no longer kept waiting and out of pocket whilst collectors take time to reply to his offer. However, some collectors have thought the new system is just as unfair due to the vagaries of time-zones meaning that boxes are sold out before they wake up in the morning.

Unfortunately for Rob, there is no truly fair way of doing this.  I personally prefer his original approach - the random drawing allows for true collectors to get a chance without worrying about being asleep. I would prefer that Rob actually control the sale personally so certain people who know him very well and have collected for years do not miss out. I know it is biased that way but Rob should be able to treat his friends special if he chooses. I am not close enough to get special treatment but I think there are some who should get it.

The Stickman Hexagram Box was released this new way and went on sale at about 8am UK time a few weeks ago. I had just put in a Spinal anaesthetic and done a Lumbar plexus block (don't follow those links if you are squeamish) on a patient and positioned her for a Total hip replacement when the phone on the work surface vibrated. I looked up to see the notification on my phone and grinned thinking I had got an offer and had plenty of time. The sedation infusion was started and we went from the anaesthetic room into the OR. Having re-established my monitoring and done our WHO checks (it's mandatory!) I had a moment to look at my phone to see what was on offer before writing the notes. Hmm! Looked nice and I clicked to look at the details. OMG! nearly sold out already. Click click clickety click and Phew! I was several hundred $$ lighter. Thank heavens for mobile phones!

I duly received a tracking number and happily watched it move across the USA and then over to the UK. Then it just stopped moving - held by customs, released and then held again whilst they thought some more about how much ransom to charge me! After a week of fear, it began its'  journey to Sheffield and I held my breath when it's journey to me suddenly changed to address not known! Aaargh! The UK side of the delivery was left to Parcel-farce and despite my having lived here for over 15 years and received deliveries from them throughout that time, they seemed to have forgotten where my house was. The following day after my missed delivery, I phoned the local offices and let them have a piece of my mind. I was informed that the reason for the inability to deliver was that there was no house number on the package and they didn't know which house it should go to. I informed them of the number and they assured me it would arrive the following day....It did not arrive despite me waiting in for it. Very odd! Even more odd when the tracking said that they had tried to deliver it and there was no one in. The instructions were to go to the local post office to pick it up (and pay a fee too).  Sigh! At 5pm I finally held a box that most certainly DID have the house number on it in 2 places! I hope that your deliveries are less fraught than mine are.

The Hexagram box is limited to 40 copies (including some in a "lumpy" finish) and is back to the Stickman roots requiring only a few steps to reveal the inner compartment. It is somewhat smaller than the recent boxes but absolutely stunning with 2 colours of wood and a with each face being an inverse of the other.

I am not very good with boxes - I cannot say that I never buy them but I am very selective which I buy (this is more to try and preserve my finances than for any other reason). There are just 4 moves to find the compartment and despite this, I think I took about an hour to open it. It is a rather nice sequence and at least 2 of those moves were very unexpected to me.

Very clever - I love the branded motif.
I am aware that a few well-known collectors missed out on this and I am truly sad about that. I hope they find a way to add it to their collections.