Sunday 8 July 2018

Pyrigan's Model Number 360

Pyrigan’s Model No. 360
Hi guys, today I am so so grateful to have yet another interesting post from the Puzzlemad foreign correspondent on a puzzle I have only recently heard about. For some reason, despite being the sucker that writes the on-call rotas for my department, I have found myself having to work 2 weekends in a row. The good weather in the UK has brought out all the usual crackpot behaviour, including climbing things, falling off things, driving too fast and losing control. The emergency department in my hospital is also a regional major trauma centre and thus it seems to become mayhem...especially whilst I am on call! On top of that taking up my time and my sleep, Mrs S has just returned home from visiting the outlaws in Scotland and brought one of those vicious England-hating colds with her which immediately pounced on me. Not only am I on call all hours but I feel like hell at the same time...sigh! Thank heavens for Mike Desilets stepping in to take the pressure off me. Thank heavens also that he has put in a LOT of work to get a fabulous article for you:

Aloha Kākou puzzlers,

I’ve been lying low on the puzzle scene for a little while, but our friend John Partridge has given me cause to whip up this fresh Puzzlemad submission. You remember John, founder and lead designer at Pyrigan & Company? Of course, you do. You may even own No. 808 (Ed - I missed out!), his first major release about a year ago. If you do, then you probably also know by now that he has just released a follow-up puzzle named No. 360. If not, this will be your wake-up call.

No. 360 was released on June 9 and the limited edition of 100 has been selling quite fast. Batches went to the usual retailers in Canada and Europe. The first batch on Pyrigan’s Etsy site sold out by June 20. Puzzlemaster is sold out. At this rate, I’m not sure if it will be available by the time you read this.

As you can see from the pictures, No. 360 is a very attractive metal puzzle machined from T6061 aluminium. It measures 107 x 34 x 34 cm and weighs in at 325 grams. Not insubstantial by any means. It has good heft and feels very solid in the hand. The body of the puzzle is aluminium, but Pyrigan has wisely chosen to plate it with nickel to give it a more lustrous and durable finish. Even though it is strikingly beautiful out of the box, know that as you play it will definitely tarnish in short order. It's not a fault with the puzzle, per se, just an unavoidable result of the oils in one’s skin. I was sensitive to this, but even washing my hands before handling it was not enough. After 30 minutes of play, the finish smudged up nicely. That’s just the nature of it I suppose. It is reversible, however. You can get the original finish back with a little Brasso (just a very light buffing, don’t overdo it!).

Trapped prize
Perhaps the most striking and unique feature of No. 360 are the four circular cut-outs and the turquoise marble trapped in the centre. Although not necessarily associated with the solution (as far as you know) it’s a very attractive design element. Without this feature, it would just be a metal box. But with it, you have an object of beauty apart from the puzzle aspect. It practically begs to be picked up and examined.

A mysterious rune from the ancient world. Or perhaps just the sound of P.
As always, the Pyrigan symbol is etched into the puzzle, this time on one of the ends. John hand-paints the Pyrigan logo on every copy. My last article on Pyrigan had enough going on that I didn’t research or think to ask John about the logo. I did some homework this time though. The Pyrigan symbol is actually the fourteenth letter in the Elder Futhark runic alphabet. It is the sound of the letter p and it also means ‘game,’ from what I can gather. Something about a pear tree too. I can’t figure out exactly what’s going on, but maybe John can fill us in.

The other end.
The puzzle is constructed in two symmetrical parts, the separation of which releases the marble and solves the puzzle.  Like No. 808, this puzzle is of the hidden mechanism take apart type. Based on John’s comments, as well as my own experience, this one is much tougher than the 808. Tolerances are very fine and the mechanism is more complex. Puzzlemaster rate No. 360 a 9 on their peculiar 5-10 scale. I think they have it about right. It might even warrant a 10. On this point, I have to admit that I have yet to solve No. 360. Here at Puzzlemad we almost always solve puzzles before writing about them, for obvious reasons (Ed - blush...not always!). However, exceptions are sometimes made. After many, many hours of toil with No. 360, I believe it is going onto my “long-term effort” shelf, to be taken out periodically and worked on. If I waited to solve it before writing, it could be a very long time indeed. I have stuff that has been in ‘long-term’ for years (Ed - me too), so I thought it best to just get some info out there for the readership before we all turn grey (more grey that is).  

Note the seams.
No. 360 is indeed a very tough nut to crack. The tolerance’s being what they are, there is virtually no movement between the two halves. The marble can be rolled around and you will find a little surprise on it. However, you will likely scuff up the turquoise if you fiddle with it too much. It’s in there tight against the metal. A very minor concern,  but for those wanting to keep their puzzle pristine, worth mentioning. The puzzle provides some feedback. To my ear, there are at least two distinct noises. Something is sliding or rolling (or both) at either end. Although the noise could be a decoy, I highly doubt it in this case. The noise is enough to give you some rudimentary ideas. Naturally, you will try all the standard movements, as I did (Ed - did you submerge it in gin? That often works!). But the mechanism is clearly too complex for this, and more original as well, I can only assume. After I had completely run out of ideas, I turned to the brute force approach. Not literally brute force, but statistical brute force (i.e. if you try enough random movement for long enough, eventually something will happen). Not the most elegant approach I admit! But despite John’s effort to make No. 360 a ‘fair’ puzzle (see his write up here), the clue potential from the feedback was lost on me. With the very tight tolerances, the unsystematic approach may not bear fruit for quite some time. This is too bad because I am insanely curious to see what’s inside. 

To make up for the breach in the Puzzlemad review protocol, I offer the readership another interview with the designer, John Partridge. John is a swell guy and a pleasure to interview. This will hopefully give you more insight into the man, the method, and the inscrutable No. 360. 

Mike: Before we get to Model No. 360, can you fill us in on your personal puzzling over the past few months. Any good discoveries (new or classic), solving triumphs, new interests? In other words, what have you been up to when not working on 360? 
John: Well, in terms of puzzling related stuff, most of what I’ve been up to is on my blog. As you probably noticed, I reproduced some other people’s designs (e.g., Stewart Coffin, Dic Sonneveld), and that’s always a fun way to get the creative juices flowing. These days I am also working on a new puzzle design (it doesn’t have a number yet); frankly, I’m not sure it will even work! I’ve been 3D printing prototypes and it remains very fiddlesome.  I did have a solving triumph a week or so ago - I was able to solve Roger’s R2D2 puzzle. I love his puzzles and solving them always feels great. I also play around with home science kinds of projects. For example, I made a reproduction of the old Atomix toy and I tried my hand at making a Kalliroscope but it needs some refinements. 
Mike: Picking up from where we left off last time, what exactly is the source of your puzzle numbers? First an 808, and now a 360. Are they connected to the mechanism? Can they be taken as clues in some way? 
John: The numbers are totally random, I’m afraid. I heard through a friend that someone claims to have deduced that the number 808 is a clue to solving Model #808. I would love to hear how because it would be very cool if it turns out my subconscious is actually leaking clues! 
Here’s an alternative answer: The numbers are carefully contrived clues of the most devious kind. For example, “808” is displayed prominently on the Joker card found in the popular Bicycle brand playing cards. If you read the history of why it’s there, you will be able to solve my Model #808 with your eyes closed. And “360”, as I’m sure your readers know, is the sum of Euler's totient function φ(x) over the first thirty-four integers. I should think the solution is now obvious. 
Mike: Judging from the relatively short gap between release of the 808 and 360, you must have been able to take advantage of lessons learned from the last effort. That said, the 360 was in some sense under development concurrently with 808, so it probably has a longer timeline than one would suppose. So when did the concept for 360 first come to you, and is the final puzzle the same as your original vision? 
John: You’re right, the #360 design is much older than the #808 design – I think I came up with the #808 in 2014 and the #360 dates back to 1996 or so. Yes, I applied a lot of what I learned from the #808, mainly things about mechanical engineering, how machinists think, and how I as a designer had to be thinking about manufacturing considerations, not just functional requirements. That’s one of the reasons the final version differs as much as it does from the original vision. That’s not a very specific answer, I’m afraid, because I don’t want to give something away! 
Mike: Back in November 2015 you mentioned that you thought the 360 might be your first puzzle to go into production. This obviously didn’t come to pass. What made you shelve the 360 in favor of the 808? 
John: Basically, I was trying to follow the “crawl, walk, run” approach to trying anything completely new. The #808 was my first attempt at “crawling” and is a much simpler mechanism compared to the #360. I hoped that because it was simpler it would be easier to have made, and less expensive too. That last part is important because you never know if a puzzle is going to flop or not and if it was going to be a flop, I didn’t want to have lost a lot of money. 
Shiny and irresistible.
Mike: Can you give us any info on puzzles that inspired the 360, without undue spoilers. If not, we complete understand! 
John: Hmmm. That’s hard to answer without giving too much away. I would say that the whole category of metal puzzles – Wil Strijbos’, Marcel Gillen’s, Rainer Popp’s, Gary Foshee’s, Roger D’s, and there are many others – I just love playing with those puzzles. So my brain kind of marinates in a broth of brilliant puzzle ideas all mixed together until, who knows how, a new idea bubbles up to the top and behold! Inspiration.  
Mike: It was great to get insight on your approach to puzzles and your general aesthetic sense from the recent 360 blog announcement. We all have our sensibilities, and although most everyone in the community strives (rightly) to be exceedingly diplomatic, tolerant, and good-humored, I think there is also value in laying one’s cards on the table. Especially for designers. Anything you care to expand upon, for the historical record? Has your puzzle ethic evolved over the years, and if so how? Have your early puzzle views softened, hardened, or just gone in other directions?  
John: Are you calling me diplomatic?!? Them’s fightin’ words! (Ed - hahaha!) Look, I’m in no position to criticize designers who have dozens if not hundreds of great puzzles to their name when I have come up with, wait for it …, two. We all have personal preferences in music, movies, books, and not surprisingly, puzzles. At the moment I personally don’t care for magnet based mechanisms but I could see how that might change. I ran into a puzzler who keeps a magnetic field viewer handy whenever he goes to puzzle parties so he can quickly figure out what he’s up against. That seems to me to address my concern that magnets make puzzles “unfair” when you don’t know a magnet is inside. Is it worse than holding a puzzle up to the light to see what can be seen through the gaps? Is it worse than X-raying the puzzle to see what’s inside? All I can say is that I don’t like puzzles I have to bang on and I do like puzzles that rattle and give up their secrets incrementally, but that’s just me.  
Mike: Back to the puzzle itself. The inclusion of the ‘marble’ and the four circular cut-outs is a pretty radical (and beautiful) modification from the 3D printed prototype you produced back in 2015. How did this come about? 
John: Thanks! Well, there was always going to be a token of some kind inside the #360 – my intention is to have all my puzzles contain one – so the design modification was simply to make it visible while the puzzle was still unsolved. For some reason I think it makes the puzzle look more intriguing because you can see what the goal is. Anyhow, once I decided it should be visible, I had to decide what material to use and for a while it was going to be a glass marble. As I was poking around eBay looking for glass marbles, I came across ones made from garnet and turquoise and malachite and all kinds of minerals. Eventually I picked turquoise because I thought it would look good with the nickel finish. 
Mike: The 360 was so attractively proportioned, I just had to check on the ratio of the short sections to the long sections along the long axis when closed. As expected, it’s very close to the Golden Ratio. Intentional or intuitional? 
John: I really really wish I could say “intentional”! From experimenting with different proportions I decided I really liked how the puzzle looked when the width was one third of the length. I guess that’s kind of “intuitional” in that it kind of intuitively looked good…? 
Mike: Do you use any formal or informal testing program for the puzzle, getting peer feedback on prototypes or that kind of thing? 
John: Oh yes, I have a very formal testing program with a staff of four. Well, maybe “staff” isn’t the right word. One of the great things about having kids is that until they reach a certain age, they’re basically hostages. “Staff” sounds so officious; let’s go with “hostages”. 
Mike: I spent a good deal of time on No. 360 and could unfortunately make no sense of the sounds and movements which I could clearly hear inside. It seems substantially tougher than the 808. Is there any hint you can give to the frustrated puzzler?
Hint #1: It’s harder than the #808.
Hint #2: The tolerances are tighter on #360 than on the #808. (Actually, that’s not really a hint, is it.)

No. 360 standing tall. Bit of a perspective issue here. The hole is actually dead centre.
Mike: The No. 808 can truly be considered a smash success, selling out in very short order. I don’t know the current status of No. 360, but I would expect a similar result. This must be very gratifying given the great deal of effort you put in. I know you have your family’s support for your puzzle work, but still, this must be some form of vindication. Minimally, there should be absolutely no eye-rolling in the Partridge house when dad gets into mad scientist mode and retires to the laboratory. True or false? 
John: I’m very lucky that way. The family thinks it’s great that once or twice a year the playroom gets overrun with boxes, metal parts, paint, paint remover, and loud noises. If I were into model ship building I think they would be equally supportive; it just so happens that puzzles are my thing. It’s true, we were all very surprised by how popular the #808 turned out to be. We’re hoping people enjoy the #360 just as much. 
Mike: Now for the inevitable look-ahead. No. 360 is barely out of the gates, so I apologize for asking so soon, but what’s in the works? No. 518, No. 921, or something unheard-of? Or are you going to taking a well-earned breather perhaps? 
John: Right now I’m really unsure on the design of my next puzzle. I’ve sold a little under half of my #360 stock so that will keep me busy for a bit. When I get some inspiration I’d really like to try my hand at a sequential discovery puzzle (“I’m trying to think but nothing’s happening!” – Curly). Model #921 is really tempting but I think it’s going to be hard to get it to work reliably. Model #518 is an even older design than the #360 but I worry it will be super expensive to fabricate. Plus there are two more designs that don’t have numbers yet so I guess the short answer is, “I have no idea!”. 
Mike: Finally, thank you, from the puzzle community for the tedious hand-painting of the Pyrigan logo. You’ve mentioned it more than once on the blog, so I know it’s no trivial matter. It truly does add that final bit of polish to an otherwise beautiful creation. Anyway, it does not go unnoticed, I assure you. 
John: You’re very kind! I whine too much about it but here’s what’s going on. The #808’s are bead blasted before they’re anodized. That bead blasting gives them a beautiful matte finish but unfortunately the red Testor’s enamel I use will simply not let go of it. It drove me nuts as you have read. Well, 106 of the #808’s later, lesson learned, right? I figured that nickel-plated aluminum will provide a really smooth surface that nothing would stick to. Boy was I wrong. There are microscopic little grooves left behind from the hand-buffing the machine shop provides and even after nickel-plating, it turns out those grooves really like paint. Aargh! Maybe I’ll make my next puzzle out of glass.
Thanks so much for that interview John, we all really appreciate your candour and good humour (Ed - correct spelling added!). Good luck with current and future endeavours (Ed - sigh and again!). If and when No. xxx is released, I will surely hound you for another interview to keep this thing going. 

That’s it for this issue folks. But before we go, I want to reiterate something John mentioned above. Namely, that Pyrigan occasionally makes and sells reproductions of certain selected classic puzzles. The most recent was Stewart Coffin’s #167 “Cruiser” packing puzzle, produced with Mr Coffin’s permission of course. I have a copy and it’s a fantastic little puzzle, especially for the price.  John’s version is in laser-cut acrylic with nice vibrant colours. I still love my faded, crumbly vintage plastic puzzles, but these modern acrylics are really slick.  And there can never be enough copies of Coffin classics. Back to you Kevin...

Thank you so much, my friend! I am looking forward to future articles from you - they always add something new for me as well as my regular readers. This has been edited and is all set to go live whilst I am working. Please if anyone has any comments for Mike then feel free to leave a comment below or contact me using my contact page. Any other authors are welcome to make guest posts if you have anything interesting to tell the puzzlers of the world.

Hopefully I will get more sleep than I did last Friday!!!!


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  2. Mike, thank you for such a flattering review! I hope that when you do solve the puzzle, you won't have to issue a full retraction. ;)

    Kevin, thanks for running the review and the interview on your blog. I've enjoyed reading it for quite a while and am very jealous of your collection. You have some beautiful puzzles!