Sunday 14 October 2018

Shane Starts a Fire in my Brain!

Haleslock 5 - The Firestarter
Please excuse me if I am less coherent than normal - yesterday I spent 10 hours writing the consultant on call rotas for our department and it included the Xmas and New year period. Jaded is a fairly good way to describe me just now and it looks like I will be working on Xmas day  😢! At least today I now finally get to write my review of the wonderful Haleslock #5 aka the Firestarter.

Shane produced this rather complex construction at the same time as he did the 2 others that he was commissioned to produce for the IPP exchange. I picked my copy up at the last MPP at the beginning of September (he also made me some extra keys for my fancy secure door locks - did you know that he is a Master Locksmith?). I set to on this each evening after work whilst watching TV and it has taken me up until this week to finally solve it and then an extra week to understand it.

The lock consists of an unusual design of shackle held within a lump of metal. The key is provided attached to a small sprung ring around the shackle. The instructions are:
1. Open the lock
2. Retrieve the ring
3. Find Shane’s signature
There should not be any random movements and especially no hitting or other force can be used. The hint is to use the shape of the lock to solve it and also to bear in mind the name…“Firestarter”.

It is a nice size - fits in the palm and clenched fist and is pretty damned heavy giving a hint at the solidity of the lock. This must have taken a fairly solid (?expensive) bit of equipment to modify. There were only a limited number available, some direct from Shane and the rest from the usual suppliers of puzzle locks. as far as I know, none remain for sale.

In my initial investigation, I started by flipping the plastic cap off and could not see a keyway until I realised that the top of the lock had a disk which could rotate and after a little fiddling with my fingernail I had the slot lined up with the keyway. Yes I know it’s not going to work but it sort of is the law that you at least have to try and open the lock with the key:

Well, that didn't go very well, did it?
Yes! You guessed it…not only does the key not work - it won't even go into the keyway! Shane has doctored it and left a pin (at least one) blocking the keyway. It can be seen if you peer inside:

There's a steel pin in the way!
And here I got stuck! For weeks! I tried turning it in multiple different directions. I tried doing it upside down - that’s the lock, not me! I tried putting it on a surface lengthways and spinning it. That earned me a sharp rebuke from “she who must be feared” - she really did not want any scratches on our granite work surface and certainly did not want a heavy solid lump being spun on her glass dining table above our high gloss kitchen tiles! Silly me! Needless to say, it didn't work anyway! Shane's not going to make it easy for us. Now, I have a problem with puzzle locks...I don't really understand much about how locks work and so if some bright spark modifies one to make it not work properly then I really struggle to understand how I am going to get around that. The lock that Shane has used is so different from anything that I have seen before that I knew I would have difficulty. Still...I like a challenge!

Gradually, I heard from other puzzlers who solved their copies (Goetz solved his copy pretty fast but he’s a genius as we all know). Then Allard contacted me and let me know that he had solved his and then wrote his review. This just convinced me even more that I am not terribly bright! Shane taunted me occasionally and even suggested I watch his solution video but I resisted! Even if I am not very clever, I still prefer to work at a puzzle for as long as it takes (even if it is months or years) and I kept at it. One of his comments was to encourage me to think about the name “Firestarter”. Do you think that is helpful? No! Neither did I! I spent a few days flipping the cap off and trying to use it like a zippo lighter and of course, this did absolutely nothing apart from to make me look very stupid in front of Mrs S. I did discover that the shackle can turn inside the casing but no matter how quickly I turned it, it also wasn't helpful in opening the damned lock!

It had been a month and I had played with a few other puzzles (and reviewed them) having run out of ideas for Haleslock 5. Allard’s review forced me to pick it up again and in desperation, I thought long and deeply about the name. I fiddled around a bit and tried some new movements based on a sneaky idea and suddenly the key was in the lock!

How did I manage that?
Quite shocked and not very sure how I had done that, I took it out and picked it up to look inside the keyway. I was none the wiser! The pin appeared to be still blocking the entrance and, you guessed it, the key also wouldn't go inside again! What the hell? I tried the movements again and nope! No luck this time. Again, being "a bear of very little brain", I decided to try those movements many many more times much to the annoyance of she who was trying to watch TV! AHA! YES! The key slipped inside again and this time I think I knew how. Time to turn the key. Don't be stupid, of course that's never going to work - so I tried it anyway and...nope! It wouldn't move. He’s a sneaky bastard that Shane!

I fiddled a bit with the puzzle in this state and for no apparent reason the key turned - I had absolutely no idea how I achieved it but I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. Time to move to the next step. I already knew from Allard’s article that the core of the lock could be pulled out of the casing and so I did just that. Yes! It pulled outwards! I had SOLVED IT! Errr, no wait, it would only come part way out! There were some very choice words uttered at that point which involved Shane and his parentage!

Damn that man! Just as I thought I had beaten it!
The ring is still trapped
At this point, a couple of other discoveries occur. One that just happens to surprise you and another that requires you to explore. Once both discoveries have been made then it is a matter of putting 2 together with 2! I expected 5 but for once I had 4:

Over 4 weeks to solve it! That is one tremendous puzzle!
Having gotten it apart, the ring comes off and Shane’s signature is clearly visible inside. At this point, I revealed how dim I was! Yes, I reset the locking mechanism with it in the disassembled position. This meant that a) I could not reassemble the puzzle and b) I had to solve it again without the benefit of the assembled shape to help with the various moves. Another half hour of vigorous swearing and it was finally back together.

I have solved it numerous times and now understand almost all of the mechanism - it is unbelievably clever and I was tempted to completely disassemble it to actually see how he had made the modifications. There are some stories of people doing this and finding themselves with rather a lot of pieces! Shane gently advised against doing that and if he advises something then I take his word for it - it remains fully assembled.

I have all of the Haleslocks (and his other puzzles) that Shane has produced and this is by far the best of the Haleslocks - the sheer complexity of the modifications and the skill in producing such a beautifully made puzzle is breathtaking. If you get a chance to buy one or borrow one to play with then jump at the chance.

I cannot wait to see what he does next - he is qualified as a Master Carpenter and also a Master Locksmith. I would say that he has qualified as a Master Puzzle maker too! Well done mate! I can't wait to see what you do next.


  1. There is a solution video?
    I received my copy this week and "solved" it in about an hour. Actually, I "disassembled" it in about an hour. I know that in the puzzle world a puzzle isn't really "solved" until you know exactly what you are doing to get it both apart and then back together again. At this time, I still don't know exactly how the mechanism works. I have assembled and disassembled it 6 or 7 times now, but still haven't figured out exactly what's going on inside to make the solution possible.

    1. Shane has made s personal copy of the solution video but not posted it on line. It is only made of someone were to have trouble after a long time trying. There is nothing that shows the mechanism but it is not hugely complex an idea but in metal has been beautifully produced and only works with the exact correct movements.

      Well done solving it so quickly!