Sunday 25 November 2018

Packing In Them Puzzles!

Pin Block Case
Just a short post today - I have had a calamity aka explosion with a twisty puzzle and have completely frazzled my nerves trying to reassemble the damn thing whilst a cat keeps jumping on my lap and playing with the pieces! After an hour of working on it, I am almost incoherent with exasperation.

Last year I missed out on the Pin Block Case which Eric had made in rather exotic woods but was very pleased to see that he was bringing it back as an Artisan puzzle and that it would be in stock for a long time now. The new version is made of less precious woods but is far from a mundane puzzle. It is made from Maple and Walnut and has all the hallmarks of Eric's wonderful workmanship. The joints are perfect and all the chamfering makes the box lovely to pick up and hold. I picked this up at the same time as a few other toys and had a little play straight away.

The quality is quickly revealed when you let 2 of the walnut pieces sink into the back of the case and it slowly glides into place as the air is displaced from behind them. There is something really quite magical about that aspect of these puzzles. I showed just that to a couple of orthopaedic colleagues and they really appreciated the precision. The initial exploration quickly reveals that 3 of the 4 identical pinned blocks can easily fit into the case and the 4th usually seems to end up unable to sink in place:

Not quite right!
This puzzle requires a bit of thought - there is no point in trying to pack the pieces inside as one would a conventional packing puzzle. This requires thought and planning. Even though I am not good at the t-word I did not really struggle too much. About 10 minutes was all that I required to produce a rather attractive photo:

Brilliantly clever and perfect for non-puzzlers
Poor David!
I love these packing type puzzles that don't have too many pieces - they are perfect for beginners/non-puzzlers and experts alike. Of course, I took this to work to torture a few people. David, a regular ODP (anaesthetic assistant) of mine, is a regular victim for me and I am starting to worry whether working with me is good for his health. He seems to start to tremble whenever he sees me! I gave him this whilst I was doing a short(ish) case and he took it away for over an hour and failed to solve it despite me taunting him every 15 minutes or so. At the end of the theatre list, I took it away with him muttering to himself and promising never to work with me again. Needless to say, he doesn't get much say in the matter and I tortured him again a week later and after failing that I did it yet again last Friday. This time after telling him not to try the same thing again and again, he suddenly came back to see me with a very smug look on his face. Yep! Perfect for non-puzzlers. A couple of the girls in the operating theatre wanted to play - they all failed over a 20 minute period but seemed to delight in it.

Don't dismiss the Artisan puzzles, they are made just as beautifully as the signature puzzles but just more pedestrian woods. Well worth adding to your collection.

Pack 3
Pack 3 is one that I couldn't resist from Eric's latest update - I am rubbish at packing puzzles but with just 3 pieces even I should be able to manage it! It is a design by Osanori Yamamoto and stunningly beautifully made by Eric in Walnut and Tamerand (I cannot find this wood anywhere in a wood database and suspect it is a typo - it looks like Spalted Maple. The diagonal cut roof piece on the box really adds to the difficulty.  Within a minute or two, I yelped with success and rocked pack thinking that it was far too easy:

Is that good?
I went back to the description and read the description:
"The trivial solution puts the pieces in the box, while the tricky and intended solution is to put the pieces in as an apparent 3x3x2 with no holes showing from the opening.
Ah! The big hole at the top was not allowed then. Try again, and again, and again! Nope! It was not happening. I took it to the MPP and plenty of other people played and struggled and as far as I remember no-one solved it there which made me feel much better. I worked on it on and off for a couple of weeks with ever-increasing frustration. I even remembered that Osanori is a master of puzzles that require rotations and attempted that in my process. Eric has made the tolerances far too perfect and there is no way for a rotation to occur - back to the drawing board!

Finally, after 3 weeks I had my breakthrough. There are quite a few steps to this and the Aha! moment is beautiful. Even doing it a second time for my photograph stumped me for a bit - the design is made to make you think the wrong way. Another stunning design by Yamamoto-san. The solved state is hidden behind the show/hide button.

They are sold out now but if you see one of these come up at an auction then go for it - it's a wonderful puzzle with just the right difficulty level.

I Even Had Time For A Twisty...or Two

Grigorusha Pentagon
All the faces turn 180º
I couldn't resist the Pentagon that I had received as a gift. It has been 3D printed at iMaterialise and is made from sintered nylon. The turning is fairly good for this type of puzzle although if it is not gripped correctly then the corner pieces can pop off. Luckily they are easy to put back. It only takes a few minutes to scramble and looks just as lovely like that:

It cannot be that hard!
The solve process is very straight-forward. There are no algorithms to learn and it just requires a bit of intuitive thought. 1 in 2 solves I seem to have a "parity" where there are 2 pieces that are 180º rotated and in the wrong place. Again, this is a straight-forward fix after just a bit of thought! These are available from Evgeniy's Etsy page if you want one.

Grigorusha Slim Pyraminx
One face turned plus a trivial tip turned
There is even less to this puzzle but it does have a nice challenge to it. I have solved it a few times and have to admit that I cannot quite fathom a foolproof method to the solution. I find that I get to what I think will be the end and there are 2 pieces reversed. This requires a fair bit of fiddling and Bam! it is solved.

Scrambled doesn't look that different to just turned a couple of times.
Don't be fooled! It is still tough.
This coming week, I have my last bit of annual leave for the year and might have to tell Mrs S that I am expecting a few more deliveries - Whack! Ouch! it would appear that she knows! It's coming up to the festive season so I will be needing more toys, won't I?

Sunday 18 November 2018

Variants Revisited

I know many of you will recognise these pieces immediately - Hectix original
Mrs S has begun to mutter again about the number of puzzles lying around the house and seems to have developed a murderous look in her eye periodically. That terrible feeling of fear I get from her violent tendencies used to be limited to when she booted me in a kidney at night for snoring my head off. She always calmed my fears by asking whether I had to "breathe like that?" More recently, the feeling of incipient termination has worsened now that she has taken to booting me and asking me when I wake with a start, whether I "had to breathe?" After 28 years as a doctor, I am fairly certain that breathing is not optional and, despite her telling me I am just a vegetable, that I cannot photosynthesise.

Over the last week or so a number of additions to the collection have arrived and I have not had any time to put them into the crap heap which my study has become...again! Occasionally she hears me exclaim after my Aha! moments that one or other puzzle solves just like another. The murderous look reappears and she asks "why have you bought it then?" to which I have to reply that I could not tell until I solved it! She has also continued to ask me why I don't go back and solve my ever-increasing backlog of unsolved puzzles. I don't have a Louis like Allard has to solve all of his puzzles and so have to keep putting them down and returning later. The theme of today's article is on revisiting puzzles voluntarily or inadvertently:

Last week I was contacted by my friend Rob Stegman - he knew that I had been wanting a copy of the original Hectix or Hexsticks puzzle. A cheap Japanese copy had come up for sale on eBay and I jumped at the chance. I did not expect much for the price but was pleasantly surprised when it arrived quickly in a rather small box in the disassembled state and was much better quality than expected.

The 2 versions of the original 3M productions of the Hexsticks puzzle produced in 1970

I already had 2 copies of this puzzle in my collection given to me by a very very good friend and which I have not dared to disassemble partly for fear that over the last 48 years, the plastic might have become brittle and also because if I took them apart I suspected that reassembly might prove impossible - you all know that I am rubbish at assembly puzzles.

The Hectix/Hexsticks puzzle was discovered independently by both Stewart Coffin and Bill Cutler in around 1968 and Stewart patented it in 1973 (You can download the patent here). I have had these 2 plastic puzzles sitting within arms reach and never done more than admire them and be pleased that I had a nice piece of puzzling history.

When this arrived and I had reassured myself that Mrs S was not going to burn either it or me, I set to trying to put it together. As you can see it consists of 9 identical pieces and then 3 more with an additional notch. There was an obvious way to start and I got to the point of having 8 pieces in and 4 more to go. The next piece always proved impossible. Mrs S refused to lend me an extra hand and the cat didn't have the dexterity! Every time I attempted that final piece it would start to collapse and quickly became unsalvageable before dropping on the aforementioned cat who was less than impressed. This ridiculous state of affairs continued for several evenings and eventually the swearing got too much for Mrs S - she forced me to leave it alone for a while. Today it was photo taking time and I was determined to get it done for the blog. An hour of effing and blinding gave me a wonderful Aha! moment and I realised I had been going about it all wrong. Apparently, according to Jim Storer's site, there are 3 solutions - I will be going back to them to see why I had so much trouble.

Assembled - it only took me 5 days!
Now I am very happy to have 3 copies of this lovely puzzle. If you see either a plastic or a wooden one up for sale then don't hesitate, it is perfect for any puzzler.

I do have a copy of the Hectix revisited which I wrote about here and the Improved Hexsticks (from Bernhard Schweitzer) which I wrote about here. Maybe I should try them again?

and I am really not sure when I am ever going to dismantle this monster:

Hexagonal Porcupine

Another Unexpected Puzzle Revisit

At the last MPP, Louis had brought me a few puzzles from Wil's stock to go through and buy if I wanted. There were a couple of extra wire puzzles from Jan Sturm and I took all that I didn't already have. The Sailboat looks remarkably familiar but also has some changes. It looks very similar to the classic Ball and chain puzzle which catches me by surprise every time I attempt it. It requires a very particular sequence of moves and if they are not done right then the puzzle gets very very knotted. You can see the similarity but also the subtle changes. I took this to work to show off and my ODP/anaesthetic assistant grabbed it whilst I was busy checking on the blood cell salvage machine during a case. She managed to get it knotted within just 60 seconds and my heart leapt into my throat! Rule number one - DON'T give a string puzzle to a newbie! I was delighted that I had not lost my touch on this type of puzzle - after I had grabbed it back I managed to undo her knot and then solve it too - all in just 5 minutes! Phew!

It's a very nice version of the classic - worth adding to the collection

...And Another!

Snail-U-String - not the name from JCC. I don't know what it is supposed to be called.
A few months ago I received a batch of Jean-Claude Constantin's wire (and string) from Wil and had been failing dismally. Again after the MPP, I had gone back to a few for a fresh look. The addition of the U pieces to many of his latest puzzles really makes a huge difference to the complexity of the puzzle. It is almost like adding a Möbius strip to a puzzle. Eventually, after months of getting no-where, I had a little thought© which is a very alien phenomenon for me. There was a small hint of a similarity to the simply brilliant Russian Heart and Aaron's Möbius ring that I had reviewed here. Both of those puzzles have a common idea and as you can see they share a feature with the Snail-U-String above. The new features still make a difference but after another few nights of exploration my Aha! moment was complete and I had my 3 pieces:

I hope to God that I can get it back together!
It took me another evening to reassemble the damn thing but can definitely say that if you enjoyed the Russian Heart then get this one too. If you don't have either then go and get both I am sure that Tomas will be able to provide the Russian Heart for you.

I also received a few new ones as a gift from my friend Terry - I am most grateful and pleased that Mrs S didn't mind when I told her that I hadn't paid for them! They will be shown on my New Additions page soon. Don't tell Mrs S but there might be some more puzzles coming very soon! Whack! Ouch! too late!

Sunday 11 November 2018

Both Metal and Plastic can be Sublime and Ridiculous!

The Two Brass Monkeys - they come with plastic feet covering the ends to protect surfaces
If you are wondering whether my pile of mixed puzzles is sorted yet then the answer is HELL NO! I managed to sort 3 of them out by wood type and was able to reassemble them but the 5 oak Happiness cubes continue to taunt me and make me very unhappy! Partly because I have had no time to even attempt the task.

At the MPP I could not resist picking up the latest 2 sublime creations from the deviant minds of Ali and Big Steve (yes, I chose that word appropriately). Their store on Etsy is called the Two Brass Monkeys and their creation above is Brass Monkey 1 and 2 (there is also the fantastic Hokey Cokey lock for sale as well - review here). These beauties are made of brass, are about 7cm around and weigh 800g each so postage outside of the UK may be a little high. Nick Baxter didn't have to worry about postage having received his at the MPP - unfortunately for him, he did not know that he had received it until he was frisked by the TSA and had to explain what this heavy metal thing was and whether anything was inside of it!

When I showed it to Mrs S the evening I got back from Birmingham she did indeed say that they were very beautiful. The following day, she seemed less enamoured of them when she realised just how heavy they were and what would happen if I dropped one on a large high gloss kitchen tile or the granite worktop! They were banned from the kitchen! I went to work on BM#1 on Sunday evening (in the living room whilst watching TV with the cats and Mrs S. I realised quite quickly that this was a lovely example of a classic burr puzzle. It is not terribly difficult to dismantle and the reassembly is only slightly more challenging. It is a wonderful example of the metal craftsman's expertise!

The attention to detail went even to having a sprung ball bearing to allow the key piece to click into place. Flushed with success, I went to work on Brass Monkey #2 and quickly realised that this burr was much more complex. There was pushing and pulling and lots of grunting and groaning as the weight of the bloody thing got to me! At the end of one evening, it remained intact and I remained frustrated. The next evening, I continued to play and again had no luck. I sort of ran out of ideas and put it down for the next few evenings. No inspiration occurred to me and I started on some other puzzles instead but always having it next to me on my armchair. I could hear Big Steve taunting me! I was on call on Friday night and it was a rather busy night in Sheffield so lost an evening's puzzling. The following morning, feeling rather jaded from lack of sleep, I was reminded by Steve that I needed to actually pay for the puzzle and at the same time taunted by him that George Miller had solved his copy in just half an hour! PayPal did its' thing from my bed and I suddenly had a brainwave - maybe if I look closely at..... At this point, Mrs S told me I had better get out of bed and get to the gym because if I get fat she will get rid of me! Thus I was unable to try out my wonderful idea. At the gym, I managed not to die on the Cross trainer and stepper and thought more deeply on the Brass monkey. Concentration is not my strong point and I quickly got sidetracked and gazed admiringly at the ponytails jiggling about when they turned around, they appeared to be blokes...this was a great disappointment! As soon as I got back from the gym, before breakfast could be made and consumed, I pissed off Mrs S by going straight to the puzzle and bringing it into the kitchen and tried out a new theory. Aha! Mrs S said that Steve and Ali were very "sleekit" (old Scots word c.f. Robert Burns) - yes, it is a very sly/cunning idea and I am slightly ashamed that I didn't solve it quicker.

Of course, I am not going to show the mechanism.
They will look great on the shelf but before I put them on it, I will need to flip it over because my shelf of metal puzzles is starting to bow under the weight!

Huge nail-ball-U - I have no idea whether it has a proper name!
Another really lovely bit of heavy metal came my way a month or so ago courtesy of the wonderful Wil Strijbos. His latest meeting with Jean-Claude Constantin gave him a bunch of new disentanglements which I was keen to try. JCC has been playing with the horseshoe shapes in quite a few of his puzzles recently and they have turned some easy puzzles into something absolutely horrendous. The monster above (it is 232g in weight and 15 x 12cm in size) must have taken quite some machinery to produce...the nail is the biggest I have ever seen! Looking at it, one immediately gets an idea for what one needs to do but, as always, that is blocked. Try it in the opposite direction and...nope! That won't work either. There is no way that you could ever flex it a bit to make something slip past - this requires exactly the right movements to make it happen. The jingling (more like clanking) got on Mrs S' nerves but it was worth it - 30 minutes of noise and my Aha! moment was there. Superb idea and so much better for being made large!

Such a simple design but not a simple solution!

Next up I have to show off what many might consider "ridiculous" - I am a huge fan of N-ary puzzles (something is on its' way over to me very soon) and also a huge fan of probably the greatest exponent of that group of puzzles, Namick Salakhov. Every year Namick enters some of the most incredibly complex designs into the IPP Design competition and I drool over them. He had several entries this year and this is the second of them that I have managed to get hold of. They are handmade from a kind of plastic and are lovely to hold and play with.

Loopy Lattice puzzle
This one is the Loopy Lattice puzzle with the aim being to remove the string...without scissors!

More detail of the lattice
So far the solution has eluded me but Nick Baxter assures me that it is solvable and the solution does fit on a single sheet of paper! Luckily Namick puts a small link in them that allows you to unscrew the loop and reset the puzzle. Without that, I would have had the most awful knot!! One feature that makes it even harder to solve is that every time I start to play, one or both of the cats decides that it is time to play with the string and tries to bite through it! I am determined to get it solved.

Before I do that, maybe I should get to work on my happiness cubes? Don't forget to go buy the Brass Monkey puzzles whilst you can.

Sunday 4 November 2018

My Happiness Ends With a GiganTIC Bang!

Those of you who are friends with me on FaceBook will have seen that the last couple of weeks have been a VERY happy time for me with the arrival of quite a few new puzzles. Some of them were a delightful birthday gift from "She who occasionally deigns to be nice to me" - they consisted of gorgeous wood from the wonderful Published Professor of Wood, Brian Menold. I also seem to have received toys from Tom Lensch, Eric Fuller and you have all seen the fabulous Happiness cubes made for me by Alfons Eyckmans.

My wife seems to have great taste!
I have had a week off work this week but will be looking forward to going back to work on Monday for a rest! The first thing I had to do was spend the first day of my holiday collating all the paperwork required to fill out my tax return - this takes most of a day (because I am not very organised) and leaves me somewhat disheartened at the end. The following day was my birthday - Derek tells me that I am now the "full deck without jokers" and there was a little R&R for that day at least!

The first of the puzzles from this group that I tried was fairly predictable...Over the years (thanks to the influence of Bernhard Schweitzer) I have accumulated quite a number of the Turning Interlocking Cubes (TICs) and couldn't resist the GiganTIC puzzle. It is designed by Andrew Crowell who has brought us a few fabulous toys recently and he described it as his most difficult puzzle which doesn't have ball bearings inside. Having a level of 10.10, it should be a nice fun challenge. Brian made it from some gorgeous woods (Nargusta, Kiaat, Lacewood, Bolivian Rosewood and Beech) and even Mrs S was impressed by the Lacewood. These puzzles arrived on my birthday and I couldn't play straight away - she wouldn't let me. Despite the restriction on my play, a nice day was had with cinema (movie theatre to you Yanks!), a great meal and some champagne. At the end of the day after too much to drink, I attempted the GiganTIC puzzle. It is a lovely pleasant exploration with a few dead ends and a few Aha! moments. A perfect TIC. I managed to dismantle it whilst under the influence and decided to leave the reassembly for the following day. This proved to be a bit of a challenge as I really had no recollection of anything about the disassembly - in fact, I didn't recall taking it apart until I found the pieces waiting for me the following day. With only 4 pieces, it is a really good challenge to assemble from scratch and I highly recommend getting one if you can - Brian still has them in stock on his New puzzles page.

Having reassembled the GiganTIC on the day after my birthday (thank you to everyone who left messages for me on FB), I was told in no uncertain terms that I had more work to do. All of our paperwork for the last 2 years has been "filed" in a drawer of my study. Unfortunately, the drawer was totally stuffed and would not easily close. If I did "uneasily" close it, then it really wouldn't easily open again (quite a few papers had been lost down the back of that cabinet! "She" said I had to sort it out. Yes dear! It took me a whole day and at the end of the day I had an empty drawer, a bad backache and a MASSIVE pile of papers that I had scanned to a digital copy and now needed to shred. My home shredder is not up to the task as it only takes 5 sheets at a time and after 15 minutes needs a rest...there's also a nasty burning smell from the tired little motor! My pile of shredding is 18" (45.7cm) high and I am not sure I will live long enough to shred that at the current rate. Suggestions anyone? I think a nice fire might sort it.....yes, OUTSIDE the house!

Ordi-NARY burr - it's not ordinary!
At the end of that day, I was finally allowed a little puzzling time and I couldn't resist the Ordi-NARY burr from Tom Lensch (He didn't say who designed it but many of these are produced from the incredible brain of Goh Pit Khiam). Made from a stunning bright Yellowheart with a couple of steel pins inside, this is quite a big puzzle and a fairly simple challenge to take apart. Despite the look, it is not a standard 6 piece burr. It is an N-ary puzzle too and requires a fun series of moves to reach the end of the logical sequence. Then another couple of moves and a piece will come out and then it falls apart on you.

Very simple but not so easy to reassemble
The majority of the challenge with this puzzle comes from the reassembly. As usual, I had paid no attention to how things were arranged before it fell apart and then took me another 45 minutes to establish the correct method to start the reassembly off. Quite satisfying and definitely one I would show to the lads at the coming weekends' Midlands Puzzle Party.

Thursday was a day for gym and then I had to work in one of our private hospitals so no puzzling done that day. Friday, the last day of my week off, was going to be a relaxing day of coffee, junk movies and playing with toys. Whack! Ouch! No! maybe not! Instead of the relaxing day of self-abuse, I was forced to do the pre-winter gardening! Sob! 9-10 hours of hard physical labour and I could barely stand up, bend down, sit down or move my hands! No puzzling could be done that day either! She's a very hard task-mistress is the present Mrs S. At least she allowed a pizza for dinner and then let me get my box together to take for the boys to enjoy at the 35th MPP!

Saturday morning, it all began so well! I was surprised that after so much gardening that I could move at all - I braced myself for pain when I rolled out of bed and oddly, all was fine. Obviously, my gym attendance for the last 3 years has had some beneficial effect. It continued well when "she" gave me some car sweeties for the journey! Ooh! Sugar and then toys! The traffic was pretty good and after a coffee, I caught up with what the boys had to say and then I even solved something! Allard will give the full write up of the MPP shenanigans when he gets around to it, so I will only give a brief tale of happiness followed by horror!

Two brass monkeys
Ali and big Steve have been busy producing some fabulous metal puzzles - these two very heavy brass 6 piece burrs are available from their Etsy store if you wish to buy them. Steve and Derek also gave me a copy of Derek's latest design the Sphere cube for my birthday. We all know that he is a genius and I wondered whether I would be clever enough to put it together:

It's a pile of pieces - how nice!
I might also have purchased the latest Coolen lock and some more stuff from Wil (courtesy of Louis) and was feeling rather good. Nick Baxter (head honcho of the IPP) was over visiting Allard and attended the MPP. He wanted to know about the Happiness cubes that I had shown off recently. I managed to convince him that purchasing a few might be a fun investment and at this point, things started to go sour on me. The boys REALLY enjoyed the happiness cubes and worked their way through them and produced a nice little pile of pieces. After a few threats of extreme violence and pain towards big Steve who was inciting terrible things to be done to my puzzles, one or other of them reassembled the cubes....PHEW!

I should not have been too happy - it went quiet and when I looked back, Steve had encouraged Louis to turn my copy of Juha's 10 from Bernhard into an impossible puzzle. I was in serious trouble:

OMG! What have they done? Can it be undone?
After lunch, I was playing with a particularly clever packing puzzle and was vaguely aware of some hilarity behind me. I was concentrating hard and not paying much (or any) attention until...


An obviously neat pile of something had gotten knocked over. OMG! What had they done? Despite asking/begging Rich Evans (who is a burr/assembly savant) to get to work, the only help I got was when big Steve had pity on me and handed me a Tesco bag! My puzzles would no longer fit in my box:

6 Happiness cubes, a TIC and a Burr!
Of course, I have no idea which pieces belong to which puzzle and do not have a record of how they went together. It's not a simple matter of putting them into Burrtools as some of them require rotations towards the end of the disassembly. Mrs S struggled to not laugh at me when I showed her the evening I got home. I took in a VERY large gin and cried myself to sleep that night.

I really should have realised that they would be up to no good - when I left the previous MPP, they (Big Steve) had let me leave with an extra little challenge:

They fit together nicely even if they shouldn't!
Today, Mrs S is less impressed as this is now sitting on the kitchen work surface and may be there for a long time! Aaaaaaargh!

Lord help me!
Any suggestions? Sob!

Maybe attending future MPPs is not a good idea? Certainly, I will only take a few easy puzzles with me if there is a next time.