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.


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