Sunday, 10 November 2019

If It's Spherical Then There Must be a Little Trick to It

Maybe I Need To Give it a Little Hug?

Spheres from Stephan Baumegger
A month or so ago I stopped dead in my tracks/iPad whilst on Facebook when I saw an update from Stephan Baumegger. He had produced a new batch of his entry into this year's IPP Design Competition, Spheres. At this, he had won a Top ten vote award from the puzzlers who played with it. Interestingly, when I had initially perused the puzzle list, it had not been a puzzle that had sung out to me at first and I could not even tell by looking at it who was the designer and craftsman. The beautiful inlay, the carving/routing work on the lid and the stone balls did not scream out Stephan to me. When the results came out with a notification that it was my friend who won, I took more notice and decided I would wait for him to announce availability and then pounce on it. Then in October, he announced that a batch was made and I immediately asked for a copy.

Now in early October and September, I might just have had a "few" new arrivals (who can blame me for a post-IPP splurge? I hadn't been to Japan and felt I had to do something to maintain my puzzler status. Mrs S had got just a "little" fed up answering the door to the various delivery men and had little words in my ear about behaving myself and not spending so much. There may or may not have been a laser-burning stare involved and she may also have inflicted a Whack! Ouch! upon my person. I decided that I could not risk the wrath of a "woman of a certain age". The age adds a whole new level of extra "psycho" to boost the extra copies of the violence gene provided by her Scottish ancestry on top of the 2 copies of the X chromosome where said gene resides! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear! As a result of her admonition ringing in my ears, I asked Stephan to wait until the end of October before sending it. He ended up sending it just before the alleged Brexit date was due to occur in order to avoid any new customs fees.

I took my customary photos and marvelled at the incredible craftsmanship - he had sourced a beautiful inlay made in a similar way to the Japanese techniques and created his usual sticks from lovely woods:

It is just stunning!
Mrs S seemed to have been mollified by the small gap in additions to my collection and I escaped serious physical harm this time. I set to playing with it that very evening and the cats were particularly fascinated by the 3 stone marbles inside. I did struggle on a few occasions to prevent them from zooming off with a beautiful ball. It might have made the solution easier but having played with it for quite a while, I am not entirely sure that it would!

There are 3 copies of each of two sticks which are mirror images of each other, two large balls and one small one. Trying to pack them into the box proved pretty tough from the beginning as I always seemed to need 4 of one particular shape to make a nice packing. Of course, I only had 3. To my chagrin, I then discovered that I could not even get the pieces back into the box in the state that it had been delivered (picture at the top). I had to store it between attempts in a much more precarious way and hope that it didn't tip over and lose any pieces. Stephan suggested that I should "Count the Voxels" which I did with enthusiasm and without any idea how it might help me...It didn't help me!

After almost a couple of weeks without progress, I took it to the MPP and after my shock at having all the pieces of my (un)happiness cubes liberally spread amongst Rich's boxes of disassembled puzzles, I displayed my new toys and let people play. I was rather shocked when Oli said it had only taken him 10 minutes to work it out! OMG! How awful am I at packing puzzles? He gave me a helpful nudge:
Pack the pieces outside the box and ignore the balls.
Ignore my balls??? What kind of a man did he think I was? Mrs S is the keeper of the balls! I get to look at them wistfully every year or so when she lets me! Despite this odd idea, I decided to have a try using his idea the following evening with the aid of 2 boys, I had my wonderful Aha! moment. I could not have done it without Oli's idea and the cats help:

I could not have done it without help.
Masked to hide the solution!
The lid fits on with all inside!
Take my word for it!!!!
If you get a chance to buy this puzzle then BUY IT! It is beautiful. It is the perfect level of difficulty and you need to think without your balls! I adore it and will be challenging some colleagues with ut at work.

Next up we have another couple of beauties about to be released by the wonderful New Pelikan Workshop - Little Trick and Little Hug both by the amazing Klaas Jan Damstra.

Little Trick
Little Hug
These two lovely puzzles will be available soon along with the Osanori packing puzzles that I reviewed last week. These have taken Jakub and Jaroslav a little longer to produce and hence I received them a bit later than the others. They have been stunningly made as you would expect from Pelikan and are rather fun to explore and play with.

Little Trick, is 48x48x60mm made from Ovangkol and Maple and consists of three oddly shaped pieces inside a frame. The movement is silky smooth to explore. The disassembly is not terribly tough at level 10.4.1 and only a couple of short blind ends. It is a very nice challenge if you scramble the pieces and leave them for a while and try the reassembly after you have forgotten how they go together. I often am too frightened to do this but I dropped a couple of the pieces on the floor and could not disturb the sleeping cat on my lap to pick them up and hence forgot how it had come apart. I could have asked Mrs S to pick it up for me but she was already pissed at me for another delivery so soon and I didn't dare risk it. The reassembly probably took me another 20 minutes to work out when I finally got around to it. Not too tough but definitely beautiful and fun.

Little Trick pieces - you could use Burrtools but it should not be necessary.
Little Hug is tiny but gorgeous - it is 40mm cubed and stunningly made from Wenge and Ovangkol with absolutely wonderful grain in it. This puzzle hides the pieces very well and only after a little fingertip poking can you find where one piece stops and another starts. After the first move has been found then all sorts of sliding is possible and then it would appear that rotations are possible. Ignore the rotational sliding and carry on exploring the moves from in 2 dimensions to 3 and then there is a rather clever little move available if you spot it. Suddenly you have separated it into 2 pairs of similar pieces which had been held on a ring - the level was

Little Hug pieces - Burrtools could help you but don't bother - work it out!
I had been planning on keeping the orientations in place on my lap after I disassembled it to make reassembly easier. For some reason that never works out for me...a cat knocked them all down the side of my seat cushion and by the time I had fished them out, I had no idea which was which! The reassembly is a really fun challenge - I sort of had an idea roughly what was required but it took me a good hour of effing and blinding at the cat before I had worked out how to place the pieces without blocking the required moves. If I can assemble a puzzle from scratch then it is definitely possible for all you decent puzzlers out there. It is a brilliant but tiny challenge and looks gorgeous!

These puzzles should be available soon from Jakub and Jaroslav's site. Also well worth buying at the same time as the Osanori packing puzzles!

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Taking Osanori to the Next Level

Belt Cube 3
I am extremely fortunate that Jakub (joint head honcho of the wonderful Pelikan puzzles) asks me to write reviews for him and thus gives me the opportunity to buy most of his creations a week or so early. About 10 days ago he offered me the chance to buy another bunch of puzzles by the incredible Osanori Yamamoto. As well as a review he wanted to know whether these would be best sent out as assembled (for dismantling) or disassembled puzzles (for assembly) and so you can blame me for the extra special challenge you will be receiving because I most definitely think these are a MUCH better challenge as put-together puzzles - and that is coming from a rather dense man who is rubbish at assembling things (I might have a problem with the new arrivals from Brian just posted on my Newstuff page.

This time, thanks to Jakub avoiding standard post and using UPS instead my delivery arrived in just 2 days! I immediately set to so as to try and avoid any delays in the release of the new toys to the puzzling community. These are a seriously challenging set of puzzles!!! It has taken me a while to solve them and get the review to you (and Jakub).

I began with Belt Cube 3 (my copy came with a gorgeous Purpleheart box and Wenge pieces but it will also be available with the reverse colouring). This takes the usual packing puzzle which we love so much to a whole new level of frustration and cleverness. With a box/frame and holes in it and a few simple pieces to be placed inside which completely fill the aforementioned holes leaving no gaps visible, we usually have to create a 3x3x2 shape inside which, despite such simple shapes, is quite a tremendous challenge. This time we have a 3x3x3 cube to be constructed and two HUGE diagonally opposite windows to put pieces in and then fill. There is so much space to use that I expected this not to be much of a challenge...Oh, how wrong I was!

I began playing with the pieces inside the box and got frustrated that they kept falling out of the enormous holes so moved on to assembling my cube outside it. Your usual play outside of the box reveals several simple shapes that can be used to fill the visible 2x2 cubes on opposite sides. Getting these 2 cubes opposite each other proved quite a challenge. I found a few possibilities quite quickly and began to try assembling them in the box. Oh boy! That doesn't work quite so easily! I spent a couple of days playing with this with my Bash Street Kids, Plug face on and amusing Mrs S before I had a very unexpected Aha! moment. What I realised was really very clever and just perfect Osanori - he has made a bigger better version of all the puzzles we have tried before. You really don't want to miss this one - the fact that it is beautiful also helps - it will look fabulous on display in one of my 2 (yes TWO) puzzle caves (Whack! Ouch!)

No clues here!
How gorgeous is that???
Not content with giving us one 3x3x3 cube in a box puzzle, Osanori and Pelikan have released another, even more difficult version, rather descriptively named W-Windows. My copy is made from Oak and Wenge:

This one will also be made available in Apple and Ovangkol. The name clearly comes from the fact that it has a nice cubic box with 2 windows in it (not the usual diagonally opposite holes) and two of the pieces have a definite W shape to them. For transport, I made an interesting storage arrangement which Jakub may adopt for sending these puzzles out. At least with this puzzle, the pieces don't keep falling out when you play with them because you WILL be playing with this one for a VERY long time! To my eternal shame, it took me a whole week! There are lots of interesting ways to fill the windows but filling two of them simultaneously is really really tough. Then when you have found all the simple ways of filling those windows, it becomes quickly apparent that you cannot get them inside the damned box. You can get one (occasionally 2) but definitely not all 3 pieces inside. Mrs S suggested after a particularly furious episode of swearing my head off that maybe I should rest for a while.

The W-Windows is a huge challenge (at least for a dimwit like me) and you will love it. Don't be tempted to use Burrtools to CAN solve it eventually but you really need to think outside the box before the solution will come to you.

2 filled windows
The Aha! moment is phenomenal when it arrives and then later when you try to disassemble it, there is an extra challenge...sometimes a piece rotates inside when manipulating the pieces which effectively makes it unsolvable until you realise this and rotate it back to the correct orientation. It is a fun additional dexterity challenge to disassemble the puzzle.

The final Osanori puzzle being released soon is a beautiful thing, Rattle Twist V which will be available made from Mahogany and Maple:

Sent out like this - pull the middle 2 pieces out
to get this
The Rattle Twist V is very reminiscent of the Wing Hanger and the King Box also by Osanori and produced by Pelikan and Tom Lensch respectively - I reviewed them both here. Like the other puzzles reviewed, it takes the older puzzles to a whole new level of difficulty and fun. The premise here is a frame with holes in it and a couple of complex burr sticks which need to be slid into position inside the frame but with an impediment to the sliding process making for a more complex dance of the pieces before assembly is complete. I would usually have preferred these puzzles as disassembly puzzles but at the Paris IPP, I was convinced by John Rausch that the best part of these puzzles is the assembly from scratch - as usual, he is right!

This puzzle is unlikely to be solved by simple trial and error, it requires first looking at the pieces and the frame and making a plan for how to go about it. A few false starts will teach you where the pieces can and cannot go and thus the dance begins. The level is only 8.2 (for disassembly) and thus is not impossible - I managed it in a single evening and ended with a huge grin on my face - the end result is lovely:

Solved it! Phew!
Osanori has taken the basic premise of his older designs to a whole new level and made them even more fun than before. These puzzles are not just more challenging, they are also full of Aha! moments and are definitely solvable as assembly puzzles - if I can do them then so can you! They will be available from Jakub and Jaroslav's wonderful site very soon.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend guys.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Hours and Hours of Hourglass

Jin Hoo Ahn’s Hourglass aka The Transformer. A true test of skill and determination.
I have had a week of annual leave and you would expect that I might have spent this time, solving puzzles and getting a backlog of stuff to write about. You might have thought that, and I might have hoped that but "she who cannot stand a man to seem to be idle" had other ideas! Sob! There was DIY to be done...lots of it. She allowed me a little time 3 or 4 days of the week to go to the gym so as not to commit the cardinal sin of getting fat (If I get fat then I'm out - it was "for better or worse" NOT fatter or thinner! Gulp! Luckily for me, in my week of need, my good friend Mike fulfilled his duties as PuzzleMad foreign correspondent and produced a wonderful article for us. He actually solved a puzzle that I have been working on for months and months without success and maybe this will motivate me to try again.

I'll hand you over to Mike...

Aloha Kakou Puzzlers,

I’m not sure if I have enough for a full post today (Ed - it's all they're going to get!), but I wanted to at least say a few words about Hanayama’s Cast Hourglass while the triumph is fresh in my mind. Yes, that’s correct, I finally managed to solve it. And a proper solve to boot. I can now deconstruct and reconstruct hourglass consistently, but this little puzzle was very far from easy. In fact, I believe only a small fraction of the Hourglasses that fly off the shelf will ever be solved (Ed - I know! SOB!). In this post, I want to relate my experience and thoughts in the hopes that it will help some poor soul out there to stick with it to the joyful end.

A note for purist solvers: This post contains images of Hourglass in various transformed states. Personally, I don’t think this will help you much at all. If, however, you want the joy of pure discovery, then perhaps come back after you’ve achieved greater intimacy with your puzzle. 

I received Cast Hourglass as a birthday gift from my lovely daughter back in late January (Ed - if she buys you puzzles then no reason to sell her into slavery or sacrifice her and sell her organs!), and it took me until late September to solve it—about an eight-month effort. There were very long gaps with no work done, but I like to count it as an eight-month solve nonetheless. Those long gaps were necessary to regroup and gather strength. The solving process wore me down that much, and I think the puzzle should get credit for that. As you might have gathered from my concluding note the last time we were together, I enjoyed hourglass despite the struggle and intense frustration.

It folds up nice and snug...
even after many hours of hard use.
Although I relish critiquing Hanayama’s puzzle ratings (a guilty pleasure), I think they definitely got it right with the hourglass. It is a solid level 6, and then some. It ranks up there with the toughest of that level such as Quartet and Enigma (Ed - for some reason I didn't find that one very tough but I DID really struggle with the Vortex). It's hard to say, but it could very well take top honours. I believe Quartet held this dubious honour previously (according to my informal survey). Has it been superseded?

Hourglass’ high difficulty is due in part to the numerous major transformations that are required. There are at least three I think, depending on how you count them, which is actually quite high considering that the puzzle transforms to a completely different state each time. You need to learn a whole new set of dynamics at each change. As usual, there are false assemblies and pathways within and between these states. It is really easy to get off-track at first and there are many points at which you will not know whether you are going forward or backwards. As my intrepid editor has discovered, some false paths (combined with, let's be honest, overly aggressive action) can lead to complete lock-up. Puzzle lock-up is, bar none, the single most mortifying and demoralizing outcome that a puzzler can achieve (SOB again!). Especially so for those of us who should know better. For the uninitiated, it is completely normal to fantasize about buying a new copy and starting over. In all honesty, I don’t think this would be a high puzzle crime. The PuzzleMad code of ethics is silent on the matter (Ed - I have no intrinsic aversion to this approach apart from I am too mean to buy two copies for fear of having TWO locked up puzzles!). I confess that starting over with a pristine Vortex crosses my mind almost daily. But I would encourage you to work with your original. Locked puzzles can always be unlocked. The problem is mental more than anything. We are just not at our level-headed best after we jam a puzzle. Putting it down for a while and coming back fresh is the best idea (Ed - I have...repeatedly). 

This puzzle is far too jangly for Mrs S; be careful boss! (Whack! Ouch!)
Aside from complete lock-up, Hourglass is also susceptible to false constructions that are very hard to reverse. There were multiple occasions during my solve where it took me well over an hour just to reverse back to a previous state. Maddening to say the least (Ed - That's where I am now). This is why I think Hourglass will remain unsolved for most casual puzzlers. An hour of intensive work to actually solve a puzzle is frankly too much for most of the population. An hour of intensive work (during which time you are mostly making no observable progress) simply to backtrack, repeated multiple times, is just beyond the pale. This is, incidentally, why sensible people avoid string entanglements like the plague (Ed - I never claimed on this blog to be sensible!). So here I will give you a hint, which I don’t think can be at all interpreted as a spoiler. Its a common piece of advice, but I want to assure you that it applies to this puzzle. If you are trying things that seem like they are leading in any way to lock-up or even subtle use of force, you are off-track. Go no further. Hourglass is a very smooth puzzle (generally). Everything works smoothly (generally). If you feel that you might be trying too hard on a pathway, you very likely are! Personally, I think it takes a few hours with hourglass just to get the feel of the movements. It took me at least that long before I felt comfortable and could move around at will between a few of the states. Cast Trinity was like that too, but Hourglass is on another level entirely. You’ll know when it starts to get comfortable, and by that point, you should have made at least a couple important discoveries. Hardcore puzzlers will probably be hooked by that point. 

It does this.
The complexity in getting Hourglass disassembled means that you are very likely to get it apart without knowing exactly how you did it. The way the pieces unlink is brilliant and I don’t think one could reasonably deduce it simply by studying the pieces, I sure couldn't. The initial unlink, and thus also the final relink during reassembly, is quite tricky and has a fine tolerance. It's pretty damn frustrating actually. Especially because you will probably have to go through it numerous times before getting your piece configuration correct. This linkage is the reason for the “generally” qualification above. This is the one spot where being on the right track will take you frighteningly close to lock-up territory.

Reassembly is a real challenge, in case you haven't gathered. I studied the pieces before taking them all apart, but I underestimated the number of ways the pieces could be reassembled. There are actually some interesting ways you can link the pieces other than the correct process. I thought perhaps these might provide a shortcut. A costly error, as it turned out.

And it does this. Close to the end, but not as close as you think.
So reassembly is a whole new challenge. In my eight-month journey, fully two-thirds of the time was spent on reassembly. A significant chunk in the middle involved, embarrassingly, trying to achieve the wrong end-state. For some reason, I was convinced that all the smooth sides were pointing outwards in the final construction. This is not possible! I think I assumed the Hanayama and hourglass stamps would naturally be on the exterior and charged ahead on that basis. So much time had passed from when I had seen it assembled that I couldn't even remember the original state. I eventually looked at the picture on the box and changed my approach. 

At the end of my long journey, I have come to really love the Cast Hourglass. As with so many great Hanayama designs, I cannot fathom how someone can come up with a puzzle like this. My highest compliments and thanks to designer Jin Hoo Ahn for this puzzle. Crafting a very difficult, yet still compelling and enjoyable, puzzle is a rare accomplishment. A very difficult puzzle needs to occasionally remind the solver that it is indeed solvable and to provide some sense of progress, however small, through little triumphs along the way. I think Hourglass hits the mark. That said, this puzzle is obviously not for everyone. If you have something better to do with eight months of your life, that is probably a good thing. (Ed - hahaha! I have done very little else for the last 9 years!)

Two sets of two pieces.
Jin Hoo Ahn has proven himself yet again to be an outstandingly talented designer. His Hanayama-produced efforts such as G&G and Padlock (Cassette) are highly regarded (G&G reviewed here and Padlock here). Padlock, interestingly, has some meta-level similarity with Hourglass in the way it moves through distinct states, each with their own dynamics, ending in a tricky final release. You definitely get your money’s worth with this type of puzzle. The experience is similar to sequential discovery but without the tools.

Final Analysis: If you don’t have Hourglass yet, go get it. It's a great and required puzzle. There is nothing else quite like it. But take your time and maintain a Zen composure throughout if at all possible. This is a marathon of a solve and you need to treat it as such. Stretch, hydrate, and for God’s sake don’t ever look at the clock. 

Ok Kevin, did I do it? Is this a full post? Either way, time to return this ship to its Captain...

Thank you so much, Mike! You have proven yourself to be a supreme puzzler! Not only have you solved some of the most difficult puzzles out there but you have shown yourself to be truly tenacious - I thought I was the only one who continues for months or even years on a single puzzle! I look forward to more fascinating insights from you when you are ready to write for me again.

Now I need to solve a few puzzles myself - I am back to work on Monday and I think it will be a nice rest compared to all the chores and DIY that I was forced to do!

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Let's Focus on the Doctor

Even if he Does Seem to Have a Thing For Imprisonment and Murder!

Guillotine aka Harun
A name which keeps coming up associated with some absolutely cracking puzzles over the last few years is that of the good Dr Volker Latussek. He was the man behind my favourite puzzle of 2018, the Casino packing puzzle which was so beautifully produced by both Jakub's Pelikan Workshop and Eric's Cubic Dissection (indeed, Eric's gorgeous version is still available here). If you don't have a copy yet then stop whatever you are doing right now and go buy it......Yes, right NOW! If you cannot afford Eric's beautiful version then a cheaper one is available from the Rombol range (for those in North America, PuzzleMaster has it here and In Europe, Rombol has it here). I have not managed to unearth any details about Dr Latussek but he seems to have a knack for designing puzzles with a very simple idea and a rather difficult challenging Aha! moment which is universally enjoyed. Another of his amazing puzzles that I have discussed recently was the Dunant also made by Pelikan which I also stopped you all in the process of whatever you were doing to go and buy immediately.

Now when I receive notice of another puzzle designed by Volker, I sit up and pay attention - it is pretty much guaranteed to be good. I was delighted to receive a copy of the Guillotine puzzle from Allard at the MPP after he returned from the Japan IPP (actually he had not brought enough and posted it to me a couple of days later). The premise is to pack all the pieces into the box so that the lid can slide freely to the far edge. It arrives improperly packed with the "head" sticking out. Now, you all know that I am totally rubbish at this sort of puzzle and so it was with some trepidation that I tipped the pieces out (I was worried that I wouldn't even be able to get them back into a storage position). I was rather surprised to see 2 types of very simple shape - how hard could it be?

6 U shapes and 6 bars - easy peasy! $%£k no!
This particular version that Allard had exchanged was made by Rombol in special contrasting woods. It has also been made available by Eric (for some reason it was called Harun) and again by Pelikan where it is still available now in gorgeous Cherry and Bubinga. If you want to buy a slightly cheaper version then, again, in the US get it from PuzzleMaster here or in Europe from Rombol here.

12 pieces are quite a lot for me to solve with a packing puzzle - but they are only 2 simple shapes and I figured that it would not take me too long. There is supposed to be one easy solution and then another harder solution - hopefully I will be able to get at least the easy one. Each evening whilst watching TV with Mrs S I would begin to make some shapes and hopefully some progress. After the first evening, I began to feel the "laser-burning stare" as I began to mutter increasingly loudly under my breath as failure after failure occurred. I always started promisingly but any victory was snatched from me at the last moment. There is actually plenty of room in the box for the pieces with at least a few gaps to spare but I always ended up with the gaps clumped together and a piece sticking out. I know that I am not very bright but this should not have been that much of a challenge!

After 4 days I was starting to tear out the remnants of my last remaining hair and I muttered in disgust to Derek, yes the genius! He left me feeling ridiculously inadequate by telling me that it had only taken him 10 minutes to find the easy solution and another 15 to find the tough one. OMG! What was I doing wrong? I asked for a small text clue and he typed out on FB messenger the following spoiler - don't look if you've not solved it:

Yesssss! I went straight at it and...failed dismally! For another couple of days! Sob! Getting angry at my stupidity, I decided to do what Allard always tells me...THINK© and for once it actually worked! I found something rather interesting. I definitely do not think that it is quite as easy as Derek suggested but certainly much easier than I made it look. I finally had a puzzle fully inside the box:

At last!
Next, it was time for the harder solution - I had a second spoiler for it from Derek which at least stopped me from heading completely in the wrong direction. No peaking unless you really really need it:

It stopped me heading the wrong direction but still was a significant challenge for me - I spent the whole of the remainder of the evening working on it before finally getting there. Wow! That one was even more challenging.

I have put major picture hints behind the next spoiler buttons - don't go there unless you have given up or have no intention of trying the puzzle.

If you really have to now then look here for a spoiler for the hard solution - don't do it as you really shouldn't need it:

I hope that you didn't peek! 😉😉

Bastille is another puzzle from the Good Dr Latussek that I played with in the design competition room in the Paris IPP and failed to work it out over the half-hour I spent on it there. I decided that I should buy a copy and managed to get one a few months later. It is a nicely made cubic frame containing 7 "prisoners" (rather appropriate for the Paris IPP) which were quarter segments of a cylinder. They had been p[acked into the cell and the aim was to break them all out of imprisonment. There is initially only a very small amount of movement possible which certainly doesn't seem to get you anywhere near the solution but with a little more play a discovery is made and it leads to one of those pesky thoughts. This particular pesky thought leads to another and after that, it should lead to a release of the prisoners. It is not hugely difficult but very enjoyable. Repacking is a fun little exercise in dexterity as nothing wants to sit where you need it. Greatly enjoyed and available from either Rombol direct here or PuzzleMaster here.

Tower of London
Image taken from the Rombol site
At the last Midlands Puzzle Party, I was chatting with Clive who is a genius at puzzle boxes but surprisingly even worse at packing puzzles than me. He either owned or had picked up a copy of the Tower of London puzzle by Dr Latussek and had been unable to unpack the 6 balls that were held tantalisingly loosely within the box. I had just shown off how to solve the Bastille puzzle and he challenged me to solve this one. It is not in my possession and I had never seen it before so set to with unease. There are 6 balls packed in such a way that it is easy to slightly move one at a time but not easily manipulate any towards the nice large holes in all 6 faces of the cube. It is fabulously tactile and infuriatingly awkward to manipulate but after just a few minutes of play, it was clear what I needed to do. Actually achieving this was another thing entirely and another 5 or 10 minutes ensued before a ball dropped out and then so did all of the rest leaving me to chase them around the floor. That cats would absolutely love this one! Clive was suitably impressed and then I was unsuitably horrified to realise that I couldn't put them all back!

Should be easy!
Image from Rombol
I got 5 balls back inside but couldn't for the life of me put the 6th back! Stupid boy! After a minute's thought, I had a little brainwave and carefully put the puzzle down hoping that it would stay assembled. That was quite fun and definitely an added pressure solving it in front of an audience.

Yep! Another great packing puzzle by the Master (he's as good as my friend, Laszlo Kmolnar)! This is also available from Rombol here or PuzzleMaster here. If you are making a purchase of the others then you might as well add it to the basket whilst you are there.

I hope that gives you some ideas for a puzzling future purchase or 3?

Sunday, 13 October 2019

A Board Burr With a Difference

3 Grooved Board Burrs and an Interloper
A few weeks ago, Juno put his third sequential discovery puzzle the SDBBB (Sequential Discovery Board Burred Box) up for sale and sent out his emails at 4am on a Saturday morning (UK time). The whole world had been waiting for it but unfortunately half of the world (the civilised bit!) was fast asleep in its' beds! Consequently, those pesky Yanks bought almost all 40 that Juno had managed to produce within just 3 or 4 hours and when the Europeans logged on they were all gone and much wailing could be heard.

So you could ask how I got one? Indeed, I should have been fast asleep in my bed but...wait for it! Time for a physiology lesson now! I suffer from severe insomnia (have done for decades). I fall asleep instantly as soon as my head hits the pillow but am usually awake and suffering at 3 or 4 am. Now an interesting phenomenon occurs to us humans at night...we secrete ADH (AntiDiuretic Hormone i.e. anti-weewee)) from our pituitary gland at the base of the brain mostly at night to suppress urine production overnight when we should be sleeping. When one wakes up the secretion of ADH slows and we start producing urine. So what we have here is a middle-aged man who already has a micro-bladder, who has woken up in the middle of the night. As a result, at about 4am I need to disturb the sleeping cats who are across my belly and thighs (compressing the rapidly filling bladder) and get up to go, as we Brits delicately put it, to the loo. I occasionally pick up my phone which is on my bedside table and check my emails. That night I shouted AHA!!!! Actually, I darent make any noise at all for fear of disturbing "she who sounds like a drowning hippo" at night Whack! Ouch! There might have been a puzzle purchased and Mrs S knew nothing about it. At 4:15 I am one of the few Europeans who got one just because of insomnia, a hormone and a cat sleeping across my lower abdomen. Lucky me!!! Lord! I wish I could sleep!

In the picture at the top of the post we have Juno's 3 grooved board burrs and in the middle at the back is the much larger (112mm cubed) gorgeous sequential discovery puzzle (yes, I know AND it's a box) disguised as a board burr. It is quite solid and surprisingly heavy made of American Rock Maple, Utile and some "metal parts". It arrived after a rather prolonged stay with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs before they decided to send me a ransom demand for its' release. Viewing it next to the original Sequential Discovery Burred Box, you cannot tell that either of them is not what they seem to be at first sight:

Is it a burr? Is it a Box? No, it's a Sequential Discovery puzzle!  Both of them.
After a visit to the gym to try and achieve a body beautiful (or maybe slightly less horrific), I fetched it from the post office after paying my fees and forced Mrs S to admit that it was lovely and that it was well worth the money (of course, I didn't tell her how much it actually cost! I'm sleep deprived and stupid but not suicidal! Whack! Ouch!). Breakfast consumed with Mrs S and I was allowed to play with my new toy. I'd had a particularly tough week of major surgery and she took pity on me for once and let me relax rather than do chores or electrocute myself doing DIY...again!

At first, I can find only one sliding movement (see, it's a burr) and nothing else. Then I find another few sliding movements and a piece falls off onto the sleeping cat (they never leave me sitting for long) and I discover my first metal piece. Before going any further, I have a look to see what I actually did. It's a rather nice little sequence. The metal piece is stuck inside until I find another one which happens to be magnetic (Juno has used lots of clever ideas). Here I am stuck for a few minutes until I discover a rather unintuitive move and then another. The cat is getting fed up with the rain of wooden stuff on his head!

A few steps later I have a tool and an obvious place to use it. The tool is duly used and I tuck it away from the cat who always runs off with stuff like that and I REALLY don't want it under our fridge along with hundreds of missing cat toys and half-eaten spiders! At this point, quite a lot of stuff happens and I think I'm almost there. The construction of these pieces is superb! Luckily I didn't lose the tool as it needed to be used again. Yet another odd shaped piece arrives and I think I'm almost there.

Nope! Not yet - I have 2 pieces firmly locked together and am not entirely sure what is holding them that way. There are "tool"-shaped holes but nothing in them so that won't work. Time to borrow Allard's brain and Think©. I notice a piece with something that seems superfluous and wonder whether it has any further uses. Aha! Suddenly, I have somewhere to use the tool but it doesn't seem to do anything. Ouch, my brain hurts. After a few more minutes of doing the same thing over and over again, I have one of my rather infrequent thoughts and suddenly I shout aloud...YESSSS!

Opened the Burr/Sequential discovery puzzle/Box
Now that is a very unexpected final step. I don't think I have seen anything like it before! The construction is simply stunning! For once Juno has stopped teasing me with bread to fit in the boxes, this time we have a glass of wine to celebrate or maybe it is a drink of squash (For you Yanks who don't know what squash is in the UK, look at this). I was so dizzy afterwards that I am convinced that it was wine. No, I am not going to show off all the pieces as it is too much of a spoiler. Maybe I will show it off in a few months once people have managed to solve their copies.

Putting it all back together proved to be a fair bit of a challenge as I had pieces all over the place including some stashed under my legs out of reach of the pesky inquisitive cat. After a couple of false starts in which I forgot to put one piece back in place and also where I discovered that 2 pieces are interchangeable until you actually try to close it completely, I got it back together. I LOVED IT!

This puzzle is considerably easier than the previous 2 SD puzzles from Juno (especially the Slammed car which kept me going for weeks. I am not disappointed in the least - it was great fun and beautifully made. I do know that one idiot decided it was so easy that he wanted to flog it for a HUGE profit. My good friend Ed bought it and despite being blind solved it and enjoyed it immensely. Puzzles really don't have to be impossibly hard to be worth a place in your collection - they need to be enjoyable (being beautiful also helps). I will be taking this to the next MPP to allow the rest of the Brits to experience it.

Grooved Board Burr #3
Having solved the Sequential discovery board burr, I figured I really should solve the third in Juno's Grooved Board Burr. I have been attempting it for months and getting nowhere. There are lots and lots of possible paths and many blind ends as well as complete loops ending up back at the beginning. One of the main reasons I had been failing was that I had been using my usual back and forth approach to keep track of my path so I could always return to the start and hopefully be able to remember enough to reassemble it. A night or two after I solved the SD board burr, I really went for it on the burr and decided to be less scrupulous with my attempts to remember the path. I found something promising...possibly and realised I could not get it back to the beginning. I had a board hanging way off the puzzle but still firmly locked in place and could not get it back on! OMG! Panic set in.

Mrs S was rather upset at all the panting and groaning and muttering noises I was making whilst we were watching TV. I was getting increasingly lost in an extremely complex path as pieces moved almost off and onto the puzzle. Finally, after 4 months and many hours of attempts, I removed my first piece. Phew! It should come apart easily now. WRONG! The puzzle remains incredibly stable even after 3 of the pieces have been removed. It took me quite a while to work out how to get the second piece off and even the third. Just before it was time to go to bed (no wonder I am sometimes insomniac!), I finally had 6 boards to examine.

They look so innocuous! That was damned difficult!
Close up I could see the wood choices and construction of the pieces was spot on. It has been made of New Guinea Walnut (Anacardiaceae family tree), European Beech and Silver Ash (Citrus family tree) formed into Juno's characteristic plywood and the grooves and pins are just perfect - the puzzle is 86mm cubed. As all of Juno's puzzle, there is his home-made brand on one of the pieces:

Stunning detail
I had absolutely no way to put it back together from memory and my skills do not lie in the assembly path. I still have Brian Young's craftsman version of the Mega-six burr next to me which I have failed to assemble in 2 years of attempts so there is no way on earth I can assemble this board burr. I went to the amazing Burrtools for help and realised that this was so complex in construction that I would need an 18x18x18 grid to construct it. The solution is an amazing level 34-9-9-6-2. No wonder it took me so long. The Grooved board burr #3 is still available from Juno's store here. I am sure that Yukari will be only too delighted to post one out to you straight away. You will not be disappointed in the challenge.

What should I try next? I have received a couple of new puzzles from good friends this week. From Johan Heyns in South Africa, I bought the Septenary cube which requires 4813 moves for full disassembly:

Septenary cube.
Acrylic and wood - a nice relaxing challenge!
Also, I took delivery of a wonderful puzzle made by the incredible Stephan Baumegger from Austria. I couldn't resist the Pandora burr when he showed it off on his Facebook page! At level 33-24-10 it will be a hugely tough challenge...much less than the 4813 for Septenary burr.

How gorgeous is that? Pandora.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

They Made it Right...

In Fact Probably Better Than Ever!

Yes it’s time for you all to rush back to Pelikan Puzzles again and look at a bunch of gorgeous new toys! Not only have they released new stuff but the mistake they made with the last Yamamoto packing puzzle has been fixed and the replacement box is available for all who purchased it for free.

Back in the mists of time (2014) when I attended my first IPP in London, I remember playing with and admiring the stunning beauty of a puzzle designed and made by Mike Toulouzas in the Design Competition room (he actually had 3 entries that year and won the puzzlers award for his Fairy's Door puzzle box). I did not know at the time that it was one of Mike's puzzles but other puzzlers with more experience recognised straight away who had made it from the craftsmanship. I do remember playing with it briefly and not getting anywhere quickly. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for one possibly being released in the future because it was very beautiful and very tactile.

Number 3 of 60
Now, five years on, Mike has collaborated with Jakub and Jaroslav to produce a limited run (60) of the Trinity puzzle and I can categorically say that it is stunning! It arrived in pieces and the aim is to assemble the 3 identical notched pieces into a shape that entrap the 3 wooden posts. Pelikan has constructed this from a beautiful wood which has been smoothly turned and finished to enhance the grain. The puzzle pieces are a nice chunky size and finished so accurately that the corners are sharp (don't poke yourself with one).  I initially began looking for a way to assemble the 3 pieces whilst ignoring the trio of posts. 2 of the pieces fit together very nicely in a few ways but getting the third to make a nice shape and fit together proved slightly awkward. Eventually, I thought of a shape that looked like it should be nice but was blocked. Aha!!! This is a Coordinate motion puzzle - something that Pelikan do very well indeed (see here and here and here)! I worked out a nice movement that would assemble the required shape - it looks lovely...a sort of knot/trefoil.

Time to assemble it on the posts. Oh boy, this takes the difficulty level up a notch or two! Trying to make that sweet coordinate motion with the posts in the way and constraining positions proved rather awkward. The posts were positioned in just the right way so as to require the pieces to be held at an awkward angle and then moved in an even more awkward direction. I'm not sure about all of you but I don't have 3 hands and Mrs S absolutely refuses to help me solve puzzles by providing an extra hand. My initial attempts were not aided by balancing the construction on the back of a very mobile cat! After the second evening of trying and failing, I took it to the kitchen granite and worked there. FINALLY! It slid together in a very satisfying manner and looks fabulous! DON'T press the show/hide button until after you have solved your copy.

The Trinity will be going on display on the desk - something Mrs S only allows for one or two of the most special puzzles!

YES! They made it right!
For all of you who bought the Petit Pack with the last release from Pelikan, you will all be aware that a mistake was made with the box. Once Jakub and Jaroslav had been made aware they were immediately anxious to make it right for all their customers and they have produced a replacement box to the same standards as all their other puzzles. The rear hole is the right size and perfect for you to reattempt to solve this wonderful puzzle.

Crystal Ring
Also in the upcoming release from Pelikan is another of those wonderfully simple-looking packing puzzles based on a 3x3x2 box cavity with an interesting entry shape. The Crystal Ring has been beautifully made and Jakub has assured me that the final shape has been checked thoroughly by Osanori-san himself. Pack the 3 pieces inside...easy peasy! Nope! It requires a 2.5.7 sequence to pack it correctly and involves a very nice little dance of the pieces around each other. The assembly is made tougher by the shape of the pentomino piece really restricting the placement of the other two pieces and is not helped by the fact that the other two are identical. When I tried my assemblies outside of the box it always felt like the tetrominoes should be mirror images to fit around the other piece. The final arrangement of the pieces is quite counterintuitive - the final assembly is very satisfying! Osanori-san and Pelikan definitely got it right this time - wonderful:

Nothing is given away here!
My absolute favourite from the upcoming releases from Pelikan is another by the amazing Osanori Yamamoto, Bisect Frame which is "just" a 2 piece burr in a rather fancy bisected frame:

Bisect Frame
Available in 3 different finishes, it is stunning. I got the Purpleheart and Maple version which makes a lovely contrast. My early play revealed the rather startling bisection of the frame which is beautifully hidden by the amazing craftsmanship by Pelikan. Moving pieces around revealed that there was going to be a really interesting exploration with several blind endings. I used my usual back and forth approach to ensure that I didn't lose track and explored as far as I could. At times the puzzle pieces start to rotate on each other which can add to the challenge of finding the next move and a few times it looked like a rotation might release a piece. In the end, it is only possible in one place to rotate out the pieces and this is just before the final disassembly point anyway. It took me 2 evenings to get my 4 pieces and another evening to work out how to put it back together. Making my customary Burrtools file was a pleasure as always.

Amazingly complex pieces!
I love framed burrs and this is a wonderful example. It is my favourite from this release batch although Trinity looks stunning on display and is a real challenge to assemble.

Also released (but not bought by me) is Peamaru by Volker Latussek, a challenging looking pattern assembly puzzle and the Harun puzzle also by him. This was recently sold out very quickly by Eric Fuller and was Allard's exchange puzzle at the recent IPP in Japan (where it was named Guillotine). My copy is less beautiful but very much appreciated as a gift from the main man himself.


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