Sunday, 17 March 2019

Stretching my Abilities

Stretchy 12 Burr
In mid-February, Juno and Yukari announced that 3 new burrs were going to be put on sale and I instantly jumped over to have a look. There is something special about Juno's work - he has a tremendous mind that seems to come up with brilliant stuff all the time and then, unlike a lot of what goes up on Puzzlewillbeplayed, he critically looks at the design to see whether it has anything specific to mark it out as worth making and us purchasing. Only a very small number of his designs seem to get out into the world for which my bank account and Mrs S are very grateful! Of the 3, I could not resist adding the Stretchy 12 burr to my collection and playing with it fairly soon after arrival.

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, it does look like I buy absolutely everything but believe me, I do choose only puzzles that I think I might be able to solve or that will be fun to play with. My eyes immediately jumped to the description:
This diabolical puzzle requires 15 moves to remove the first piece from the assembled shape and another 19 moves to remove the second piece. 
The puzzle and its pieces have 7-unit length. Just before the first piece and the second piece is removed from the assembled shape of the puzzle, it stretches to a 13-unit length. Every single piece moves during the assembling and disassembling process. It’s quite a transformation of the shape.
Most of the movements follow the X or Y axis but very rarely the Z axis. Find a flat surface and choose a stable orientation of the puzzle and then, you can easily push and pull puzzle pieces.
The fact that a higher number of moves is required for the second piece removal and the enormous changes in conformation during the solve process made it very interesting to me. The kicker, however, is the last paragraph - a burr puzzle that can be solved on a flat surface struck me as something that I really had to experience.

When it arrived the first thing to strike me was the size - this is a fairly large burr at 10cm across in every direction and the fact that it is a mixture of boards and sticks too with boards made from his own home-made plywood. Not just any old plywood (this is layers if American Black Walnut surrounding European Beech - very striking) and the burr sticks are rather substantial made from rather gorgeous PNG Rosewood (aka Amboyna or Narra). Every part of this puzzle is substantial and an absolute delight to fiddle with - pieces are loose and slide easily. The construction is such that it is relatively easy to see inside and see whether certain moves might work or what is blocking a particular slide.

The initial exploration produces some wild expansions of the puzzle which is great fun. I was bearing in mind the X-Y axis claim and found an orientation to explore in. After 12 or 13 moves I was stuck! There were quite a few moves possible with several potential branch points but none seemed to lead anywhere. This stayed on my armchair for play for weeks with me getting nowhere - what was I doing wrong?

I began to get rather desperate! The weekend was coming up and I was at risk of having nothing to write about for you, my slightly less crazy than me, readers. Yesterday evening after a nice day out with "the frightening one" I sat down to watch TV and play with it. At this point, I reread the description and saw the "rarely Z axis" words - Aha! Now I looked afresh at what I had done and at multiple points on my pathway I pulled upwards and pushed downwards with no effect until I saw that if I move this one piece over here...
Wow! How had I missed that? It opened up a whole new sequence and my first piece came out. Phew! I might just have a blog post for you. Then it was a matter of discovering how a really large number of moves might lead to the removal of another piece - there were a lot of possibilities but one approach immediately stood out and was successful. Brilliant!

The remainder of the disassembly proceeded quite easily and seemed to remain very stable right up to the end which is very unusual.

The pieces are stunning!
In my rush to disassemble it for the blog, I had not paid any attention to the disassembly order and orientation for anything other than the first 2 pieces and after admiring the beauty of the wood and workmanship, I was forced to resort to Burrtools for the reassembly - but if you are careful then you might not need this yourself.

It is one of the most enjoyable burrs to play with and explore - there is one left on Juno's Pluredro shop and it is well worth adding this puzzle to your collection.

Just made available.
Whilst you are there you might want to consider buying one of the remaining copies of the Grooved 6 board burr #2 which was released yesterday. It looks fabulous and if it is anywhere near as good as the 1st version which I reviewed here and Allard reviewed here, then it will be a wonderful and fun challenge. I couldn't resist and it is winging its way to me now.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Cubes, Cubes, CUBES!

Or How a Fixation is My Undoing

They don't look much like cubes! From the left:
HypnoTIC, OcTIC, PackTIC and StarTIC #2
Many of you will have seen the shiny new website and the latest gorgeous production run by Brian Menold, the "published professor of wood". It included yet more of the amazing designs from the incredible 3D mind of Andrew Crowell. Andrew has been shall we say, rather prolific recently! Bernhard who is the world's foremost expert on Turning Interlocking Cubes has mentioned that there have been at least 27 new designs recently from Andrew and I, of course, wanted to get as many as I possibly could because I have a cube fixation! At least that is what Mrs S thinks. I reviewed the previous TIC from Andrew and Brian here and of course, it was fabulous. When Brian released another batch of four, I jumped straight away and the four beauties pictured above arrived.

StarTIC #2
You will have realised straight away that these don't look like cubes! Brian asked whether I wanted them sent out assembled or disassembled and gave me a little advice. Only StarTIC #2 arrived assembled - it is a cube in a frame. I started with this one because I always find disassembly much easier than assembly and wanted to give myself a little headstart for the blog. made from Walnut and Maple, there is 1 easy to find move (it works under gravity) and then another fairly easy to find but rather unexpected move. At this point things get interesting. Opening up spaces in the interior further pieces can move and then the inevitable and confusing rotations begin. Oh boy! This gets fun very quickly! During the disassembly, several pieces have to rotate and I found it fun to explore. I think it took about an hour to take it all apart and as a starter puzzle, it was perfect.

Looks very innocuous
Having scrambled the pieces, I set to reassembling which was definitely a tougher challenge. I had very rapidly forgotten the orientation and managed to confuse 2 of the similar-shaped pieces. Reassembly took me well over 2 hours and quite a lot of swearing. Why swear? Because if I could not put it back together again there was no solution and Burrtools would not be able to help me. Plus, remember that I am rubbish at assembly! I have to say that 3 hours plus of puzzling for $60 is pretty good and I had a beautiful wooden ornament/worry bead to display/fiddle with.

OcTIC - notice the reinforcing pin where a joint may get stressed
Next up was the one that Brian suggested would be the easiest and definitely best sent out in pieces, OcTIC. Not sure why that particular name when there are 5 rather than 8 pieces but he was right for it to be the starter. There are 2 nice large chunks of cube which are a good pair to begin with and not much of a problem working out how they fit together. Having done that, it becomes fairly obvious where the remaining pieces fit inside even if they won't just slot in. My fixation on the cube shape was my undoing! I could work out how to put most of the pieces inside (even with the nice easy rotation move for one of them) but I could not get all of them in. Everything I tried ended up with one piece outside. My fixation was killing me! It took a couple of hours before I finally let go of the initial cube shape and started with other pieces first. Then I discovered another unexpected rotation and a lovely sliding sequence before my Aha! moment was complete - beautiful!

It took an embarrassingly long time!
So I was 3 days into my puzzling when I got sick and ended up with a nice pile of new deliveries and no energy to open them! 2 days later I was back and puzzling again! I went with the HypnoTIC cube which Brian had said was pretty tough but doable as an assembly puzzle.

HypnoTIC pieces
It has vibrantly stunning woods and also a couple of those nice brass pins. I found that I could fathom the positions of the pieces pretty quickly and progressed quite rapidly. In fact, within a few minutes, I shouted my Aha! and was very pleased with myself until Mrs S pointed out that I had not made a proper cube:

Oh dear!
Embarrassed, I started afresh and every time my assembly ended up with this. I could not for the life of me see any other way to assemble this puzzle. This was supposed to be "not too bad" and I was in danger of having yet another unsolvable puzzle in my collection! Time to go to bed and try again another day. The following evening I continued to get stuck at the same point. It took me a whole extra evening before I overcame yet another fixation! I had quickly found a very nice way to assemble the initial cube starter shape - it fitted together beautifully with an easy sliding motion and I was convinced it was correct. Only after 2 evenings of failure did I reassess and realise that my easy start moves were wrong and there was an alternative (harder to find) starter:
Looks great? WRONG!
Ashamed to say that it took 2 days to find this!
Having done this the next 2 pieces fit in with multiple rotational moves and setups but a very satisfying search. The last piece fits in ONLY if things are absolutely perfectly aligned. It requires a very subtle rotation and position - if you are out by a degree or 2 and not aligned right then no chance. Another day to find this and finally after many hours AHA!

OMG! It nearly killed me!
Wow! What a challenge! I was exhausted and feeling very stupid but also exhilarated about the new skills I was obtaining. Again, fantastic value for $60. Finally, it was time to attempt the tough one, PackTIC...

A packing puzzle with rotations? Hell yeah!
 Again, a gorgeous choice of woods and I could see that with so many smaller pieces to be packed inside that this might be a little challenging for my tiny brain. As usual, I started with the larger pieces and immediately struggled. Each of them could fit into the larger cube but would not leave enough space for the other one to go in and extend the full 4 unit length across the cube. I gradually found a second method of adding a long piece but it still would not leave a channel for the other to pass through. Uncharitably, I did start to think that Brian might have put the wrong pieces together in the box but I quickly shrugged that suspicion off. I was fixated...YET AGAIN! It took me the whole of Saturday evening before I could even put the first 2 pieces into position! Damn! I am rubbish at puzzling!

Having worked out the 2 big pieces it was time to work on the smaller one. How hard could they be? Stupid boy! There are a number of ways that 2 or even 3 of the small pieces can go inside and once or twice I found a technique to get them there. After that, I either discovered that the space for the final piece was split into 2 sections or it was impossible to put it in there. The sequence and positioning took me another 3 hours and the Aha! moment was fabulous! I could not believe how clever that assembly was. Brian was right that they should have been sent out in pieces. Only just before writing this article did I finally solve it - nearly missed my deadline! Phew! Another stunning cube for my fixation and to reinforce to Mrs S that all my toys look the same!

Packed them in! Brilliant puzzle!
If Brian or anyone else produces these again then just say yes and hand over your cash without question! They are wonderful additions to anyone's collection.

Finally able to take a collection photo!
Now how should I store them? Assembled or not? It's a bit of a dilemma.

I might have received a few more of this series of puzzles from a certain German "enabler" friend of mine. How many? More than I am letting on to and enough to make Mrs S very VERY angry! OMG!

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Just a 6 Piece Burr?

Heck No!

Grooved 6 Board Burr #1
Just a quick review of Juno's Grooved 6 Board Burr #1 today - I spent all of yesterday looking at a pile of boxes from all over the world whilst not being allowed to open them. Mrs S had chores and DIY for me to do and after she had opened the door to several delivery men on Friday she was firing her laser burning stare rather indiscriminately all over the place! I feared for my life and decided that I should do whatever she wanted me to do for a while. I did not even open the boxes until I had finished a whole day of work around the house - there was no puzzling to be had either! Someone else was very interested.

Sob! Not allowed to touch!
A few weeks ago I finally managed to solve a rather tough puzzle and was going to review it at the time but Allard beat me to it - I solved my copy of this just before he published his very fine review here. I put off my blog post but decided I should still post something as this puzzle is still for sale with just 2 left and maybe I can convince a few of you who ignored him to buy it. It is a magnificent puzzle!

I have a few 6 piece burrs and 3 very beautiful burr sets which allow me to make a hundred or more extras. I also have a few board burrs which I enjoy and find fun to play with. They tend to be only slightly difficult because most of the pieces are based on a simple 1x4x6 orthogonal grid and hence cannot be terribly complex. In fact, when Juno put this puzzle up for sale way back in October last year, I bought the Spade case and the Tangled clip burr but decided not to buy the simple looking board burr.....Stupid boy! A few weeks later I got to play with it at the MPP. It looked like someone had nearly dismantled it and left it like that. I overheard them say that they could not go any further and also could not get it back to the beginning. My interest was piqued and I picked it up - Ah! I see! This is a much more interesting puzzle than I had thought initially - the grooved aspect to it made a HUGE difference. I did manage to return it to the start position and left it like that because I had decided that I really ought to buy my own copy. Yes, it is THAT good!

It arrived in December and I started to play. It is wonderfully tactile and remarkably beautiful to look at. It is 8cm cubed and made of American Cherry, with Jarrah (reinforcement splines) and Bamboo dowel pins. Really stunning. I couldn't resist playing with it straight away and discovered that there are lots of moves possible very quickly after you start. This gives quite a few pathways to try and one or two are really quite long with multiple branches to wander along. This may seem quite frightening but I personally found that retracing my steps was never a problem - I am quite disciplined about maintaining a set orientation all the time whilst I explore and so never lose my place. At least one of the paths is long enough that I was convinced that I was going the right way - it just felt right and was reinforced when I appeared to be just a step or two away from removing one of the boards:

It looks like that left-hand board should come off soon
You know how it is? It all seems to be going so well and you get so close but that final step just never quite happens! I worked on it for a few months without managing to get any closer to removing that first board. Why was it so blasted difficult? Most 6 board burrs are nowhere near this tough and at this point, I realised that with the pins and grooves these boards were not based on that 1x4x6 grid, these were actually based on a 3x12x18 grid which allows a MUCH higher level solution. Even so, the stated level of 22 for the first piece removal of 22 should still have been possible for me without so much difficulty. Nothing I could do would let me get any further. I just couldn't find the final few steps.

You all know me by now! If I can't solve something then I just keep at it until I get it. Sometimes it takes a few days or weeks and sometimes it may take months. Eventually, after 3 months of playing most evenings, I had that highly craved Aha! moment. Juno had completely led me astray! The true pathway was quite an early divergence from that initial path. The correct sequence was really very well hidden and I kicked myself for failing to find it earlier. Even having found the new pathway, it is still not a straightforward sequence to remove the first and subsequent pieces and requires quite a bit of thought and planning. Absolutely genius!

It looks so innocuous!
Having spent so long working on it I had quite a lot of muscle memory for the sequence of moves and the first few times I was able to reassemble it without difficulty. The key factor though is that I always kept the pieces in order and sort of oriented correctly. When it came to lining them up for the photograph, I lost that order and orientation and then was unable to reassemble it. There are 4246 possible assemblies of the pieces but only one is achievable - this might explain the difficulty of reassembly.

Luckily I find the making of a Burrtools file an essential part of my burr enjoyment and had a lovely time entering it in and discovering the level is - a considerable challenge for "just" a 6 board burr.

Hopefully, I have tempted you (along with Allard) to go and buy the last 2 - it is fabulous and you will not be disappointed.

So you may be asking what was in my boxes? After a frenzy of unpacking it appeared that there was a cat in one of my boxes - he certainly approved of Robert Yarger's choice of box:

If I fits, I sits!
The space inside (rapidly filled by cat) was some long-awaited puzzles:

Mrs S is unimpressed by my splurge!
We have a Stickman, some Menolds, another Juno and of course, several Krasnows. This might keep me going for a while. Don't tell Mrs S that I'm expecting 1 or 2 (or 3) more deliveries soon!

Whack! Ouch! 

Sorry dear.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

I Bought a Box by Accident

But I Am Definitely NOT Disappointed!

Last year I was perusing the IPP design competition page and immediately spotted the Hydrant puzzle. There are a few designers and craftsmen whose work is recognisable immediately and even with no written attribution, it was clear that this was the work of my friend Stephan Baumegger (his extensive work can be seen on his Facebook page, Puzzleisure. Having watched him move from burrs to turning wood and then quickly combining the two pursuits, I was delighted to see something truly gorgeous. The stated aim on the design competition page was to "Find the fire hose" and I did not pay much attention to the Slocum classification of 2.1. See here and here for more information on puzzle classification systems
In retrospect, I should have looked to see that Slocum 2.1 means:
Trick or secret opening puzzles (Japanese trick boxes, puzzle boxes, etc.)
Now as you all know, I don't collect puzzle boxes (except Stickman boxes) unless there is an additional feature to the puzzling but, in my defence, I didn't pay attention. I actually thought that the puzzle might have been one of Stephan's amazing shaped burrs like the Droid which I have so far failed to solve despite trying on and off for several years or Thor's hammer which took me quite a long time and the fabulous Tokamak which he gave me in Paris.

Thor's Hammer
Once the IPP participants had deliberated and pronounced that they really loved the Hydrant (it was one of the "Top Ten Vote Getters", I contacted Stephan to ask if he was making any more of these for sale and could I buy one? He said "Yes" and "Yes" but I would have to wait as they were going to take a while to make. The intense puzzling that was done at the IPP showed him that the mechanism needed strengthening and this was going to take some design and workshop effort. Of course, I was happy to wait for a nice and fully functioning puzzle which arrived many months later in February 2019.

I was not disappointed - it is GORGEOUS!

I played with it after taking some photos and realised that it was definitely not a burr. Apparently, Stephan had initially tried to make it as a burr aiming for the shape of the American-Darling B62-B5 Hydrant. His initial ideas produced a burr with level 29.6.4 (total 43). But he had problems building it accurately enough.

Looked impressive but did not come to fruition
Having failed to manufacture a burr but still being fixated on the American hydrant shape, Stephan moved to an alternative puzzle type and started the old fashioned way, just like his fantastic Moulin Rouge puzzle...with pencil and paper:

Cropped so as not to give anything away
Prototypes were built and sample materials sought - the critical part of this puzzle was the end...finding the firehose. The part for this needed to be surprising and special as well as critical to the function of the design. It would appear that Stephan bought a LOT of novelty English Mustard over the last year! If you've ever seen one of those trick opening jars with exploding snakes inside then you will know what is in the hydrant.

At the IPP it became apparent that some of the internal parts of the design were not strong enough to stand up to repeated solving attempts. Eventually, after discussion with Diniar Namdarian, a 3D designed and printed part was produced complete with full plastic hydrant puzzle exteriors:

They look good in plastic
But despite this now fully functional and robust model, Stephan is still primarily a wood craftsman and he really wanted to make it in wood again with the new improved mechanism. He had perfect designed and printed parts as templates and this allowed him to build the new series as he had initially dreamed but as a hybrid Hydrant. In this new series, two hidden parts are made out of wooden filament.

Simply amazing!          Taken from the Puzzleisure FB page
As soon as Stephan showed off the pictures of the new batch, I knew that I was getting something beautiful and very well made.

I realised very early on that this is not a burr - but did not think any further what it might be. There are lots of tactile pieces to play with and some move a bit, some move a lot, some wiggle ever so slightly whilst others are stuck hard. There are no external clues and pushing and pulling all available parts does not provide any real clues. Wiggling one protrusion does have an odd effect on another one but this did no more than confuse me. By pure chance I worked out the first step - it is quite simple but took me a fair while to find. At this point, I can see inside and can see.....absolutely nothing! Oh well, more fiddling blind. At this point, I realised that 2 (or even 3) parts were able to interact in an initially random way but the more I did it the more I could find a pattern and set up an image in my usually empty head. Quite a few things were happening but a crucial something was eluding me. Time for bed that night and back to it the following day. One of my few fortés is that I do tend to keep at things for a very long time. I did this here and my mental picture got better and better until I had a VERY big Aha! moment. Now I really could see inside and see something useful.

Further interaction of pieces is needed but despite seeing inside and suddenly gaining even more insight, I was still unable to go any further. At several points during this next phase, I felt that everything I needed was visible but still the solution eluded me.

Work intervened and I was only able to spend short periods on the puzzle in the evenings but that last step was impossible - had I broken anything? Keep at it you fool! Suddenly, last Thursday, I had an epiphany - how could I have missed it? Suddenly, I had found the firehose which I can confirm is a critical part of the puzzle:

Of course, I would not give anything away!
Next, I had to work out the exact sequence of steps needed to go from a complete assembled puzzle to extracting the hose. There are quite a few distinct steps which must be carried out in the correct order and very precisely over 3 distinct phases. Resetting the puzzle is fun too as you must know those steps well enough to perform them in reverse. Brilliant!

When Stephan told me that it is not a burr, I assumed that it would be a sequential discovery puzzle and I was wrong. There are no tools to be found in this. So what type of puzzle is it? I thunk about it and have to conclude that Stephan has designed, made and sold me a puzzle box! I am not disappointed about it at all - it is a fantastic puzzle. It is made out of 44 different parts and is a triumph of ingenuity. I cannot wait to see what else he comes up with.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Twisting My Corners to Madness

4x4 Curvy Dino Cube
Elite Skewb
Yes, I know that most of you puzzlers that read my blog don't really like twisties but you should give them a try - they are worth it and not that tough!
Phew! Thank goodness this week has ended! I/we have had a horrendous week - it started with my 9-hour marathon rota writing marathon last Saturday leaving me thoroughly knackered and then after my restful Sunday of gym and blog we had a very unforeseen (and VERY expensive) visit to the emergency vet with a very poorly distressed cat! My pharmacology knowledge was tested over the subsequent few days after further vet visits and finding ways to dose our poor boy with all sorts of drugs to help him feel better. It settled then flared up and required rather large doses before finally settling again. Needless to say, sleep has been minimal, stress has been high, arguments have begun and gone secondary to it all and I am feeling quite frazzled. Puzzling was not high on my agenda but, like when I first began this odyssey all those years ago after a stressful event, playing with a toy certainly helped me focus my attention on something less horrible and get some stress relief.

Looking at the photos above I know that you are thinking how can one of those awful twisty puzzles possibly provide stress relief? Surprisingly, these particular designs are remarkably soothing and one definitely needs to concentrate on them which forces most other thoughts out of my head - "She who must be listened to" would say that there is absolutely nothing in my head at the best of times and she might not be wrong!

Twisty puzzles really do not need to be a source of anxiety and despair - I agree that the initial part of the learning curve is a little steep but once some basic ideas have been acquired and understood then solving a lot of puzzles is just a matter of understanding and a little time for experimentation. You should have noticed that both of these puzzles share a common feature - the cuts are oblique across the faces - they are corner turning puzzles. Straight away that should give you hope that the solve process will not be too difficult.

I started with the 4x4 Curvy Dino Cube which is a combination of a slightly deep and a shallow cut puzzle. Here is what a few simple turns look like:

Just a few turns
Dino Cube
The Dino cube is a very simple corner turning puzzle where the corners are the full length of an edge but not beyond the centre of a face. It consists entirely of edge pieces and is solved using a very simple up, up, down, down algorithm which effectively cycles 3 pieces into each other's positions. In the 4x4 version, the cuts have been retracted slightly and curved. They still do not cross the centre of a face and the end result is to create corner pieces and deeper corner pieces as well as more edges. However, the resulting puzzle can still be solved using the basic up, up, down, down mechanism. The difference is that one has extra pieces that need to be solved separately (the corners). The worry that using the up, up, down, down algorithm might ruin things positioned elsewhere can be ignored as the even number of moves of each adjacent corner means that the corner pieces do not get rescrambled. I attempted this puzzle first and scrambled it without even bothering to search for algorithms - I was that confident! Foolish? Yes! Always and proud of it!

Horrific? Nope! It's easy!
Looking at the picture above, it quickly can be seen that the top face should be pink and the right face should be blue - if you are not sure look at the top front corner and the pieces further in, then look at the far right corner and pieces further in. It should quickly dawn on you that these corners and deeper pieces (even 2 layers in) do not get scrambled out of their orbits - they are just rotated around. Therefore the first step is just to rotate all the corners in each layer into the appropriate face. It only takes a few minutes and then a good bit of the cube is solved. After that, the other pieces need to be moved around and into place. If one carries out an up, up, down, down on a double layer then you can see that the result is this:

A three cycle involving shallow edges and the deep edges
This simple algorithm has moved 3 blocks of pieces in one go. Now, something that moves lots of different pieces is seldom useful but here we can focus on just the inner edges. On that top left edge, the diamond-shaped blue and white pieces are actually one piece - it's a single edge as they cannot be separated from each other (think about it and the geometry). So if we just ignore the outer edge pieces we can use the basic algorithm to position ALL of the inner edge pieces alongside their corners first. It takes a while but, as long as one is systematic about it, and tries to end with edges on a single face as the last trio, then this is a fun thing to do.

Next, we only have the outer edges to return to position. It might occur to you to ask: "what if we do the up, up, down, down but mix the shallow cut turns and the deep ones?" Good question! It does something beautiful:

A remarkable 3 cycle
Suddenly we can see that we have isolated the outer edges and not moved anything else! At this point, it is useful to understand the concept of a "setup move". If the 3 pieces to be cycled are not in exactly the right places to be cycled easily then all that need be done is to perform a setup move to temporarily move a piece to the correct position, perform our wondrous 4 move algorithm and then undo that setup move. These setup moves can be simple or complex - as long as one remembers to undo them after the algorithm then the solution to this cube is trivial!

Yep! This twisty can be very soothing to the troubled mind!

Next on to the Elite Skewb (can be bought from PuzzleMaster if you live in North America). This is based on the Skewb and the Master Skewb which I discussed back in 2013. The Skewb is a very deep cut corner turner (think of it as like a corner turning 2x2 Rubik cube) and the Master version has shallower cuts too (this should be thought of as a 3x3 version).

Skewb - a 2x2 corner turner
Master Skewb - a 3x3 corner turner
I consider the Master Skewb as one of the best twisty puzzles out there and not too hard for anyone who wants to go just a bit beyond the basics - I really should one day revamp my Twisty puzzle advice for beginners post to include it. The Elite Skewb is really the next level up - it is not a 4x4 puzzle but a 5x5 (I suspect that the "elite" name has been used incorrectly and maybe it should be a Professor skewb? The difference with these from the Dino cubes is that all the cuts are beyond the centre point of the square faces:

Just 3 turns
I usually spend a little time with more complex puzzles trying to find algorithms by carrying out simple ideas like the up, up, down, down or others to see what effect they have and then undoing them before trying something else. Once I have a few ideas then I scramble it deliberately. Unfortunately, this time I had a catastrophe - I got distracted and lost count of turns - I quickly had a mess:

Ooops! Now I'm in trouble!
With many of the higher order puzzles, the aim is to reduce the puzzle to a smaller one. Hence a 4x4 or 5x5 Rubic cube is reduced to a 3x3 by combining pieces into giant edges and centres. It seemed like a good idea to try and reduce this to a Master Skewb. I would need to find a way to move all the tiny edges into pairs (there's one pair already made at the top front right edge above), then try to fill in the small squares between them to make nice big edges. After that, if I could pair up all the rectangular pieces then I would effectively have a simpler puzzle to solve. Easier said than done!

My accidental scramble of this happened at the end of last year and I had only managed to work out a little bit of it. Pairing up the tiny edges proved pretty simple - the first 4 are trivial, just move the pieces into position next to each other. Then the rest are done by moving a piece into place, swapping a double-edge out with an unpaired one and undoing the slice turn to ensure the earlier solved pieces were put back into place. It takes just a minute or so to do them all....trivial!

I quickly found a way to pair up all the large rectangles - Again a slice move can pair them up and then another up, up, down, down sequence will move the newly paired up pieces out of play and then that slice move is undone. This ensures that the tiny edges and other already done rectangles are not dismantled. The aforementioned up, up, down, down when performed on diagonally opposite corners swaps out centre rows in a 3 cycle like this:

4 moves and the whole centre sets are exchanged
So, I had a way to move the small edges, the inner rectangles but I needed a way to move those blasted inner squares about. I was stuck! I have been trying to find a way for a good month or so now and not managed it. I sometimes go back to a modelling software called Gelatinbrain to help me play with different moves on my computer but it has not run on my Mac for over a year now. A week or so ago, during a frustrating and unsuccessful attempt I had a bit of an explosion - the whole thing destroyed itself and I was forced to reassemble it back to scratch and start again. This time, how about using that up, up, down, down but on just the inner slices?

My usual 4-move cycle has ONLY moved squares
Looking at this, it would appear that 5 of the squares have been swapped around (this cannot be right if you know the "law of the cube". If one does it again then it is clear that 6 pieces actually swap - there are 2 groups of 3 which separately perform a 3 cycle. If the blue face is pointing towards you, then the top front red square swaps to the bottom right square which moves across to the bottom left. Now, this 3 cycle would be very useful if I did not get all the others moving at the same time. Time to Think© - it is trivially easy to swap out those combination edges (including the squares) around as one needs, using the usual algorithm. What would happen if I moved the top front combined edge to the side (blue-white position above) and in the process moved the bottom front edge up to that place? I could then undo the very first 4 move cycle that I did (i.e. up, up, down, down in the other direction).


It required three 4 move cycles, with the last being the reverse of the first, and I had found a "simple" way to 3-cycle the square pieces. I was on the way. I managed to find that move on Sunday evening whilst trying to calm my nerves after my cat problem and I was on my way. After discovering this method, it would be easy to reduce the Elite skewb to a scrambled Master skewb. The following day at work, whilst the radiologists were doing something under local anaesthetic and not requiring anything from me, I had a nice half hour to play. Reduce to Master Skewb? Check! Solve Master Skewb? Easy! Check! You should have seen the look on the nursing staff and other consultants' faces when I suddenly arose with a completed Elite skewb. The feeling of victory was wonderful! Yes, they all think I am crackers but I don't care!

I have scrambled and redone this puzzle multiple times since then and have not found any unusual parities - it is a truly wonderful puzzle - an essential purchase for a twisty puzzler and really not too tough once one understands the 3 cycles required. There are NO complex algorithms to learn, it JUST requires the up, up, down, down method in multiple different places. Go buy one - you will not be disappointed.

Next up I have some new toys from Stephan Baumegger.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Juno's Puzzle Won't Bite

Grrrrr! Who's gonna bite first?
A few weeks ago another email went out from the great Junichi Yananose that he had a new toy for us. It was immediately intriguing from the name - it's called the Chubby Crocodile and the picture he sent out was very cute. Of course, I was able to make an even cuter picture when one of the boyz decided that it might be a threat to either us or more importantly his food bowl. The description also piqued my interest - Yukari said:

"The puzzle is a bit tricky to categorize but since it has an internal cavity, we can at least call it a puzzle box. Juno’s initial idea of the puzzle was a burr or lumiki and its motif was a tortoise, and realizing it was a bit too skinny, he decided to modify its shape to a crocodile
Is it a box? It does have a cavity but there is more to a box than just a cavity. It could be a sequential discovery puzzle because at one point a tool becomes available to allow the final step to be done. Equally, it could be a sequential movement or even a hidden maze type puzzle as there are elements of all of these in the solution. Juno does state that it is not a very difficult puzzle but can be enjoyed by collectors and beginners alike. Above all, it is a gorgeously crafted wooden toy which has all the credentials it needed for me to add one to my collection. I have a steadily increasing number of Juno's wonderful toys in my puzzle cabinets. My copy got kidnapped by customs for a couple of weeks before I received a bill for a few quid in VAT and a whacking bonus for the Royal Mail for sorting it out! Grrrrr again!

After the boyz had sniffed about at it and realised that it was not going to eat anyone they let me take some proper photos and get to work on it.

I'm looking at you!
At least he is smiling! Benevolently?
It really is stunningly made and cartoonishly attractive. It's a decent size at 192 × 94 × 43mm and made of Rose Alder, Jarrah with metal pieces inside. The aim is:
"Find treats in the stomach of the chubby crocodile! We have produced a total of five kinds of stomach contents of this wild reptile and hid one or two of them in his belly."
Why is this in the box?
The treats in my copy look like they have been made of Maple or Koto. I had a suspicion that Juno and Yukari were playing more games with me because in the box I found a very cute little white CNC cut bone. My first thought was that this might be a tool for opening it but after an extensive search, there was nowhere for me to put it. I set it aside and wondered what was going on but continued to play.

The eyes look like they might move and they do indeed wiggle a mm or so but nothing happens and I quickly move on. The crocodile legs are able to make him run and this produces a very interesting change in him and reveals a little of the mechanism. Not enough to open him up but a hint of what is required. Whilst playing with him I find that something was able to occur once but then I was unable to backtrack and eventually after I had backtracked, I could not repeat it. Further thought© required. I had to put it down to cook and eat dinner with the lovely Mrs S, who appeared to quite like this one because it is distinctly NOT a cube. She seems to have a thing against geometric objects!

After dinner, I investigated further and quickly found the maze section and worked out how to manipulate my way through which produced a rather surreal end result. At this point, I found a flat plate which I could pull out and stupidly thought that was the end of it. I thought that the hole left by the lever was the "stomach" and I reassembled it at that point. Only the following day did it occur to me that if that was the cavity then where were the "stomach contents"? The bone I had found would not fit in there. DOH! I must have stopped and reassembled the puzzle before I had got to the end! Stupid boy!

The following evening I set to again and realised that I had no idea how I had got to that place before and had to start from scratch with the various movements. This time I removed the plate and realised that it had allowed something VERY important to happen and now I should try some new moves. No spoilers here but if I had looked all over the puzzle then I would have seen my mistake from the previous day. yet more puzzling moves occurred and with a very nice smile on myself, I can definitely say that the Chubby crocodile was not going to be chasing down any more prey. Now I could use a tool and the stomach contents were revealed for all to see:

He's been eating toast!
What I found in my croc's stomach was a little startling and caused a little disharmony in the Sadler household due to my hysterical giggling whilst "she" was watching TV. The joke started by the wonderful George Bell and taken up by Juno and Yukari has continued - to prove that this puzzle was a box there had to be a loaf of bread inside! See this post for an explanation of the bread situation. Now, this is not a whole loaf but 2 slices of toast - hilarious and I can pretty much guarantee that my copy is unique with these stomach contents. Thank you, my friend, for the great puzzle and the lovely giggle! Before closing it back up I made sure that my Croc would not be too hungry at night - I filled him with both bone and bread:

A full stomach!
Putting this puzzle back together is just as much fun as the reverse sequence needs to be worked out and after that, it is yet more puzzling to establish the exact sequence of moves that will open it up every single time. For a few days, it became a bit of a worry bead for me - it is very enjoyable to play with. I will be interested to hear what other puzzlers found in the stomach of their crocs.

Should you get one? It is very reasonably priced and there about 30 left in stock at the moment. I would say yes definitely - it is fun and lovely. BUT there are a lot of new puzzlers who have been hooked by the lure of the sequential discovery puzzle. If that is what you are really most keen on then I would have to temper your enthusiasm by saying that the sequential discovery component of this one is only a very minor part of the solution and if that was your sole reason for purchase then you might be disappointed. If you want a cute, beautifully made artefact with several aspects of puzzling and a nice couple of Aha! moments in it then you cannot go wrong with this.


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