Sunday 28 April 2019

I Grille(d) This Cube...

And Found It Wanting!
Grilles II cube - looks horrific
2 types of turns
Over a year ago, the Grilles II cube was released by MF8 (I have no idea what happened to the Grilles I cube) and I bought it without even a thought! It looked hugely complex, was much more interesting than a standard Rubik type puzzle and I knew that with its' unusual turning it would be a fascinating challenge...And then I turned it a bit! GULP!

4x4 curvy dino
This stunning puzzle is effectively a 3x3 Rubik cube i.e. face turning combined with a variant of a version of a 4x4 corner turning cube, the 4x4 curvy Dino cube which I enjoyed enormously, having reviewed it not long ago here. The 4x4 Curvy dino was a great fun puzzle and pleasant to play with - it had a nice challenge to it but was not impossibly difficult and was even soothing. Any puzzler interested in Twisties should have bought it and would be able to solve it without too much difficulty. The addition of face turning moves to the challenge looked like it would add some extra work but hopefully not too impossible for a neophyte like me. I turned it a few times to see how the pieces might interact and then threw caution to the wind and scrambled the bugger! Oh boy - that produced something quite horrific!

Houston! We might have a problem!
The scrambling process is quite a long one and takes a bit of an effort to work to separate as many adjacent colours as possible. It really does get very scrambled but straight away you come across a problem with this puzzle - the pieces catch on each other very easily - especially the face turns. Initially, I thought that it was occurring because I had not properly aligned the corner turns before carrying out the face turns - it is quite possible to keep the corners aligned because the whole puzzle is very "squishy". I started working on it over a table so that I could flatten it out properly before carrying out a face turn but at this point, it became clear that the problem was not just because of malalignment. Something inside would catch the face turns almost every single time.

It was not long before the air around me went blue:

That's a whole lotta pieces!
I had an explosion over a very deeply sleeping cat who was not at all impressed at 20 or 30 bits of plastic raining down on him! A small pop very rapidly ends up as a very major explosion. Then, having been scrambled, it is not just a matter of stuffing the pieces back in any old place - that is a way to end up with an impossibly assembled puzzle - a full disassembly is required. On several occasions, I actually lost one or two of the pieces in the crevices of my chair and thought I had a defunct puzzle.

I could not find any plastic flashing as the cause of the catching and explosion - rather I think that the corner pieces (which are assembled from 3 separate pieces) are not tightly held together and so anything which puts any stress on one side or other can make them fly apart and then the forces holding the rest of the pieces have been removed...BANG! The reassembly is not a trivial event either! This puzzle is extremely unstable until more or less the last piece has been inserted. If you attempt this then you WILL require tape - I find that light surgical tape is perfect.

Build it up section by section and tape them in place
Having successfully assembled the puzzle, it was time to scramble again...BANG! Oh Lord! Not again! A second reassembly and I put it aside for a few months to calm my nerves!

It remained stored as a potential puzzle to try for many months and I picked it up again a few months ago and scrambled it. As with a lot of puzzles which appear to be a more complex version of something already in existence, my aim would be to reduce it to one of the base puzzles - in this case, I would attempt to reduce it to a 3x3 which I could then solve as a standard Rubik cube.

As with most corner turning puzzles that are not really deep cut (like the Skewb), movement of the pieces around the edges is fairly trivial and usually can be done with the ever-helpful up, up, down, down combination. I started pairing up the larger parts of the edges - that would be pieces like the red and blue piece at the bottom of the picture above. This was very similar to solving a standard 4x4 - make the edges and then store them out of the way - easy until you have just 2 or 3 left but definitely a fun challenge. At this point I found I had a surprise:

All double edges are paired up and placed
BUT the red-yellow and opposite orange-yellow pairs need to swap
I had 2 pairs of edges that needed to be swapped. Nothing I tried would work - time to THINK©...It took me a week to sort that one out! It was time to solve the centres of the edges - using my standard up, up, down, down moves with setups too and all was going well. Or so I thought...

All the edges are done but I had 2 swapped
Again, this stumped me for a week! THINK© again! This time I had to use the up, up, down, down rather creatively and several times. Not on the small edge pieces but to reverse the entire direction of an edge. It is a standard series of moves in the "Ultimate solution" and rather fun to have to use it here. Finally, just the outer edges to move about and BINGO!

The puzzle was solved after just 10-11 months! Most of the time it was sitting on a shelf or in my bag waiting to be solved but a fair bit of time was thinking©. Time to try again and Boom! I had pieces again. Laborious reassemble and after calming my nerves TRY AGAIN. Solved it! Yay! A third time and oooooh! What is this? Another unexpected event - a single corner turned:

Nice corner parity!
Luckily this was not terribly hard to fix - if you remember the Dreidel cube (ecstatically reviewed here) then a similar event can occur with that and the solution is the same - it's not tough - just needs more thought.

I usually try to solve a puzzle 8-10 times to prove to myself that I have mastered all nuances of it but this I probably only managed 5-6 solves of this - it just kept exploding on me! For this reason, I have to come to the conclusion that this is a very nice puzzling challenge but definitely NOT one I can recommend to most puzzlers. It is just too unstable and the reassembly is neither trivial nor fun. If you are a collector then go for it and just be very careful when you play with it - you will enjoy the challenge of the solve but if it catches in any way at all then just stop and backtrack and realign before trying the move again. I am pleased that I own this puzzle and have solved it but it is going back in storage and is unlikely to ever be scrambled again.

Part way through my solution of this one, I did think there was a remarkable similarity to a puzzle I bought from Chewie's Custom Stickers, the Corona cube:

Corona Cube
As you can see it is an edge turner and a corner turner - only one level of corner cut and the depth is different - it was fun to scramble this one and see how it compared:

Very similar cuts but not quite the same - how would the solve be?
The puzzle was FDM printed and took quite a bit of effort to move and hurt my hands a bit in the process but at least there was no popping.

A nice challenge
The Corona cube was easier to solve with fewer pieces but very stable. After a couple of solves, I put it away as my hands were killing me. I still have a few more twisties awaiting my attention but they scare me to death! Plus after the Grilles II cube, we are all exhausted!

Wow! Dad! I need to lie down after solving that one!

Sunday 21 April 2019

Assembly of Puzzles - a Toughie but a Goodie

Puzzle Splines
It's a bank holiday weekend here and I am really not up to much! Sniffle! Cough! Splutter! Groan! Yes! I have Man-bonic plague! Today's blog post nearly didn't happen. Not because I have been feeling like death for over a week now (I did manage to go to work and infect a large proportion of the operating theatre staff) but because I managed to infect Mrs S too and it mutated into something much worse...She-bola! As a result of this plague in the Sadler household death nearly did visit me in the form of a vengeance-seeking woman! Luckily I am just fit enough to evade her grasp/knives/lasers!

Today, I am focussing on some assembly puzzles that have finally fallen to my feeble skills recently.

The puzzle above is the latest offering from Michail Toulouzas - offered by my friend Bernhard Schweitzer. It is the Puzzle Splines which is a relatively new idea from Michail. It was offered either in Sugar Maple with Pink Ivory splines or, as in my copy, there were a few made from Wenge with the Sugar Maple splines. I cannot resist contrasting woods and chose this. It is pretty big at 11cm across and forms effectively a cube with triangular outcroppings from it. It certainly is stunning and quite heavy.

I initially thought that it would be a kind of disassembly puzzle and one at a time pushed at the vertices and saw that they could be slid off the cube:

A couple removed
6 different splined corners
So far this has not been too puzzling - the remaining cube is rather rattly and I realised that this could also be separated into pieces - not easily, however - there seemed to be a little coordinate motion and twisting required. Should I take some notes? Draw some diagrams? Nah! I'm far too sick to go hunting for a pencil! I wanted to stay sitting down and keep going. I soon had 3 more pieces:

Yay! An assembly challenge!
Even in my totally befuddled, drugged to the eyeballs state, I was able to see a few of the possible assembly patterns of the basic frames and managed quite quickly to assemble something that had an interesting position of the splines that even I could tell was impossible to assemble the remaining corners on. Back to square one. Luckily there are only so many ways to assemble the frame and on my second attempt, I found an assembly that worked. I had solved a puzzle under the influence of a very strong cold remedy...maybe I should solve all my puzzles that way?

Flushed with success at assembly, I threw caution to the wind and climbed the arduous mountain of (13) stairs in my house to the upstairs puzzle room and retrieved the Kubikub 2 puzzle that I had bought a few months ago from My lovely Turkish friend, Yavuz Demirhan. He sells his puzzles through his Etsy store which is well worth keeping an eye on for future updates.

Kubikub 2
This is a pretty simple design consisting of a gorgeous Wenge frame and 3 sets of double conjoined cubes made from Padauk intertwined inside and flush with the surface of the frame. The puzzle is not as simple as it would initially appear as it requires 13 moves to remove all 3 pieces from the frame. When I first received the beautiful puzzle, I fiddled a bit and realised that the disassembly was not going to be the challenge - I could remove the pieces pretty easily and then having learned the moves and preserved the orientation of the pieces and frame, I knew that reassembly at that point would not be terribly tough. So it went back on display until I was ready for a proper assembly challenge:

How hard can it be?
I scrambled the pieces for the photo and left them a few hours whilst I lay down to feel sorry for myself. An hour later, feeling not in the least bit refreshed having drowned in mucus, I set to work on the reassembly challenge. I realised at this point that the frame is not symmetrical which makes this a considerably tougher challenge. Idle random moves hardly ever solve a puzzle in my experience and they certainly didn't do it this time. What they did do is show me that there were only a few positions of the frame where both ends of the double cubes could be flush with the surface of the frame. Then it was a matter of working out where it would be possible to arrange all three of them so that they could be flush. I was on my way - actually being logical! Not at all like me...these are damned good drugs!

It took me another hour to find a very fun little sequence where the first 2 of them would fit in place and then how to move them in such a way as to accept a third. Yet another assembly puzzle solved despite my feverish brain. I should get sick more often - what am I saying? Ignore that!

Finally - I went back to a puzzle that has kept me busy for nearly 3 months - Goodie! Yes, it really is a goodie!

Goodie from Stephan Baumegger
Goodie was an unexpected gift in the package from Stephan when I purchased the incredible Hydrant puzzle (reviewed here). It had been Stephan's exchange puzzle at the 38th International Puzzle Party last year in San Diego. He had designed and made this one from Zebrano and was rather pleased with it.

I, of course, was also delighted! I had an extra unexpected puzzle! It was gorgeous, made from beautiful wood and looked like a nice but not too tough challenge:

7 pieces to make a 5x5x5 cube
How hard can it be?
This is a dissection of a 5x5x5 cube with only orthogonal cuts and I was sure that it would not be terribly hard. Lord help me! How wrong I was! I sort of got a hint that it might be quite tough when, having taken my photos of the pieces, I tried to put them back into the box for transport to and from work with me...I couldn't get the bloody things back into the box and close the lid! Am I really that rubbish? Erm...yes! Sob! I took it to work a few times in a bag because, to my eternal shame, it took me a month before I was able to pack the box properly!

There are some rather interesting pieces which scream that they should go together - and I dutifully fell into Stephan's trap:

2 mirror image pieces
They slot together like this
Having got myself fixated on this I worked on this puzzle many evenings for 2 months. I did try a few other ideas but I was getting nowhere and was starting to suspect that Stephan was laughing at me. I must have spent many many hours on this getting nowhere but always going back to those two pieces that fit together so well. In the flush of my success from the other 2 puzzles above, I decided it was finally time to solve this bloody Goodie/Baddie! Another hour went by and another and I began to tear out the last few strands of my remaining hair when suddenly I had an epiphany! OMG! Aha!

You sneaky b.......! How could I have been so stupid? Scrap that! I know I am stupid but how can I have been so stupid for quite so long? Aaargh! Only the drugs helped me solve it - I need more!

It's a Toughie but a real Goodie
If you get a chance to try this puzzle then jump at the chance!

Have I finally cracked my inability to solve assembly puzzles? No, I don't think so. My brain has been altered by a befuddling virus/plague and then further addled by some very strong medication - I seriously do not recommend puzzling on drugs!

Now, what shall I work on next? I am far too sick to go outside and partake of the peculiar British habit of gardening on a bank holiday weekend! I need to stay indoors and exercise by lifting small cubelike structures.

I should also sit down with Burrtools to put this thing back together - it has been sitting in pieces on my desk for 10 days!

Terrax has lots and lots of pieces!

Sunday 14 April 2019

Robert Sends a Twofer Which Scares Me!

The Incredible Stickman Dwemer Construct Puzzlebox
Well, here I am running late! Mrs S has been away most of the week visiting the outlaws and, as is usually the case, she times it for just when my workload goes through the roof! I think she does it on purpose! Instead of having plenty of time, home alone, to play with all my toys and write a nice blog post, I have been up to my eyeballs in work and even spent all day yesterday writing our on-call rotas! I only just finished up this puzzle this morning after doing all the chores that "she who scares the bejeezus out of me" had set for me to do before she gets home.

Yes! It's a box! And No! I was not tricked into purchasing it! My cardinal rule is if I have the opportunity to buy a box from Stickman (aka Robert Yarger) then I just hand over the cash! Mrs S doesn't know that but let's not tell her, shall we? This particular box was offered out quite some time ago and it took Robert a good bit longer to complete the design and make the batch than expected. The wait was more than worth it! It really adds something to my little collection:

My Stickmen (including a Stickboy and a Stickman apprentice) - plus a few other beauties.
The Dwemer Construct Box is named after an ancient lost race in the Elder Scrolls, well known for their skills in crafting mechanical items.

This incredible construction is big...REALLY big and pretty damned heavy too. It has a handy top rail which is perfect for carrying it about. Every time I played with it I lugged it out of the display cabinet and then put it back after I had got stuck - Mrs S would not tolerate it being left lying around in the living room!

Looking at it closely it is clear that a huge amount of work has gone into it and pretty much all of it is crafted from wood with only a few well place brass screws holding components together. Lots of things turn and can interact with other pieces in mysterious ways. Not all are visible either - requiring a fair bit of deduction/guesswork during the process. It is very quickly apparent how the lid is attached to the box and what is required to allow that lid to be removed...the issue is making it happen! None of the appropriate parts are able to move in appropriate directions as they are blocked by other parts of the puzzle.

I worked on this, on and off, for a couple of months and kept getting stuck. They always come with a wonderful spiral-bound booklet but I try not to use that unless absolutely necessary. My stubbornness has left my Stickman Perpetual Hinge unsolved for more than 5 years! There are four phases to the solution of this puzzlebox and I got the first within a day or so. Step 2 took me over a month and then the others the same again. Some of the moves require a bit of a leap of faith..."Am I really supposed to be able to do that?" Eventually, (yes I did peek at the booklet just once) I had the release mechanisms all aligned correctly and I gently lifted the lid off to see why the puzzle had been making so many rather loud rattling noises whenever I picked it up and moved it from display to living room:

Inside is a bag of bits - including a screwdriver!
I said this puzzle is a Twofer! Robert did us proud with this one and this explained the delay. Not only do we have a beautiful large complicated box to solve but we have all the pieces inside to construct a second challenge - "two fer the price of one"! In fact, this was very nearly a "threefer" - he has ideas for another challenge but did not have time to make it - it is possible that the third challenge is made available sometime in the future (obviously we all expect to pay for it if it happens). After the solution to challenge one is a rather startling page in the booklet:

OMG - I'm gonna have to be brave!
This morning I spent a happy hour or so playing with my bag of bits and the screwdriver - this left me with a rather horrific worksurface with even more bits than I would have believed possible:

OMG - I have locked the cats out of the room! I can't afford any mishaps here!
The quality is simply stunning - everything is so perfect. The instructions for the disassembly and new assembly are step by step and quite easy. I have a small issue with an alignment of one piece in the new challenge that I am waiting for an answer from Robert but I suspect I have made a schoolboy error.

Even seeing the construction process for the second challenge amazingly does not give away how to actually solve it! I know how some of the pieces interact but have no idea how to open the box.

Probably another 3 months to solve this one!
I'll keep you informed of my progress through challenge two.

Now Mrs S has just arrived home from Edinburgh and I had better finish this and pay her some attention - if I don't then we may not make it our 25th anniversary and I won't be allowed to keep the Berrocal Goliath that is my present for lasting so long. Plus, I actually think I could do with a little bit of relaxation for the rest of the weekend - what little is left!

Sunday 7 April 2019

Rex Makes it Super Complicated

.......And Beats Me!

Kusing 25
I have now received 2 of Rex Rossano Perez' wonderful puzzles as gifts now. I wrote about the first one which was given to me by my friend Ali and Rex himself here in September last year and then another 2 of them which I bought from Rex here. They are beautifully made puzzles cut from Acrylic and the common feature is that there is always a Filipino coin inside needing to be released by some mechanism or other - it may be a maze, a sequential discovery puzzle using tools provided or a sequential movement/sliding piece puzzle. I successfully solved the first 3 and was terribly chuffed because the internal mechanism of these is pretty complex. On Facebook Rex has designed and produced (in limited numbers another bunch all with a similar theme and I am quite keen to try out some more.

The Kusing 25 was another gift from Rex and after a very long trip around the world, it arrived in early March. After the obligatory photos I set to playing with it and within a few moments dropped a tiny piece/tool out onto the cats head and lost it down the side of my chair cushion. After a fair bit of cursing, a scratch from the unimpressed cat, I retrieved it and had a look to see where it came from and what I had done to get it to come out of the tiny hole. Much to my chagrin, I was completely unable to put the piece back into the puzzle! The hole from which it had dropped had closed over and nothing I did would allow it to be reinserted! You can see where this tale of woe is going, can't you?
Having failed to backtrack, I decided to continue puzzling and see what could be achieved by using that tool in the two suspicious looking holes in the bottom of the puzzle.

As if invited by the designer, I inserted the tool into one of the hoes and twisted randomly...nope no change in the puzzle. On to the second hole and suddenly the slider was able to move back and forth. Twisting around I could stop and start the slider moving and at times was unable to twist the tool anymore. I played with this for a whole evening and nothing seemed to be happening! On evening 2 I persisted in my random fiddlings and noticed that despite keeping the tool rotated in one place the slider seemed to sometimes move and sometimes not move. At some point during this, the coin was suddenly able to move inside the puzzle - I had absolutely no idea why!

Manfully, I persisted in further random movements for several days and, all of a sudden, the coin dropped onto the cat! YAY! I think! It was solved! Except it really wasn't. A puzzle is NOT solved until it has been done, undone and done again. The important thing is to understand how it works - I wrote about this here and here. It was time to try and reset it back to the beginning and try again - GULP!

Solved it! Except I hadn't really! No idea how I got this far.
I have spent the last 3 weeks trying to reset this blasted puzzle and somehow managed to lock the coin back inside without understanding how but could not get the coin locked under the window and certainly not get the tool to stay in its small receptacle. To my eternal shame, I ended up undoing the nuts on the puzzle and gingerly pulling apart the layers!

OMG! That is an incredibly complex and clever mechanism! I am absolutely amazed that I managed to remove the coin by accident. It took me about a ½ hour to understand all the steps and then another hour to get the pieces all back into position! Damn! That takes some dexterity!

Starting with a fully reset puzzle, I went through what I thought was the correct set of moves and it seemed to be working when suddenly a new piece fell out! That wasn't supposed to happen! Back to pieces it went and I saw my silly mistake and this time it was a functioning puzzle.

With the benefit of hindsight/maliciously dismantling the bloody thing, I am now able to retrieve the coin almost at will and then put it back. The toughest part of it is the reset - getting the tool back into its little hole.

This is an amazing and complex sequential discovery/sequential movement puzzle which really beat me and is well worth obtaining if you can. Don't expect to beat it quickly or easily!

Alfons Beats Me Too!

I am completely addicted to interlocking cube puzzles and I could not resist buying another 5 of them from Alfons Eyckmans. Apart from having very little time to play, I have worked on several of them and not gotten very far. Yesterday I had an hour to spare and Mrs S allowed me to play with one in peace. Eventually, I produced my lovely pile of pieces and created a Burrtools file! Unfortunately, I cannot put it back together unaided!

Lovely pieces!
My computer has been trying to find the solution and after working for 16 hours so far is nowhere near a solution. It just recently announced that it might take another 1.2 years which is probably more time than Mrs S will allow me to have a pile of pieces lying around! My iMac is 12 years old and kinda struggles with complex tasks!