Sunday 26 May 2019

Brass Monkey Number Three Is Great as Well as Painful!

From the Left - Brass Monkey One, Two and errrm Three!
It's easy to tell them apart from the etched marks on the ends
When Big Steve and his partner in puzzling crime, Ali (he of the stern finger warning!) offer me one of their namesake puzzles, the answer is "yes" and which account shall I PayPal to? A bunch of us got early access to them because we had bought the previous versions and anyone who has experienced the amazing quality of their work will jump at the chance of more. If you want to buy beautiful brass puzzles then go to their Etsy store (all 3 are now available) or you could buy from PuzzleMaster who have the first 2 so far (I am sure they will get the new one soon) and their amazing Hokey Cokey lock too. Go to the store right away and, as Allard said, "Get one - you will like it".

My usual adage of "wood is good" extends to brass and aluminium and steel and wire and string and plastic... Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear! There have actually been several Whack! Ouch!s yesterday when she caught sight of our credit card bill showing purchases from Eric, BrianShiro san and Calvin - I hate to admit it but this time I think I deserve it! I am out of control...yet again.

I left my lovely readers last time showing off the newly acquired Brass Monkey Three complete with an essential tongue depressor for which Mrs S gave me yet another dark broodingly violent look which told me that, if tongue depressors begin to multiply in the house, then I will find myself separated from various essential parts of my body. I think she plans to stuff those body parts, after chopping them into small pieces, into various cavities and openings in Big Steve! Remember, Steve, that she is Scottish, violent and has some serious training in the dark arts of hurting people. If you all think I married a professional dominatrix then think again, she has had nurse training in Scotland! Hmmm! Now, where would I find a dominatrix? Whack! Ouch! Heeheehee! Oops! 

After the puzzle had been unwrapped and the warning about tongue depressors issued, she caught sight of the large, heavy chunk of brass and realised that this was a risk to her (our... Whack! Ouch!... her) kitchen tiles and work surface. I was thrown out of the kitchen and started to play in the living room. I tried the trick that had worked for BM one and, of course, that failed. They would never repeat a trick, would they?

Now, there really isn't an awful lot you can do with these things but I thought I tried everything and got nowhere. It was time to cook and I left it being warmed by a sleeping cat and went back to it later. The second attempt at solving it, later that night, left me with a very sore finger! I did find something interesting and did it repeatedly until nothing happened. Lots and lots of fiddling with a large chunk of metal tends to leave your fingers in some pain and I broke a nail! The rest of the evening went without any progress and I returned the following day for more suffering. Mrs S again told me in no uncertain terms (Whack! Ouch!) not to bring it into the kitchen and I skulked away. Again, on my chair in the living room, I tortured my fingers and something new happened - I actually made it happen on purpose... I had actually had a thought© which is most unusual for a "bear of very little brain" like me.

Having made the new thing happen, I got stuck! Nothing else would happen and, to my horror, I couldn't unmake the new thing either! In a panic, I hurt my finger again trying to undo it. Damn! I am really not terribly bright! The rest of that evening was spent looking for something else and finally admitting that my first idea must have been worthwhile. Nursing my sore finger, I tried again a few more times and AHA! I had a pile of brass logs and a very upset cat who did not enjoy the sudden weight on his feet and back.

Of course, I will not be showing you the mechanism - go buy your own to find out.
Now that was very clever. In fact, there is even a further disassembly step possible which I did just to see how the puzzle had been constructed. The tolerances on these are amazing - just as good as Brass Monkey Two. The puzzle is a 6 piece cylindrical burr as well as a secret opening puzzle and, of course, I had dropped all the pieces without paying any attention to how they had been assembled. This meant that for little old me, who is rubbish at assembly, I had a rather prolonged (but fun) time trying to put the damn thing back together! It is not helped by the fact that the cylindrical nature of the pieces makes them rather slippery as they rotate on each other whilst you try to slide the pieces together. Poor Zachary had several thumps as it collapsed in a heap a few times. After another 20 minutes of swearing under my breath at Big Steve, I finally got it back together.

This is a wonderful challenge - just the right difficulty level. Even doing it a second and third time is not easy - the dexterity and arrangement is one that I struggle with every time.

Allard was right! Damn, I hate saying that! Go get one!

Sunday 19 May 2019

Cast UFO - Level 4? Maybe not! And Some Monkeying About.

Hanayama Cast UFO
Something has definitely changed with Hanayama recently. Their puzzles seem to have become MUCH more difficult than ever before and I am not really sure that you can trust the difficulty level on the box. I struggled with the Cast Trinity for months and months before finally solving it and a part of that eventual solution may well have been luck (I do still thank that one is a really good puzzle) and the Cast Hourglass has confounded me for several months so far and is currently locked in an almighty mess which I cannot get out of.

The Cast UFO was released in Japan a month or so ago and it has just reached Europe and North America in the last week or so ago; it is also available from my friend Tomas at Sloyd if you live in Europe. I had placed my order with Nic Picot's Hanayamapuzzles store based in the UK a good few months ago and it arrived at the Sadler loony bin on Wednesday this last week along with another rather special puzzle from Big Steve. I started playing at first with the Brass Monkey but after an hour or so it had hurt me quite a bit and I was forced to put it down and play with something less painful.

Cast UFO
Lord! These things are hard to photograph! The Cast UFO is labelled as a level 4 out of the Hanayama 6 point scale (and PuzzleMaster call it a Level 8 (Demanding) on their rather odd scale of 5-10. This one should be a nice pleasant challenge without hurting my head too much. It was designed by the amazing Finish designer Vesa Timonen who has shown himself over the years to be rather prolific.

Made from their usual cast metal, this is a lovely thing measuring 4.8 x 4.8 x 2.7 cm and looks exactly like what the Sci-Fi movies of the 50s thought a UFO would look like. There is an inner ball made from 4 equal quarters which can rotate around inside and about each other - they are slippery little buggers which makes this one really quite infuriating to play with - every time you think you might be getting close to a conformation you want, the little buggers slide out of the way. The outer part of the puzzle (saucer) is made from 2 pieces which have been painted/anodised a shiny black colour. With the coolness of a metal puzzle to the touch, it really is a nice worry long as you don't try to solve it!

It looks pretty straight-forward what the approach should be - line up the quarters with the split in the outer saucer and slide it apart. Hahahaha! You don't really think that our clever Vesa would design anything that simple do you? Slightly ashamed of myself, I have to admit that I really did think that and I spent 2 days moving the inner pieces about into different positions to try it. On several occasions, I achieved a tantalising sliding of the saucer halves and I frantically tried to manipulate pieces to allow the slide to continue. Of course, it didn't work and for a couple of minutes, I even locked it up and spent a rather panicky time frantically trying to push it back together! Eventually (after a shameful 2 days) I conceded defeat with that approach and had to do some serious thinking© - Allard would have been proud of me! The important thing to do first with this one (and you could argue that it should be done with them all) is to really LOOK at the puzzle. What do you notice that is odd/interesting? Try to look inside as well for another clue.

I had an epiphany/thought which pointed at a new approach and I fiddled around with it for another couple of days. This is one tricky little sucker. Every time you think you might be achieving something the little internal pieces swivel around and nothing is in the right position anymore. There's nothing to grip hold of and I was reduced to wildly shaking it about which never seems to work.

Whilst watching TV, I wasn't really trying very hard and just managed to achieve something new. I tried to go further by grabbing at a piece and returned it to the beginning...Damn! But now I knew what was needed and another 20 minutes later it was dismantled:

Removed the ball from the UFO
4 sphere quarters and 2 saucer halves
There are quite a few really fiddly parts to the disassembly so this would qualify as a dexterity puzzle as well as a disassembly puzzle. Having taken it apart, the cleverness of the design can be examined and then put it back together. Again, that can be quite a feat of dexterity but eventually, everything is in exactly the right place and, clink, it is a UFO again.

I would estimate that this should be reassigned to at least a level 5 and more likely level 6. It really is quite a difficult puzzle to work out what is required and also to manipulate properly - even knowing what is required, I still find it quite tough to dismantle.

All in all, this is a fairly enjoyable puzzle and well worth a place in your collection (if you are a serious collector then it is essential). If you are new to puzzling or Hanayamas then it will be too difficult - I suggest that you buy a collection from PuzzleMaster and work your way through them from easier to harder.

Big Steve and Ali Do it Again

I mentioned earlier on that I had received a puzzle from Steve which hurt me. The pair of Brass Monkeys have produced the third in the series of their brass burr puzzles, suitably called Brass Monkey 3. Those of us who had bought from them previously were allowed the opportunity to buy early and, of course, I jumped at the chance. The new version should be coming up on their Etsy store very soon and will also be up for sale in PuzzleMaster if you are located over there.

There appears to be something extra
Steve said there would be something extra especially for me in the package. I was rather excited that I might be getting something as a bonus but when the inner box was lifted out of the postal packaging, there was a small clue what had been included - Damn, I was going to have to find a way to give it back to him...maybe at the next MPP?

Oh no! I won't be able to return this one!
Mrs S was very unimpressed at the arrival of part of Steve's tongue depressor collection. Unfortunately, this one had been personalised and therefore I was going to have to keep it - if Steve makes a habit of this, however, I will have to find somewhere to put it...maybe where "the sun don't shine" and he won't be able to see it? I have a certain set of skills that come with my medical training even if I went into anaesthesia to avoid that end of the patient!

Plastic caps removed - Mrs S is very worried that I will damage the granite.
2 engraved circles plus a central hole means it's number 3 - obvious isn't it?
Allard has solved his copy and has raved about it here - he says that you should definitely get one - in fact, he wrote that many many times so it must be true! So far I have found one thing of interest and hurt myself on it! Hopefully, I will find the solution without further damage to me or any damage to the kitchen. I'll let you know.

In the meantime, you should definitely buy this series of puzzles.

Sunday 12 May 2019

Osanori's Packing - Heaven and Hell

Pack 012 - heaven
Quite a long time ago Tom Lensch was kind enough to let me know that he was going to be making another beautiful copy of the Hoffman Packing Puzzle in gorgeous woods and, being a collector who loves his wood, I jumped at the chance. When the notice that he had completed them came through and the request for a little (quite a bit) of PayPal arrived, he also said that he was about to begin making a few copies of the latest packing delight from Osanori Yamamoto that had been showed off on Facebook recently. This new one was called Pack 012 which I initially struggled to understand why it had been so named. I had wondered whether it was because of the number of cubies/voxels in the shapes but was baffled when I counted 13. Now looking at the photo above I can see that the 3 pieces are effectively shaped like an O, a 1, and a 2 - Doh!

Pack 3
Tom had made the frame from Maple with the lid and base available either as American Walnut or as more Maple - I am a sucker for contrasting woods and you can see what choice I made. I think that the pieces to be packed were made of Padauk. The craftsmanship is stunning - the angles are beautiful and the joints perfectly smooth - I adore this sort of quality. This puzzle is surprisingly reminiscent of another recent puzzle from Eric Fuller that I had reviewed, the Pack 3. This puzzle also was very beautiful and surprisingly difficult (with one false solution).

I set to playing with this straight away - the aim, obviously, is to pack the 3 pieces inside the box. It looks very simple but the diagonal hole in the corner of the box, through which the pieces must be inserted, is surprisingly restricting. I am always very suspicious of puzzles by Osanori because a large number of them require rotational solutions and I automatically start exploring and looking for any sneaky little trick that may be possible. Tom's sturdy box and accurate pieces showed no sign at all of having any room to rotate at all in anything other than the z-axis i.e. the pieces could be twisted in the box but not made to stand up or lie down once they were inside. Maybe this was not a sneaky puzzle? After about a ½ hour of play, I had found a way to pack all three pieces inside.

They are inside but this is curiously unsatisfying
After my initial frisson of pleasure, I became aware of a curious dissatisfaction. Whilst all 3 pieces have been packed, the conformation is just not elegant. One thing to realise about Osanori's puzzles is that the solutions are almost always pleasing to the eye and leave a feeling of satisfaction at their elegance. This same thing had occurred to me with the Pack 3 puzzle and after discussing it with my genius friend, Derek, I was left knowing that my solution was not the required one. Back to the drawing board.

The following day, I returned to it and, again, convinced myself that rotations were not part of it. I proceeded to try various assemblies outside of the box. Luckily with just 3 fairly simple pieces, it is relatively straight-forward to make an assembly and then work backwards through a disassembly. Derek had assured me that this one should not really tax me much and, having put aside my disbelief, I worked on it for another ½ hour. AHA! He was right - this is perfect! It is simpler than Pack 3 which seriously challenged quite a lot of puzzlers. It is probably quite on a par with the Pin Block Case - about an hour of pleasant fiddling for most puzzlers. I don't think that the picture of the solved puzzle gives too much away but I have hidden it behind a button. Only push the button if you want to see the completed packing.

The Pack 012 was the packing puzzle "Heaven" - what, therefore, is the packing puzzle "Hell"? This, my dear reader, is the Galette packing puzzle, also designed by Osanori Yamamoto.

Galette - hell
I had first come across the Galette puzzle as an entry in the IPP design competition in Paris in at which it was one of the top ten vote-getters. I had spent quite a lot of time on it in the competition room in Paris and had singularly failed to find a solution. I was delighted when Tom had offered it for sale after the IPP was completed and my copy arrived in October last year.

It looks like a simple packing puzzle with 5 tetromino pieces to be inserted into the covered rectangular space inside the frame. Again, rotations are possible (even required) around the z-axis but there is no way to stand a piece up on its edge. This is explained by the name - Galette is French for Wafer. The extra little twist to make this really tough is that the entry to the packing space is only through a 3x2 unit space in the lid or through a 1 voxel space in the lower edge. The extra interesting feature is that the bottom edge entry is part of the packing space - there are 21 voxels available and 20 voxels in the pieces - where is the gap supposed to be?

I went to play as soon as this arrived last year and after a week got quite demoralised. I put it away for a month and then tried again - nope! This went on for several months - I just could not find a solution! I became convinced that there must be 100s of possible assemblies to sift through and trial and error was required. After about 4 months I made a Burrtools file to count the assemblies - the required rotational moves told me that BT could not solve it for me, but at least I could find out how many hundreds of possible assemblies there might be.

BT worked on the challenge for exactly........1 second (on my 13-year-old computer) and told me that the space could hold the enormous number of 11 assemblies! Damn! I am really not very good at puzzling! I have picked it up again for a week or so every month and had a play - one of my issues with many packing puzzles is that I feel that there is too much random trial and error and not enough deduction in the solution challenge. Here, there is the challenge of finding the assembly and then working out how to put it in the box through the 2 small openings. I ended up taking notes on the shapes that I had tried and ruled out before suddenly finding something critical in February. I had my rather lucky Aha! moment and was left wondering why it had taken me so long. For me, this has been packing puzzle hell!

At last!
I really do not know how I did it and actually doubt whether I could solve it again! I am left wondering why it did so well in the design competition? For me, the amount of trial and error was too great. I love the craftsmanship but am not in love with the challenge.

As for trial and error, my initial approach to the gorgeous Hoffman packing puzzle has been one of frustration.

Hoffman packing puzzle - OMG - hell on earth!
The aim here is:
Fit twenty-seven blocks, measuring A x B x C into a cubic box with sides of A + B + C.
A, B, and C must be different and the smallest dimension must be larger than (A+B+C)/4
There must be a mathematical way to work out the best approach to this but if there are then it is way way beyond my skills! I guess this might take me several months or years too - gulp!

Hopefully, I might obtain a puzzle that I can actually solve soon!

Sunday 5 May 2019

Quite Simple...So It Took Me Six Months!

Two Face 3
This Man-bonic plague has continued for almost another whole week and only now is beginning to improve! I can now tell you that it is worse than She-bola as "her" suffering ended much quicker than mine and did not involve large postural drops in blood pressure which made me think I was going to die whilst I was forced to work in the garden! It is probably not a good idea to go wobbly with a length-extended hedge trimmer 2m above your head as you stand up!

Today I am going to give a much overdue review of a stunning puzzle designed by Alfons Eyckmans and produced back in October by Eric Fuller (for some reason this does not appear in his very fascinating Discontinued work archive). The Two Face 3 puzzle is a tour-de-force by both designer and craftsman as it consists of a frame within another frame and 6 burr sticks crossing them both to form a challenging puzzle with a level of to disassemble. It was reviewed very nicely by Mike on his new blog (you really should keep an eye on his posts) and I have been meaning to write something about it since I received my copy. The problem? Not illness! This delay has been primarily because I could not solve the bloody thing!

First of all, let's discuss the joinery...the outer frame is Maple (I think) and beautifully slip-feathered for strength and then all the inner parts are Padauk. The inner frame is so perfect that it actually looks like it has been milled from a single piece of wood. The joints are completely invisible which is quite a feat. All 6 burrsticks are up to Eric's usual impeccable standard.

When first played with several of the sticks can slide and after moving a few, the inner frame can slide up and down too. There are a whole lot of possibilities and I suspected that finding the pathway to the solution was going to be a huge challenge due to multiple blind alleys. This made me shy away from it for a week or so but I left it on my pile of "currently playing" puzzles next to my chair in the living room so that I could pick it up again as the fancy took me (much to Mrs S' disgust - she thinks that pile is far too big). After a while, I thought to myself that Eric NEVER chooses to make a puzzle that is impossibly tough or full of dozens of blind ends. One thing to remember about Mr Fuller...he likes to have fun (sometimes I am sooo envious of him!) he produces puzzles that he himself wants to play with and so my initial worries about an impossibly tough burr were unfounded.

I picked it up, again, and again, and again, and again! Over several weeks I had found a very nice pathway of about 14 moves and during that discovery, it is possible to see a lot of the interior shapes of the inner frame and more mobile burr sticks. At the point where I had reached, I could see what was required...I KNEW what needed to happen next and where it should be. BUT... I could not make it happen. After a few months of trying several evenings a week, I abandoned my idea and decided that I had been wrong all along and should go back to other pathways! Eventually, I found some new moves and managed to get some more burrsticks moved and stopped. Backtracking proved a problem for a couple of days and a minor panic occurred when I thought I was going to be stuck with 2 sticks poking out! Finally, after 3 or 4 nights I got it back to the beginning again and started afresh. Still the same issue... I could see what was required but I just couldn't make it happen.

Suddenly last week, whilst feeling sorry for myself and trying to avoid the laser burning stare for coughing and "snortering" whilst watching TV, I made a new move which I should have found before - it was just a single move from a position I had found before and I had no idea why I had not discovered it before. All of a sudden, the opening I had been trying to achieve just stared at me and I could pull a burr stick out and then dismantle the rest easily. The inner frame slid out with just a nice little friction showing how perfectly made it all was - I was finally able to marvel at the workmanship and design.

Just look at the tremendous workmanship!
It only took me 6 months for a level 20!
As for putting it back together? I had not paid any attention to how the pieces were oriented or where they came from so Burrtools came to my rescue! Subsequently, I was able to dismantle it and then reassemble it all from memory and deduction - it is a brilliant design and should NOT have taken me so long! My only excuse is that I am not terribly bright!

Obviously, after such a long time, this puzzle is no longer available. It is certainly one to consider bidding for if it ever comes up at auction - it is terrific in both design and construction. Trust Alfons to design something fabulous and fun and trust Eric to choose the best challenge and make it perfectly! Thank you, my friends!