Sunday 24 November 2019

It's 2019, I Got a Bouquet and It Was FantasTIC!

Is That's a Hat-Trick?

......Erm No. This is About 4 Puzzles and Not 3!

At last, I have finally found some time to play with some toys and might have had some success at last! Yay! I can now tell Mrs S that I do still need to buy new toys as I am solving the old ones. I am not sure she believes me but I am sticking to my story.

I am going to start with the Bouquet which I bought from my good friend Brian Menold's Wood Wonders store quite some time ago (I am ashamed to admit that I got it way back in August and it has sat on, under or next to my puzzle chair ever since then! I love variants on 6 piece burrs (hence I own quite a few burr sets) and a burr with a frame (like Terry Smart's Premiere puzzle which I reviewed here) is completely irresistible for me. The fact that this particular puzzle was designed by another friend, Christophe Lohe, makes it even more special - he has a unique talent for designing puzzles that are just the right difficulty level and really interesting to solve. When I say "just the right difficulty level", I do mean it despite this taking me 3 months to complete!

Brian made a few copies of this in a number of different wood varieties and my rather striking copy is a Wenge frame, with Padauk and Maple burr sticks. It is simply stunning on display - maybe that is the real reason I left that on or around my chair for so long? BLUSH! It is very tactile, a lovely weight and feel to the finish (as we have come to expect from Brian) and I kept failing at it! There are quite a lot of moves possible from the beginning...some of them really look like they are leading somewhere until the trail runs cold and backtracking is required. Not only are the paths quite deep but there are several of them! They all look so enticing that I default to my "Einsteinian insanity" approach and kept getting surprised when nothing happened. Yes, I know, "she" is quite right...I am NOT terribly bright! I think I am supposed to be quite good at puzzling after such a long time but I always struggle.

Round and round and round in circles, I went! Surprisingly never getting bored (this shows how good a design it is) and as always got nowhere. I was obviously missing a critical move somewhere. But where? In fact, I was missing 37 moves (the puzzle is level! In shame, I kept doing the same thing and putting the puzzle down for a few hours or days and even had thoughts of shelving it for a while - then in October, Mike published a review saying that he had managed his copy after just a few weeks. I continued my advance into madness and worked on it every evening. There had been a few comments on Facebook about it slightly taunting my prowess which kept me motivated.

At Last!!!!!
Finally, earlier this week I found something - instead of doing the same thing over and over again, I made a few moves and looked inside (visibility is great with this puzzle) and saw a potential opening. What if I???? Oooh! That's nice! Suddenly a new configuration but blocked again for a while. After a little more brain-ache, I realised that there was a certain rhythm to the sequence and then the first piece came out followed by the second. Removing the third and later pieces took a bit of figuring too as I tried to avoid inadvertent rotations and also keep a vague memory of the piece positions.

Wow! That is an absolutely brilliant BRILLIANT puzzle! The movement of the pieces is perfect thanks to Brian's craftsmanship and the design is simply awesome! This is one of the best 6 piece burr variants I have played with. Well done Chris! It is no longer available (due to the excessive time I spent solving it) but if you see one come up at auction then don't ask any questions, just buy it!

Another puzzle which I received from Brian in the same delivery was the 2019 puzzle designed by the equally amazing Klaas Jan Damstra, another absolute favourite designer of mine. I wasn't sure about this particular design but I cannot buy just one puzzle from Brian...I think I may have bought 5 at that time!! Whack! Ouch! Brian made it sound intriguing with his description:
These pieces move about within the frame quite freely despite the rather close tolerance of the frame to the pieces. I was afraid there may be some unintended solutions but I was not able to find any. Not terribly difficult but a pretty good challenge that seems easier than it really is!
When it arrived, and I tried to take photos of it, I was amazed at just how mobile the pieces are! They basically slide around freely all over the place, including lots of rotation of all the pieces. It feels like it is just going to fall to bits but despite all the movement, it remarkably remains intact. It was really quite tough to make it sit nicely for a decent photo - in fact, if you turn it upside down it will not sit nicely to take a picture!

Despite all this movement, it is not a trivial puzzle to solve and there are no illegal solutions either. I played with this one when I got fed up with failing at Bouquet and realised after a couple of days that this also needed to be solved by looking inside. Once I started doing this then the Aha! moment occurred and I said to Mrs S that "I love it when a plan comes together" (that is for those of you old enough to remember the A-team). After 3 or 4 evenings of fiddling I had my 2 pairs of sticks and the lovely pinwheel frame:

That was a nice piece of fun
The reassembly is not a terribly hard challenge but you must remember which orientation to hold the frame and then try not to get the order of the pieces wrong when you put them back.

FantasTIC by Andrew Crowell
I cannot resist buying a TIC (Turning Interlocking Cube) when a new one comes up for sale! My collection is now pretty extensive - not quite up to the level of the world expert, Bernhard but still pretty good. I had noticed that there had been a couple of TICs in the IPP design competition and they looked like they had been made by Brian (apparently they hadn't). The designer initially was not known but let's face it...we ALL know who has been turning out TIC designs like there is no tomorrow for the last year or so! Yes, Andrew Crowell is some kind of evil genius when it comes to these. The sheer complexity and beauty of the designs that just pop into his head is nothing short of incredible. Luckily for the puzzling community, Andrew had allowed Brian to make a nice batch of them after the IPP was complete.

I had bought a few TIC's at the same time as I bought the Bouquet and 2019 puzzles but mostly they remain unsolved as a small pile of pieces around my puzzle chair. Despite that, the new ones looked so gorgeous that I had to have them. If Andrew thought they were good enough for the competition then that was all the encouragement I needed. These arrived at the beginning of November, after taking my photo and admiring the gorgeous combination of Purpleheart, Redheart, Yellowheart and Holly that had been used, I set to work straight away.

They are a wonderful 3 phase challenge...firstly, work out where everything needs to go (this can sometimes be a massive challenge if the pieces are small or not very complex). Secondly, try to establish the order in which the pieces might need to be added to the puzzle and finally, twist your bwain in the same way that Andrew has when he worked out all the required rotations. For many of these puzzles, I even get stuck at the first stage of the solve process! A puzzle with rotational moves always comes with the ever-present worry that a glued joint will be snapped but here, Brian has excelled himself with the very attractive dowel reinforcements in the pieces at risk.

This puzzle lives up to its' is truly FantasTIC!! It is not terribly terribly hard and has just enough to keep you working on it for a good few hours (in my case days) and the positioning/rotation of the pieces follows a lovely logical sequence. That is...until I attempted to place the final piece! I knew where it needed to go but for the life of me, I could not get it into position. I tried to change the order of insertion but that just blocked other pieces. Stuck - AGAIN! Sob! After playing and sleeping on it for a couple of nights, I had the most marvellous Aha! moment! A very unexpected rotation suddenly leapt into my tired brain and I had my cube:

It lives up to its' name!
Andrew and Brian - you are amazing!
I have taken to storing these puzzles (as well as most of the Osanori Yamamoto packing puzzles) in the disassembled state so that I can challenge myself and friends again in the future. I went back to this one to write this article and...Lordy, that's still a huge challenge! One of my favourites of the year!

Hat-Trick by Laszlo Kmolnar
Finally, the 4th puzzle in the Hat-trick(????) from Brian is a gorgeous packing puzzle from another designer I am proud to call a friend, Laszlo Kmolnar. He is one of the most interesting packing puzzle designers out there and I try to get a copy of everything that he designs. In fact, with the names Laszlo Kmolnar, Osanori Yamamoto and Volker Latussek, we have the best packing challenge designers in the world today!

As soon as I saw this glorious creation in Box Elder and Redheart I knew I wouldn't be able to resist. The wood is stunning, the joinery on the box (with the highlighting corners) is gorgeous. Plus, another puzzle from Laszlo HAS to be added to the collection. It was a Top ten vote winner in the IPP design competition which means that there is something fun to the solution and hopefully doable by me.

The box cavity is 4x3x2 voxels in size and there are 6 identical L shapes to be placed inside. It did not take me very long to find a number of possible assemblies but at that point, I stopped dead. The T-shaped slot in the top of the box makes the insertion quite tricky! Pieces go in nicely at first and then we are stuck. It's immediately obvious that rotations are needed but where? There is a lot of space inside for the rotations to be done and I reckon I was stuck on this for a couple of evenings. The Aha! moment was a delight - it took me a couple of hours in total to solve it and with the calibre of the IPP attendees, it will be a perfect difficulty level for them to solve in the competition room.

It's gorgeous packed too!
Phew! That was quite a blog post and finally some decent solving by me! Hopefully, this winning streak will keep going! I have spent a few weeks on Brian Young's Ages sequential discovery burr and to my horror have literally only found 2 small moves so far! Luck! Don't fail me now!!!

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