Sunday, 8 December 2019

Brian and Ken Broke It

Then Brian Teamed Up With Andrew to Make a Cluster - I Said "F$&@"

It's a Soma Cube...but they broke it!
I've discussed Ken Irvine a few times on this blog - he's a sort of evil genius (a name which he is positively delighted to have received) who seems to be brilliant at solving puzzles and amazing at designing them too! In fact, his wood-working skillz are pretty impressive too (Sigh! I wish that I had some talent in some field or other!)

Apparently, Ken had a wonderful idea to fiddle with the classic Soma cube (a puzzle that everyone should have in their collection). He decided that it was much too easy having a 7 piece puzzle to make a cube in one of 240 different ways. In his delightful/annoying way he decided to make it a 6 piece puzzle that only had one assembly! He named it the Broken Soma because he took the 3 voxel L-shape and broke each of the cubies in half before fixing them onto the 6 remaining pieces. Hence it is a "broken soma". Except, we all know the real reason it is only takes a short ¼ hour or so before anyone playing with it decides that he has taken a perfectly reasonable puzzle and BROKEN it! It seems bloody impossible! The puzzle was debuted at the Rochester puzzle party earlier this year where several people, including Brian Menold, tried and failed to solve it over the 3-day party. Eventually, Brian solved it after getting home and this seemed to be the response that most of the extremely skilled puzzlers at this event had to this delightful design.

Brian asked Ken for permission to reproduce it to which the response was a resounding yes. I had a little play with Allard's copy at the last MPP and after about 30 minutes was completely convinced that it was impossible - this proved to me that I was quite correct to have ordered a copy myself and couldn't wait for it to arrive (the Royal Mail seemed to have lost track of my package for a week or so). I am always delighted to try anything new from Ken's evil twisted (but clever) mind and of course, anything made by Brian will be stunningly beautiful even if it remains unsolved and in pieces for a while. I bought a copy made from Olivewood and Moabi which looked stunning on Brian's store and is even more beautiful in the hand.

I have carried this with me to work as well as played at home for several weeks. In my usual fashion, I went about it by randomly trying to combine pieces and of course failing every single time. There was always a piece sticking out or a small ½-voxel gap in a wall. I tried combining the half pieces and tried putting them at the ends of edges and nothing would work at all. Ken had certainly broken my Soma! I gave it to people at work to try and they were all convinced quite quickly that it was impossible. This includes a consultant and clinical fellow foot and ankle surgeon who are quite used to taking a fracture random assortment of funny shaped bones or fragments and putting them together into something vaguely foot or ankle shaped - of all the types of surgeon I work with, their 3D visuospatial ability is pretty much second to none. Between the two of them, I challenged them for an hour or so and they also were convinced my puzzle was broken. I also gave it to my anaesthetic assistant and one of my senior anaesthetic trainees to attempt during a rather long case. They are also pretty good at 3D reconstruction (having gotten very used to using 2D ultrasound and creating a 3D mind view from it) and yep...they declared it broken too!

At some point during all this torturing, I sat down and took Allard's advice and actually had a think©! Apart from causing a severe headache, I had a very nice realisation...there is something you need to figure out before it will be solved. You may well solve this by chance, by random piece placement but this is actually quite unlikely. Once you actually think, you realise exactly what is required and you can quite quickly assemble a cube.

This photo really gives almost nothing away!
Just look at the beauty of these woods!
The Aha! moment is simply wonderful. It is not the feeling of exhaustively working through every possibility (my memory is nowhere near good enough for that), it is the feeling you get from a sudden realisation that you know exactly what is required and can do it in minutes. Brian and Ken have created a masterpiece...I would say that every collection should have a Soma cube as well as a broken one. Thank you so much, my friends!

It's a Cluster F$&@!
Another genius who has been collaborating with Brian is the incredible Andrew Crowell. I have tried to make sure that I get a copy of almost everything he designs. This is courtesy of either Brian or the world expert on Turning Interlocking Cubes, Bernhard Schweitzer. Not everything that comes from Andrew's warped brain is a cube - he has designed a few other shapes but in common they always share the common feature of requiring some really complex interesting rotations. I am still struggling with a couple of PackTIC designs despite months of work. When Brian showed off on his site the Cluster puzzle which whilst not a cube still requires a bunch of rotations, I couldn't resist - plus my fetish for gorgeous wood meant that I just had to own a small amount of Patagonian Rosewood.

Surprisingly, this puzzle is still available in Yellowheart or Peroba Rosa for a very reasonable $54 - go and get it now - you really won't be disappointed.

I had left this one until I had solved the lovely fun FantasTIC and then set to. The fact that it is not a cube shape makes it both easier and harder for some reason. I was able to discern what I thought was the placement of the pieces fairly easily and then try and find the order of insertion and the correct rotations to get them in place. Except...this wouldn't work for me. I am a bear of very little brain and so kept trying the same thing. After a couple of days of failing to place the last piece and not realising that the gap was not the right shape, I suddenly took note and decided to start afresh. This time, I realised my stupid mistake and then was forced to hunt for another assembly entirely. Because of the odd shape of the intended final puzzle, I found this quite tough and discovered the alternative placement of the first piece entirely by accident. Aha! Now on to the main rotational placement. I had discovered a very interesting move that would allow entry of other smaller pieces but there seemed to be no way to get both of them inside...stuck AGAIN!

A few days later, I went back to it and thought to myself:
"What if I...?"
OMG! That is amazing! Who would have thought I would have a railway inside the puzzle or is that a Scalextric (remember those?) - there is a totally unexpected sequence of moves in there and it made me chuckle when I found it!

It's a cluster - brilliant - go get one
Well, I had better leave you now - Mrs S has just returned from a few days visiting the out-laws in Auld Reekie and if I don't sit and chat then she may get really upset at the pile of puzzles that have arrived in her absence as well as a few more that will be arriving soon! After a trip to the homeland, she packs a mighty Whack! Ouch!

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Getting into the Groove...

Definitely Not Bored with Board Burrs!

Junichi Yananose' Grooved Board burrs
Clockwise from front right - number 1 to 4
At the beginning of November, I woke up to an email from Juno (actually, I am sure that it is Yukari who sends them out) informing me of the release of their 2 latest puzzles and amongst them was the one I had been waiting for, the grooved 6 board burr #4. I am a bit of a completionist and, having the previous 3 in my collection, I would really have to add number 4 to it. But not only for the collection...I had actually really enjoyed the solving of the previous ones in the series and Juno had claimed that this fourth one is a hybrid of the designs used previously. Number 1 was reviewed here - the ideas were so new and the movements are so well hidden that it took me several months to solve it, number 2 here - nowhere near so difficult but still a lot of fun and finally number 3 is reviewed here - this was one incredibly difficult puzzle. I was very much hoping that the fourth and possibly last in the series would be as much fun and a good challenge.

Grooved 6 Board Burr #4
As you can see the puzzle is beautifully made Hickory (the first time Juno has used this wood) with strengthening and ornamental splines made from Rose Alder. This is back to the method used with number 1 rather than the use of Juno's rather lovely home-made plywood used in number 2 and 3. It is a nice handy size for puzzling at 87mm in each direction. The description of the puzzle on the store was that there are round and flat pins that engage with the grooves on each of the X, Y and Z axes, making the interactions and movements quite complex.

I received my copy at the same time as the Sequential discovery board burred box and could not resist playing with that one first. To my shame, this one almost got forgotten after the arrival of some fabulous toys from Brian Menold but when I came to putting those away, I found #4 waiting for me on my desk. Off to play!!

Initial movements are quite constrained and it looked like there was going to be a nice time just finding my way through a little maze without too many choices. Then after the first 3 or 4 moves that I found, the possibilities opened up massively and, despite a very large separation of the pieces, the puzzle remained nicely stable (often a huge problem with board burrs is that as pieces separate out, the possibility of inadvertent rotational moves can make the puzzle very unstable and even prone to collapsing). Realising that there might be quite a complex solution, I returned to my habitual, to and fro method of exploration with me returning back to the beginning many times. As the puzzle opens out it becomes clear that the grooves and pins are very different from the previous puzzles, the pins are on the sides of the plates as well as the interior and also the grooves can be just pin-length as well as form pathways with intersections. very interesting and totally different from the previous puzzles in the series.

I was fascinated to find an extra unexpected early solution to removing the first piece using a rather complex rotation and tilt move. It actually removes the same piece as the correct solution and I would say should be treated as an extra challenge for you to find as well as the correct linear only solution. I was rather pleased to see from his site that Goetz (entry 2019-11-23) had also found the extra solution. The rotational shortcut is pictured below under a spoiler button - don't click the button if you are considering buying it for yourself.

Having removed the first piece this way, I put it back and continued with the "correct" approach. It took me several days to find a very clever compound movement of several pieces leading to an even more precarious but still interlocked position. It looked like a piece would easily fall out from here but due to the flat pins and grooves, they were all held firm. I got stuck here for a day until I realised that the design was based on a 3 unit voxel and occasionally only a partial move was essential. My Aha moment was wonderful when I found out how to remove the first piece in the designer's intended way.

Even after the first piece was out, the puzzle remained stable and now even more movement was possible. For some reason I found the second piece extraction to be a very logical sequence - there were quite a lot of possible pathways but I homed in on the correct one quite intuitively. With piece number 2 out, I backtracked all the way to the beginning and started again (a little difficulty with my very poor memory cost me an extra evening of success). With 2 boards removed, it remained stable and the continued path to full disassembly was just as much fun.

Some very fine woodwork here. Juno's customary brand now visible.
The amazing detail of the design was now visible with very fancy grooves in unexpected places and of unexpected sizes. Look at these pictures to see it.

A maze pathway groove in one piece and some odd notches on others.
Usually, with complex board burrs (in fact most complex burrs), I am completely unable to do the reassembly myself without help from Burrtools. For me, this is an essential part of the fun of these puzzles - I have quite an extensive collection of BT files and creating more is an enjoyable experience. This time, I had kept a note of the orientation of the pieces and order of removal and surprisingly was able to retrace my steps all the way back to the beginning. With a level of 28-10-5-3, this was a really fun challenge. Just like the previous ones, the BT file required me to use a 18x18x18 voxel grid. In fact, whilst this did create a usable file, it would be more accurate if I had doubled up the grid to 36x36x36 because some of the pins and grooves are more than 1 but not quite 2 voxels deep.

This is one very fine puzzle! To my mind, as a collector, this is essential for anyone with al the others. If you only want one then this is one of the best of them. Number one is fabulous, number 2 a little easy and number 3 impossibly difficult. The perfect difficulty level here and a rather fun path to follow. There is also the extra addition of a hidden rotational solution to find as well.

Juno has 19 of these left in stock - there is still time to get your copy. If you are the significant other of an afflicted puzzler then "why are you reading this blog?" and you should go and buy a copy of this burr for them as a Christmas present...they will love it!


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