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!


  1. Thank you for the evil genius title. My wife said that it is only half correct, but I told her that I can be evil when I need to be.

    1. I really think you need to clarify with her which half is correct! I hope, for your sake, that you don’t get any nasty surprises.