Sunday, 20 September 2020

TwisTIC'ing Away With Andrew


This version with brass reinforcing dowels
One of the puzzles that I bought from Brian Menold a few months ago has been sitting on my desk for quite a while - the TwisTIC puzzle designed by the incredible Andrew Crowell was one that I couldn't resist. The description of 5 exotic woods by Brian immediately makes me start to drool and with this version having brass dowels for reinforcement, I could not resist. The trouble is that I cannot resist any of the Turning Interlocking Cubes when I see them come up for sale.

The TICs have really helped my puzzle solving abilities which many thought was impossible for me. More recently, I have received most of these puzzles as disassembled pieces requiring assembly which several years ago would have been something I would never have considered. However, practicing with these seems to have improved my 3D visuospatial ability enormously and (even if I struggle a bit...or even a LOT) I do manage to work out where the pieces need to go and usually manage to work out how to get them together without resorting to asking for assistance from any of my savant puzzle assembly friends. 

I couldn't resist this because of the look at the description by Brian:
"I've just entered rotation hell! I think I lost count after about a dozen rotations. I really think this is the most difficult TIC I have tried so far. I must admit though, I think it has surpassed HypnoTIC as my favorite of Andrews designs. I don't even know what else to say except that, if you feel that you are rather good at this type of puzzle, you have to give this a try. Let me know if you are humbled by the experience!"
If Brian thinks this is tough then it is going to be hellish! On this basis, everyone should try it. There was a bit of a delay before I received it and several people on Facebook who had got their copies quickly had shown it off and exclaimed about how long it took them to solve. I reckoned that I was sunk but in an enjoyable way.

The pieces are beautifully made as always and I love the wood choices (I'm such a sucker for beautiful wood) and having convinced myself that my skills had not left me by solving the TriumviraTIC (with only a little struggle). With 5 pieces it was always going to be at least slightly tougher but interestingly, I even had a hard time working out how the pieces should end up. This didn't bode well at all. After almost 3 evenings of work, I at least had an idea where everything should go - time to start on the rotations.

At this point, I realised just how good this puzzle reminded me of my favourite rotational interlocking puzzle of all time, the Changing Partners puzzle which I bought many years ago from Bernhard Schweitzer (designed by ChiRen Chen)

Changing Partners - 2 out of 6 possible challenges

This puzzle has been amongst my top TICs ever since they really became a "thing". The multiple rotations are just as confusing as the Changing Partners because of the sheer number of turns as well as not being clear how to start to orient the pieces against each other at the beginning. It is a wonderful and tough challenge. After a day of randomly trying to put pieces together, I decided to think© and realised that this needed thought and planning. Certain pieces would fit together in a certain way only if a starting orientation was used. This narrowed things down quite a bit and I was off. After working like this for an hour or so I had my wonderful Aha! moment. 
TwisTIC finally solved after a week!
Yes Brian, this is a brilliant and ever so slightly hellish puzzle - definitely a great addition for the collection but probably not for beginners. One thing that I really am looking forward to is a new 5x5x5 TIC designed by Richard Gain together with Andrew Crowell. They worked together to design this and Richard printed it at home. Apparently he had been unable to assemble it without assistance which means that it will be incredibly incredibly tough - I've asked for him to print me a copy too and they will be up for sale on his Etsy site in the near future (the stl files are up for sale already).

Have a great afternoon everyone - keep puzzling.

Sunday, 13 September 2020

The Power of Three

I cannot assemble it!
We have here a trio of three piece TICs. There are 2 common themes - Stunningly made by the "published professor" of wood, Brian Menold and insanely designed in his head by the talented but every so slightly warped Andrew Crowell. Whenever Brian creates and sells pretty much anything, I try to buy as much as I can afford. Partly because I am an addict, partly because I want to support him and the craftsmen but also because Brian is one of the nicest men alive! Despite having had some terrible trials and tribulations in his life he is always a delight to chat to and buy from. Nothing is too much trouble for him. The Turning Interlocking Cubes and others requiring rotations are amongst my favourite puzzles but sometimes they can be extremely difficult - I received a gorgeous copy of the RIPley rotational 6 piece board burr back in May and have still not yet worked out how to assemble it! Despite my failures, this does not stop me from buying more. One day, when I have lots of time, I might just manage to solve some of my backlog.

Now this trio of TICs share one other thing in common...they also have only a trio of pieces. Therefore they should be easy peasy, yes?! At least not for a dimwit like me. The one thing that is easy is working out how the pieces should end up oriented within the final assembled cube. However getting there can be quite troublesome. One advantage of these puzzles is that the amount of each individual wood is fairly large allowing a nice view of some gorgeous grain.

ThreeTIC was the first I tried and it was a significant challenge with 18 moves to assemble including 5 rotations. These are just the right level of challenge for me at the end of a hard day at the anaesthetic machine - plenty of random movements and trial and error but not enough to lose track of and get disheartened by. In reality this level of difficulty allows planned experimentation to try and fit it together - I would almost say that these are perfect to someone new to rotational interlocking puzzles. ThreeTIC took me a whole evening in front of the TV to produce a gratifyingly beautiful cube:

Just right
How should I store these? They look gorgeous assembled and obviously stack better that way but disassembly is much less of a challenge should I choose eventually to go back to it. For this reason, I have decided to store these on the shelf as pieces and have to hope that no-one in my house decides to mix them all up.
Caged cube #1
I cannot disassemble it!

I have done this with almost all of the rotational puzzles except for one which I cannot for the life of me disassemble any more. Caged cube # 1 remains assembled (it took me a very long time to assemble in any case) because I cannot even work out how to remove the first piece! I now disassemble all of them more or less straight away after I have taken my photos to prevent this happening again.

TriTIC was going to be described by Brian as a TIC with training wheels...that was until he tried to put it together and it took him 2 days. I am really best sticking to training puzzles and couldn't resist the smaller challenge of a 14 move assembly and 5 rotations. I must be similar in skill to Brian because it took me 2 evenings as well. It is great fun and indeed, perfect for a beginner - I have brought it to work a few times to torture colleagues. It's a shame that current working conditions leave me working solo so much of the time and with no time to torture surgeons and no access to trainee anaesthetists.

TriTIC assembled
Finally, in my most recent (and rather large) delivery from Brian, I received yet another three piece TIC - TriumviraTIC made from all the "hearts" (Red, Orange and Yellow) and looking beautiful. Brian sent it out practically assembled - the 2 larger pieces were already in place and the Yellowheart small piece was inserted where it needed to go but blocked from moving further in. Thanks Brian, that will be really helpful.! It wasn't. That small piece won't go further in without completely disassembling the larger assembly first and then working out which ones need to be placed together in which order.

There are quite a few rotations required and quite a nice dance around to allow the pieces to slide past each other. Another wonderful design needing just the right amount of thought. It's a challenge for an experienced numpty like me but also doable by a newbie as well.

TriumviraTIC in cube form
I have a bit of a backlog to work through including the incredibly difficult TwisTIC and a huge bunch of wire puzzles that I have made no headway on at all. I have 2 weeks of annual leave starting this week and hope to find some time. Unfortunately, my tax return awaits, I have a year's worth of filing to do and my study/puzzle room looks like a hurricane has gone through. Oh yes, I'm also trying to forget about the work needing to be done in the garden as we approach autumn.

So little many chores...too many puzzles to do.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

A Masterclass in Thoughtful Design...

Lock Box
I can hear you all gasp in disbelief! Yes, I have bought a box!
It's not really a box! Eric described the Lock Box as a "sequential discovery puzzle box" - the answer is right there in front of you - the primary part of the description and hence the bit that came first is sequential discovery puzzle. This means that it is OK for me to buy it - I really don't object to puzzles with cavities as long as there is something special to the puzzling for me. You all know that I love SD puzzles and, of course, I am hopelessly addicted to gorgeous wood. This wondrous construction is stunning being made from Figured Waterfall Sapele with a key made from Sapele and Jatoba (plus a few bits of metal here and there. It is so beautiful that I have kept it in my living room on display - although Mrs S is starting to get impatient again with the number of puzzles building up there again.

The puzzle is a very nice size for hand holding at 3" x 4" x 1.45" (I really don't understand why you Yanks won't go metric for small linear measurement) and the key is 2.45" x 1.25" x 0.75". Eric described this as one of his best designs to date and that tipped me over the edge - there was a bit of a shenanigans at the checkout and I missed out when they first went up for sale but after a delay of a few days Eric and Tom at Cubic-dissection tried again and miraculously my cart was already full and the checkout happened seconds later...Phew!

Her Majesty's Customs and Excise kidnapped it for quite a while and I had a very nervous wait on my hands before a ransom demand came via the Royal mail which I happily paid to receive my toys. Much to the disgust of "she who is thinking of lighting a fire with my 'kindling'", I also received one of Eric's Improved One Piece Packing puzzles - which remains unsolved after over a month.

The photos don't do the puzzle justice - I have never heard of Waterfall sapele before and wondered what it meant. It's just about possible to make out in the photo at the top what looks like ripples in the wood and this is what marks it out as a waterfall variant. When held in good light, it is simply gorgeous. I had read the review by Brent Hessel and he awarded it the full five Sinatras and then I read my surgical friend, Steve's gushing Dr Seuss opinion, which meant that I had to start on this one straight away.

Looking in the keyhole, it looks like he has made a set of internal pathways for the pins of the key to interact with - I did wonder whether he might have made a sort of inverted wooden Revomaze. Of course, with any lock puzzle that comes with a key, it is obligatory to try the key in the keyway and turn. Will something unlock quickly that way?

Key turned and...nothing happened
Just look at the waterfall markings in that!
Of course nothing will happen when you turn the key! In fact, it turns only about 40º and in the wrong direction. Time to investigate further. There are not supposed to be any moves that require banging or force or gravity which helps because when turning the puzzle over and over, there are quite a lot of interesting clanking noises inside and sometimes not any clanking noises...odd!

It will come as no surprise that there are magnets in this - the pins of the key clanked onto a steel wire puzzle that was sitting on my armchair next to me. In fact when I pulled the key off the wire puzzle one of the pins came out - yes, its a teeny tiny spoiler to show it but not much of a spoiler so I will show it:

Magnetic pins - what are they for?
This gives the puzzle a HUGE number of extra possibilities - time to put the key back in with the pins removed and...NOPE!  What about moving the pins into different positions and orientations? Aha! Interesting things happen inside except I cannot tell what is happening. There is clanking and clinking inside but nothing changing externally. It doesn't take long to realise that the hole on the key is useful for something and then there are even more possibilities which produce more completely incomprehensible internal changes - I love it and I am stuck!

Several weeks go by in which I systematically try almost every possible combination of pieces, orientations and directions possible with no progress. At some point in that period, I work out what combinations produce what noises most of the time but at other times there are some really big noises in there and I think Eric is playing with me. Earlier this week I find a thing which causes something externally to happen and after that little buzz of excitement, I am stuck again.

I chat to the genius that is Derek Bosch and during a few evenings of discussion he tells me that he manages to solve it! OMG, I am so thick! He gives a little innocuous hint and I realise that Eric has been an evil bastard and pushed me into doing something stupid in the full knowledge that I will do that something again and again and again. Eric knows I'm not terribly bright. Derek's hint is very meagre and it still takes me nearly an hour to work out what he is getting at and I see the amazing misdirection that has been designed into the puzzle. It required not only a configuration change but also an interaction in an unexpected way to produce a movement that I wasn't expecting - brilliant! Now if that gives you any real clue then you also are a genius because I can barely understand that paragraph and I wrote it.

Having used Derek's meagre clue, I have ,ade progress and I continue to try all the things I had done before all over again with the box configured differently. As usual, I have clanking about and no further movement. But this time I think I know what is going on inside and want to try something extra. The problem is I am missing a tool to do that extra something. Now what? Maybe of I can...oooooh...Aha! Now that was a clever piece of design and with a little fiddling and some rather fine dexterity, I make a move. Solved! There's no real clue in the next photo but don't look if you really don't want any information at all.

This explained some of the noises inside but not all. Somehow something didn't feel quite right. That last unlocking move had been very clever (especially in how it made me use what I had already got) but there was too much dexterity involved and Eric very seldom designs puzzles that require luck or dexterity. Time to think© again. What did I have? What special properties did it have? Could I use it differently? OMG - YES! I tried the last move again but differently and there was a little wobble and resistance before a click and I sighed with delight!

This Sequential discovery puzzle box is a masterpiece - both in the craftsmanship and the woods used to make it beautiful but also in the attention to detail in the design inside. Every single step has been designed to be hidden and require experimentation, discovery and thought before revealing its' secret. This is simply wonderful and a candidate for my top 10ish of the year in 2020. This year has been a car crash so far but tremendous puzzles like this have helped take my mind off the awful goings on around the globe.

Sunday, 30 August 2020

A Wonderful Gift - I'm Not Worthy

Just the first of a bunch of puzzles from George Bell
Can you tell??? This blog is now MUCH faster than it was! My old iMac was a mid 2006 vintage and was desperately slow - it took 90 minutes or longer to boot up. Finally when a new model was announced a few weeks ago Mrs S threatened me with worse violence than a Whack! Ouch! if I didn't upgrade - isn't she a wonderful woman? A new iMac was viewed, specced up, ordered, manufactured and arrived this week. It is lovely (nice 27" display) and screaming fast as you can tell when you read this. All my crap gets out there with extra speed...lucky you! It will take a while to get the software working as I like but I am getting there.

Before I carry on drivelling about my wonderful gifts from George Bell, I would like to sincerely suggest that you support my 2 very good (and very talented) friends, Big Steve and Ali (aka the Two Brass Monkeys). You will have seen me show off and thoroughly gush about many of their wonderful creations on the blog, including the Hokey cokey lock (reviewed here) which made it to my number 4 slot of 2018 and still available from their Etsy store or from PuzzleMaster. Now, not only can you buy from their store but they have set up a KickStarter for a particularly fabulous (and BIG) creation, the Kong Puzzle.

Kong Fully Assembled
Kong in Case
I played with a prototype of this wondrous brute at the last face-to-face MPP and it was amazing! It is beautifully tactile and a proper challenge - needless to say, I did not solve it there and neither did our Burr magician, Rich. This masterpiece is solid brass and weighs in at a monstrous 4lb 2.6oz (1.89Kg) - the dimensions of the assembled puzzle will be 70 x 90 x 90mm and it will be sent out in an aluminium briefcase for protection of those oh, so fragile pieces/postal workers.
Slough - don't go there!
For those of you wanting to save on the price of postage they have found a way to reduce the packaging (no aluminium case) to 110g and this will save you quite a bit of cash. If cash is not a worry for you then you can have it (along with their first prototype) personally delivered to your door by one of the 2 brass monkeys. It's quite expensive but probably worth it...unless you live in Slough, UK! They might consider going to Antarctica or even a war zone to deliver your toys but NOT Slough - if you've ever been there then you will understand why!

So, go to KickStarter right now and join us all in a wonderful (heavy) experience - it's passed it's finance threshold so is definitely happening but if you want to be amongst the first and want a version cheaper than that to be sold later on their site then join the happy crazy crew - there are still 12 days to go.

Now, on with my regularly scheduled broadcast/blog...during the height of the first wave of the pandemic in the UK (I know that the US and other similar third world countries never managed to get beyond the first wave), I was contacted by my friend George Bell asking how I was doing and informing me that he wanted to send me some gifts to keep me occupied in my downtime. I am always staggered at how generous and kind the puzzle community are and this is just one example of it. I assured George that, apart from working too hard, I was doing fine...and then I caught the bloody virus! Luckily, after about a month I am fine again. A nice big box arrived and the ever vigilant/paranoid Mrs S quarantined it in the porch for a couple of days before allowing me to open a treasure trove.

The puzzle at the top of the blog is my favourite so far. The Pyradox was George's exchange puzzle at the IPP in San Diego in 2018. I did not attend that year and Mrs S won't let me participate in a 100+ puzzle exchange so did not obtain a copy when they were given out. It consists of 3 grids of varying shapes and 5 bunches of glued together spheres. The aim is to put all 5 pieces onto the grid in a stable manner and create a pyramid at the same time. I had been aware that this was a real challenge because I had read George's article on it published in the CFF journal and even edited his article on polyspheres a few years ago. As soon as I got this one I had to play and spent a happy afternoon in our nice warm conservatory with Mrs S and the cats - she was delighted that I had a puzzle that wasn't noisy. I quickly found the solution to the basic pyramid but really struggled on the other 2. I retried the one that I had solved first and then was slightly horrified to realise that I couldn't recreate that one again. Don't look - spoilers below:

The puzzle took me 3 days in all to solve all three challenges and I have to say it was a wonderful diversion - it looks great too - George gave it out in a nice clear plastic box which displays all the pieces nicely. This is well worth adding to your collection - all of George's puzzles are available at a very reasonable price from his Etsy store (this one is just £16!).

Next up, I played with the Fusion puzzle - George has really adopted the world of 3D printing and it allows him to explore his fascination for poly-spheres. This fits beautifully in a clear acrylic box and is remarkably stable. I tipped it out of the box expecting it to fall apart but it stayed together beautifully. First challenge - work out how to separate it into its' component pieces. and then...yes, you guessed it, put it back together again! It's quite clear which pieces are which but not obvious what you need to do to take it apart. I spent a good 10 minutes pushing and pulling at various bits before it suddenly burst apart and landed on a sleeping cat who did not even notice (these are very light puzzles).

2 identical pieces plus one extra
OK - reassemble...quickly! Not gonna happen fast for me. After a few minutes it becomes clear that these pieces clearly can interlock in only one way but holding them right so that they can be clicked together is entirely a different challenge - one piece or other kept pinging out of my hand. Eventually I got it and produced a rather pleasing stable structure again. This one definitely has worry bead potential - I fiddled for a whole evening.

Hole in none
The Hole in none puzzle is made from a wonderful bright luminous yellow printed plastic (I think it glows in the dark), it looks like one of the classic 6 piece star interlocking puzzles...until you attempt to take it apart and that definitely won't work. I then spent a few minutes pushing and pulling on various bits trying to get something to move. It took me a while to find the right position for my fingers and it suddenly pinged into 3 pieces on the cat again - there is definitely a theme to my puzzling!

Again, 2 identical pieces plus one extra
Yet again, I had 3 pieces that were completely different to the classic star puzzle and needed to work out how to fit them back together. This one is a completely different type of puzzle to the Fusion - I classify it as a coordinate motion puzzle. I am very impressed that George managed to make it slide so smoothly when made from 3D printed plastic built up in layers. It's not a tough puzzle but again, a nice worry bead diversion.

Clock Solitaire
This is probably the puzzle that gives the most bang for your buck. Clock Solitaire was George's exchange at the Paris IPP. It is a very nicely made puzzle made by Dave Janelle at Creative Crafthouse - it is available from both Dave's and George's store (George slightly cheaper at £16). We are all familiar with the standard 33 hole Solitaire puzzle we played with (and usually failed to solve) as kids, and this is one (out of many) possible variants on the theme. The puzzle itself is very nicely made laser cut wood forming a box for the turned wooden pegs and a booklet of multiple challenges.

So far I have only attempted the basic first challenge to remove all the pegs leaving one remaining in the centre hole. I've been at it for several hours and singularly failed. I have been hampered by needing to remove a peg from a cat's mouth on multiple occasions! I don't know whether this is particularly difficult or I am just being dim. As a teenager, I was actually able to solve the standard solitaire puzzle but this one seems to be beating me so far. If and when I beat the main challenge then there are quite a few more in the booklet.

I think that all puzzlers should own a copy of the basic 33 hole puzzle (many are available with gorgeous wood or marble pieces and make great coffee table displays) and for such a small amount of money, it is well worthwhile getting a copy of this one to go with it - if you are anything like me then you will be kept busy for days if not weeks and months.

I have subsequently realised that George is one of the foremost authorities on the peg solitaire puzzles in the world, having published some very interesting articles on the possible variants. He has a fascinating webpage to start you off on your odyssey. It includes a very full reference section pointing to real scientific articles that have been published on the subject in genuine mathematical journals. When I get some time I will collect and read some of these articles - just to complete your image of my complete nerdiness, I collect and read recreational maths books and follow a lot of recreational maths YouTube channels.

Thank you so much, George! The puzzle gifts have been absolutely wonderful and have kept me busy for many hours so far. I really don't understand how your brain works and kind of wish mine worked like it (actually, it would be nice if my brain worked at all!) I have yet to make significant progress on your packing puzzles (Chocolate box, Double chocolate box and Melting F). These interesting multifaceted shapes fit together in very interesting ways but I cannot fathom an approach to solving the challenges with them. So far I have spent the most time with Melting F and have decided that I need a helper, an octopus or extra digits to solve it - every time I make some progress with a few pieces, it explodes on me. I'll keep trying! Maybe I'll take it to work to torture a med student with - I'll tell them that 3D visuospatial ability is vital.

Chocolate box

Double chocolate box

Melting F

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Mike Saves the Blog Yet Again!

A Potpourri of  puzzles

Hi everyone, today I have another wonderful guest post from the official PuzzleMad foreign correspondent. Somehow Mike always seems to sense when I’m struggling for something to write about and sends me something perfect to fill the gap. It’s not that I’ve not acquired anything new (see my New Additions page) - I’ve bought a fair bit from Eric and just got from Aaron but solving has been a problem. I’m not very bright and solving takes me a long time and time is not on my side these days as the powers that be want us working our arses off to try and catch up with a bit of the enormous backlog of operations that haven’t been done during the pandemic. Mike, however, has been busy solving and has produced a wonderful set of reviews for you here. Thank you, my friend.

Aloha Kākou Puzzlers,

Another puzzle assortment from the PuzzleMad Hawaii Office this week. Nothing heavy, just some items from one of my rare Puzzlemaster orders, and a couple others from elsewhere. But let’s skip the pleasantries shall we, I’m really just not in the mood today. Straight to the puzzles!

Free Willy The little ball bearing is Willy in this case.

First up is Free Willy. This is a JC Constantin design, and a very attractive one at that. The body is a fragrant laser-cut wood and I believe the jail bars are stainless steel. I have been looking at this puzzle ever since it first came out. I was instantly intrigued (Ed - me too! I played with this at an MPP when Wil handed it to me to play with). It had a completely unique look and the expectation (hope) was that a unique puzzling experience would follow. My hesitation had a lot to do with the modest difficulty level. I find Puzzlemaster (and many others) to generally overrate difficulty, so I suspected that Free Willy might not be sufficiently challenging at a Puzzlemaster 7. It might even be a complete bore. Add to that the 40 loonie price tag and you have the perfect recipe for dithering. But as you can see, my curiosity finally got the better of me.
Free Willy should not stump you for too long, but it is definitely not trivial. I think 7 was a good rating by Puzzlemaster. It is not immediately obvious how to free Willy from the cage, but all the clues are there to be read, and there is no trickery, per se. The puzzle concept was new to me, which was a relief. I highly doubt you have a puzzle that works like this in your collection. There is a little thing at the end that I think will surprise and delight you. It was unexpected and made me smile. (Ed - it made me smile too)
I rather like this little puzzle and am happy to have finally purchased it. It is a great design both aesthetically and puzzle-wise, and it’s also perfectly suitable to hand around at a party. These are the little gems you hope for when making a Puzzlemaster order. The price still seems a little high, but that’s how it goes sometimes. On the shelf it goes!

Willy freed!
Shifting gears for this next one, we consider a little item I ordered from Alex’s PrintsAndPlastics shop on Etsy, Lockpick (Level 10). Alex makes a variety of 3D printed items and seems to be a puzzle afficionado. His Lockpick was only 10 USD, so although I was pretty sure I knew how it worked, I scooped up a copy anyway. That’s cheaper than my lunch. I actually don’t know how you can 3D print anything at all for 10 dollars. I suspect you can’t.

Lockpick level 10
Not only is it inexpensive, it’s a good-sized puzzle. Also very light-weight. As expected, the mechanism turned out to be a blind maze. One must navigate the hasp-like part through the center of the puzzle until it pops out the top. As they say, this is not a puzzle lock, it’s a puzzle in the shape of a lock.

Back side of Lockpick Level 10
Lockpick will be a very quick solve for most puzzlers. I can’t in good faith recommend this puzzle to anyone wanting a challenge. I don’t think that will be insulting to Alex; he acknowledges that the Lockpick line (there could be 10 total eventually) are solidly on the easy side. That said, I’m perfectly happy with this little lock and I must say that Alex provides excellent service. It seemed like it arrived in my mailbox the next morning (along with a nice personal note; Etsy people are nice that way). Alex also has a puzzle box-type object at his shop, possibly sequential in nature. His comment section has variable reviews, but I am intrigued. It looks like there might be some novel mechanics. Unless I miss my guess, and I never do, Alex has the puzzle design bug. Hopefully we’ll see more from him in the future.

Lockpick Level 10 disengaged.
That little nub on the lower right winds through the maze.
Moving briskly along, how about a packer? I came across a copy of JC Constantin and Perry McDaniel’s T-Party puzzle recently and made it my own. This is an old Bits and Pieces product, instantly recognizable by its very modest attention to quality and workmanship (Ed - it’s a real shame that B&P didn’t take more care over what they did. There are some great puzzles in their repertoire). No precision milling will be found here, but it has a nice heft to it and the anodising is passable. Its inexpensive.

T-party - more T than party
T-Party consists of an aluminium box along with a lid and four T-shaped pieces, which are in a nice red colour. The objective, if you couldn’t guess by now Kevin, is to pack the T’s into the box such that the lid closes fully. The lid is not flat on the bottom, but rather sticks out (into the box) a little bit.
There is a T-Party in the Slocum collection, made in wood by Mr McDaniel himself, dated to 2002. I believe that’s the acquisition date. So it appears to be an early twenty-first century puzzle, one might even say millennial. Someone should fact-check that. (Ed - I’ll leave that to an eager reader)

I solved this one without undue bother. A few false starts were had, then I found an arrangement that work perfectly. From the perspective of building pieces up from the base, it was not a clearly intuitive, or clearly geometric, shape. Scott Elliot provides a good review of the puzzle at his lapsed blog here. From Scott I learned that T-Party evolved from the classic, flat 4-T puzzle, which makes perfect sense. Looking over Scott’s blog page, I also now want a copy of his Guile in the Box puzzle, an even more radical extension of T-Party. Very cool design. I don’t think there are many around.

T-Party solved. (Ed - hahaha! Really?)
I have to agree with Scott that the Bits and Pieces T-Party suffers for its lack of precision fit. Scott noted that there are alternative, inelegant solutions which detract from the puzzle (surely not an issue with Perry’s hand-crafted version, though). I think my solution was the “correct” solution. But I also think that given the solved orientation of the pieces (90° tilt from 4-T’s horizontal), the geometric beauty of the correct solution will not be apparent to most. It wasn’t to me until I looked at the solution. The solution diagram didn’t initially look like it matched what I did, but after removing the pieces carefully, it was indeed the true configuration. The point is that most people will just jigger the pieces in until there is a closest packing. That works just fine, since there are limited options. The alternative approach, necessary to achieve fully orgasmic Aha! (Ed - orgasmic? Wow, that’s quite a puzzle!), is to construct the shape outside of the box, or at least visualise it outside, and then pack accordingly. You should try it that way, but you don’t have to. Anyhow, T-Party is a great little puzzle to own. I love it, flaws and all. I’m a sucker for metal and I’ve also been doing a lot of packing puzzles recently, so the timing was perfect on this one. (Ed - that makes us a perfect team! I’m a sucker for wood and seldom try or, even less often, solve packing puzzles)

Paperclip. Get it?
Ok, time for one more before Kevin drags me off-stage with a giant cane (Ed - Mrs S won’t let me have weapons!). Let’s talk about the Paperclip puzzle by Keith Winegar. You can get this at Puzzlemaster like I did, when they restock (sold out at the moment). Like Free Willy, I was instantly attracted to this puzzle. Its hard to explain. The wood, the jigsaw joint, the bolts, the paperclips. Mixed media quirkiness has an undeniable draw. Nice size. Nice walnut. Nice beveled edges. Nice paperclip.

I confess that I have not followed Keith’s work very closely (Sorry Keith! That’s changing now). I was aware of his Capital Politics, but didn’t get that one because I was not sure how deductive a puzzle it was. Seemed a little trial and error, everything hidden, etc. I had definitely noticed, recently, his raft of jigsaw shapes at Puzzlemaster. A couple of those are on my wish list, pending financial recharge. But Paperclip had me at fist sight and never let me go. Being made of walnut, prince of hardwoods, didn’t hurt. That is my current favorite wood of all time (Ed - sigh! You really need to look through my Flickr gallery to see some much nicer woods)

Keith beveled the edges nicely for us and the internal mechanics are simple but effective. You can see that there are two nutted bolts, one on either side of the jigsaw cut. The two sides are held together by a combination of the jig (preventing lateral movement) and a pin or rod of some kind (preventing up-down movement).

Paperclip underside
(Ed - odd choice of background!)
How is it you ask? I’m about to tell you. It’s fun. Paperclip is a very nice little puzzle. I really enjoyed it, although my initial solve was not via the intended method. Separation can be achieved in an alternative way, but it is not ideal and I knew there had to be a better way. That way was something I had considered originally, but bypassed under a rationale that many other puzzlers will surely share. There is a bit of a grey area for puzzles like this, knowing just what moves are permitted. I would just suggest that you go with your instincts, no matter where they lead you.
Nice effort and truly a unique offering from Mr Winegar. Like the other puzzles in this post, it is not highly difficult and does not strive to be. It is mainly an exposition of its concept. Puzzles in this category are highly enjoyable and often hit that crucial 10–15 minute sweet spot (less for some in this post). Good stuff all round. Without any doubt, I will be getting a few more of Keith’s puzzles in the near future. He had me at Walnut! (Ed - sigh)

Obligatory solved shot.
Ok Kevin, that’s all I have to report from the Hawaii field office. Stay well my friend!

Thank you Mike! Some brilliant puzzles there! You have been pretty busy. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to play with some of them myself someday. Me and the readers are certainly grateful that you are able to step in at just the perfect time. You’re a lifesaver... or maybe a blog saver!

Sunday, 16 August 2020

Jerry Expands My Menagerie

Burrlephant 3.0
Jerry McFarland is another craftsman whom I consider a good friend! He never fobs me off when I ask silly questions and seems genuinely interested in what I have to say about his puzzles. Many years ago, before I started on this rather expensive time-consuming pathway, I had seen that Jerry had created an interlocking puzzle/burr in the shape of an elephant. I had lusted after one since the beginning and have been badgering him to remake them for quite a few years. Jerry generally has a very low boredom threshold and seldom remakes puzzles or even makes a batch of puzzles for long. He only ever committed to letting me buy one if he every decided to make more.

Why was I so keen on the elephant? I love special shapes and I love Jerry's puzzles. But this had become almost a grail puzzle for me. Ever since my mother died a few years ago, I had wanted one of these as a reminder of her. My mother's family had been refugees from Germany in 1939 and arrived in the UK with only the clothes they were wearing. The authorities decided that England was full at that stage and they sent the later refugees out to the colonies to live. My grandparents were shipped off by boat to Kenya and were told they could buy a plot of land in the countryside with a grant the British government gave them. These store keepers had to learn very fast how to become farmers or die of starvation. My mother was born out there and used to tell tales of growing up with wild animals occasionally rampaging through their farm. She was particularly fond of elephants as several used to wander through quite frequently. After she returned to the UK in her 20s she continued to collect all sorts of ornaments to remind her of her country of birth. She had a nice collection of elephants that I managed to snaffle after she died (many of them had been bought by Mrs S and I over the years). I even managed to get her a puzzle elephant - the rather lovely but not terribly difficult elephant burr from Jakub's Pelikan puzzles. It was one of my favourite things to do when I visited, to take it apart and leave a pile of pieces on her coffee table. She would never even try and assemble it but would harangue me about being a bad son until I put it back together.

She was very intrigued by the lion I bought from Stephan Baumegger and after she died, I took her collection of elephants back into my care and most have been in my living room watching me in the evenings. Out of the blue Jerry informed me that he had some new ideas for a Burrlephant version 3. That was sometime last year and I had almost forgotten about it until he contacts me a few weeks ago to say that he has been successful and would I like to try out the prototype? I doubt that 30seconds went by before I said absolutely and let me send you some money! The puzzle arrived a couple of weeks later and to my horror, Mrs S insisted on a quarantine! She is much worse than a wild animal when angry so I had to just accept her rule. I was absolutely delighted when I took it out of the box:

Ebony eyes mimic the real thing
This puzzle was one of the first that he had made entirely from exotic woods and, as you can see is stunning. This has been constructed from Jatoba, Bloodwood, Bubinga and Ebony as well as metal and magnets. The size is a very decent 11cm high, 16cm long (including tusks) and 5.5cm wide (11cm if you include the ears). It is surprisingly heavy. Jerry always marks the pieces that can be mixed up to ensure that the assembled puzzle is smooth and no small differences in size ruin the look. The feet have been labelled:

All nicely labelled!
Initially nothing can move apart from there seems to be a spring inside as the tail can be pushed in and springs back into position. I pressed this tail many hundreds of times hoping that it would free something up to move - there are quite a lot pieces that are screaming at you to be locking mechanisms (especially if you have seen any of Jerry's other work). Of course he would not have made it quite that simple. I played over a few evenings, gradually finding more and more interesting features and getting further and further through the puzzle. Let me say this puzzle is not for the squeamish - you have to do a series of unspeakably horrible things to the poor elephant before finally tearing him asunder. There are basically 4 locking mechanisms holding the elephant together and, whilst not terribly difficult, they are great fun to explore and discover. The third lock really took me quite a while to work out - 3 evenings before I finally got it.

Having worked out all the locking mechanisms, there was no way I was going to take it apart in the living room with a cat on my lap! I had to wait until the weekend before I could dismantle the lovely elephant completely and scramble the pieces.

No longer recognisable as an elephant!
Certain pieces may not be shown here to avoid spoilers
The "key piece" has Jerry's usual maker's mark and the year. Mine has serial number 2 for which I am eternally grateful. The reassembly is also fun. Not so much because the locking mechanisms are hard to do in reverse but because after scrambling the pieces and not paying enough attention to what goes where, it is a nice challenge to put everything in the right place in the right order.

I know that Jerry will be making a few more of these over the next few months but I don’t know how many. If you want one then you should ask early as Jerry’s poor attention span will force him to move onto something new before long. It’s not a terribly difficult puzzle - I think it is pretty much just right! This is one of my most prized possessions - it is stunningly beautiful, it is a masterpiece by the Master himself and best of all, reminds me of my late mum! It is not on the shelf with my other McFarland puzzles:

Top 2 shelves from Jerry
Below that are cubes from Alfons and my prize possessions - wooden Hales puzzles
Jerry's "Caramel case" aka the 42 Piece burrset
The Burrlephant now lives in my living room watching me whilst I sit and watch TV or play. I think it will stay there forever! The rest of my menagerie is there watching over me and Mrs S:

My little zoo!
Thank you Jerry, you have made a grown man cry!


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