Sunday 23 February 2020

A Lock for a Titan...Not Me?

Or...Thank Heavens For Shane!

The Titan Lock
When word of the Titan's Treasure puzzle Lock came out last year I was not sure about whether to go for it. I am really not good at locks and Mrs S keeps complaining that they are not beautiful on my display shelf and that the weight of them is causing the shelf to bow downwards. So fearing the wrath of "she who packs a hefty Whack! Ouch!, I held off. I was very tempted when Allard posted his very favourable review and I finally saw Allard's copy at an MPP and watched from afar as several decent puzzlers had fun with it and Amy got the piss taken out of her during her solve process. OK, I was convinced! I contacted Sashko to ask if he would let me know when another batch was being produced and a month or so later some PayPal changed hands and a nice shiny and very well presented puzzle arrived.

There is a story to the puzzle: Apparently, a wealthy Titan decided to hide his treasure from evil forces and lock it away. He engraved his tame on the lock and engraved it with a K (visible on the other side to the picture above). He then lost his treasure and it is our job to find it again (of course we then have to lock it back up again). As with all puzzles of this type, no external tools are allowed - you have a booklet with the story, a snapped-off key with the rest of it glued to the booklet.

Yes, I know it's probably a stupid thing to do (and let's face it, it's not the most stupid thing I did with this puzzle!)... I had to try it! Put the key shard into the keyway of the lock and...nope! It won't even go in. There are a few grub screws around the puzzle and the shape of the key is quite conducive to certain manoeuvres. After this, there are 2 identical tools to play with:

Wo what can I do with these?
Having found 2 slivers of metal, I set to trying all sorts of stuff with them and the key in the hope that I might achieve something. The key could now be inserted but I was too frightened to push it inside for fear of never getting it back. I tried other stuff and erm...nah! Nuffink happening here! I got precisely nowhere. That was back in November last year and after a week or so I reassembled it and put it aside in the hope that a breather might give me time to think© and make a breakthrough.

Thinking is not my strong point and I failed to have any ideas. After my recent TIC success, I thought to myself: "self, its time to try the lock again, maybe you are better at them now". Hahahahaha! No chance! One lesson that I did learn is that grub screws are REALLY hard to find when you drop them on an operating theatre floor! Our floors are ceramic with grey patterns in them and it took me a rather unpleasant half an hour of grovelling about hoping that I would eventually find it and that it wasn't covered in blood and "other stuff" when I did retrieve it. Phew! Found it nice and pristine. Having got all my pieces back to a place of safety, I tried a few other ideas but nothing worked. Time to actually do some work!

In desperation, I asked Shane, the lock genius (he IS a Master Locksmith as well as a puzzle savant), is it safe to insert the key into the lock? He reassured me that the key will always be retrievable. Gulp...OK, here goes and click, I push it in and promptly saw it disappear beyond reach.

The key shard is way up inside and a pin has clicked out underneath it
Having pushed the key inside, there is only one thing to do...try to turn the keyway using one of the tools. Yes, I can hear you laughing at me! No, it didn't work. Now I have a puzzle lock and a key stuck inside (does anyone remember the DanLock? Similar problem...if you don't have one yet then get one straight away!)

Minor panic ensues and I have to try and think yet again - my brain hurts from attempting to think more than once in a year. It becomes clear why the key shard had some features that didn't make sense at first and also explains why the tool count reaches two. A day later and I am back where I started and more discussion with my lock genius friend. I thought I had tried doing the correct thing but it would appear that my method was not careful enough. I try again but carefully and AHA! the lock opens:

Major headway but still no treasure
Flushed with success despite not finding the treasure I peer inside in the hope that the treasure will be visible and...of course not!

No room for anything in there
 Groan! Time to think again! Practice makes perfect and I thunk some more but this time with success. There is another reason for the presence of 2 tools and careful use of both of them reveals another possible move with the lock. A little shake about and I found the treasure:

I solved something! Thank heavens for Shane!
Having retrieved the treasure I also realise that a piece of lock has come out and it's going to be a bugger to put back in place. I left it for a while to gather my frazzled nerves back to calmness before attempting the reassembly.

OMG! That took quite some doing. I had a fully reassembled lock and decided that this is definitely not a puzzle to give to people at work! My poor nerves couldn't stand the stress of watching someone else play with the potential of losing so many tiny pieces. Allard was absolutely right, it's a really good puzzle and quite a fun voyage of discovery but, do make sure that you have your own personal Shane to give you some advice when you need it. A tray to catch pieces might also be a good idea and don't try this over a grey patterned floor!

I've had this for a few months and got nowhere so far!
I should probably try my B-Lock II next - maybe my lock success will be shared across puzzles?

Shane, where are you?

Sunday 16 February 2020

TICs so Difficult They Cause Facial Pain

Should They Be Called Tic Douloureux?

My usual expression
There have been a bunch of puzzles that I bought from Brian Menold (the published Professor of Wood) that have caused me serious difficulties! I have spent ages and ages on them and was on the verge of giving up. all know me! I keep trying at many puzzles for months if not years and do even occasionally solve them. I was on the verge of having nothing to write about this week due to lack of time and my failure to solve anything which spurred me on to greater efforts. The end result was that my "Plug face" went from one of gormless confusion to one of utter pain as I concentrated ever harder to try and find the position required for these blasted blocks of wood. Mrs S. even started to laugh at me between her coughing spasms!

I developed a Tic!
She thought that I was in pain with my expression of anguish and the odd noises I started to utter. Hence the subtitle of this blog post. In "Tic Dourouleux", severe pain in the face caused by Trigeminal neuralgia can cause facial contortions/spasms but in this case, I developed facial contortions in response to playing with a series of TICs! Of course, all of them had been designed by the "Master of Brain Pain", Andrew Crowell.

I had been carrying PedanTIC around with me for a few months since it arrived and had almost given up on it when Ali asked me about it at the last MPP. It would seem that he also had been stumped by it for a long time. I initially got it confused with another TIC and told him that I had solved it but after getting home, I realised that it was the one in my bag still awaiting its' Aha! moment. Whilst I felt vaguely guilty for not remembering, it was only for a moment - I am sure that Ali had helped with the mass destruction of my Happiness cubes. It did make me appreciate even more how difficult the puzzle must have been - Ali is an assembly machine...if he struggled with a TIC then it would have to have been VERY difficult indeed!

The PedanTIC had been an entry by Andrew in the design competition in Japan. Brian had offered copies for sale a little after the IPP ended. Brian wrote this about it:
This little gem is definitely a challenge. This is probably similar in difficulty to GalaTIC (previously offered) in terms of moves and rotations. At one point you are making 26 moves to add the next piece! Extra joinery was needed for this one too. Lap joints and brass pins keep everything in order. Olivewood, Black Limba, Okoume, Chechin and Bocote are the woods in these.
I have written about GalacTIC and absolutely adored it (despite finding it incredibly difficult) and could not resist buying something of an equivalent challenge and of course, those woods are totally irresistible to me. I did not expect it to be quite this difficult, though!

Finding the correct position for the pieces was not actually that tough for me and it was quickly obvious that 3 of the pieces would just slot into place at the end of the puzzling. This left 2 pieces to place within the frame. Oh boy! What a tremendously tough challenge it was placing 2 pieces! In my desperation to have something to blog about, I spent hours and hours on this one puzzle over the last 10 days. There are lots of possible moves which I find quite hard to remember and ended up taking notes. On several occasions, I had made an interesting move, tried to find a further move and not only could I not find a further move but I could not backtrack out of the position I was in. Aaaargh! I think that last Sunday after publishing my blog, I had my final breakthrough. I was in a new position and suddenly realised that it ould allow the 2 pieces to interact back and forth repeatedly. There was a lovely dance of the pieces and I had achieved the end position without really understanding how. Quick! Take a photo! Over the next day or so, I worked out what I had done and can now repeat it at will. I am very surprised that it did not win a prize.

At last! That is a damn fine puzzle causing a great facial expression
After that, it was time for the next tough challenge - also designed by Andrew Crowell - the Caged Cubes:

Caged Cube #1 (right) and #2 (left)
As soon as I saw a picture of these puzzles on Brian's Facebook page, I knew I had to have it. I have to buy as many of Andrew's designs as possible and this was stunningly made - I chose the Wenge frame. Brian wrote this about it:
This design from Andrew Crowell adds a twist to his usual "rotational madness". Now you must assemble the cubes inside the frame! Two sets of pieces come with one frame for economic reasons. One set of pieces are all the same wood and the other is a variety of exotic and domestic woods. An instruction sheet is included for the proper way to solve the Caged Cube.
I started on this at work this week. Even assembling the pieces into a cube shape outside of the frame is quite a challenge! After about 45 minutes I managed to find the assembly for the multiple wood #2 but could not seem to find the assembly of #1. I left it with a medical student for about an hour in the hope that it would keep him occupied for a bit whilst I did my boring paperwork. He failed too!

Some corners are missing
Having at least found the shape for #2, I decided to begin the true challenge of putting it inside the frame. The space inside the frame will fit a 4x4x4 cube exactly - there are no protuberances inside but the gap in the sides has a corner piece which means there are no 4x4 windows to fit through. Luckily the cube has several of the corner pieces missing which will allow the pieces to slide about once placed inside the frame. It requires rotations just to get the pieces inside let alone making them interlock together.

This puzzle is the perfect mixture of linear movements and rotations. The challenge is immense and fun - I spent 3 days on it having found myself stuck at several points being unable to insert the next piece inside the frame (let alone get it into place in the cube too). Finally, on Wednesday evening I let out a shout and my facial pain was relieved by the presence of a cube in the frame - yay! I think I even know how to remove it and repeat the process! My photo was taken!

Yeeeeehaw! That was great fun and really quite tough.
Caged Cube #2 assembled
Next, it was on to Caged Cube #1 and it nearly killed me! The interaction of the pieces was so blocked that, for a while, I could only get the 2 larger pieces inside the frame! Every single step of progress with this puzzle was a huge challenge. Getting a third piece inside was difficult which felt like a huge success when done. Then getting the fourth piece inside required me to take everything I had done before apart and start afresh. Ouch! After 2 days I finally managed to get the 4 larger pieces inside the puzzle and could work out how they interact with each other - finally time to add the little L shaped piece - how hard could it be?

Place the L
This is a spectacular challenge! It is quite obvious looking at the surface of the cube that there are 2 places that it can physically fit. The instructions that came with it tell the (by now very agitated and pained) puzzler that the 2 white dots should not be visible on the surface when it is complete. This immediately rules out one of the positions.

It's just under the surface! How hard can it be? Aaaaaargh! I spent 3 days on this and was on the verge of publishing an "I have failed" post when I had the most wonderful Aha! moment of the year so far! No matter which ways you move all the pieces within the frame, you cannot seem to find a position to insert the L piece to allow it to be rotated into place. Everything is blocked. I spent quite a few hours just on this piece placement alone. I even questioned whether I had to dismantle what I had done already and start again.

Then...literally ½ an hour before moving to my study, I found it! OMG! That is a really difficult puzzle! All three of these are also candidates for my top 10(ish) of 2020 - they are simply wonderful! I now feel safe to bring them to an MPP to allow the guys to play!

Incredible! One of my favourites so far!
If you get the opportunity to try either of these three TICs then go for it. They are simply amazing - you will need some time because they are really quite tough. I say that not because I struggled. But if Ali had difficulty then at least the PedanTIC must be a significant challenge!

I cannot wait to see what is coming next!

Sunday 9 February 2020

Everyone Should Have Some Tray Puzzles...Or Maybe...

Everyone Should Have a Tray of Puzzles?

My Tray of Shame!
It would appear that I have not (yet) committed murder and been carted off to prison! Mrs S continues with the demon cough all night and I continue to have unrequited thoughts of assassination but have so far managed to hold myself back! I have to think of the cats...who would look after them if I killed her and went to the clink? Whack! Ouch! No dear, that's not the only reason I've kept you alive!

Yes, on the floor next to my armchair in the living room I have a tray - it's a nice wooden one which Mrs S insisted on me using rather than spreading out across the whole living room. It is my "tray of shame" - puzzles I have not solved but can't actually put away. I still keep picking up all of these puzzles fairly frequently and getting nowhere with them. Some puzzles have been there for several years! I really need to solve them some time but then, I really need to get better at puzzling! Allard has the puzzling machine (Louis) come over to solve his outstanding failures but I don't have anyone here like that.

The actual subject of this blog is about a group of puzzles that I have very little experience or skill with - tray puzzles. Today, I can report that I have solved a whole series of them and actually enjoyed it. I received a bunch of toys from Tom Lensch late last year and admired them, quickly played with a few and failed dismally so added them to my tray of shame. I tend not to be good at packing puzzles because I have no patience for puzzles that are solved with huge amounts of simple trial and error (especially those that have high numbers of pieces). These puzzles did not have a high piece count and because they were designed by Goh Pit Khiam, I was fairly sure that they would have required a decent bit of thought and understanding with a great Aha! moment. He is a fabulous designer.

Having failed with all three of the "3 in 1" puzzles, I stopped trying until a few weeks ago and had a play with a different set -

This is a series of 5 challenges all marked out by lovely laser etching inside the tray. The aim is to place the start and end pieces as shown in the tray and then place the other pieces so as to create a single continuous pathway to join them together (the walnut squares are blank fillers):

Challenge 1
Challenge 2
Challenge 3
Challenge 4
Challenge 5
It looks easy, doesn't it? I have to say that as a starter for tray puzzles, for someone with very little confidence, this is just perfect! Whilst watching TV with Mrs S, I found solutions to the first 4 in a single evening and struggled with number 5. These are not simply trial and error - it could be solved that way but a little thought certainly cuts down the sheer number of random piece placements required. Having failed for a long time to solve almost anything, this was just the pick-me-up that I needed. The fifth challenge was taken to work and in a quiet moment during a period between operations, I had another go. Yess! After another 20 minutes, I had solved the final challenge and could take another puzzle out of my tray of shame once and for all. Fab! This is perfect for newbies or people like me who need a bit of a boost of confidence.

No, I am not going to show the solutions - it's not so hard as to need to give anyone help.

3 in 1
Next up was the series that had completely beaten me for a couple of months! I just could not seem to think about these in the right way. The 3 in 1 is also designed by Goh Pit Khiam and beautifully made with a Canarywood tray and 3 sets of 5 different shaped pieces - Cherrywood, Maple and Walnut.  Pick a shape and try to insert all 5 of them inside the frame. The tough feature of this is that the frame has a lip and the pieces need to slide under the edge. It is so perfectly made that no piece can be slid inside without lying it flat first. There is no squeezing it diagonally under the edge.

This was the puzzle that I stared with when I first received these months ago...and I completely failed with all three of the challenges. Off it went to my tray of shame and got played with at least weekly without success until well after Xmas. Finally, in exasperation, I took it to work to torture other people with as well as to spend more time with myself. I had a couple of very senior trainees with me who did not help me at all. I was kind of hoping they might solve it for me. I even plugged one of them into Burrtools which told me that it could not be solved - those of you in the know will be aware that that fact is particularly helpful and prevented me spending more time attempting the impossible! As a result, I spent more time trying to place the pieces on the tray whilst it was upside down and ignoring the lip. Only after I had found a possible assembly or two would I then turn the frame back over and try through the limited hole.

One afternoon, waiting for some blood results, I had ½ an hour to play and I suddenly had a breakthrough - I thought about other puzzles by the designer and something went click in my head. Initially, I thought that was my old man's neck going "crack" but it ended with a wonderful Aha! moment. Yess! One down, 2 to go!

The next 2 still took me another week or so - I got my final motivation when someone (I think it was Mike) at the last MPP told me they had solved their copy without a lot of trouble. Damn, I'm thick! I worked on the last ones at work and one of them has an absolutely delicious solution - classic Pit Khiam! The other one came as a huge is solvable by Burrtools and when worked out it is a very nice sequence.

At last, another puzzle series can be removed from my tray! Maybe I can relax and join my boyz in their favourite place, the nice warm conservatory:

Oh, Lord! I want to be a cat!!!!

Sunday 2 February 2020

Am I Getting Tic'd Off?

Hell NO!

PackTIC #8
By pure luck, I am still here and ready to blog! Mrs S continues to cough her lungs out day and night driving me to thoughts of strangulation and smothering. Despite a move to the spare bedroom and adoption of a pair of rather uncomfortable earplugs, I can still hear her at all hours of the day and night. I have refrained from murder purely because I thought that you crazy puzzlers out there might miss my drivel which would cease if I were to be arrested. Even her laser-burning stare has been weakened and only produces a slight tingling between my eyes.

The question I ask myself and more often that Mrs S asks me frequently is can you have too many Turning Interlocking Cubes (TICs)? Mrs S was moved to ask me that (or something similar) after another box arrived on Friday from Bernhard - a little pre-Brexit treat to myself before customs and duty will be added to packages from Europe.

ElfTIC - needing a little remedial glueing
These should keep me busy for a while unless Mrs S recovers her strength and decides to bump me off!

Obviously, I cannot have too many TICs! Recently I have been fighting with 2 more of Andrew Crowell's amazing designs from the brilliant Professor of wood, Brian Menold and from the Doctor of wood, Eric Fuller. The picture at the top of the article is PackTIC #8 - simply insert 5 pieces into the frame to make the customary 4x4x4 cube. It should be easy right? Maybe for you but not for me! I love these puzzles but even now really struggle with them.

More recently these puzzles have been sent out to fellow sufferers in pieces as assembly puzzles and, despite my lack of assembly skillz, I agree that this is the best choice. I started with the puzzle from Brian because it is a bit smaller and hence possible for me to shlap about to work and back if I get a chance to play in a quiet time. The first out how they form a cube without actually inserting them in the frame. Despite the odd larger shapes, I really struggled to find a cubic assembly. The largest square piece looks like it should be very restricted but, in reality, it can be inserted in several different orientations. Yes, I know I am making feeble excuses but I really am crap at this aspect of puzzling! I blush to admit that it took me over 7 days of trying to find the positions that the pieces need to be in. I usually advise any trainee anaesthetists or medical students that I have got bored with teaching and need to amuse in some way that they should start with the larger pieces and see what

Having finally found the positions it is time to get the cube assembled. I am actually not too bad at this part - it can take a little while but once I know where the pieces should go I usually only struggle a little bit and really enjoy the process. This time it only took me about ½ hour to assemble my cube. This one is rated by Brian as less difficult than some of the others as it has only 15 moves and 4 rotations. I loved it! Very clever and really perfectly made. The fit is snug but not tight - I suspect in the British summer when it gets a bit more humid it may prove impossible without drying it out first but just now it's a stunning challenge. Probably a little tough for an absolute beginner but definitely one to show off and entice someone into the hobby.

Assembled it! A lovely puzzle. Just the right difficulty.
Next up I moved to BioTIC, the TIC that turned Eric off to these puzzles!

BioTIC is one of the most difficult TICs that Andrew has designed - Eric described it like this.
"BioTic is a BEAST! 28 total moves and nine rotations are required to solve it."
I knew I was going to buy this because, well, it's a TIC but, with a description like that I was slobbering all over my keyboard! Sorry for that image! It arrived in December and after a little fiddle and a photo, I put it down to develop my cold and feel sorry for myself.

The puzzle is made from a gorgeous dark Sapelle and Walnut pairing and is seriously chunky (considerably bigger than those made by Brian) - this was to ensure that it would withstand the complex movements required to get the 6 pieces inside the frame. Two of the best puzzlers in the world, George Bell and Goetz Schwandtner wrote rave reviews on the page and said how much of a challenge this is. I decided after reading their reviews that I should solve something else first and started on the PackTIC #8.

Flushed with my success, I moved onto the BioTIC and BAM! hit a wall! Looking at the larger pieces and working out the theoretical placements proved impossible! I usually can work out where pieces will go by playing with them one piece at a time and the frame. This allows the possible placements to be discovered and helps visualise where other pieces might go. With this puzzle, the biggest piece fits around the outside in several places and is not helpful. Moving to the next pieces, I couldn't find a way to get them inside the frame at all! Gulp! After a week, I went to Burrtools to at least show me the placements. I know it is a sort of cheat but only a tiny part of the challenge is the positions.

Having seen where everything needed to be, I started on the assembly and LORD, that was almost impossible! I could see that 3 of the pieces just slotted into the frame at the end of the assembly but the 3 more complex pieces were going to be an enormous challenge. What order should they go in? How the hell do they even go into the frame? What is the meaning of life? Oh yes, that would be 42! I worked on this for days and days and days and had a huge AHA! moment when I managed to put the largest piece inside the frame and manipulate it into its end position - phew! Next. I need to place another large oddly shaped piece with the first one getting in the way all the time. This took another few days and even Mrs S looked up from her coughing at my exclamation of success. Finally, the last piece needs to be placed and it is really really blocked. Another day or two required and I got it!

OMG! What a challenge!
This puzzle is incredibly tough - the sheer number of rotations is part of it but the main difficulty is the complexity of the pieces and just manipulating them into the frame. It is wonderful and is a candidate for the puzzle of the year 2020 already! Mr Crowell, you are a genius - please keep designing them. Am I getting TIC'd off? Absolutely NOT!

If you get a chance to play or buy these puzzles then don't hesitate - they are fantastic. Brian still has some copies of the Cluster puzzle (another non-cubic rotational design by Andrew) that I reviewed here. Don't miss out - just because it's not a cube, don't underestimate how much fun it is.

I have had a little chat with Eric after I placed my review on his store and he is not planning on making more TICs just now because he feels he cannot make them well enough to be played with and also make a profit without charging a fortune. I am sure that you understand his reasoning, he has an expensive lifestyle to finance as well as several dependent staff to pay. He has not completely ruled out making more in the future but not for a while at least. Here's hoping he does make more.