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.

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