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!


  1. So perhaps Andrew's next really hard design should be named Facial TIC?

    1. which he can follow up with Nervous TIC and perhaps Tourette's

    2. Ooh! I like facial Tic! Are you reading this Mr Crowell?

      Nervous TIC already exists here:
      NervousTIC pieces

      NervousTIC assembled

  2. Maybe I'll make a puzzle that actually can not be assembled... Facial TIC would be a good name for that... April 1 could be a good release date. :-)

    1. I’m very gullible - I’d probably spend years on it before someone told me the truth!

    2. I would be unapologeTIC as I sucked in a bunch of my friends with that one! -Tyler.

    3. Or ... glue the piecea to assemble and you have an impossible object!

    4. That’s just plain mean!