Sunday 15 March 2020

Packed With Thought...Which Was a Problem For Me

Wishing Well
First of all, in view of the goings-on around the world and with my current profession, I have to advise everyone out there who reads my drivel that they need to change their behaviour now. Not later, not sometime soon! NOW! Right NOW! The COVID-19 pandemic is going to affect almost everyone around you. If it continues to progress as it has then it is likely that 60-80% of the world's population will be infected and with a 15% rate of serious illness (hospitalisation) and 1-3% mortality (depending on the population involved) then this is a huge amount of morbidity and the bodies will build up. Italy's mortuaries are full and overflowing and not just with the elderly, infirm and frail...this virus is catching the young as well - only children are relatively unscathed. Yes, if you are fit and healthy then the odds are in your favour but if you had a 1 in 200 chance of being killed crossing the road (the odds for someone 40-49 years old) then you would avoid that road! If you caught COVID-19 and remained well then great for you but how would you feel if you gave it to your elderly parents/grandparents and killed them? The best thing you can do is practice social distancing as much as you possibly can. Yes, you may need to work, you need to buy food and that is fine (wash your hands etc) but don't go to bars and clubs and gyms and spread what you have about - be careful out there! As an anaesthetist in the UK, I am intensive care trained and I fully expect to have my duties change over the next week or 2 to be more of an intensivist than an anaesthetist - I really don't want to be looking down and intubating an elderly relative of someone who could have avoided this terrible illness by just avoiding social contact. I am not being alarmist - read the accounts from Italy - the affected areas have one of the best health care systems in the world and they are overwhelmed. Awful decisions are having to be made (the elderly are being allowed to die in favour of the young) and anything which can prevent a healthcare system from being overrun cannot be a bad thing.

If you stay at home, then puzzling is a very good way to pass the time - stay safe everybody!

After I posted last week showing off the whole set of upcoming puzzles from Jakub and Jaroslav's Pelikan puzzles store, Alexander Magyarics contacted me to tell me that he was pleased that I had received a copy of his puzzles and was looking forward to hearing my thoughts on them. I had started with the Osanori puzzles because Jakub was waiting for me to write a review before they could be put up for sale and Alexander had written something himself for the item page. At the end of last week, I had taken the pieces out of their storage/transport positions, taken my photos and had a very quick idle play to reveal the scale of the problem. I had suspected that these were going to be a significant challenge and I was not wrong. I tell Mrs S that I am never wrong and my struggle with these just goes to contribute yet more evidence how right I am. Unfortunately it usually only achieves a large bruise from a Whack! Ouch! The pieces that went with these packing puzzles were pretty simple:

3 simple pieces
3 more simple pieces
There are just 3 pieces to be fitted inside a 3x3x3 space in both the Pincers and Wishing well puzzles and this looks to be pretty simple at first glance...there is a lot of space and the end result will have plenty of gaps. BUT the difficulty of these puzzles is HUGELY increased by the constraint of the entryway into the frame. For the Pincers puzzle, there are 83 ways to fit the three pieces inside a 3x3x3 cube and to add to the confusion each of those 83 ways can be rotated into 1 of 6 orientations (i.e. 498 possible cubes - OMG!) and with the Wishing well puzzle, there are 50 possible cubes with a gap in the centre of the top face for the cubie on the bucket arm of the well. To do this by trial and error would be a massive task well beyond my meagre attention span.

I set to playing with Pincers first because the slot entry intrigued me. I quickly realised that the entry through that slot reduced the potential orientations of all the pieces to a tiny fraction of those possible. I formed a mental image in my mind how I could try to find a solution and set to making shapes outside the box. There were quite a few but every time I tried to insert the pieces, I realised that the "fingers" of those pincers that cover the top form a massive restriction in what is possible. Pieces can only be lifted up when the top part is under the central slot and also not trapped under the other 2 pieces. There was much effing and blinding and Mrs S began to get irritated with me - I put it down and watched some TV before another bruise or burn occurred. The only way to solve this is to make cube shapes outside of the box and to attempt to simulate the moves required for their removal. I worked on the Pincers for several hours over a 4 day period before having a huge lucky break. The sequence required is pretty complex with the pieces quite intertwined in the box and really needing a lovely sequence to unwind them from each other. What a relief when I found it! The solved state is hidden behind a spoiler button - it doesn't give that much away but I would suggest not looking until after you have tried and given up.

After my success with Pincers and with great trepidation I moved on to Wishing well. The entry of the pieces into this puzzle looks much more open and potentially from both front and back of the puzzle. The arm of the wishing well is quite mobile due to the slots on either side for it to slide through but the single cubie that hangs down from the arm is a major pain in the A! It really limits the ability to insert the pieces into the box and then seriously gets in the way of movements once inside. The final solved position is supposed to have that cubie in the centre of the top face of the 3x3x3 cube. I did find one solution with the arm of the well pushed off to one side and was actually quite pleased with myself (consider this a secondary solution to try and find). But...that was not the correct solution and I had to continue to work on it. Several days passed and I was thinking that it might be time to resort to Burrtools. The limitation on the orientation of the pieces to allow entry into the puzzle is again your friend during the exploration of this puzzle. I realised that one particular piece had to be positioned in one of 2 ways with mirror placements on the other side. Having worked this out, there are further restrictions on the other pieces. Interestingly I found that solving from the assembled state outside of the box and establishing whether I would be able to remove the pieces was not a helpful approach with this puzzle. That was a big surprise to me and I had to approach this one as an assembly puzzle with huge restrictions. It was great fun and took me 3 evenings of toil but less swearing thankfully. Last night, after work, I just managed to solve it in the nick of time for a blog post today - cutting things very fine here at PuzzleMad HQ!

Again, the photo doesn't really give away that much but only press it when you are really in need. I entered this puzzle into Burrtools (I consider that part of the fun of all my interlocking puzzles) and it revealed that the disassembly solution was a nice level 7.6.8 which is quite something for such simple pieces.

Both of these puzzles have been absolutely beautifully brought to life by Jakub and Jaroslav - the workmanship is stunning (especially in Wishing Well which includes lovely dowel work to reinforce the top elements. These will be going on sale very soon on the Pelikan puzzles website and come highly recommended by me!

These will keep you nicely occupied whilst you stay quietly at home keeping your distance from others around you.

Please please be careful out there. In my career, I have seen a lot of death and illness but not on the scale that I think is about to hit many places and has already hit parts of Europe and China. I consider many of you to be good friends even if we have never or barely met in person and it would be very sad to lose you - especially when it might be avoidable. I would also not want to see you cause illness or deaths in your own family. As much as you can, keep your distance and practice basic hygiene! Here's hoping that my own viral load is kept to a minimum by the equipment I have recently been provided with! Gulp!


  1. Thanks for your message in these difficult times. I hope that people take on your advice asap. I work for the NHS too, but am not as front line as you and so am lucky to be able to avoid contact with others. I'll be looking forward to your posts as a way of keeping me sane whilst stuck at home.

    1. Thank you for the appreciation. Take care of yourself and your family and stay safe.