Sunday 5 April 2020

It’s Amazing How Important it is Where Your Balls Are Located

Scissors I
Scissors II
I'm making the most of one of the last weekends off that I expect to have for a while. I start a full shift system from tomorrow, beginning with a night shift. I hate night shifts...I am much too old for that as it wipes me out for days afterwards but the service needs it. Our core group of 30 covering 3 rotas has been whittled down to just 9 of us as people are redeployed to ICU or off sick. I will be providing emergency and trauma services alongside my remaining colleagues - a stressful time but the camaraderie is fantastic. The theatres are all zoned, all the PPE and protocols are available and phase 3 of our plan starts. For those of you who think it sounds like fun, let me describe the scenario...airway manoeuvres are the riskiest procedures of all for COVID-19 spread so we have to wear a waterproof gown, a polythene bib around the exposed neck above the gown, 3 pairs of gloves, including one long pair, an FFP3 mask which is fit tested to provide a good seal, a visor and a hat plus plastic washable shoes. This is worn under surgical lights for hours on end. After about 15-20 minutes the pressure of these masks hurts, after 2 hours it feels like your face is going to peel off and it takes quite a bit of effort to breathe through them so you feel like you are suffocating. Then, and this is the really bad bit...remember that you MUST NOT touch your face. AT ALL! I really don't want to be doing this for too long so take my advice:


This week, I have been continuing to work on equipment supplies and rotas and have had a little time to play with a toy or two. I found a couple of puzzles in my bag that had been there for absolutely ages (months) - The Scissors disentanglement puzzle duo made by my friend Aaron Wang and designed by Shuai Chi. The last batch of puzzles that I had received last year from Aaron had mostly had huge lengths of string in them and had completely beaten me but this duo were wire only and I was determined that I was going to solve them. They both look very similar and indeed, the difference is quite subtle - the position of one of the balls changes. The aim is to remove the shuttle from the bottom:

Both are described by Aaron as level 10
Now my friend Steve is a Urological surgeon and he can tell you in great detail how much of a difference it can make if your balls are in the wrong place! It is so important that surgery may be required.

I started work on these last year after I got them and initially was full of string so they should be easy. Oh, you stupid boy! After about a week of effort, I did solve version one and took my photo:

Scissors I solved
However, I was unable to put it back to the start position. Something had moved and I had lost my pathway. Many people find that the key to solving disentanglement puzzles is to think of how to re-entangle them. This NEVER works for me. I could not for the life of me put it back together. Luckily Aaron has been sending out most of his puzzles for the last few years with quick-release mechanisms to aid with problems like this. I used the keyring on the lower ball and reset. Another few days and I was able to solve it at will. Phew - I understood a puzzle and therefore it was solved. Time for version II.

Oh my goodness! Version II was much MUCH tougher. In fact, I could not solve it. I played with it on and off for several months and eventually, it just got left in my bag to be picked up sometime in the future. That "eventually" came around just now. This week, whilst spending so much time in my office thinking of rotas and equipment supplies (getting hold of 70 extra ventilators is not an easy thing to do), I picked these back up again. Time to start with version I again and off I went. Of course, I had no recollection of the solution and it took me another 2 days to find it. At least this time I was able to reassemble it. Then on to version II. Nope! Couldn't do it! As the title of the post says:
"It’s Amazing How Important it is Where Your Balls Are Located!"
Moving that upper ball on to the upper ring adds a huge extra level of difficulty to this puzzle. After 4 days, I disentangled it:

OMG! Sooooo difficult
Yet again, I could not put it back together again and I had to use the quick reset mechanism and start again. I have taken it apart 3 times now and never managed to reset it without cheating. Each time I have solved it, I cannot understand how I have done it. This puzzle is one that I have to admit that I have never properly solved - my criteria for a true solution has been stated a few times - a puzzle has to be do-able several times at will before it can be considered solved. Whilst I can solve Scissors I at will, version II seems to be a matter of random movements which eventually work and only works in one direction.

Having a ball at too high a level can really create unforeseen difficulties for a puzzler (as well as a parent). What this has also taught me is that a disentanglement puzzle with no string can still be incredibly challenging. If you get a chance to buy any of these from Aaron in the future then you really won't be disappointed. I will keep playing with this one in the hope that I will one day understand it.

Having established that the position of your balls is crucial, I must also tell you that the TwoBrassMonkeys have been at it again and you need to push your rod into the hole carefully to "stuff the monkey". I know! I'm sorry but I couldn't resist it!

I received a package last week which "she who must be feared" put into quarantine in the porch for a few days and when it finally was let out contained a rather heavy banana:

Monkeys love bananas
Inside the banana is Steve and Ali's latest challenge for the puzzling world - Feed the monkey:

The monkey has so far been unable to swallow it all
Inside are a lot of rods/bananas
This is absolutely stunningly made (as we have come to expect from Steve and Ali). The monkeys are available in both male and female varieties (I think the presence of eyelashes is the only way to tell). At present they are fulfilling the preorders from Facebook and then later this will be available on their store. I have been merrily stuffing rods in the Monkey and have realised that his GI tract has something confusing about it as the final rod will never fit all the way in. Intriguing! Keep an eye out for this coming up for sale - you won't be disappointed. Now available here.


  1. You are a front-line hero, Kevin! If you read this after a long shift, please know we are thinking of you and wishing you the best,
    -George Bell

    1. Thank you for saying that George! As far as I’m concerned, I’m doing nothing more than my job. Today I’m off and start the real grind tomorrow. Keep safe my friend!