Sunday, 26 April 2020

Lockdown with Pelikan

Released from quarantine!
This week I had some annual leave. Of course, I had nowhere to go and I offered to cancel it if the hospital needed me and I continued my admin tasks whilst at home but told that I should take my booked leave because when all this virus stuff is finished with, we are going to have an enormous backlog of work to do to catch up and they don't want a huge amount of leave owing. I, therefore, had a week at home with a plan to move from kitchen to living room and then to explore the conservatory and then even attempt some DIY! Wow! What an exciting life I can lead whilst at home! Exercise was also a major pull - as my earlier workload and the closure of the gym had curtailed my fitness regime. Walking the streets of Sheffield was to be the most adventurous thing I did!

At the weekend a nice box had arrived from Jakub and Jaroslav - yes, Pelikan puzzles are about to release some more wonderful toys to keep us occupied whilst locked up at home. I was told in no uncertain terms by "she who is more frightening than a deadly virus and more painful than full PPE" that the box had to stay in the porch for a full 24hrs before I would be allowed to open it. I protested that I was certain that Jakub was a very clean boy but she was not so sure about the postal workers! For fear of my life, I waited until she gave the word, then I tore open the package to be confronted by 2 new puzzles by the amazing Osanori Yamamoto, 2 by the brilliant Volker Latussek and one by the very prolific Lucie Pauwels. Which to try first? Jakub was particularly keen for me to work on and write something about the Osanori puzzles and I cannot resist them - I started straight away on Pumpkin 1:

Pumpkin 1

Pumpkin 1
Pumpkin 1 consists of 3 pieces to be fitted inside a box - I guess that you have gotten the hang of these puzzles over the last few months/year. They look so simple and yet are such a great challenge. A lot of the earlier puzzles by Osanori and Pelikan have consisted of a smaller cavity to be filled but more recently they have been made more complex by the need to fill a 3x3x3 cavity and have the opening completely filled (any holes in the shape must be hidden out of sight inside). Initially, I did not expect that this would be too much trouble - the pieces are fairly complex and I was sure that forming a cube shape would be fairly restricted. Oh boy, I was very wrong! Much to the annoyance of Mrs S, I spent almost a whole day of my leave playing with this and swearing under my breath. There are actually quite a few ways that the shape can be formed and the presence of the single diagonal edge to the hole made life harder. It limited the entry of the pieces (most would consider this a helpful thing) but it also completely hid a voxel and opened up a huge number of possible assemblies.

At the end of day one, I had tried dozens of assemblies and orientations and was obviously missing something - I was certain I had been systematic but the solution eluded me. The first thing the following morning, I was able to bound out of bed and try again - YAY! I had nothing else to do! Whack! Ouch! Actually, I do but I chose to carry on playing with the toys! I had to help Jakub! Somehow, I found an alternative assembly of the cubes that I had not tried before. I am not sure how my systematic approach yesterday had missed it but this was definitely new. With each assembly that I had found, I had had to try 3 different orientations of insertion (rotating around the protruding corner). This new assembly had the pieces in a way that would allow insertion of them all with no restrictions - I was on to something.

Phew! It took me 2 days - a great way to while away the lockdown
Finally, after a total of about 5 hours of play over the 2 days, the final piece slid into place - the final assembly sequence is a beautiful dance with the pieces moving around each other. Wow! That was a huge struggle!

I created a Burrtools file to investigate and discovered that there are 54 possible assemblies that will create the final cube shape with one 2x2x2 corner intact but only one insertable through the restricted opening - amazing!  with a disassembly level of 9.2.2 which is pretty impressive for such simple pieces. That is a very tough puzzle!

Triangle Cube 3

Triangle cube 3
Triangle Cube 3 looked to be a bit easier (silly boy!) the pieces were generally smaller and there were 2 triangular openings on either side of the box. Again, a 3x3x3 cube shape is required but this time only a small triangular face needs to be filled diagonally opposite each other. Whilst I had Burrtools open I quickly checked on the potential number of assemblies and rocked back in my seat to see a horrific number of 275! OMG! That was going to be a very long challenge! Of course, I did not try and use BT to find the solution - I was just trying to get an idea of how much pain Mrs S was going to inflict on me for a very long duration solve.

My initial plan of systematically finding possible assemblies before failing to insert them in the box quickly proved to be ridiculous. There had to be a better approach - one of the reasons that I am not a huge fan of many packing puzzles is that there is often too much random trial and error. I should have realised straight away that this is not a feature of Osanori's puzzles - he always ensures that they are solved mostly by thought. A proper look at all the pieces shows that there is a huge restriction on how they could possibly be assembled (Think© about it) and once I had realised this I set to some more careful "out of the box" assemblies. It was still pretty tough but all of a sudden there was a wonderful Aha! moment. Yes! Again, with a wonderful sequence (level 7.4.2.3.2) I had my puzzle solved - at least it would be theoretically possible except for one problem...a quick email to Jakub and I was informed that a rotational move was definitely needed. That is VERY clever - the last part of the assembly can be done just by rotating the puzzle and allowing gravity to move the pieces. I love it - one of the best and most logical puzzles I have solved in a while.

Take my word for it - the other side is filled too
Fabulous!
Euklid for Kids

After my success with Triangle cube 3, it was with some trepidation that I moved on to Volker Latussek's Euklid for kids:

Euklid for Kids - just 3 blocks to fit in a box!      Child's play? Hell no!

This beautiful puzzle is made from a  lovely combination of woods and looks easy. Just put 3 blocks inside the box so that nothing is protruding through the opening! After my experience with the original Euklid, I was rather afraid of this one! nothing that Dr Latussek creates is easy! Mrs S was not terribly pleased with me whilst I played with this - it transpired that it is quite a noisy puzzle to play with which interferes with her concentration. Yet another Whack! Ouch! was going to happen soon.

One interesting feature with this is that one of the pieces cannot fit through the opening without being rotated through. This was going to make insertion of the remaining pieces even more of a struggle. The pieces all share a common dimension which lulls you into a false sense of security. Let me warn you that knowing this really does not help you at all! A full 3 evenings of play was required before I had my breakthrough with this puzzle - the Aha! moment is fabulous. It is nowhere near as difficult as the original Euklid puzzle and to my mind, the puzzle is all the better for it. This particular version is still a great challenge but is also worth giving to non-puzzlers to play with. They probably won't solve it but at least stand some chance. The easier premise will keep them trying.

Rota #

Rota # by Lucie Pauwels
Lucie Pauwels is a very very prolific puzzle designer - she shows a huge number of designs off on her FB page (her blog has not been updated for quite a while, unfortunately). Everything she designs has something interesting about it and I could not resist the Rota # puzzle when Jakub showed it off. Why the odd name? That will become clear when you solve it and I am not going to spoil that for you. It is not particularly difficult but the way that Jakub and Jaroslav have made it is just gorgeous - Wenge and Maple fit together with absolutely perfect precision to make something stunning:

This explains part of the name
Once assembled there are no gaps at all - on display it is wonderful!

X-Ray Cube

A beautifully constructed box
It might have been a mistake to just pour the contents out!
X-ray cube is another challenge from Dr Latussek - the box has been beautifully made from Cherry and the pieces inside are Dark oak. I think it's named this way because the holes in the top and bottom of the box allow you to see inside. I was feeling cocky after solving the previous puzzles and so I just slid off the lid and upended the box to provide me with the challenge - no, I was brave/stupid and did not look at the assembly (I am told by Jakub that this will be sent out in an alternative assembly so that none of you gets the chance to peek at the solution before working on it.

Brian's Blockhead from 2012
X-ray cube pieces
Once the pieces had been revealed I was slightly horrified - they were all odd block shapes with all sorts of funny angles. It actually reminded me of one of the earliest puzzles that I bought from my friend Brian Menold - Blockhead designed by Bill Cutler. In that amazing puzzle, there were just 4 odd-shaped pieces to be inserted into a tray and despite such a simple premise, it was bloody tough for me as a new puzzler back in 2012. The X-ray cube was going to have a whole lot more pieces and probably a whole lot more challenge.

I settled down with these in our rather sunny south facing conservatory (I could get used to this lockdown thing - it's actually quite pleasant here) and started to play. There is a fundamental difference from Blockhead - the sides of the box are all vertical. This is really helpful for finding the assembly. It took me about 45 minutes to realise that something wasn't right - I could not find a piece to fit the bottom right corner of the box! What was going on? Looking at the picture above now - I should have realised - I had only 7 of the 8 blocks! What had I done with the other one?  One thing about a sunny conservatory in the spring is that it produces perfect cat conditions - they spread out everywhere! It took me another minute or so to find a rather well-camouflaged puzzle piece and complete the challenge:

Can you spot the missing piece?
This puzzle is another perfect difficulty level for beginners and advanced puzzlers alike. It is a nice little challenge to while away half an hour and looks lovely when assembled in place inside the box.

These beauties will be being released on the Pelikan Puzzles site quite soon. I am certain that they will also be available from PuzzleMaster as well if you live in North America.

This lockdown has really not been that bad! I have managed to solve a few great puzzles. Unfortunately, it is back to work for me tomorrow - I have quite enjoyed my time off and am going straight back to having to anaesthetise a friend and colleague for a VERY big operation tomorrow! I suspect my puzzle-solving ability tonight may be a little impaired!


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