Sunday, 12 April 2020

Soothing the Fevered Mind

Allowed out of quarantine!
No! The fever is not because I have managed to catch COVID-19! The fevered mind has occurred because of the torture caused by Mrs S! She has decided that every time I enter the house from the cess-pit that is the hospital, I and all my possessions need to be disinfected - it is a little worrying to watch her spray my mobile phone with disinfectant whilst I scrub the skin off my hands for the 100th time in a day. On top of that, all postal arrivals have to sit in the porch for several days to allow all nasty viruses to self destruct (I don't say die because technically, viruses aren't alive). The thought of my wonderful batch of toys from Mr Strijbos sitting out of reach for several days has set my mind to working overtime - hence the fevered mind. I received a batch of packing puzzles, a lock and another very special lock this time which made the package rather weighty!

Rainer's Popplock T12
Rear view showing the classic logo
The other reason for the fevered brow has been the spending of many many hours wearing full PPE - it's bloody stiflingly hot in the full getup - Xray gown, surgical gown, polythene bib, 3 pairs of gloves and a mask and visor can get a little bit steamy under surgical lights! I suspect that Mrs S is making me and disinfect because of the aroma at the end of the day!

Believe me when I say that you absolutely do not want to be wearing an FFP3/N95 mask unless you really need to - they hurt like hell (some colleagues have got pressure sores on their faces) and you feel like you are suffocating. After ½ hour, you wish that you hadn't put it on - if you are wearing one and you don't feel like that then you haven't fitted it properly and it is doing nothing. Don't waste your time and resources wearing one - it's not necessary and wasting one that could be used by someone who really needs it (health care and social care workers. I only wear mine for aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs) like intubation, extubation and certain types of surgery as well as for dealing with the critically ill who are releasing a massive viral load. For routine care in the hospital, we just use surgical masks - our infectious diseases unit does not use FFP3 masks for staff and not a single member of staff has caught it which is really impressive. Training, hand washing and attention to detail (not self-contaminating) is the most important thing!

So, having finally been allowed access to my new toys, I took my photos and decided I needed a little light relief with something that would hopefully not take me too long - the plastic packing puzzles. I am usually rubbish at these but at least they are a nice lightweight challenge with a fun satisfying Aha! moment. I started with the 10 Brilliant Gems puzzle designed by Koichi Miura:

10 Brilliant Gems challenge 1
10 Brilliant Gems challenge 2
These 2 bright friendly tray packing puzzles are combined into one reversible tray made from what looks like Walnut with an acrylic backing. Each side of the tray has subtly different dimensions - If you look carefully you will notice that in tray 1, four of the gems can fit in a row but in tray 2 the fourth piece will not quite fit. I sat down with this after dinner that evening with Mrs S and was surprised and a little bit dismayed to solve challenge 1 in about 3 minutes. I am sure that you can solve it yourself quite easily by just looking at the photo. That was a little surprising - I am awful at packing puzzles and expected this to take me rather a long time. OK! Time for challenge 2 - was it going to happen quickly? Erm...that would be a no!

Challenge 2 was made more challenging by the presence of a very lively cat who not only would not lie quietly on my lap but who decided that shiny plastic pieces were for him to play with. I went to bed that night without solving it. The following evening he was drugged by an extra-large portion of tuna flavoured cat food (his favourite) and settled right off to sleep and allowed me to use him as a table to puzzle on. This time I tried a few little tricks involving symmetry and was surprised that I could only get 9 gems in the tray. Time to think© - ouch! Aha! Different kind of symmetry! 2 evenings work and the challenges were solved - I suspect that most of you could solve these in just a short while but for me, I was happy with that timescale. Next up:

Packing Puzzle 4P side 1
Packing Puzzle 4P side 2
Packing puzzle 4P designed by Hajime Katsumoto and produced by MINE. I had seen this in Allard's collection and read his review last year. For some reason, I had not managed to play with a copy and was delighted when my favourite Dutchman managed to get me a copy.

This lovely bright acrylic puzzle consists of 4 blue P shaped pieces to be inserted into a tray that will be completely filled once they are in. The twist is that the pieces have to be placed through a window in the clear plastic cover. Puzzle 1 has two windows the same size as the P shapes (i.e. 3x2 voxels) which lie side by side and can allow the pieces to be inserted in any orientation and then slid about inside. This challenge is a sliding piece puzzle as well as a packing puzzle - there is a delightful little Aha! moment with it and, despite the freedom provided by the larger holes, there is a set sequence that must be used to succeed - I was delighted to find this during my first session with the puzzle. Just like the previous puzzle, time to try challenge 2 and yet again it was not going to succumb easily.

Challenge 2 has the windows staggered apart, oriented on their sides and also the same shape as the P pieces. This greatly restricts what can be done. Yes - I failed to solve it the same evening! I'm certainly getting value for money! It's pretty obvious that the windows mean that the last 2 pieces will need to be dropped in to complete the puzzle so it should be an easy matter of placing the first 2 in such a way as to allow this to be possible. Did I say "easy"? Stupid boy! After a few attempts, it becomes quite clear that you need a wormhole! Yes, the pieces need to pass through each other or be transported through time and space to the opposite side! I have not yet learned how to make a wormhole and suspect that neither has Hajime-san. There must be a different way with less technology. I was going to have to think twice in a week! It's never happened before goes.

Time to look at the pieces and the tray properly, then to think in 2 dimensions, then 3 and even 4 dimensions. Why does that have? Ooooh! Aha! That is a very nice little trick! I managed both challenges in a single evening, managed to feel very smug, showed it off to Mrs S who was not in the least bit interested and then showed it to the cat who was marginally more interested than the wife!

The Packing puzzle 4P is a darned clever idea - just perfect for beginners and experienced puzzlers. It was time for bed again and my plan was to try the third packing puzzle the following evening:

Pocket - challenge 1
Pocket is another 2 challenge packing puzzle - the first task is to pack 2 C shapes and 2 P shapes into a tray through a gap in the top which has a 1 voxel obstruction. This particular idea was also by Koichi Miura and produced by MINE. There are only a few ways to form a shape that will physically fit in the 4x7 cavity but that voxel in the way not only caused a significant blockage to placing the pieces inside but it also took away one of the available voxels. The Burmese boy and I worked on it the following evening and I am pretty certain that he had the Aha! thought a few minutes before I did. That is a particularly clever little challenge. I was pretty certain that the second problem was going to be significantly harder. I was going to have to work on that the following evening - I was definitely getting a very nice week of puzzling out of these.

Pocket challenge 2 had been an entry in the 2018 IPP design competition but had not won a prize. For this one MINE had worked with Koichi-san to design the pieces to be fitted in the same frame. There was quite a lot less space to play with:

Pocket - challenge 2
It's lovely and bright - those 45ยบ edges were going to fill much more of the space inside and seriously restrict the movement. These immediately enticed the cat and me to play.  He and I had a thought simultaneously! We decided that this puzzle was not just a packing puzzle - it was going to also involve another aspect of the puzzle classification. I was surprised when I read that Allard had struggled with this one. As soon as I had decided that the classification challenge had to be expanded, I approached it outside of the box (actually, it was on top of the box) and moved things about in a very clever (for me) manner. Zachary and I looked at each other after about 20 minutes and we calmly slid all the pieces in place! I love it! I couldn't have solved it without the cat!

I hope that you are all enjoying your puzzling time in self-isolation? Despite having to work, I still seem to be managing to solve the odd puzzle.


  1. Is that a divot in your countertop? -Tyler.

    1. No - it's a reflection from a spotlight in the ceiling.

    2. Thank goodness for that. I could only imagine what Mrs S might have done to you otherwise. Cheers. -Tyler

  2. Wow. I don’t think I would have the will power! I’d end up living on the porch with them, no longer allowed in the house.

    1. Richard! Sometimes it's a pretty close thing whether or not I am allowed back in the house!