Sunday 31 May 2020

A Fun Three Piece Worry Bead

A short one today - I have been on-call this week and am working again on Sunday (whilst this post goes live) and have had to prepare something in advance without much time for puzzling. Today I am focussing on a pretty metal puzzle from PuzzleMaster. A version of this should be in every puzzler's collection.

I reviewed the latest bespoke metal puzzle, Chiasma, from Yavuz Demirhan and PuzzleMaster a couple of weeks ago and was delighted with the quality of the construction and how it really added to the solution of the puzzle. In the same package, I also received a few more from the PuzzleMaster metal series and have had a little time to play with two of those. The Slideways puzzle is a classic - it's a 3 piece burr-shape that's not actually a burr, it's a lovely coordinate motion puzzle. I have never played with this puzzle in this shape before despite it having been around for quite a while. My versions are rather lovely shape transformations from Pelikan, the Slideways cube and two variants of the Slideways ball:



Double Slideways Ball
I know that Eric Fuller made really nice versions of the Slideways burr some time ago but I did not pick up either copy then so I was delighted to try a metal version (I am not a complete wood snob!) This one comes rather beautifully packaged to show it off and hold it in position:


Beautifully held in place
As you can see, this is a nice cerise coloured anodised aluminium and is rated as a level 6 on PuzzleMaster's difficulty scale of 5 to 10 which I would agree with - it is pretty straightforward in terms of puzzling and mostly is an object of delight for fiddling with. The movement makes it a wonderful fidget toy.

It won't fall apart, the pieces need to be pulled just right and you quickly end up admiring 3 beautifully identical burr pieces:

3 identical sticks - notice the angled cuts

For the reassembly, it is a simple matter of working out the correct orientation of the 3 pieces with respect to each other and then holding them all just right to allow them to slide together in a really satisfying way. The positioning needs to be fairly accurate before they will slide but not requiring pinpoint accuracy. This does make this version quite a lot more forgiving than the various wooden versions which need very very fine positioning. I have been using this as a sort of worry bead/stress reliever at home for a week or so and so far have avoided a Whack! Ouch! from Mrs S for the clinking.

Is it worth buying? I definitely think so - it is a classic, a fun thing to play with and very nicely made. At $20CA, you cannot go wrong.

Sunday 24 May 2020

Haym Designs a TIC-in-a-box

and I Wonder Whether Brian Had Made It Impossible!

Y Pack
This gorgeous puzzle is called Y Pack and it was made quite a while ago by my good friend Brian Menold and sent to me back in the BC era (that's "Before Coronavirus"). It has been sitting on my desk and my living room puzzling tray for a very long time taunting me. In fact it taunted me in 2 phases.

Designed by Haym Hirsh, whom I have only interacted with on Facebook, I have never actually tried one of his puzzles before and had been keen to remedy that situation. When Brian made such a gorgeous version, that sealed the fate of my bank balance yet again. My copy is stunningly made from a really deeply coloured and heavily grained Padauk with pieces made from Spalted Alder (this also adorns the corners of the box). It is a "simple" packing puzzle - place the 5 Y-shaped tetromino pieces inside the box. Only 5 identical pieces? How hard can it be? I expected to solve it in 15 minutes or so! Erm....WRONG!

Of course, I am generally rubbish at packing puzzles which won't have helped me but for some reason, this took me quite a lot of hours! I just couldn't seem to see the wood for the trees/puzzle pieces! Brian wrote this about it:
"While Haym Hirsh has become known to my customers as the designer of the inelegant series of puzzles, he has now busied himself coming up with a few different types of designs. This one, a rather difficult packing puzzle. I spent 3 weeks trying to solve this and finally had to give up in the interest of production time. Several rotations, (one which is particularly tricky) must be accomplished. But the restricted opening only allows pieces to go in one way! Hmmmmmm."
Having bought it and put it on my "to be solved" mountain (yes, there is quite a large backlog of puzzles I either haven't had time to work on yet or have been totally unable to solve - hence it's a mountain rather than a pile). I started work on it in February and conveniently forgot Brian's 3 weeks and giving up thing. I realised that this is actually only a four piece packing puzzle because the final piece just needs to be able to drop in place through the gap - the key is to make it so there is space left from that first four pieces of packing activity. Right! Easy! Arrange those 4 pieces with a nice Y-shaped gap at one corner.

Interestingly, there is loads and loads of room - the space to be filled is 27 voxels and the 4 tetrominoes will fill just 16 of them (adding the final piece still leaves 7 empty voxels). With so much space, there would be a lot of choices to place the pieces and I quickly got fed up with trying to find dozens and dozens of arrangements of 4 Y pieces that can fit in a 3x3x3 cube. Time to Think© again (sigh! Bloody Allard and his insistence on using my brain!) Having thunk outside of the box, I started thinking inside it and realised that the entry hole was very limiting. This would seriously cut down the ability to fit those 4 pieces inside and in fact it made me realise that rotations were involved. I know that you all were instantly aware of the need for rotations but I had forgotten the puzzle description and not reread it.

I adore all the TICs by Andrew Crowell and the other incredible designers so was sure that this "TIC-in-a-box" was going to be a fun challenge once I had realised what it was. There are considerably less possibilities than I had originally thought and I searched for what is possible in the constraints of the small box - in fact I eventually (I think I was 2 weeks into puzzling at that stage) worked out there was only one placement of the 4 pieces inside that would work. Thank heavens that Brian had cut small circular holes in 2 of the faces to assist with manipulation of the pieces inside. There are several rotations possible if you manipulate everything into just the right has to be millimeter perfect to get it to work.

Like Brian, I had a wonderful Aha! moment after about 3 weeks:

3 weeks this took me! OMG - I am exhausted!
I took some photos and put it down for a day. I have recently started storing many of my puzzles in the unsolved state so that I can have fun playing with them again in the future by reattempting them from the unassembled state. So I decided to take this one apart again for storage and also maybe to torture a few friends at work. The first piece gets tipped out quickly and then I "just" undo the rotational moves I had done on the way in. I had only done it the day before so shouldn't be a problem...WRONG! Again! I just never learn do I?

Brian had mentioned that there is a really tricky rotation and yep, he's absolutely correct. It is so tricky that I couldn't find it again. There are other rotations possible with relative ease which did confuse me a lot - it actually made me completely forget that it had been tricky to find in the forward direction. After 2 days, I had a bit of a panic - I was completely stuck! I could only get one piece out of the bloody box! Aaargh!

I was not going to be beaten easily...I was going to solve this thing! Sob! It took me another 3 weeks to dismantle it. There are indeed several rotations involved but one in particular is simply "perfect" - it is so well hidden in plain sight and needs to be manipulated with absolutely pinpoint accuracy for it to be possible. I very nearly tried force on several occasions but the thought of damaging one of Brian's incredible creations stopped me.

I think I may have to buy a few more of Haym's creations. I am aware that I have missed out on subsequent packing puzzles and I hope that Brian makes them again in the future. If you get the chance then don't hesitate - empty you wallet in Brian's direction - you cannot have too much good wood!

Thank you Brian and Haym for a wonderful frustrating 6 weeks! It did take my mind of the Coronavirus for a few hours at a time.

Sunday 17 May 2020

A Puzzle Improved by Being Metal - Yavuz' Chiasma

Yet again, this blog post nearly didn't happen because of the flakiness of my old computer - but luckily I have worked out that the Dropbox app is the cause of most of my woes - it is such a memory hog that it reduces everything to like wading through treacle. Once I had quit the app, everything returned to its normal level of slowness which is just barely tolerable rather than the totally intolerable level I had before. Phew! If anyone has any idea how to use Dropbox without the horrifically slow Mac app then please get in touch.

Back to my puzzling...

Up until a few years ago, I would regularly buy puzzles from my friends Alan and Leon Stein at PuzzleMaster but more recently I have been sidetracked by much more expensive and, one could say, I have fed my wood fetish (although many of the Pelikan puzzles can still be bought from them). They contacted me recently to ask if I would like to review a few of their more recent productions that they have commissioned in-house. I hesitated for a small microsecond and as you can imagine, jumped at the chance of having more beautiful stuff to try. I don't have a huge number of metal puzzles and am always keen to see what they can add.

Beautiful in wood
Their most recent release has been reviewed by a couple of the YouTube puzzlers and also by my friend Gabriel (one of the longest-running puzzle bloggers of all). I had to jump on the band-wagon as well but especially because this puzzle did ring a particular bell in my very feeble brain...I remembered that I had bought a copy of this from Jakub quite a few years ago and had completely failed to solve it. This gorgeous puzzle is a complex design by Yavuz Demirhan (who has designed and produced quite a few of my favourite puzzles and has reached my top 10 a few times). I recall vividly receiving the Chiasma in beautiful Walnut and trying lots and lots of very interesting movements but never managed to solve it and never reviewed it on the site. Having received another copy from PuzzleMaster, I really had to make an effort to solve this and write about it.

Chiasma is a board burr which consists of 4 identical boards interlocked into a rather attractive X shape. PuzzleMaster have commissioned it to be manufactured for them in Canada out of Aluminium and anodised in various colours. unlike their previous anodised puzzles, this one has been finished with a powdered texture which gives it a matt finish and makes it very nice to handle and, whilst less shiny, it is rather attractive. My copy is black and silver but it is also available in Black and Brown, Brown and Gold, Silver and Gold or a combination of all 4 colours. Either version will be lovely but the colouring will not help you solve it. It is pretty chunky too - it is 7.5 x 7.5 x 4.7cm and feels solid in your hands. The best part of this puzzle is that the individual boards are 9.5mm across and have very minimal beveling on them. The end result of this is that it seems to remain quite stable for a while until the pieces are well separated from each other - it does prevent inadvertent locking up by misalignment. Chiasma is nearly $100CAD but the quality is very high indeed.

This week I have had a little annual leave to give me a bit of relief from the catastrophe that is the NHS (and all other health services) just now and apart from having some gardening and some exercising to do, I could concentrate on spending some time with the present wife and also maybe solve a puzzle or two. I set to on Chiasma. Initially there are very few possible moves but after the first couple it suddenly opens out and there are a huge number of possibilities. My initial attempts, like those I tried back in 2013, involved mostly trying to keep all the pieces in symmetrical patterns in the hope that this was the secret of unlocking it gracefully.

At one point during my several days of attempts, I did discover a rotational shortcut which would allow a more rapid disassembly - if you have managed the proper disassembly then try and find this one as an extra challenge.

There is a rotation possible which allows a quicker solution
Unfortunately, Yavuz wasn't going to be nice to us by giving a puzzle with a lovely symmetrical logical solution! after a day or so of risking my life (Mrs S hates metallic clinking noises and this is quite noisy), I realised that I was going to have to abandon that approach and actually hunt for a release method by watching how the pieces move and aiming deliberately to get a piece released. The key feature (apart from the fact that they are all identical) is that the pieces have a single gap to allow them to lock and unlock together. The secret is to manipulate them in such a way as to allow the gap to line up on 2 pieces simultaneously. Sounds easy? Not for me it wasn't! The open shape allows you to see everything that is going on and, theoretically, make deliberate move decisions to advance to your goal. The disassembly level is 16.4.6 but it took me an awful lot more moves than that to find the sequence. The metal version was much easier to hold and manipulate stably than the wooden one.

On day 3 I had a breakthrough and suddenly I could see the final steps to line up the pieces and my first piece came out - Yay! I had 4 identical shaped pieces:

It is stunning despite being metal!
There was no way that I was going to get that reassembled from memory and I spent a nice happy half hour making a Burrtools file for it and then used that to disassemble my wooden version (I hope that you are impressed that I can find a single puzzle from 7 years ago?)

I had to make a second solution within Burrtools because the pieces can be assembled into 2 mirror images of each other and the wooden one was the other way around.

4 identical wooden pieces
I couldn't resist taking this photo comparing the 2 versions
If you did not manage to get a copy of the Pelikan version all those years ago then this is well worth picking up a copy of. It is a seriously tough challenge - I have to agree with PuzzleMaster's level 10 (Mind Boggling). Not really ideal for beginners but good for anyone with a bit of burr experience.

Sunday 10 May 2020

Rainer Nearly Breaks a Table!

The Popplock T12
This blog post very nearly didn't happen - I lost a lot of hair trying to get this post up and I don't have an awful lot left to lose! My poor 2006 iMac is sometimes takes a minute to type a single sentence. I am not sure what is happening but it seems to get sidetracked and goes off doing other things whilst I am trying to type a coherent sentence. This can mean that words and sometimes even letters get jumbled up during typing. Then the trials and tribulations of photo editing are particularly bad for my poor frazzled nerves! In the end, I managed to cobble something together and am going to need to think about alternative methods for the future. Now on to the topic today...

Still unsolved!
Late last year I got a heads up from Shane that there might be something coming up that I would definitely want to save up for. He is very good friends with Rainer Popp and seems to get advanced notice about upcoming releases in Rainer's Popplock range. Now, I have a few rules and firstly it says pay attention to Shane - he cultivates the appearance of being a poor puzzler and a "bear of very little brain" but I know him very well indeed now and there is very little that is mechanical or practical that he doesn't know or understand very quickly. As far as puzzles are concerned, if Shane says that it's good then I get my credit card out and ask questions later. My second rule is that I buy whatever Rainer produces - they are always amazingly well made and always a tremendous challenge. In fact the T10 remains on the shelf in front of me entirely unsolved! Shane said that the T12 would come out early this year and I put in a request with my usual puzzle purveyer/pusher and received assurance that one was mine if I wanted it.

It was duly released and then this bloody virus hit! I was due to pick mine up in person at the MPP in March and abruptly all travel and fun was cancelled. Thinking that it might not be long, we all waited and eventually we realised that the post was the only way. Luckily for me, the post was still working - I am aware that a few that were destined for the USA seem to have been trapped in limbo for quite a long time. I am sure that they will get there eventually but this is a VERY expensive puzzle to have apparently disappear.

When it arrived, Mrs S duly put it in quarantine in the porch with all the other post and I was forced to wait...impatiently! There is no arguing with a Scottish nurse...she has the genetics for violence and the training to make it really painful. I waited for 48 hours! My package eventually was opened and a rather heavy box was emptied in the kitchen. I put it down a little too hard on the kitchen granite and the bang nearly earned me a night sleeping in the garage! I quickly examined the work surface and breathed a sigh of relief - intact with no crack or dent! This lock is a rather solid lump of brass and steel - it's not quite as large and heavy as the T11 (2.5Kg) but not far off it - the T12 weighs in at a solid 2.05Kg (that's 4.52lb for you Yanks) and is really dense with dimensions of 80x45x99mm (3.15x1.77x3.9in). Whatever you do don't drop this - it will hurt either you, your table or your floor...badly!

Back view with Rainer's logo
Things were getting rather busy at work with many extra hours trying to buy ventilators and also write up new rotas as people were shunted off to work in ICU. I finally got some time to play in the evenings and first read the rules provided with the lock:
"No hitting, shaking, force or gravity needed 
Do not use the key until you have found the key hole 
No random movements like turning the key indefinitely or rattling 
Do not use the key to push buttons - you scratch the lock! If your fingers are too think then you may use a match or similar as an aid"
As you can see from the photos, there is no obvious keyhole (a hint of where one should be) and a number of potential buttons - not all of them are actual buttons! Where to start? Push, pull or twist everything you can get your fingers on! Nope, no use! Go fetch a wooden chopstick for the buttons smaller than my help! Bugger!

I spent several evenings annoying Mrs S whilst swearing under my breath about Rainer's and Shane's parenthood. After nearly a week, something occurred to me and Aha! I found something very useful - only 4-5 hours of trying on the first step. Remember that I am not very good at locks and really not terribly bright. Having found the first step, there was a whole lot more investigation to be done and I quickly got lucky. The second step lead to a third and a fourth step...I was on a roll!

No I wasn't! Having done my 2nd third and fourth steps, the whole thing stopped moving. I could backtrack but not advance any further. Looking at the design of the lock, I really thought that I had been making progress - I had sort of worked out how the shackle would open but the steps I had taken were not enough. True to my idiot self, I continued to do the same few steps over and over and over again for quite a few days! I knew that my friend Nigel and solved his copy (he was one of the first to receive one) in just 5 hours of work - I was already much more than double that and was completely trapped in a vicious circle. Time to Think©...again.

I thought back through some of the earlier Popplocks and something occurred to me that I might have been missing. I tried a few ways to achieve something new and failed again and again. Another thought occurred to me and that didn't work either. Maybe my copy was broken? It seemed unlikely that such a sturdy object would break in the post. As is my wont, I went back to doing the same thing many many times and suddenly something new happened! How the hell? Looking at what was in front of me, I realised that whilst I had been doing the same thing multiple times, the lock itself had changed configuration by accident and suddenly the correct configuration had been achieved to allow "new stuff". Literally and figuratively there are multiple layers to this puzzle! Now I could achieve my first few steps but also a few more. Progress at last - it is almost logical if you are a warped mad tricklock designer.

After 2 weeks I had reached a point where my initial surface look at the puzzle seemed to have led me. BUT still not there. The final steps were pretty obvious but didn't work for me until I found the correct directions for 4 movements. It took me 3 weeks of work and many more hours than Nigel but my Aha moment led to an open lock. The photo below has a very very minor spoiler so don't look if you want no help at all.

The high cost was well worth it - Rainer has made something challenging again, beautiful again and fun again! I am already looking forward to the T13 - will it be unlucky for me?

Now I need to find a way blog more efficiently on a bloody old computer - sigh!

Keep safe everyone - if where you live, the lockdowns are being gently loosened then please be careful! Don't go crazy out there, don't go mixing with lots of other people. Keep protecting yourself and your family. This is a very nasty and unpredictable virus - just because you are young and healthy does not mean that you won't be hit badly - I have seen quite a few unpredictable deaths.

Sunday 3 May 2020

Logical Progression My A£$€!

Oh! Now Look At That.......Hmmm!

Errrm! I might have been a little stupid last week!
X-ray cube properly solved!
On Facebook, it had been asked by someone what our approach to solving puzzles was. There were several fantastic answers by puzzlers who are far better than me at actually solving these blasted toys and I had to admit that my approach was a little scatter-brained:

I think this is a good approach!
Before I start on today's puzzle review let me have a small catharsis and expose the poor state of my brain to you all! In my recent review of all the upcoming Pelikan puzzles, I had given the impression that I had solved and enjoyed Volker Latussek's X-ray cube - Enjoyed? Yes, solved? Blush...nope! Unfortunately, I have to own up to being really not terribly bright!! I had slid open the lid, poured out the contents without paying attention to the arrangement and then assumed that the challenge was to put all the odd shapes back inside and close the lid again. I thought that the name of the puzzle came from the X shape that was visible through the hole in the top and bottom of the box. Doh! Now, whilst I had found doing that a significant challenge (and it is certainly one that you all should try), this was definitely NOT the main aim of the puzzle. Both Volker and Jakub contacted me to inform me that I was not terribly bright! (my words, not theirs).

I have spent another hour or so performing my usual (as shown above) approach to solving puzzles spread over the last couple of days, I was entirely unsuccessful (as usual) and had to try Allard's silly "Thinking©" thing! I was about to admit defeat when a thought did actually spring to mind (obviously it was not one of my own thoughts and I would really like to know who put that thought in my head because it was a good one) - I tried a few new things and it seemed right. I tried a few more and, suddenly, I had solved it correctly - the reason for the name, X-ray cube (as you can see at the top of the post) is that when the puzzle is solved properly, you can see straight through it! Yay! Now I have to work out how to put it back to the unsolved position....again! This is really quite a fun challenge which is proper tough if you just try random moves and a lovely mental exercise if you want to use Allard's silly approach.

Now on to my regular reviewing! Which unfortunately reveals yet again that Allard's fascination with using the brain might actually be right! Damn! I hate saying that!

Logical Progression
Logical progression is a design by Rick Eason and was made by Eric Fuller. You may not know it but Rick is responsible for the design of two of the best disentanglement puzzles I've ever worked on - Tricky dick (aka Day Trip) - available here in Australia and here in Europe) and it's tough brother Return of Tricky Dick (aka City Trip) - also available from Tomas Linden here (at the moment they are not available from PuzzleMaster for those of you in the Americas). It had taken me a very long time to solve those two brilliant puzzles and, true to form, it required thought rather than random movements to solve them.

Initially, the Logical Progression was not particularly interesting for me because it wasn't as beautiful as most of Eric's usual creations and I didn't realise who the designer was when I first looked on the store. I thus missed out on the first batch after they sold out pretty quickly. Only later, enticed by the designer's name, did I spend some time reading the blurb on the product page. I had been much too dismissive on looks alone. I realised that this would almost certainly be a really fun challenge! Lesson no. 1 - always read the description as well as drool over the pretty pictures. Eric's description said this:
"Logical Progression is a very unique cube. With only one solution which must be accomplished with serial assembly, it seems at first look that this puzzle will be a trial and error nightmare. However, the puzzle is designed such that scrutiny of the pieces will reveal their positional constraints; therefore the puzzle can be solved by analysis rather than guesswork."
Having finally gotten around to reading this, I decided that I should get a copy and contacted Eric, I was pleased to hear that another batch was due to be released - phew! When it was released, I missed out on the fancy exotic wood but still managed to get a copy in Maple and Oak. When it arrived it was a rather odd-looking and very rickety 3-inch cube. It definitely is not one of my most beautiful acquisitions! I really hoped that it would be as good a challenge as claimed.

Having taken the photo above, I pulled at it a bit and a cluster of pieces slid off and then another few. After removal, some of them swivelled around on the dowels and lost their orientation. Boom! There was no way for me to recall how the bloody thing came apart. I lay out all the pieces for my customary photo:

Oh dear! This looks rather more complex than I had initially thought!
Then I bunched all the pieces together so I could sit down and try to remake my cube. At this point I was beginning to regret my purchase!

OMG! I might be in trouble!
I received this puzzle in September 2019 and have carried a bag of bits around with me ever since then and have attempted to assemble the cube many many times. Bearing in mind my usual random movements approach, there was absolutely no doubt that I was doomed to failure! I idly tried a little thinking© and apart from gaining a mighty headache, I failed yet again. I probably spent 10 hours or so on it before getting fed up with having a rather unwieldy and painfully spiky lump in my bag. I read up the instructions again and headed to Rick's site for some encouragement and maybe even a hint or two. Rick claims that this is the very best of his puzzle designs and remembering those disentanglement puzzles, I was all the more determined to solve it myself. He does have a step by step assembly on his site as well as a text file going over the logical steps. I downloaded the text file and stored it without looking (honest guv!). I HAD to find the logical progression that Rick wrote about.

Having finally abandoned my usual random movement approach, I had to look at the puzzle and think about possible arrangements of the pieces. It consists of 16 different L shaped tetrominoes, each with holes in 3 of the voxels and a 4 voxel length dowel fixed inside one cube and which will run through  holes in other adjacent pieces. With only one 4 unit long dowel per tetromino and 16 in total, it is important to establish possible orientations for the entire puzzle. This was my first Aha! moment! It is definitely NOT as random as I thought. In fact, not only can you work out possible patterns for the rods, you can then narrow it down layer by layer.

Then I had to look at all the pieces and sort them into subtypes and decide on potential rows/columns - it began to look rather confusing on paper but many little Aha! moments were happening:

It looks much worse than it is.
As Rick is a Logical Progression
The paper section was pretty much done with and it was time to play with my wood. Having established that certain rows had to have the dowels in certain directions, I worked on some random assembling of more limited pieces. This is much better than picking from all of them and just trying to lump them together! In fact, it became very obvious that 3 pieces needed to be placed first and there was only 2 possible arrangements for them. This could very rapidly be reduced to just one possible arrangement. Wow!!! I was using logic! Once I got started on the assembly by thought©, things progressed fairly quickly until I reached 2 completed layers and a few parts of a 3rd one placed.

Now what? Again, I only needed to look at the shapes that I had and think© about possibilities to very rapidly reduce the possibilities to just 2 for the next few pieces. More logic gave me the placements for the top 2 layers and then it was a fairly simple matter of disassembling a section just enough to allow various new pieces into place. After about 3-4 hours of logic, my cube was fully assembled again.

OMG!!! That was an absolutely incredible puzzle! It goes to show that beauty alone is not all that one should judge them on. The more puzzling I do over so many years now, the more I appreciate when a puzzle designer makes something that is pure cerebral solving for a mechanical puzzle. Thank you, Eric and Rick, for making me Think©! Bloody Allard and his fancy approach! Rassafrassarickarackets!!!