Sunday, 26 July 2020

Those Japanese Chaps Are Really Devious!

4L Basket
5L Box
I am really not sure that I should be writing such a provocative title!!! But in the puzzling world we all know that the Japanese designers, craftsmen and puzzlers are extreme examples of the best on offer! Every time I buy something from one of them, I get a top notch experience and appreciate their devious thought processes - so, in the face today's politically correct thought police, I stand by my statement! 👿👿👿

I know that you all are desperately waiting to find out about my latest escapades! Otherwise why else would you be back here week after week reading my drivel? I'll start with my rower... Man! I became very unfit! 3 months of lockdown where all I could do was walk a bit and work my arse off at the hospital prevented any real exercise being done and then 2 weeks struggling with a life-threatening virus and the de-conditioning associated with that have left me in a very poor physical state. I have tried to use the rower every day if possible (work permitting) and it is coming back slowly. Mrs S has even suggested that on a work day, I get up at 5am to workout before I go to work. I'm not sure whether she is being kind or is trying to cause me a heart attack whilst she is sleeping. Whack! Ouch!

What about the Lock out puzzle by Andrew Coles? Well it took me a few days to pick all the celery out of the keyway after Allard suggested that was the solution and I have worked to find the solution every day. BUT... I have so far been completely unable to find anything new. There are some holes (I'm not sure whether they were made by Andrew or by the lock manufacturer) and that is all I have found. I think Andrew has just given me a lock with the wrong keys as a joke! I will keep trying.

Easy peasy? Not for me!
Today I have to write about a couple of puzzles that I have been playing with from Mineyuke Uyematsu. Every year Mine-san sells a bunch of puzzles at the IPP which have been much sought after due to several of them being big hits in the design competition - some of my all time favourite puzzles (including the 4L packing puzzle) and the Caramel box came to me that way. Unfortunately, the IPP has had to be cancelled this year and as a result Mine-san announced that he was going to be making a bunch of puzzles and selling them directly as well as making a whole load available via Wil Strijbos (helping maintain his name as the premiere puzzle pusher). I placed an order within at most 5 minutes of the announcement being made and was very lucky that the puzzles that I wanted were not going to be in short supply and were not going to a country that had imposed virus-related import restrictions. I received my wonderful new toys relatively quickly and set to playing with them.

I knew that 4L Basket was going to be fun - it had won the Puzzler's award as well as the Jury 1st prize at the Design competition in 2019 and I had a brief play with Allard's copy at the last MPP and failed to solve it after a ½ hour helping me decide that I definitely needed my own copy. I tried a few of the tricks from the 4L packing puzzle but that didn't help me at all - It was definitely going to be fun. The 4L Basket was a design by Koichi Miura who has also designed several others that I have reviewed and enjoyed. It has been beautifully made by Mine from Walnut, Oak and Padauk. Like the 4L there are 4 L-shaped pieces to be fitted into a box but this time the L's are all identical and simple Triominos, the box has 2 identical entry paths separated by the handle of the basket which cannot move and has 2 holes in the sides beneath the handle. I was able to work out a few possible ways to organise these pieces inside the 2x2x3 cavity - so how can you manoeuvre the pieces past the blockage caused by the handle? Even with a little Thought© it is clear that rotational moves will be required but the tolerances of the box are such that it is quite tough to find any possible rotations for anything other than the first piece. The rotations that I had tried with other puzzles had not worked with this one - even the genius, Derek Bosch had not found this straightforward.

Rotations required - not too tough but very clever
I played with this on and off (along with a few other toys) and realised that you needed to use everything that you were given to get the positioning just right. After a week of play, I had a lovely Aha! moment and packed the L's inside the basket. It is actually not as complex as you think (certainly nowhere near as tough as the original 4L puzzle) but you really do need to think why everything was designed the way it was.

A simple packing puzzle? The fixed cubies in the box say no!
The 5L box is another fabulous design from Hajime Katsumoto which also won the Jury 1st prize in the 2018 Design competition. I had never actually seen a copy of it but knew straight away that any puzzle designed by Hajime-san was worth buying. When it arrived, I was absolutely staggered at the sheer beauty of it. I am not sure what it is made of (I am certain that there is a fair amount of acrylic in it but the outer surfaces of the box have a shiny wood grain effect and I cannot tell whether this is a wood inlay or just a really gorgeous acrylic). The wooden pieces look like either Redheart or Padauk. Again, there are 5 triomino L-shaped pieces which need to be fitted into the box and then the lid shut over them. This is very reminiscent of the absolutely amazing Slide packing puzzle by Hajime-san which also won the Puzzler's award in 2016 as well as a Jury honourable mention. Making this much more difficult is the fact that a cubie is stuck inside the box in one corner and another is attached to the lid preventing it from sliding all the way out and also restricting where the pieces can be placed inside.

There are a few ways that 5 L-shapes can fit into the 3x3x2 cavity even with the restrictions placed but the fact that one of those restrictions has to be allowed room to move for the lid to close makes this a really interesting challenge. I played with this one for several weeks and just could not make the jump in thought that was required. It was sitting on top of a sleeping cat with me staring at in disbelief at the difficulty level when the cat turned over, causing the puzzle to roll onto its' side. Ooh! That is interesting...a whole new way of looking at it. I had, until that moment, been trying to solve it with the lid upwards - seems like a logical approach? With the puzzle on its' side I was forced to think a little differently and suddenly an idea sprang into my currently blank head - what if I try...? YES!!! That is really lovely - it is actually not as tough as I thought - I just needed to think differently - there is a lovely sequence of moves and it is solved with the lid shutting beautifully. It is not even trivial to remove the pieces once the puzzle has been solved and sat for a while.

No clues here - a really fun puzzle!
I was chatting to Derek at the time and was slightly horrified when he told me that he had managed to lock his copy up entirely. It had never occurred to me that could happen. Luckily he managed to unlock it reasonably quickly and I gave my advice to think in another orientation - hopefully that will do the trick for my mate.

If you get a offered a try of these puzzles then jump at the chance - they are a very simple premise with only a small number of very basic shaped pieces to fit in a small cavity. Despite the simplicity, they are a wonderful challenge which may take you only a few minutes or if you are thick like me, then may take you many hours over a number of days.


Legal Packing

Tetra Spinner
So far I have singularly failed to solve the others that I bought from Mine-san - hopefully the answer will fall on me soon. Now where did I put that blasted lock???



Sunday, 19 July 2020

Terry Produces Something VERY Smart

Alastor
My health continues to improve but I remain extremely easily fatigued - just walking along a corridor at work or climbing a couple of flights of stairs renders me totally shattered. After 3 months on a waiting list I was finally able to buy a Concept2 rowing machine and I plan on starting some decent exercise as my fatigue allows (the gyms here remain shut and I wanted to continue exercising - yes I know I could go running but I hate running and I get awful shin splints). It was a bit of an epic experience getting the rowing machine upstairs and assembled! It nearly killed me! I really hope that it will help with my continued recovery. The only downside is that the only spare room for it is my second puzzle room!

My friend Terry Smart spends half of his time working off-shore on a North Sea oil rig. This means that he either has a LOT of time on his hands or very little. The usual work pattern for these guys is 2 weeks on rig and 2 weeks at home. A few years ago Terry spent a lot of time teaching himself to use Burrtools to design interlocking puzzles that were just a lot more interesting than the usual. The issue then was that he had to hope that one of our entrepid craftsmen would see his design and choose to make a few copies for the puzzling world. This was too much of a problem for our Terry and he decided in true Scottish fashion (yes, he shares the same impetuous genes that my wife has and which cause me a LOT of pain -  Whack! Ouch!    I rest my case!) to do something about it - he dived headlong into woodwork. I would love to do this but at the moment my livelihood depends on me having the correct number of fingers and after seeing the tablesaw injury 2 weeks ago, I think I will continue like that. Terry went to the internet and bought himself some of the best equipment for small scale woodworking that you can buy - he bought a whole bunch of stuff from Byrnes Model Machines and then had to pay an astronomical customs fee before he got his hands on it. I got a copy of his very first production series - Premiere and loved it.

Terry recently announced a few new puzzles that he was planning on making and asked for people to sign up to buy them to give him an idea of how many to make. He also offered a few of us the chance to buy more expensive versions with fancy woods and, of course, you know I cannot resist the chance of gorgeous wood. It took him a while to get the batch done and half way through he realised that he needed a way to indicate correct orientation of some of the pieces for reassembly. In other words the puzzle has alternative assemblies which are less difficult or less interesting and there needed to be a method to mark the correct way for entrepid puzzlers attempting reassembly without computer assistance. A number of options were discussed and in the end we settled on stainless steel pins sunk into the relevant pieces - I think they look very nice. My version is made from Olivewood (frame), Lignum Vitae (long burr pieces) and Arizona Desert Ironwood (short burr pieces). It is gorgeous and surprisingly heavy for such a small puzzle (8 x 6 x 4cm) - the Ironwood and Lignum Vitae are very dense woods. The puzzle also has a nice musky aroma.

I received the puzzle about 2 weeks ago and after it was released from Mrs S' quarantine, I had a quick look.  Terry was clearly not entirely happy with these special ones because prior to asking for payment he dropped the price and asked for our opinions. I was curious to see why he had been unhappy with them. The one thing that was immediately clear was that the puzzle was really quite loose but not so loose that pieces could be rotated or fall out without the correct sequence being used. When I took it into bright light for photos I could also see that there were some tool marks on the pieces but I did not feel that they detracted too much from the look. I hoped that the looseness would not make the puzzle too hard to solve - I doubted that Terry would send something out that was not going to function.

This puzzle is a really nice level of difficulty with a disassembly level of 16.11.8.5.3.3.5 - not impossibly tough but should be a fun exploration and sequence. It might also be possible to manage an assembly once taken apart. I enjoyed the exploration and it was only made a little harder by the looseness and required me to lift pieces a little to ensure that I could slide them. There are a couple of rotations which can happen and one will allow an early first piece removal but I ignored this. After about 30 minutes of progress, a piece fell out onto the sleeping cat on my lap and rolled off. I had no idea exactly how it had come out and I knew a Burrtools file would be needed for my first reassembly. The second piece came out in a rather unexpected fashion and then the third, despite being a very similar shape to number 2 came out a totally different way - this was lovely. The entire exploration is nicely visible and there are no blind moves to ruin things. After a few more minutes I had my lovely wood separated:

Just look at the gorgeous grain on that Ironwood!
I made my BT file and  back together. I love making BT files and this was a nice easy one. Having solved it the first time I wanted to see whether the reassembly might be possible without the computer. I spent a few hours over a couple of evenings, just exploring - going back and forth to understand how the pieces interacted and then disassembled it and scrambled the pieces and left them a few hours. Attempting the reassembly with a proper understanding of the puzzle was even more fun. I was able quite quickly to work out the intended end position of each piece and from that retrace a path back to the beginning. I seldom enjoy a puzzle reassembly but this one was really quite pleasant. I have done it quite a few times now and it is becoming a bit of a worry bead for me.

The other versions that Terry created using other less expensive woods did also look lovely and the fit was very good for them - this is one craftsman to keep an eye on for the future as his skills improve. It is pretty amazing that he is making pieces like this already and not using any glue at all! Stunning!

Thanks mate, I can't wait for the next puzzle!



Still no further progress on Andrew's Lock out puzzle! Needless to say but Allard's suggestion of using celery did not work. So far I have inserted the keys and tried to turn them several thousand times! Hopefully I can't wear them or the keyway out?




Sunday, 12 July 2020

Alexander Wants Everything Sequenced Properly...Collator

Collator
It’s my 26th wedding anniversary today, so most of this was prepared in advance - only a few edits whilst "she who must be flinched from" is on the phone with the mother out-law. I wouldn’t want to risk a Whack! Ouch! On this special day! Champagne coming soon!

Alexander Magyarics designed and named the puzzle above, Collator, presumably because everything needed to be taken in the right order and placed properly using the correct sequence of moves! It took Brian Menold to take the Burrtools design and to turn it into a reality which had been sitting on my puzzle chair for over a month!

Brian made it into a very chunky 3inch cube with my copy constructed from a beautiful Angelim Pedra (box) with Movingui pieces. When I bought my last batch of beauties from Brian, I couldn't resist it. Just like the Magyarics puzzles I reviewed last week from Pelikan (and like all of Alexander's designs) it is MUCH more of a challenge that it first appears. It bears repeating what I said last week about Alexander:
"a relative newcomer to the world of puzzle design but he has crashed into it and rapidly made a huge name for himself as someone with a huge talent! He doesn't seem to just be a manipulator of Burrtools to make things that interlock, he has a unique knack of finding shapes and challenges that are not only just the right level of difficulty but are also great fun - they require exploration and thought and a lot of movement!"
The Collator is a very special example of this incredible talent. The aim is to fill the 3x3x3 cavity leaving 7 internal gaps such that the rather complex entry slot in the box will be filled completely. Brian seemed to love it - he wrote this in his puzzle description:
"Just three piece to fit into the box through a fairly large opening. This one gave me a workout for a while! I also like the fact that there are 3 solutions in total. But the desired solution gives the nicest finished look with all the openings in the box filled with the inserted pieces. The other two solutions are rather easy and should provide a nice warm up"
Hmmm! If it gave Brian a workout then I was going to be in trouble! At least I was hopeful I might find the 2 solutions that leave gaps visible. Over a 3 week period, I looked to find cubic assemblies outside of the box - one particular shape (the big piece) is a particularly awkward bugger to align with the other 2. I found several possible assemblies and obviously each of those cubes could be oriented in any of 6 directions. BUT, quite a lot of the orientations were such that one or more pieces could not be physically inserted through the slot opening. I kept at it - it's difficult with my Bluebottle memory to remember but I think I must have found 5 or 6 different cubes but couldn't get any of them inside the box.

So Brian thought the two minor solutions were easy? Not for me they weren't! I can't even blame Covid-19 as a lot of my work on this puzzle was before I got sick! After 2 weeks, I found one of the easy solutions. I let out a yell and annoyed Mrs S! She was disappointed in my poor solution - even she could tell that the visible gaps were obviously a sign of a substandard brain. Time to Think©...again. I never did manage to find the second easy solution but I focused on the main challenge. Someone showed off their solved puzzle on Facebook and I inadvertently got a major hint because the positioning of some of the internal voids was visible. Did it help? Nope - not one little bit! I just trudged on. I tried to solve this blasted puzzle every single day for over a month and never seemed to be making any progress at all. In fact, I had reached a point where I could not tell in any way what I had tried before.

Just like with Diamond Hole from Pelikan puzzles last week, I found an assembly that just seemed right. However, it wouldn't assemble in the box no matter what I tried. I kept doing the same thing over and over again until I changed one thing...my point of view. After over a month of trying, I rotated the box through 90° (I have no idea what made me do this, it may have been that balancing it on a sleeping cat led to it rolling down his flank into that position) and I carried on trying. Within about 10 minutes in this orientation, I had a magnificent Aha! moment and 2 pieces were inside in a promising position that I certainly had never seen before. Continuing like this I tried to manoeuvre the third piece into position and saw that there was a very fun little dance of the pieces before my moment of ecstasy:

Solved it at last! No real hints here.
What an incredible challenge! It is just 3 pieces but, despite this, is so so difficult. It is only level 10.4.2 for disassembly but it took me over a month to solve it and required a lucky roll of the puzzle to get there. This was unexpectedly difficult but huge fun. Alexander designed this one to be this sort of challenge and he did it very well. I cannot wait to see what he and Brian come up with next - it is certain to be amazing! Thank you to the pair of you for such a wonderful and beautiful challenge!

Last week a good friend of mine (Jim Kerley) quoted one of the greatest puzzlers in the world and what he said is entirely appropriate for this puzzle (as well as a good few of the puzzles from Jakub that I wrote about last week)
"It's easy to make things hard but hard to make things easy". In a conversation with Jerry Slocum 20 years ago I remember him saying about designing puzzles " It is easy to make a difficult puzzle but not so easy to make an easy difficult puzzle". In his explanation he said the best puzzles are those which look easy but prove to be moderately difficult. A child or adult knows instinctively what needs to be done and feel they must pick it up and solve it.
I found this puzzle very hard indeed but it does look very easy and the compulsive "pick me up" nature kept me trying for weeks! Do you agree with Jim? What puzzles do you think meet this criterion for being a superb puzzle?


Lock Out by Andrew Coles
This week I took some more of Allard's advice and set to work on the Lock Out by Andrew Coles. It is a magnificently well made puzzle - very weighty and solid. I had to try both of the keys because...just because! You all know that it has to be done. Allard tried it and that's good enough for me to attempt that futile manoeuvre too. He did say that it wasn't very useful but I did it anyway! He also told us that we should try a stick of celery. Now I hate celery and consider that sticking it into the keyway of a lock is a better use for it than eating it. Unfortunately Mrs S loves celery and won't let me use it for puzzling. This is probably just as well as I doubt whether Allard was serious with that advice (although with any of the MPP crowd it is very tough to be absolutely sure if they are kidding) and I don't want my puzzle to stink of rotten veg later. I will need to keep trying - I might be some time.......


Keep safe guys! It’s still out there and you really don’t want it. Just as importantly, you seriously don’t want to pass it on to your elderly relatives who may not survive as a result of your carelessness. The mortality in the 70-79 age group is 8% and in the 80+ group is as high as 14.8%! Not worth an avoidable risk to grandma (source).

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Pelikan Packs Them In!

Coming soon to a webstore near everyone!
New toys from the New Pelikan Workshop
Yes,  I am back and raring to go! I'm still pretty knackered and at the start of my first day back at work I thought I would check my O2 sats. I was pleased to say that they were a good 97% but a bit shocked that walking 400m along a corridor had left me with a heart rate of 130! I need to get my fitness back soon. People did comment that I looked rather thin (I'm down to 57Kg) but I'm eating normally again and the weight should come back up fairly quickly. Of course, the idiot who writes the on call rotas had put me down for the Trauma service yesterday (Saturday) and that took it out of me - luckily, all I do on a Sunday is sit and write a blog post! I'm thinking that I will have to shoot the rota service organiser soon - Oh wait....that would be me. Doh! One thing I did see yesterday reminds me that the wonderful wood craftsmen we take for granted risk life and fingers every day - one poor chap decided that he'd put his hand through a table saw. Ouch!!  I suspect he will only be able to count to 8½ from now on and maybe even less! Be careful out there, Eric, Brian, Jakub, Terry, Yavuz et al.

These puzzles are due to be released by the New Pelikan Workshop very soon and I suspect that they will also come up for sale (probably a few weeks later) from PuzzleMaster in Canada or JPGames in the UK. They are ALL worth your hard-earned cash and your choice depends on how tough you like your puzzling to be.

Whilst off sick with the dreaded virus, I was offered a bunch of new toys by Jakub and Jaroslav to review before they go on sale. I was feeling like hell and had not managed any puzzling for over a week but I had more or less decided that I was probably going to survive so the transaction was done and a large package winged across Europe at an unbelievable speed! I was delighted to receive copies of 2 new cube packing puzzles by the "Master of the disturbingly simple", Osanori Yamamoto (PuzzleMad links) as well as a 2 new incredibly gorgeous designs by Volker Latussek (PuzzleMad links) and a new multi-packing puzzle by Alexander Magyarics (PuzzleMad links). They all looked absolutely stunning which is exactly what we have come to expect from those Pelikan boys! The wood choices are great with fabulous grain and contrasting colours. So which ones should I start on? Unfortunately, my spirit was willing but the brain was definitely NOT functioning terribly well - I had a quick fiddle for a day or 2 after they arrived and I just couldn't do anything - in fact, I kept falling asleep! These puzzles are definitely NOT boring but they will need a very good attention span and a well functioning brain! I would need to wait until my brain fog had improved a bit more.

Later in the week, I started to feel a whole lot better and set to work  puzzles again.

Diamond Hole

Diamond Hole by Osanori Yamamoto
This one is made form Wenge and Maple and the name/designer has been etched onto the puzzle
Osanori-san keeps producing designs based on a small cube or cuboid cavity (literally just a 3x3x3 or 3x3x2) within a simple box which has one or more holes at some position and the aim is to insert a small number (usually just 3 or 4) of oddly shaped pieces into the cavity such that the hole(s) are completely obscured - this may completely fill the cavity but often does not. The premise of these puzzles is incredibly simple but the sheer challenge and enjoyment that is achieved with such a simple idea cannot be underestimated. Sometimes rotations are required but mostly it is just a dance of the pieces in a beautiful pattern that is required before they settle into place. Looking at the pieces, you can see that there is going to be a reasonable amount of space left inside the box but the complexity of the pieces coupled with the restriction to movement caused by the diagonal half filled voxels along the edges of the holes make for a really fun challenge.

My usual approach (I assume that everyone does the same) is to make the cubic shape outside the box. Then I find that none of the shapes I make will cover the holes properly and have to make the shapes several (even many) times before it seems to fit properly. My problem is having a memory of a bluebottle (apparently we have been doing a disservice to Goldfish) - I am fairly certain that several times I made the same cubic shape as I did earlier to check against the box but couldn't remember it. I tried at least 6 different cubes but Burrtools tells me there aren't 6 cubic assemblies. 

Having finally found a number of cubes that fill the holes, it was time to assemble it inside the box. Again, I assume most of you take your cubes and try to disassemble them constrained by the holes? For some reason, this was not happening for me! Some of my cubes could be rotated and tried in different orientations and hopefully......NOPE! Try again! I got fixated on one particularly nice cubic assembly and tried it for hours and hours. Sigh! Maybe my cube was wrong? Hell yes! I found another cubic assembly that didn't seem quite as nice but did fit the shape and after trying several different orientations, I thought I had something promising. Time to try getting it into the actual box. Even that is a huge challenge! Which piece to try in which order? I was fixated and kept trying the same idea over and over again and, of course, failing. Aaaargh! In my enfeebled state, I kept trying the same thing and for once, I have disproved the theory - something changed and I had the puzzle solved! Yessss - I loved it!

At last! It took me hours!
I immediately dismantled it and proved that I was a Bluebottle - I could not for the life of me put it back together again! Another hour and I had managed it! This puzzle is one of my favourites - it has just the right level of challenge and looks beautiful. If you have played with others by Oasnori-san then you owe it to yourself and your collection to get this one!

Neptune

Neptune also by Osanori Yamamoto
Mahogany box and Wenge pieces
This puzzle really worried me when I took it out of the packaging! The box contains a 3x3x3 cavity but a very restrictive pair of slot entry/exit holes which looked like they would make it really tough to get the pieces oriented correctly and there were 6 pieces to be packed! I am RUBBISH at packing puzzles and as soon as there are more than 3 pieces then I struggle a lot. I even felt compelled to buy the One piece packing puzzle from Eric's latest releases! This puzzle is COMPLETELY different to the other puzzles from Osanori-san, the pieces are very simple (3 pentominos and 3 tetrominos) and the total voxel count is 27 - no gaps.

Back to the toil - make a cube outside the box. Easier said than done! My first several hours left me unable to even make a 3x3x3 cube from the 6 simple pieces. This worried me because I could tell that the solution would have to include at least one rotation (look at the shapes and the slots and it is pretty obvious). Eventually I found a cube assembly and then realised that I would have to try 6 different orientations before ruling it out as the correct assembly. OMG - this might take me months. My first assembly looked lovely but after rotating it 6 times, it very quickly became apparent that it was impossible to assemble it inside the box. There is one very important constraint that is immediately obvious as soon as you actually try an assembly. OK. Time to find another assembly - Burrtools and Puzzlewillbeplayed tells me that there are 8 possible ways to make a cube and each one needs to be looked at in 6 orientations - 48 possible combinations. I was betting that I would find the right one as number 48. I spent an evening in front of the TV with a still quite sick Mrs S talking to myself as I tried to find an alternate assembly. Luckily Mrs S was too ill to do any more than glower at me muttering the evil painful things she was going to do to me when she got better. I dont really blame her - I was swearing away while she was trying to watch TV and I had given her a life-threatening virus which made her feel bloody awful! At that time I would have murdered me painfully as well! Out of the blue, I found another assembly. I could actually tell that it was different because it met a particular constraint that I had set which should make entry through the slots possible.

Yesssss! This was a huge challenge for me!
Unlike Diamond hole, this does not take a lot of careful planning for the actual assembly as there is no real dance of the pieces around each other. There is a certain fairly obvious order and the rotation(s) are important but not difficult and then suddenly you have an assembled cube inside the box! The Aha! moment is delicious - it is a more "normal" packing puzzle than most of his designs but the restrictive entry and the rotations make it much more interesting than a standard packing puzzle. It also has a fair bit of repeatability - I have been unable to solve it a second time despite trying for a couple more hours. This is well worth adding to your collection but very different to what has gone before!

Hydrant

Hydrant by Alexander Magyarics
3 puzzle challenges in 1
Alexander Magyarics is a relative newcomer to the world of puzzle design but he has crashed into it and rapidly made a huge name for himself as someone with a huge talent! He doesn't seem to just be a manipulator of Burrtools to make things that interlock, he has a unique knack of finding shapes and challenges that are not only just the right level of difficulty but are also great fun - they require exploration and thought and a lot of movement! Every single one of his puzzles that I have tried has been a rapid favourite and Hydrant does not disappoint. Beautifully made by Jakub and Jaroslav from Padauk, Ash, Iroko and Wenge, this rather complex box comes with 6 equally complex  to be inserted inside. Not all at once, I hasten to add - there are 3 separate challenges requiring different combinations of the pieces:

Challenge 1
Challenge 2
Challenge 3
I would suggest that you actually start with challenge 2 and then move on to the other 2. The pieces leave gaps in the 3x3 cavity of the box and the aim is to insert them inside such that there are no holes visible in the H shaped entry slot at the top. These pieces are shaped in such a way that it is actually quite difficult to find a way to put them in the box. Once there are other pieces inside then things get very blocked very quickly and there needs to be a wonderful dance of pieces before they all settle into place. I expected this to be a mass difficult challenge but, as always seems to be the case with Alexander's puzzles, these are just superb! Just the right difficulty level to provide a decent challenge and lovely Aha! moment without leading to a balding puzzler tearing what little hair he has left out! This bloody iMac is causing me to lose most of it without help from puzzles! Small spoiler behind the button - only press if you are not distressed by getting hints:



The solutions took me a few hours to find - I heartily recommend this to anyone who likes interlocking puzzles - in particular, if you enjoy the simple packing puzzles designed by Osanori-san then these will be right up your street. Fabulous!

Yin Yang

Yin Yang presented protruding
6 simple pieces - fit them fully inside the box
My copy of Yin yang has been crafted from Cherry, Maple and Wenge - it is simply stunning. Dr Volker Latussek is responsible for some truly amazing packing puzzles! His mind seems to work very differently to many other designers and he is incredibly particular that his puzzles are beautifully presented in both the unsolved as well as the solved state. The Yin Yang puzzle looks just as its' name would suggest in both solved and unsolved states. There are 6 simple blocks of wood to be fitted through the Yin (or yang) with the aim being to completely fill the cavity of the box.which is a 4x4x3 cuboid. These shapes look pretty simple and there's a decent sized hole which places a small restriction on how pieces can be put inside. Yet again.....make a cuboid outside the box! How hard can it be with such simple pieces? OMG! I am really not very bright! I spent a good few hours over a couple of evenings just trying to make the assembly. It wouldn't fit together and I had begun to think that Jakub was trying to make me look foolish (something I frequently manage without any assistance!) but on the third day of searching, I had a wonderful Aha! moment - my cuboid was complete. Right then place it inside the box. Except it wasn't to be that easy. The shapes and orientation revealed certain requirements for movements which was a fun discovery.

I tried for an hour to get the shape I had made into the box and couldn't for the life of me do it. OMG! was there an alternate assembly that I hadn't found despite 3 days of trying? Time to Think©. So I thunk for an evening and it hit me right between the eyes! Not terribly bright and I hope that you don't have the same problem. I finally got it and was delighted - it looks stunning in the solved shape as well.

Solved at last!
This puzzle is absolutely fabulous - the premise is simple but the execution of it is a lovely challenge. I suspect that most of you hardcore puzzlers out there will find this a lot easier than I did because you are all much cleverer than me. It is well worth the effort being just the right difficulty level.

Dufour

Dufour by Volker Latussek
Out of the box
This beautiful puzzle by Dr Latussek is a whole different level of challenge. One of the features that marks Volker's approach is that he always stipulates a way that the puzzle should be presented to be solved and that is usually just as gorgeous (and often as much of a challenge) as the actual puzzle solution. Dufour arrives in a box with a beautiful cross visible on top and the whole assembly slides out of the box to reveal a 2x2 square on the opposite face. Having admired the beautiful construction - this one made from Oak and Padauk, I carefully took it apart to find 8 pieces which need to be fitted back into the box and ending up with all the pieces flush with the surface. Looking at the shapes of the pieces, I knew that I was going to really struggle - have I told you that packing puzzles are really not my forté.

We have 8 hexominos to fit in a 4x4x3 box
There will be no gaps once packed
I have worked on this for over a week on and off and have so far not even come close to solving it. It may be that this is too difficult for me - maybe too many pieces or maybe the shapes are too complex? For anyone who loves very difficult packing puzzles, this will be a wonderful challenge. I am unable also to put it back to the starting shape either despite the "assistance" provided by the coloured pieces. Yet again, Dr Latussek shows that he is the master of this sort of puzzle!

So, which would I recommend? All of them, of course! It depends on your puzzle type preferences. Are you into difficult packing puzzles? Then you really want the Yin yang and Neptune puzzles and consider the Dufour if you are wanting a particularly tough challenge. Do you like interlocking packing puzzles that require sequences of moves to solve then Hydrant and Diamond hole are must buys! Luckily for me, I have bought them all! Maybe you should too!


Are you into puzzle locks? Of course you are - have a look at my New additions page for a new lock produced by a brilliant new craftsman, Andrew Coles. Allard also received and reviewed his first puzzle. So far I've been working too much to have more than a look and take some photos. First impressions are that this is top notch craftsmanship.

It's great to be healthy again - make sure that you stay safe out there! Social distancing is the main thing you can do and when that is not possible it is worthwhile wearing a mask - it won't protect you but it will protect others from you. If everyone does this then it will generally decrease transmission of this awful disease. Do NOT take any notice of the crazy idiots who claim that masks poison them or that they cause CO2 retention and headaches etc from that. I've worn a mask for over 25 years with no evidence of poisoning and anyone who knows about respiratory physiology and chemistry will tell you that CO2 is a tiny molecule that passes through membranes and materials very fast indeed. You cannot get CO2 retention from a mask!

Take care everyone - keep safe and as my friend Michel says, "keep puzzling".



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