Sunday 30 August 2020

A Wonderful Gift - I'm Not Worthy

Just the first of a bunch of puzzles from George Bell
Can you tell??? This blog is now MUCH faster than it was! My old iMac was a mid 2006 vintage and was desperately slow - it took 90 minutes or longer to boot up. Finally when a new model was announced a few weeks ago Mrs S threatened me with worse violence than a Whack! Ouch! if I didn't upgrade - isn't she a wonderful woman? A new iMac was viewed, specced up, ordered, manufactured and arrived this week. It is lovely (nice 27" display) and screaming fast as you can tell when you read this. All my crap gets out there with extra speed...lucky you! It will take a while to get the software working as I like but I am getting there.

Before I carry on drivelling about my wonderful gifts from George Bell, I would like to sincerely suggest that you support my 2 very good (and very talented) friends, Big Steve and Ali (aka the Two Brass Monkeys). You will have seen me show off and thoroughly gush about many of their wonderful creations on the blog, including the Hokey cokey lock (reviewed here) which made it to my number 4 slot of 2018 and still available from their Etsy store or from PuzzleMaster. Now, not only can you buy from their store but they have set up a KickStarter for a particularly fabulous (and BIG) creation, the Kong Puzzle.

Kong Fully Assembled
Kong in Case
I played with a prototype of this wondrous brute at the last face-to-face MPP and it was amazing! It is beautifully tactile and a proper challenge - needless to say, I did not solve it there and neither did our Burr magician, Rich. This masterpiece is solid brass and weighs in at a monstrous 4lb 2.6oz (1.89Kg) - the dimensions of the assembled puzzle will be 70 x 90 x 90mm and it will be sent out in an aluminium briefcase for protection of those oh, so fragile pieces/postal workers.
Slough - don't go there!
For those of you wanting to save on the price of postage they have found a way to reduce the packaging (no aluminium case) to 110g and this will save you quite a bit of cash. If cash is not a worry for you then you can have it (along with their first prototype) personally delivered to your door by one of the 2 brass monkeys. It's quite expensive but probably worth it...unless you live in Slough, UK! They might consider going to Antarctica or even a war zone to deliver your toys but NOT Slough - if you've ever been there then you will understand why!

So, go to KickStarter right now and join us all in a wonderful (heavy) experience - it's passed it's finance threshold so is definitely happening but if you want to be amongst the first and want a version cheaper than that to be sold later on their site then join the happy crazy crew - there are still 12 days to go.

Now, on with my regularly scheduled broadcast/blog...during the height of the first wave of the pandemic in the UK (I know that the US and other similar third world countries never managed to get beyond the first wave), I was contacted by my friend George Bell asking how I was doing and informing me that he wanted to send me some gifts to keep me occupied in my downtime. I am always staggered at how generous and kind the puzzle community are and this is just one example of it. I assured George that, apart from working too hard, I was doing fine...and then I caught the bloody virus! Luckily, after about a month I am fine again. A nice big box arrived and the ever vigilant/paranoid Mrs S quarantined it in the porch for a couple of days before allowing me to open a treasure trove.

The puzzle at the top of the blog is my favourite so far. The Pyradox was George's exchange puzzle at the IPP in San Diego in 2018. I did not attend that year and Mrs S won't let me participate in a 100+ puzzle exchange so did not obtain a copy when they were given out. It consists of 3 grids of varying shapes and 5 bunches of glued together spheres. The aim is to put all 5 pieces onto the grid in a stable manner and create a pyramid at the same time. I had been aware that this was a real challenge because I had read George's article on it published in the CFF journal and even edited his article on polyspheres a few years ago. As soon as I got this one I had to play and spent a happy afternoon in our nice warm conservatory with Mrs S and the cats - she was delighted that I had a puzzle that wasn't noisy. I quickly found the solution to the basic pyramid but really struggled on the other 2. I retried the one that I had solved first and then was slightly horrified to realise that I couldn't recreate that one again. Don't look - spoilers below:

The puzzle took me 3 days in all to solve all three challenges and I have to say it was a wonderful diversion - it looks great too - George gave it out in a nice clear plastic box which displays all the pieces nicely. This is well worth adding to your collection - all of George's puzzles are available at a very reasonable price from his Etsy store (this one is just £16!).

Next up, I played with the Fusion puzzle - George has really adopted the world of 3D printing and it allows him to explore his fascination for poly-spheres. This fits beautifully in a clear acrylic box and is remarkably stable. I tipped it out of the box expecting it to fall apart but it stayed together beautifully. First challenge - work out how to separate it into its' component pieces. and then...yes, you guessed it, put it back together again! It's quite clear which pieces are which but not obvious what you need to do to take it apart. I spent a good 10 minutes pushing and pulling at various bits before it suddenly burst apart and landed on a sleeping cat who did not even notice (these are very light puzzles).

2 identical pieces plus one extra
OK - reassemble...quickly! Not gonna happen fast for me. After a few minutes it becomes clear that these pieces clearly can interlock in only one way but holding them right so that they can be clicked together is entirely a different challenge - one piece or other kept pinging out of my hand. Eventually I got it and produced a rather pleasing stable structure again. This one definitely has worry bead potential - I fiddled for a whole evening.

Hole in none
The Hole in none puzzle is made from a wonderful bright luminous yellow printed plastic (I think it glows in the dark), it looks like one of the classic 6 piece star interlocking puzzles...until you attempt to take it apart and that definitely won't work. I then spent a few minutes pushing and pulling on various bits trying to get something to move. It took me a while to find the right position for my fingers and it suddenly pinged into 3 pieces on the cat again - there is definitely a theme to my puzzling!

Again, 2 identical pieces plus one extra
Yet again, I had 3 pieces that were completely different to the classic star puzzle and needed to work out how to fit them back together. This one is a completely different type of puzzle to the Fusion - I classify it as a coordinate motion puzzle. I am very impressed that George managed to make it slide so smoothly when made from 3D printed plastic built up in layers. It's not a tough puzzle but again, a nice worry bead diversion.

Clock Solitaire
This is probably the puzzle that gives the most bang for your buck. Clock Solitaire was George's exchange at the Paris IPP. It is a very nicely made puzzle made by Dave Janelle at Creative Crafthouse - it is available from both Dave's and George's store (George slightly cheaper at £16). We are all familiar with the standard 33 hole Solitaire puzzle we played with (and usually failed to solve) as kids, and this is one (out of many) possible variants on the theme. The puzzle itself is very nicely made laser cut wood forming a box for the turned wooden pegs and a booklet of multiple challenges.

So far I have only attempted the basic first challenge to remove all the pegs leaving one remaining in the centre hole. I've been at it for several hours and singularly failed. I have been hampered by needing to remove a peg from a cat's mouth on multiple occasions! I don't know whether this is particularly difficult or I am just being dim. As a teenager, I was actually able to solve the standard solitaire puzzle but this one seems to be beating me so far. If and when I beat the main challenge then there are quite a few more in the booklet.

I think that all puzzlers should own a copy of the basic 33 hole puzzle (many are available with gorgeous wood or marble pieces and make great coffee table displays) and for such a small amount of money, it is well worthwhile getting a copy of this one to go with it - if you are anything like me then you will be kept busy for days if not weeks and months.

I have subsequently realised that George is one of the foremost authorities on the peg solitaire puzzles in the world, having published some very interesting articles on the possible variants. He has a fascinating webpage to start you off on your odyssey. It includes a very full reference section pointing to real scientific articles that have been published on the subject in genuine mathematical journals. When I get some time I will collect and read some of these articles - just to complete your image of my complete nerdiness, I collect and read recreational maths books and follow a lot of recreational maths YouTube channels.

Thank you so much, George! The puzzle gifts have been absolutely wonderful and have kept me busy for many hours so far. I really don't understand how your brain works and kind of wish mine worked like it (actually, it would be nice if my brain worked at all!) I have yet to make significant progress on your packing puzzles (Chocolate box, Double chocolate box and Melting F). These interesting multifaceted shapes fit together in very interesting ways but I cannot fathom an approach to solving the challenges with them. So far I have spent the most time with Melting F and have decided that I need a helper, an octopus or extra digits to solve it - every time I make some progress with a few pieces, it explodes on me. I'll keep trying! Maybe I'll take it to work to torture a med student with - I'll tell them that 3D visuospatial ability is vital.

Chocolate box

Double chocolate box

Melting F

Sunday 23 August 2020

Mike Saves the Blog Yet Again!

A Potpourri of  puzzles

Hi everyone, today I have another wonderful guest post from the official PuzzleMad foreign correspondent. Somehow Mike always seems to sense when I’m struggling for something to write about and sends me something perfect to fill the gap. It’s not that I’ve not acquired anything new (see my New Additions page) - I’ve bought a fair bit from Eric and just got from Aaron but solving has been a problem. I’m not very bright and solving takes me a long time and time is not on my side these days as the powers that be want us working our arses off to try and catch up with a bit of the enormous backlog of operations that haven’t been done during the pandemic. Mike, however, has been busy solving and has produced a wonderful set of reviews for you here. Thank you, my friend.

Aloha Kākou Puzzlers,

Another puzzle assortment from the PuzzleMad Hawaii Office this week. Nothing heavy, just some items from one of my rare Puzzlemaster orders, and a couple others from elsewhere. But let’s skip the pleasantries shall we, I’m really just not in the mood today. Straight to the puzzles!

Free Willy The little ball bearing is Willy in this case.

First up is Free Willy. This is a JC Constantin design, and a very attractive one at that. The body is a fragrant laser-cut wood and I believe the jail bars are stainless steel. I have been looking at this puzzle ever since it first came out. I was instantly intrigued (Ed - me too! I played with this at an MPP when Wil handed it to me to play with). It had a completely unique look and the expectation (hope) was that a unique puzzling experience would follow. My hesitation had a lot to do with the modest difficulty level. I find Puzzlemaster (and many others) to generally overrate difficulty, so I suspected that Free Willy might not be sufficiently challenging at a Puzzlemaster 7. It might even be a complete bore. Add to that the 40 loonie price tag and you have the perfect recipe for dithering. But as you can see, my curiosity finally got the better of me.
Free Willy should not stump you for too long, but it is definitely not trivial. I think 7 was a good rating by Puzzlemaster. It is not immediately obvious how to free Willy from the cage, but all the clues are there to be read, and there is no trickery, per se. The puzzle concept was new to me, which was a relief. I highly doubt you have a puzzle that works like this in your collection. There is a little thing at the end that I think will surprise and delight you. It was unexpected and made me smile. (Ed - it made me smile too)
I rather like this little puzzle and am happy to have finally purchased it. It is a great design both aesthetically and puzzle-wise, and it’s also perfectly suitable to hand around at a party. These are the little gems you hope for when making a Puzzlemaster order. The price still seems a little high, but that’s how it goes sometimes. On the shelf it goes!

Willy freed!
Shifting gears for this next one, we consider a little item I ordered from Alex’s PrintsAndPlastics shop on Etsy, Lockpick (Level 10). Alex makes a variety of 3D printed items and seems to be a puzzle afficionado. His Lockpick was only 10 USD, so although I was pretty sure I knew how it worked, I scooped up a copy anyway. That’s cheaper than my lunch. I actually don’t know how you can 3D print anything at all for 10 dollars. I suspect you can’t.

Lockpick level 10
Not only is it inexpensive, it’s a good-sized puzzle. Also very light-weight. As expected, the mechanism turned out to be a blind maze. One must navigate the hasp-like part through the center of the puzzle until it pops out the top. As they say, this is not a puzzle lock, it’s a puzzle in the shape of a lock.

Back side of Lockpick Level 10
Lockpick will be a very quick solve for most puzzlers. I can’t in good faith recommend this puzzle to anyone wanting a challenge. I don’t think that will be insulting to Alex; he acknowledges that the Lockpick line (there could be 10 total eventually) are solidly on the easy side. That said, I’m perfectly happy with this little lock and I must say that Alex provides excellent service. It seemed like it arrived in my mailbox the next morning (along with a nice personal note; Etsy people are nice that way). Alex also has a puzzle box-type object at his shop, possibly sequential in nature. His comment section has variable reviews, but I am intrigued. It looks like there might be some novel mechanics. Unless I miss my guess, and I never do, Alex has the puzzle design bug. Hopefully we’ll see more from him in the future.

Lockpick Level 10 disengaged.
That little nub on the lower right winds through the maze.
Moving briskly along, how about a packer? I came across a copy of JC Constantin and Perry McDaniel’s T-Party puzzle recently and made it my own. This is an old Bits and Pieces product, instantly recognizable by its very modest attention to quality and workmanship (Ed - it’s a real shame that B&P didn’t take more care over what they did. There are some great puzzles in their repertoire). No precision milling will be found here, but it has a nice heft to it and the anodising is passable. Its inexpensive.

T-party - more T than party
T-Party consists of an aluminium box along with a lid and four T-shaped pieces, which are in a nice red colour. The objective, if you couldn’t guess by now Kevin, is to pack the T’s into the box such that the lid closes fully. The lid is not flat on the bottom, but rather sticks out (into the box) a little bit.
There is a T-Party in the Slocum collection, made in wood by Mr McDaniel himself, dated to 2002. I believe that’s the acquisition date. So it appears to be an early twenty-first century puzzle, one might even say millennial. Someone should fact-check that. (Ed - I’ll leave that to an eager reader)

I solved this one without undue bother. A few false starts were had, then I found an arrangement that work perfectly. From the perspective of building pieces up from the base, it was not a clearly intuitive, or clearly geometric, shape. Scott Elliot provides a good review of the puzzle at his lapsed blog here. From Scott I learned that T-Party evolved from the classic, flat 4-T puzzle, which makes perfect sense. Looking over Scott’s blog page, I also now want a copy of his Guile in the Box puzzle, an even more radical extension of T-Party. Very cool design. I don’t think there are many around.

T-Party solved. (Ed - hahaha! Really?)
I have to agree with Scott that the Bits and Pieces T-Party suffers for its lack of precision fit. Scott noted that there are alternative, inelegant solutions which detract from the puzzle (surely not an issue with Perry’s hand-crafted version, though). I think my solution was the “correct” solution. But I also think that given the solved orientation of the pieces (90° tilt from 4-T’s horizontal), the geometric beauty of the correct solution will not be apparent to most. It wasn’t to me until I looked at the solution. The solution diagram didn’t initially look like it matched what I did, but after removing the pieces carefully, it was indeed the true configuration. The point is that most people will just jigger the pieces in until there is a closest packing. That works just fine, since there are limited options. The alternative approach, necessary to achieve fully orgasmic Aha! (Ed - orgasmic? Wow, that’s quite a puzzle!), is to construct the shape outside of the box, or at least visualise it outside, and then pack accordingly. You should try it that way, but you don’t have to. Anyhow, T-Party is a great little puzzle to own. I love it, flaws and all. I’m a sucker for metal and I’ve also been doing a lot of packing puzzles recently, so the timing was perfect on this one. (Ed - that makes us a perfect team! I’m a sucker for wood and seldom try or, even less often, solve packing puzzles)

Paperclip. Get it?
Ok, time for one more before Kevin drags me off-stage with a giant cane (Ed - Mrs S won’t let me have weapons!). Let’s talk about the Paperclip puzzle by Keith Winegar. You can get this at Puzzlemaster like I did, when they restock (sold out at the moment). Like Free Willy, I was instantly attracted to this puzzle. Its hard to explain. The wood, the jigsaw joint, the bolts, the paperclips. Mixed media quirkiness has an undeniable draw. Nice size. Nice walnut. Nice beveled edges. Nice paperclip.

I confess that I have not followed Keith’s work very closely (Sorry Keith! That’s changing now). I was aware of his Capital Politics, but didn’t get that one because I was not sure how deductive a puzzle it was. Seemed a little trial and error, everything hidden, etc. I had definitely noticed, recently, his raft of jigsaw shapes at Puzzlemaster. A couple of those are on my wish list, pending financial recharge. But Paperclip had me at fist sight and never let me go. Being made of walnut, prince of hardwoods, didn’t hurt. That is my current favorite wood of all time (Ed - sigh! You really need to look through my Flickr gallery to see some much nicer woods)

Keith beveled the edges nicely for us and the internal mechanics are simple but effective. You can see that there are two nutted bolts, one on either side of the jigsaw cut. The two sides are held together by a combination of the jig (preventing lateral movement) and a pin or rod of some kind (preventing up-down movement).

Paperclip underside
(Ed - odd choice of background!)
How is it you ask? I’m about to tell you. It’s fun. Paperclip is a very nice little puzzle. I really enjoyed it, although my initial solve was not via the intended method. Separation can be achieved in an alternative way, but it is not ideal and I knew there had to be a better way. That way was something I had considered originally, but bypassed under a rationale that many other puzzlers will surely share. There is a bit of a grey area for puzzles like this, knowing just what moves are permitted. I would just suggest that you go with your instincts, no matter where they lead you.
Nice effort and truly a unique offering from Mr Winegar. Like the other puzzles in this post, it is not highly difficult and does not strive to be. It is mainly an exposition of its concept. Puzzles in this category are highly enjoyable and often hit that crucial 10–15 minute sweet spot (less for some in this post). Good stuff all round. Without any doubt, I will be getting a few more of Keith’s puzzles in the near future. He had me at Walnut! (Ed - sigh)

Obligatory solved shot.
Ok Kevin, that’s all I have to report from the Hawaii field office. Stay well my friend!

Thank you Mike! Some brilliant puzzles there! You have been pretty busy. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to play with some of them myself someday. Me and the readers are certainly grateful that you are able to step in at just the perfect time. You’re a lifesaver... or maybe a blog saver!

Sunday 16 August 2020

Jerry Expands My Menagerie

Burrlephant 3.0
Jerry McFarland is another craftsman whom I consider a good friend! He never fobs me off when I ask silly questions and seems genuinely interested in what I have to say about his puzzles. Many years ago, before I started on this rather expensive time-consuming pathway, I had seen that Jerry had created an interlocking puzzle/burr in the shape of an elephant. I had lusted after one since the beginning and have been badgering him to remake them for quite a few years. Jerry generally has a very low boredom threshold and seldom remakes puzzles or even makes a batch of puzzles for long. He only ever committed to letting me buy one if he every decided to make more.

Why was I so keen on the elephant? I love special shapes and I love Jerry's puzzles. But this had become almost a grail puzzle for me. Ever since my mother died a few years ago, I had wanted one of these as a reminder of her. My mother's family had been refugees from Germany in 1939 and arrived in the UK with only the clothes they were wearing. The authorities decided that England was full at that stage and they sent the later refugees out to the colonies to live. My grandparents were shipped off by boat to Kenya and were told they could buy a plot of land in the countryside with a grant the British government gave them. These store keepers had to learn very fast how to become farmers or die of starvation. My mother was born out there and used to tell tales of growing up with wild animals occasionally rampaging through their farm. She was particularly fond of elephants as several used to wander through quite frequently. After she returned to the UK in her 20s she continued to collect all sorts of ornaments to remind her of her country of birth. She had a nice collection of elephants that I managed to snaffle after she died (many of them had been bought by Mrs S and I over the years). I even managed to get her a puzzle elephant - the rather lovely but not terribly difficult elephant burr from Jakub's Pelikan puzzles. It was one of my favourite things to do when I visited, to take it apart and leave a pile of pieces on her coffee table. She would never even try and assemble it but would harangue me about being a bad son until I put it back together.

She was very intrigued by the lion I bought from Stephan Baumegger and after she died, I took her collection of elephants back into my care and most have been in my living room watching me in the evenings. Out of the blue Jerry informed me that he had some new ideas for a Burrlephant version 3. That was sometime last year and I had almost forgotten about it until he contacts me a few weeks ago to say that he has been successful and would I like to try out the prototype? I doubt that 30seconds went by before I said absolutely and let me send you some money! The puzzle arrived a couple of weeks later and to my horror, Mrs S insisted on a quarantine! She is much worse than a wild animal when angry so I had to just accept her rule. I was absolutely delighted when I took it out of the box:

Ebony eyes mimic the real thing
This puzzle was one of the first that he had made entirely from exotic woods and, as you can see is stunning. This has been constructed from Jatoba, Bloodwood, Bubinga and Ebony as well as metal and magnets. The size is a very decent 11cm high, 16cm long (including tusks) and 5.5cm wide (11cm if you include the ears). It is surprisingly heavy. Jerry always marks the pieces that can be mixed up to ensure that the assembled puzzle is smooth and no small differences in size ruin the look. The feet have been labelled:

All nicely labelled!
Initially nothing can move apart from there seems to be a spring inside as the tail can be pushed in and springs back into position. I pressed this tail many hundreds of times hoping that it would free something up to move - there are quite a lot pieces that are screaming at you to be locking mechanisms (especially if you have seen any of Jerry's other work). Of course he would not have made it quite that simple. I played over a few evenings, gradually finding more and more interesting features and getting further and further through the puzzle. Let me say this puzzle is not for the squeamish - you have to do a series of unspeakably horrible things to the poor elephant before finally tearing him asunder. There are basically 4 locking mechanisms holding the elephant together and, whilst not terribly difficult, they are great fun to explore and discover. The third lock really took me quite a while to work out - 3 evenings before I finally got it.

Having worked out all the locking mechanisms, there was no way I was going to take it apart in the living room with a cat on my lap! I had to wait until the weekend before I could dismantle the lovely elephant completely and scramble the pieces.

No longer recognisable as an elephant!
Certain pieces may not be shown here to avoid spoilers
The "key piece" has Jerry's usual maker's mark and the year. Mine has serial number 2 for which I am eternally grateful. The reassembly is also fun. Not so much because the locking mechanisms are hard to do in reverse but because after scrambling the pieces and not paying enough attention to what goes where, it is a nice challenge to put everything in the right place in the right order.

I know that Jerry will be making a few more of these over the next few months but I don’t know how many. If you want one then you should ask early as Jerry’s poor attention span will force him to move onto something new before long. It’s not a terribly difficult puzzle - I think it is pretty much just right! This is one of my most prized possessions - it is stunningly beautiful, it is a masterpiece by the Master himself and best of all, reminds me of my late mum! It is not on the shelf with my other McFarland puzzles:

Top 2 shelves from Jerry
Below that are cubes from Alfons and my prize possessions - wooden Hales puzzles
Jerry's "Caramel case" aka the 42 Piece burrset
The Burrlephant now lives in my living room watching me whilst I sit and watch TV or play. I think it will stay there forever! The rest of my menagerie is there watching over me and Mrs S:

My little zoo!
Thank you Jerry, you have made a grown man cry!

Sunday 9 August 2020

Aaron Might Just Coin It In With This One!

3 Coins
A nice quick blog post today - I’ve had to work both Saturday and Sunday this weekend and had very little time. This has been done quickly on my iPad on Saturday evening whilst completely saturated with curry so my concentration ability is rather poor and finished off on Sunday evening having just got back from work. Let me know if there are any awful grammatical errors?

Aaron Wang, as I’ve said a few times before is a genius like no one I’ve ever met before! He is a teacher in China and in his spare time he designs and manufactures disentanglement puzzles. How does anyone go about this? I have no idea but from what I can tell it involves having a very twisted mind. The unique thing about the designers of this type of puzzle is that they do it all in their heads! There is no software that helps them with it, they just are able to visualise how the pieces or string or loops of chain can be manipulated to release whatever is required. As a result of this ability to design, they are also able to solve these their heads! I cannot do this for the life of me! I solve most puzzles by many hours, days, months or even years of random movements. I seem to be quite good at random movements because I am successful with a lot of these puzzles...eventually.

When the IPP was going to be held, Aaron was hoping that someone would take this puzzle, 3 Coins, to be their exchange puzzle. He offered it to me if I wanted to participate in the exchange but I personally can not afford to risk the wrath of Mrs S! Can you imagine what she would do to be if I bought 100 copies of this at $10-12 each and then came home with another 100+ puzzles all in one go, PLUS what I would have bought whilst there? A whack! ouch! would not even begin to describe what would happen to me! I suspect the South Yorkshire police might be finding pieces of me for years.

Regretfully, I had to turn Aaron down but he still let me buy a bunch of new toys at the beginning of the year. He wanted to know whether I thought it was suitably difficult.

Now I’m sure that you are wondering, "is it suitably difficult?"

OMG! Hell yes! I received this at the beginning of January and started to play straight away. I found some very interesting movements and thought I found a key move. Then I got in a knot and hastily backtracked to the beginning. Try something else? Maybe a different direction? Still a knot and back to the beginning. A different idea and yes, a knot! All the knots look very similar except this time there was the OMG panic of how the hell to I get out of this mess? Luckily it’s a chain rather than a string and despite getting stuck many times I have always managed to find my way back to the starting conformation. If you are a bit anxious about disentanglement puzzles with fully flexible components then this one is perfect - it doesn’t end up permanently buggered up!

I played with this everywhere I went all through January and February before realising that I was now repeating the same thing over and over again and still struggling every time to reverse it. In March the world went a little crazy and my work-life balance tilted rather emphatically towards work! In between the huge amount of work, I carried the 3 coins puzzle with me and took it out to play periodically but got nowhere.

Recently Aaron has been posting a whole bunch of new designs that he will be making available very soon and when I chatted about them I asked for a little hint to help. He sent me a picture that showed me the general idea. It is exactly what I thought and forced me to focus on a particular technique. It certainly was not a big hint - he basically showed me that it functions in a similar way to this puzzle (don’t look if you don’t want a spoiler):

Armed with the knowledge of a similar puzzle, I duly tried the critical move which, I hasten to add, I had probably already done 1000s of times before. It had a very specific effect which I then had to decide how to utilise elsewhere. Aha! Now that is very interesting! What if I try...

And I have a knot again! Back to the drawing board. I spend the next 3 days trying variations on a theme and also desperately trying to remember what each variation was and inevitably repeating the same mistake many times. At some point I fed some part through and around and over some other part (now you see why I can’t remember much) and something is very different. In fact if I move something in a certain way then it might just look just like the "spoiler puzzle". A few seconds later I have the 'coin' removed From the puzzle:

It only took me 7 months!
Now, putting it back? Despite having been very careful to watch what I was doing during this disassembly, I found it really quite difficult to manage the reverse of the procedure, even having done it just a few minutes earlier. Resetting what I refer to as the 'second lock' requires absolutely perfect positioning and there are lots of ways to muck it up. My first reassembly took me 2 hours and having done it multiple times, I still struggle every time - it’s always the same part that I cannot find the position for. This is a bonus - it adds a frisson of panic to a wonderful Aha! moment which never seems to go away.

All the puzzles from Aaron are wonderful. They are definitely NOT for beginners! Almost every one of the puzzles I’ve bought from Aaron are seriously tough and very well made. If you like a challenge  and want to try one of his wonderful new designs then contact him via his Facebook page or if you are not on FB the contact me and I’ll put you in touch. Alternatively a good few of his older designs are available from PuzzleMaster.

Sunday 2 August 2020

Aaaargh! A Newbie Teaches me to Look Properly!

Lock Out Puzzle from Andrew Coles
These days I don't often get to torture anyone with my toys. Trainees are being diverted into general practice training and there are less of them about. For some reason my ODPs (anaesthetic assistants) tend to run away when I start to go rummaging for a puzzle in my stash. You might ask..."What about the surgeons?" And my reply would have to be that they don't count! They are basically legalised psychopaths with ultra sharp knives and sometimes a hammer! By and large, you should NEVER trust anyone who approaches you with a knife or your puzzles with a hammer! The surgeons tend to have no interest in my toys or even what I am doing unless the patient is not doing well or they have cut something pulsatile that they shouldn’t have.

What has this got to do with Andrew Coles' Lock Out puzzle? Well, I had been working on it for a few weeks and getting absolutely nowhere until, on Wednesday, when I suddenly found that during a major lower limb orthopaedic list I was accompanied by one of our very senior trainees. In fact, so senior that he starts as a consultant (attending physician) next month, and therefore did not need any significant teaching. This allowed me lots of opportunity for “torture”!

Beautifully presented
Going back a month, on the day that it arrived, I took it to work and showed it to a friend and we marvelled at the quality. I sagely told him that the keys are seldom particularly useful in the way one would expect and to prove the point I inserted one of the provided keys into the keyway and demonstrated that it would not even insert fully - it came to a hard stop. At that point both of us were a little surprised to see that, with the key only 4 or 5 mm inside, the key could turn. Wow! was I going to solve this immediately without trying? Of course not! In wonder, we both watched as the key turned and then there was a click and it stopped dead - no further movement possible. That was interesting, what actually happened? The key now was able to be pushed all the way into the lock and…yes you guessed it, wouldn't turn.

At this point I had what appeared like a normal fairly heavy duty Abus 83 series padlock with 2 identical keys, none of which would turn. Up until the fateful day with my trainee, I had been doing all the usual tricks that one does to a lock. I had tried the keys inserted to varying depths, tried pushing them in the wrong way (won’t work), tried all sorts of angles to hold the puzzle, tried shaking it, spinning it, blowing on or in it, submerging it in gin (which definitely diminished the taste of the gin) and even tried solving it standing on my head. Nothing worked, so in desperation, I took some advice from Allard which you all know is a very stupid thing to do! Celery, of varying freshness seemed to do nothing apart from clog things up.

Taking the puzzle to work, I exhibited all the useful things I had done and handed it my colleague and told him that I write the consultant on-call rotas and if he failed to open the lock (or help me to do so) then he would be on-call every single Christmas day until my retirement. This was adequate motivation and he stepped up to the mark. We started with our first two cases and despite all the mechanical noises of a hip replacement going on to provide motivation, he did not manage anything. So disappointing! Our big case was a redo hip replacement which was going to take quite a lot of hours and whilst I looked after the patient he continued to explore the possibilities.

I have learned over the years and told many other puzzlers that the single most important thing that you can do is to LOOK at you puzzle properly. I had told him that and it would appear that he learned from me. He did learn some medicine too (like how to do a high anterior sciatic nerve block and my approach to decreasing blood loss during major surgery). In fact he proved better than me at looking properly at the puzzle! Something very interesting was found and to my horror, I realised that I must have been completely stupid! I HAD actually seen what he had and not taken it the next logical step forward. In fact I had just dismissed what I had seen and carried on with the celery thing.

We were now in a position where we could think about manipulating the lock further. He handed me the lock and I tried some more celery-free moves which didn't work so I handed it back to him for a while. After about a ½ hour he had not done anything else (much to my satisfaction) and I tried again. Allard’s thinking© process came in handy - I looked even more closely at what I had and realised that something was not right with this lock - it was now obvious why the key would not turn and I tried something new. This was something I would never have thought to do to a lock and realised at that point why everyone at the MPP where Andrew released the puzzle had raved about it.

After this very special manoeuvre, I placed the key in the keyway and BINGO! the lock sprung open. OMG! Both me and my trainee were slack-jawed at the design. That was something really rather clever - I have never seen anything like that done to a lock. It is not even that complex (although I think the manufacturing process will have been pretty difficult) but the importance of looking and thinking© is absolutely critical here. The guys at the MPP managed it within a ½ hour of play but me…I took 3 or 4 weeks! Obviously it's something I am rubbish at and everyone around me is better than me (even newbies). I am hoping to have enticed a new puzzler to the dark side!

The Lock out puzzle is being made in batches by Andrew as and when he has time - contact him at his website and get onto his waiting list. You won't be disappointed. Phew! One down and several dozen more in my backlog to go!