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!




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