Sunday, 20 September 2020

TwisTIC'ing Away With Andrew

 

TwisTIC
This version with brass reinforcing dowels
One of the puzzles that I bought from Brian Menold a few months ago has been sitting on my desk for quite a while - the TwisTIC puzzle designed by the incredible Andrew Crowell was one that I couldn't resist. The description of 5 exotic woods by Brian immediately makes me start to drool and with this version having brass dowels for reinforcement, I could not resist. The trouble is that I cannot resist any of the Turning Interlocking Cubes when I see them come up for sale.

The TICs have really helped my puzzle solving abilities which many thought was impossible for me. More recently, I have received most of these puzzles as disassembled pieces requiring assembly which several years ago would have been something I would never have considered. However, practicing with these seems to have improved my 3D visuospatial ability enormously and (even if I struggle a bit...or even a LOT) I do manage to work out where the pieces need to go and usually manage to work out how to get them together without resorting to asking for assistance from any of my savant puzzle assembly friends. 

I couldn't resist this because of the look at the description by Brian:
"I've just entered rotation hell! I think I lost count after about a dozen rotations. I really think this is the most difficult TIC I have tried so far. I must admit though, I think it has surpassed HypnoTIC as my favorite of Andrews designs. I don't even know what else to say except that, if you feel that you are rather good at this type of puzzle, you have to give this a try. Let me know if you are humbled by the experience!"
If Brian thinks this is tough then it is going to be hellish! On this basis, everyone should try it. There was a bit of a delay before I received it and several people on Facebook who had got their copies quickly had shown it off and exclaimed about how long it took them to solve. I reckoned that I was sunk but in an enjoyable way.

The pieces are beautifully made as always and I love the wood choices (I'm such a sucker for beautiful wood) and having convinced myself that my skills had not left me by solving the TriumviraTIC (with only a little struggle). With 5 pieces it was always going to be at least slightly tougher but interestingly, I even had a hard time working out how the pieces should end up. This didn't bode well at all. After almost 3 evenings of work, I at least had an idea where everything should go - time to start on the rotations.

At this point, I realised just how good this puzzle is...it reminded me of my favourite rotational interlocking puzzle of all time, the Changing Partners puzzle which I bought many years ago from Bernhard Schweitzer (designed by ChiRen Chen)

Changing Partners - 2 out of 6 possible challenges

        
ApocalypTIC
This puzzle has been amongst my top TICs ever since they really became a "thing". The multiple rotations are just as confusing as the Changing Partners because of the sheer number of turns as well as not being clear how to start to orient the pieces against each other at the beginning. It is a wonderful and tough challenge. After a day of randomly trying to put pieces together, I decided to think© and realised that this needed thought and planning. Certain pieces would fit together in a certain way only if a starting orientation was used. This narrowed things down quite a bit and I was off. After working like this for an hour or so I had my wonderful Aha! moment. 
TwisTIC finally solved after a week!
ApocalypTIC
Yes Brian, this is a brilliant and ever so slightly hellish puzzle - definitely a great addition for the collection but probably not for beginners. One thing that I really am looking forward to is a new 5x5x5 TIC designed by Richard Gain together with Andrew Crowell. They worked together to design this and Richard printed it at home. Apparently he had been unable to assemble it without assistance which means that it will be incredibly incredibly tough - I've asked for him to print me a copy too and they will be up for sale on his Etsy site in the near future (the stl files are up for sale already).

Have a great afternoon everyone - keep puzzling.


Sunday, 13 September 2020

The Power of Three

ThreeTIC
TriTIC
TriumviraTIC
RIPley
I cannot assemble it!
We have here a trio of three piece TICs. There are 2 common themes - Stunningly made by the "published professor" of wood, Brian Menold and insanely designed in his head by the talented but every so slightly warped Andrew Crowell. Whenever Brian creates and sells pretty much anything, I try to buy as much as I can afford. Partly because I am an addict, partly because I want to support him and the craftsmen but also because Brian is one of the nicest men alive! Despite having had some terrible trials and tribulations in his life he is always a delight to chat to and buy from. Nothing is too much trouble for him. The Turning Interlocking Cubes and others requiring rotations are amongst my favourite puzzles but sometimes they can be extremely difficult - I received a gorgeous copy of the RIPley rotational 6 piece board burr back in May and have still not yet worked out how to assemble it! Despite my failures, this does not stop me from buying more. One day, when I have lots of time, I might just manage to solve some of my backlog.

Now this trio of TICs share one other thing in common...they also have only a trio of pieces. Therefore they should be easy peasy, yes? Erm..no! At least not for a dimwit like me. The one thing that is easy is working out how the pieces should end up oriented within the final assembled cube. However getting there can be quite troublesome. One advantage of these puzzles is that the amount of each individual wood is fairly large allowing a nice view of some gorgeous grain.

ThreeTIC was the first I tried and it was a significant challenge with 18 moves to assemble including 5 rotations. These are just the right level of challenge for me at the end of a hard day at the anaesthetic machine - plenty of random movements and trial and error but not enough to lose track of and get disheartened by. In reality this level of difficulty allows planned experimentation to try and fit it together - I would almost say that these are perfect to someone new to rotational interlocking puzzles. ThreeTIC took me a whole evening in front of the TV to produce a gratifyingly beautiful cube:

Just right
How should I store these? They look gorgeous assembled and obviously stack better that way but disassembly is much less of a challenge should I choose eventually to go back to it. For this reason, I have decided to store these on the shelf as pieces and have to hope that no-one in my house decides to mix them all up.
Caged cube #1
I cannot disassemble it!

I have done this with almost all of the rotational puzzles except for one which I cannot for the life of me disassemble any more. Caged cube # 1 remains assembled (it took me a very long time to assemble in any case) because I cannot even work out how to remove the first piece! I now disassemble all of them more or less straight away after I have taken my photos to prevent this happening again.

TriTIC was going to be described by Brian as a TIC with training wheels...that was until he tried to put it together and it took him 2 days. I am really best sticking to training puzzles and couldn't resist the smaller challenge of a 14 move assembly and 5 rotations. I must be similar in skill to Brian because it took me 2 evenings as well. It is great fun and indeed, perfect for a beginner - I have brought it to work a few times to torture colleagues. It's a shame that current working conditions leave me working solo so much of the time and with no time to torture surgeons and no access to trainee anaesthetists.

TriTIC assembled
Finally, in my most recent (and rather large) delivery from Brian, I received yet another three piece TIC - TriumviraTIC made from all the "hearts" (Red, Orange and Yellow) and looking beautiful. Brian sent it out practically assembled - the 2 larger pieces were already in place and the Yellowheart small piece was inserted where it needed to go but blocked from moving further in. Thanks Brian, that will be really helpful. Errrm...no! It wasn't. That small piece won't go further in without completely disassembling the larger assembly first and then working out which ones need to be placed together in which order.

There are quite a few rotations required and quite a nice dance around to allow the pieces to slide past each other. Another wonderful design needing just the right amount of thought. It's a challenge for an experienced numpty like me but also doable by a newbie as well.

TriumviraTIC in cube form
I have a bit of a backlog to work through including the incredibly difficult TwisTIC and a huge bunch of wire puzzles that I have made no headway on at all. I have 2 weeks of annual leave starting this week and hope to find some time. Unfortunately, my tax return awaits, I have a year's worth of filing to do and my study/puzzle room looks like a hurricane has gone through. Oh yes, I'm also trying to forget about the work needing to be done in the garden as we approach autumn.

So little time...so many chores...too many puzzles to do.



Sunday, 6 September 2020

A Masterclass in Thoughtful Design...

Lock Box
I can hear you all gasp in disbelief! Yes, I have bought a box!
BUT...
It's not really a box! Eric described the Lock Box as a "sequential discovery puzzle box" - the answer is right there in front of you - the primary part of the description and hence the bit that came first is sequential discovery puzzle. This means that it is OK for me to buy it - I really don't object to puzzles with cavities as long as there is something special to the puzzling for me. You all know that I love SD puzzles and, of course, I am hopelessly addicted to gorgeous wood. This wondrous construction is stunning being made from Figured Waterfall Sapele with a key made from Sapele and Jatoba (plus a few bits of metal here and there. It is so beautiful that I have kept it in my living room on display - although Mrs S is starting to get impatient again with the number of puzzles building up there again.

The puzzle is a very nice size for hand holding at 3" x 4" x 1.45" (I really don't understand why you Yanks won't go metric for small linear measurement) and the key is 2.45" x 1.25" x 0.75". Eric described this as one of his best designs to date and that tipped me over the edge - there was a bit of a shenanigans at the checkout and I missed out when they first went up for sale but after a delay of a few days Eric and Tom at Cubic-dissection tried again and miraculously my cart was already full and the checkout happened seconds later...Phew!

Her Majesty's Customs and Excise kidnapped it for quite a while and I had a very nervous wait on my hands before a ransom demand came via the Royal mail which I happily paid to receive my toys. Much to the disgust of "she who is thinking of lighting a fire with my 'kindling'", I also received one of Eric's Improved One Piece Packing puzzles - which remains unsolved after over a month.

The photos don't do the puzzle justice - I have never heard of Waterfall sapele before and wondered what it meant. It's just about possible to make out in the photo at the top what looks like ripples in the wood and this is what marks it out as a waterfall variant. When held in good light, it is simply gorgeous. I had read the review by Brent Hessel and he awarded it the full five Sinatras and then I read my surgical friend, Steve's gushing Dr Seuss opinion, which meant that I had to start on this one straight away.

Looking in the keyhole, it looks like he has made a set of internal pathways for the pins of the key to interact with - I did wonder whether he might have made a sort of inverted wooden Revomaze. Of course, with any lock puzzle that comes with a key, it is obligatory to try the key in the keyway and turn. Will something unlock quickly that way?

Key turned and...nothing happened
Just look at the waterfall markings in that!
Of course nothing will happen when you turn the key! In fact, it turns only about 40ยบ and in the wrong direction. Time to investigate further. There are not supposed to be any moves that require banging or force or gravity which helps because when turning the puzzle over and over, there are quite a lot of interesting clanking noises inside and sometimes not any clanking noises...odd!

It will come as no surprise that there are magnets in this - the pins of the key clanked onto a steel wire puzzle that was sitting on my armchair next to me. In fact when I pulled the key off the wire puzzle one of the pins came out - yes, its a teeny tiny spoiler to show it but not much of a spoiler so I will show it:

Magnetic pins - what are they for?
This gives the puzzle a HUGE number of extra possibilities - time to put the key back in with the pins removed and...NOPE!  What about moving the pins into different positions and orientations? Aha! Interesting things happen inside except I cannot tell what is happening. There is clanking and clinking inside but nothing changing externally. It doesn't take long to realise that the hole on the key is useful for something and then there are even more possibilities which produce more completely incomprehensible internal changes - I love it and I am stuck!

Several weeks go by in which I systematically try almost every possible combination of pieces, orientations and directions possible with no progress. At some point in that period, I work out what combinations produce what noises most of the time but at other times there are some really big noises in there and I think Eric is playing with me. Earlier this week I find a thing which causes something externally to happen and after that little buzz of excitement, I am stuck again.

I chat to the genius that is Derek Bosch and during a few evenings of discussion he tells me that he manages to solve it! OMG, I am so thick! He gives a little innocuous hint and I realise that Eric has been an evil bastard and pushed me into doing something stupid in the full knowledge that I will do that something again and again and again. Eric knows I'm not terribly bright. Derek's hint is very meagre and it still takes me nearly an hour to work out what he is getting at and I see the amazing misdirection that has been designed into the puzzle. It required not only a configuration change but also an interaction in an unexpected way to produce a movement that I wasn't expecting - brilliant! Now if that gives you any real clue then you also are a genius because I can barely understand that paragraph and I wrote it.

Having used Derek's meagre clue, I have ,ade progress and I continue to try all the things I had done before all over again with the box configured differently. As usual, I have clanking about and no further movement. But this time I think I know what is going on inside and want to try something extra. The problem is I am missing a tool to do that extra something. Now what? Maybe of I can...oooooh...Aha! Now that was a clever piece of design and with a little fiddling and some rather fine dexterity, I make a move. Solved! There's no real clue in the next photo but don't look if you really don't want any information at all.



This explained some of the noises inside but not all. Somehow something didn't feel quite right. That last unlocking move had been very clever (especially in how it made me use what I had already got) but there was too much dexterity involved and Eric very seldom designs puzzles that require luck or dexterity. Time to think© again. What did I have? What special properties did it have? Could I use it differently? OMG - YES! I tried the last move again but differently and there was a little wobble and resistance before a click and I sighed with delight!

This Sequential discovery puzzle box is a masterpiece - both in the craftsmanship and the woods used to make it beautiful but also in the attention to detail in the design inside. Every single step has been designed to be hidden and require experimentation, discovery and thought before revealing its' secret. This is simply wonderful and a candidate for my top 10ish of the year in 2020. This year has been a car crash so far but tremendous puzzles like this have helped take my mind off the awful goings on around the globe.

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