Sunday 27 September 2020

Pelikan's New Puzzles Reveals Mrs S' Warped Mind

Upcoming releases from Jakub and Jaroslav
They are absolutely stunning!
I really don't know how they do it! Jakub and Jaroslav at the New Pelikan Workshop seem to produce a nice big batch of gorgeous new puzzles every few months. Despite this prodigious production schedule, they never seem to compromise on quality at all. These are all absolutely stunning!
The current batch of puzzles arrived at the end of last week whilst I was on annual leave. Time off work is not the same as it used to be...we no longer seem to go anywhere due to the virus and my only movement has been from kitchen to conservatory to living room (with a bit of exercise on my rowing machine in between). Unfortunately, I did still have some work to do - I had not done any paperwork filing for 2 years and the overflow was everywhere. Sorting it, scanning it and putting everything away took me the best part of 3 days and left me with my ears ringing from Mrs S shouting at me for being so badly organised. I also needed to continue to move all my "stuff" to the new computer. Despite this work requirement, I have been able to work through as many of these new toys as I can as quickly as possible. The pressure is always on to get to it so that Jakub can release the new puzzles to you all.
A caged 5 piece burr by Stephan Baumegger is always something to be excited about. He has designed a lot of these (several with a King Arthur theme) and they have so far all beaten me. This gorgeous burr consists of a frame made from Oak, an Acacia vertical 5th burr piece with a gorgeous mushroom planted on top. Mrs S spent a whole morning making lewd comments about it, frequently reducing me to tears of laughter which did not help me solve it - NO! I will not tell you what she said (use your imagination and remember she has been a nurse!). The horizontal burr sticks are made of Wenge completing a stunningly beautiful puzzle (even Mrs S said so). This is a caged burr intended for all puzzlers and NOT just the diehard burr-freaks. The movement is very smooth with no catching and the solution reveals itself to gentle exploration. Of course, there are some blind ends but they are not so deep and involved that one might end up stuck in a dark alleyway unable to get out. As more and more moves are made the interior shapes are revealed and it is possible to plan your pathway.
A perfect difficulty level
After about an hour (and 20 moves) I managed to remove my first piece and then stopped and back-tracked to the beginning. Back and forth movement through the solution allowed me to understand what I was doing and even after the first piece had been removed, it was not a trivial sequence to remove subsequent pieces. The end result was laid out in front of me for my photo and I actually managed to reassemble it from scratch a ½ hour later. A lovely caged burr for all puzzlers which will look fabulous on display once you are done. Just keep your minds out of the gutter!

See the complexity of a piece
For me, this is my absolute favourite of the batch from Jakub. There are several reasons for this: it’s a burr and I lurve burrs (especially if they have something special about them which you’ll see later), I lurve beautiful wood and the Jatoba here is gorgeous (there will also be a Zebrawood version), I lurve burrs with captive pieces inside (Goetz describes this as the Burr zoo) and finally this giant 6(7) piece burr is the next one in the group published by Stephan which I have described in the past as being a 6 piece burr based on a 3x3x8 burrstick. 3 of them had been in my top 10 of the year in 2015. Just like the Talisman burr, this has just the right difficulty level. There’s a lovely maze to explore and a few blind ends to get caught it. This burr took me a few days to find one of the key moves - it was just a little tight and I kept catching an edge but eventually I found it and proceeded until it was in pieces - at one point during this the alligator comes out snout first as if to bite you for entering his lair - lovely touch as it even has a mouth.
Such complex pieces and the detail on the alligator is delicious
The assembly is huge fun as well. Working it out from scratch is beyond me but having spent a while with the disassembly a scramble and reassembly is a fun and definitely possible challenge for any decent puzzler.

The question is - do I put it on display with the other Pelikan puzzles? Or should it go with the other 4 of Stephan's special 6 piece burrs?

Gorgeous aren't they?

Pumpkin 2
Pumpkin 2
I had seen on Facebook that Osanori Yamomoto had added a version 2 to the Pumpkin 1 puzzle and immediately wondered whether Jakub and Jaroslav would be producing it. I wasn’t disappointed when they they said they were and it arrived in the current batch. I couldn’t resist trying it straight away. The box to be packed has a similar opening at the front but the presence of a unit hole diagonally opposite tells me there’s going to have to be a fair bit of dancing around. Again, this puzzle has only 3 pieces which, for me, adds to the attraction. The entry is limited by the diagonal roof making things potentially tougher...but another effect of this is that it could also allow for a cavity to be hidden underneath - my initial exploration found quite a few possible assemblies into a 3x3x3 cube shape with a few of them excluded straight away by the fact that they required an impossible orientation of the pieces (it cannot be inserted through the hole that way around). I got sidetracked by a nice assembly that would require a rotation of one piece but couldn’t make it work and went back to the drawing board. 
He loves puzzling!

In the end the solution to this one is a nice combination of logic and thought along with some random experimentation. I find it best to start in the solved position and try to hypothetically work my way out of the cage rather than the other way around.
The whole process was made much tougher by a wildly enthusiastic cat constantly blocking my view by lying down on my hands! Eventually he solved it for me and posed triumphantly for a photo. This puzzle is extremely logical once you visualise the constraints that Osanori has set.
I have previously described the Galette by Osanori as the hell part of packing “heaven and hell”. I had first come across the Galette puzzle as an entry in the IPP design competition in Paris at which it was one of the top ten vote-getters. I had spent quite a lot of time on it in the competition room in Paris and had singularly failed to find a solution. I had bought a copy from Tom Lensch and solved it by pure luck after months of effort back in May last year. I was interested to see whether this beautiful version by Pelikan would still be a challenge.
It looks like a simple packing puzzle with 5 tetromino pieces to be inserted into the covered rectangular space inside the frame. Rotations are possible (even required) around the z-axis but there is no way to stand a piece up on its edge. This is explained by the name - Galette is French for Wafer. The extra little twist to make this really tough is that the entry to the packing space is only through a 3x2 unit space in the lid or through a 1 voxel space in the lower edge. The extra interesting feature is that the bottom edge entry is part of the packing space - there are 21 voxels available and 20 voxels in the pieces - where is the gap supposed to be?
Still a very nice challenge
This time, I found it quite a lot easier to solve but only because I knew where that crucial gap needed to be. If you don’t know this then you have 11 possible assemblies to try and insert in the 2 holes and only one of those is possible. Here, there is the challenge of finding the assembly and then working out how to put it in the box through the 2 small openings. Even knowing where the gap needed to be, it is still a significant challenge - well worth the puzzling effort plus the woods that Pelikan have chosen are gorgeous for display purposes. Anyone who buys this will see straight away why it won the accolade at the IPP design competition.
Shrinking Soma
Shrinking Soma by Dr Volker Latussek
When this unusual puzzle by Volker Latussek arrived, I was rather at a loss of what to do with it and I sent off an email to Jakub to ask and a few hours later received an email from Dr Latussek with instructions. There is a lovely diminutive complete Soma cube (everyone should have one) in a box that is far too large for the completed cube (it is 4x4x4 to the Soma's 3x3x3) - the pieces just seemed to fill the bottom half in a haphazard manner.

The explanation was that this is an “anti-slide puzzle” which is something I’ve only ever attempted maybe once in my puzzling history. The aim is to place all the pieces in the box so that the entry to the box (4x4) is filled and held up by a pile of the other pieces. However this isn’t the entire story…the solution is only complete when the construction that you have made is completely stable and will not slide at all. Once you have created your potential solution then shake the box vigorously in all directions to see if any pieces can move. If they can then you’ve failed. This doesn’t sound too difficult does it? Well maybe for you, but constructing an upside down flat mushroom in a box proved a massive challenge for me! I managed fairly quickly to find a shape that will not slide inside the box but if I placed it upside down it was not going to fill a 4x4x4 space and the "hovering" pieces would drop down - yep, complete failure!

I love this addition to my Soma collection but have so far in a week of trying completely failed to assemble a non-sliding shape. It’s really really difficult. The pieces of a Soma cube are very simple and this does not allow many shapes that can interlock and hold up a stable roof. If anyone knows of a general approach to this sort of puzzle then please let me know.

Euklid for Nick

Euklid for Nick
Stunning Purpleheart and Padauk blocks
That's not right!
You all remember that I struggled hugely with the original Euklid by Dr Latussek but really really enjoyed the significantly less difficult Euklid for Kids. Every now and then the puzzling genius that is Nick Baxter contacts me to ask a serious question about a puzzle that I have reviewed. Somehow he never understands that my approach to puzzles is NOT logic and's just random movements and hence, everything is difficult for me. He really wondered why I had had difficulty with Euklid because apparently he had found 22 different solutions (to my shame, I still cannot find any extras). Volker then decided to create a new variant especially for Nick that DEFINITELY only had one solution and should cause him to sweat a little to solve it. It is gorgeous, it seems to have the same box as the previous 2 versions but this time has 4 identical Purpleheart blocks and 3 smaller Padauk blocks which need to fit under the lip of the box entry. I have not had much time with it so far but - it is worthy of the name - I know that he has solved it and a post will appear about it on my friend, Steve's blog before long. 

The collectors amongst you will need to buy this to complete the set. The rest of you will want this because it is a bloody good puzzle that has a unique solution and is damned difficult. I hope that one day I will manage to solve it.
Which are my favourites? It is difficult to choose but I adore the complex 6 piece burr from Stephan and cannot resist the Talisman because a caged burr that is not too difficult is a wonderful thing (I need to try and get the images that Mrs S left me out of my head) and I cannot resist the 3x3x3 cubic packing puzzles by Osanori. The Euklid for Nick is my next favourite as it is just so difficult for me and the pieces are so beautiful and simple. You, of course, should buy them all when they come up for sale soon.
As the second wave begins to ramp up in Europe (the first wave never stopped in the USA) I hope that you all manage to stay safe and keep puzzling in your nice comfortable homes as far away as possible from the madness that lies outside.

Sunday 20 September 2020

TwisTIC'ing Away With Andrew


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 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

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!
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

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?! 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.! 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 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!
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 40º 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.