Sunday 28 February 2021

Alfons Proves I'm Improving...

Very Slowly!!!

6T Burr
Over the last year, I watched as Alfons Eyckmans published photos of quite a few more of his "cubes" on his Facebook page. He has branched out into 3D printing recently and seems to be having amazing success with that but I am particularly impressed by his interlocking cubes and even have a few named after 3 of my cats. I have been saying to him that I will buy some of his more recent designs for ages and just never gotten around to it. But...New year, new leaf and all that crap. Mrs S isn't paying much attention to all the deliveries so I'll just slip an extra one in.

I went back through the last year of photos and picked a few (that would be 5) that I particularly like the look of and asked if he either had them in stock or could make them for me and in his usual manner he said he would need some time. I do have a bit of a backlog and of course waiting would not be a problem. I expected to wait a couple of months and was very surprised that a month later I was shown some photos and requested for some PayPal. Belgian post was very fast and I was soon found admiring my new toys and muttering about "my preciousssss cubes". As usual Mrs S just rolled her eyes at me and continued looking at shoes and handbags to buy.

More cubes - Yay!
Even though I had received a few new toys the previous week from a new source of Haym Hirsch puzzles as well as a bunch of puzzles from Mine, I could not stop myself and had to start on one of these. I picked the 6T burr because it was slightly less intimidating than the others (solution level is I think it is made from Oak, Mahogany and Zebrano and is stunning. It has been made in Europe and so is perfectly appropriate that it has been made to Metric dimensions (6 x 6 x 14cm) making it a very nice size to work through the solution.

The humidity has been really quite high here and I have found that a few of the pieces are a little tight but not so tight as to prevent me finding my path. On Thursday afternoon, I had no work to do and Mrs S allowed me time to play. There are several options during the solution and a few blind ends to travel down but never too far and never too many choices to be made. To be honest, I know this makes me a lightweight, but I find that puzzles with too wide a decision tree are just too difficult and not much fun to solve with the risk of me being left with an unsolvable mess. Over a couple of hours I worked my way through and removed the first piece:

22 moves completed
As with all his puzzles Alfons has signed it and with his more recent productions, he has laser etched the year and number produced on it. As I always do I backtracked to the beginning and went back and forth several times to try and imprint a path on my limited consciousness. Time to put it down and talk to the first wife and make some dinner.

I next got to play yesterday and was gratified that I still remembered the path to that first piece removal (I hate to think what other crucial piece of knowledge has been dislodged by learning the solution to this puzzle). I proceeded with the removal of the other 3 long burr sticks and then the 6 T-shaped pieces that give the puzzle its name and am careful to keep them arranged and oriented properly in the hope that I can reassemble without having to make a Burrtools file. At this point one of my pussy boys gets very interested in what I am up to and runs across the table. Aaaargh nooooo! Pieces are scattered everywhere and I have no idea what goes where - oh well, photo time:

What goes where?
There are only 10 pieces and a frame...can I possibly manage to work out the assembly with just that and my memory of the movements? I figure it's worth a try because creating a BT file will take me quite a while.

Mrs S watches me shaking her head as I mutter vague imprecations about murdering pussies and try desperately to find the correct positions for all the pieces before putting them in the frame. I got stuck for about an hour and could not make progress but I thunk© it through and worked out my error. After another few hours I had a huge Aha! moment. I had actually managed to assemble a relatively complex burr from scratch. I MUST be improving. In retrospect, I have been puzzling for about a decade now and I should bloody hope I have improved just a little bit in that time - Allard has shown himself to be absolutely terrific over 10 years so maybe I should too!

Thank you Alfons - you have made me yet more gorgeous puzzles for my collection and also proved beyond doubt that I am ever so slightly better a puzzler than I was all those years ago. Not much better...just a little bit. Who knows, maybe I will even be able to assemble the latest brass stunners from the Two Brass Monkeys? The Kong puzzle nearly broke me. Mrs S has told me I must wait a while before I buy any more toys (there has been a bit of a spurge recently) and so they will have to wait for a month or so before I buy. The reports on FB have been very good though.

Take care out there guys! The numbers really are improving (in Europe and the UK at least) but this is not the time to drop your guard. If we abandon the rules now then another wave will ensue and hospitals will be in trouble again. We are just about to start increasing our elective surgery to start to catch up with the gigantic backlog and we don't want to scupper that. A lot of people out there are really suffering having to wait for all sorts of elective surgery which our over-stretched hospitals have been unable to safely perform for the last 6 months.

Sunday 21 February 2021

Pillar - Just Perfect...

By Alexander Is The Great!
Brian is pretty incredible too...

Pillar by Alexander Magyarics
Whilst my experience cannot be compared to what has been going on in Texas recently, I am now on day 8 or 9 of no working boiler - I have had 3 engineer visits and still not fixed. Mrs S is going to murder someone if this isn't fixed soon and my worry is that it will be me! It had been suggested by a rather mean Facebook friend that I could burn some wooden puzzles for heat whilst my boiler is not working - I am seriously considering unfriending that person and certainly not showing that post to Mrs S!

I reviewed Ennui last week from Brian Menold's Wood Wonders recent releases and you know that I could not possibly resist and just buy one (or two)...I bought a bunch of them - my addiction to glorious wood is being fed by Brian and Eric and Brian and Alfons and...

Houston, if you weren't covered in snow with a power outage then you'd see I have a problem!
I bought the Pillar puzzle for two reasons:
  1. I saw Brian show it off on Facebook and was stunned by the glorious grain
  2. It was designed by my friend and "master puzzle designer", Alexander Magyarics
  3. It's a combination of interlocking and packing puzzle which I absolutely adore
This beautiful puzzle has been fabulously crafted from Pistachio wood making the walls of the box, topped and bottomed with a wonderful creamy Holly. The remarkably simple pieces are stunning in very deep red Pau Rosa. I love beautiful wood grain and this Pistachio (a wood that I have never seen before) is a wonderful example. Even Mrs S admired the beauty of the box. Of course, she did not admire it enough to want to play with the puzzle much to my relief as it would be quite humiliating to have her solve it in just a few minutes and be much faster than me!

The aim (as with many of Alexander's creations) is to pack the 4 easy pieces into the box through the rather limited opening and also have the opening completely filled with no gap. I picked this one up immediately after my success with Ennui and was sure that I would solve this fairly quickly and rack up a puzzle to write about on the next blog. So I thought that this would be quick? I never seem to learn do I? This puzzle should not be that difficult but it took me 4 evenings of toil and swearing at myself to solve it. Initially I couldn't even find a 3x3 shape that would fill the holes and then none of them had piece orientations that could fit through the holes. Yes, the genius of this is that 2 of the pieces have a very limited number of ways they can fit in through the top and then, due to the 3 unit length of all of the pieces, it is really tough to find a way to get them to move around each other.

On day 2, I found a very nice 3x3 assembly which met the requirements and focussed on that. How could I get those pieces in place. I couldn't do it! I must have become fixated on that assembly because every time I abandoned it because I couldn't move the pieces around each other or get one of them into the box then I would try to find an alternative arrangement and still come back to my original. I am sure that Alexander must have known this would happen. I spent 2 days muttering Alexander's name under my breath along with some other choice expletives and got nowhere. 

On Friday evening watching some TV I had a marvellous Aha! epiphany. There is an alternative assembly and maybe that would go...yes it does - everything is arranged so it fits inside. I managed to get 3 of the pieces in the box and was left with the L shaped piece outside and wondered how to get that in with it blocked so much. There was an L shaped gap left for it to go into but I couldn't see how to move it in. Time to Think© outside the box. I often find that this is what is required with these puzzles - make the assembly and see whether I can work out how they come out and then try and remember what I did and do it in reverse inside the box. I am not very bright and reversing a series of steps gets me terribly confused. Just in time for a blog post, I had it solved - Phew!

Beautiful whilst packed
The disassembly of the puzzle requires a sequence of 20 moves ( and takes advantage of the unique shape of the pieces and the box. It is very clever. I really don't know how Alexander keeps finding such simple yet such challenging designs. They are stunning - I think he needs to be given a title as I have at the top of the blog... henceforth he shall be "Alexander the Great" (hopefully this won't go to his head and make him attempt to take over most of the civilised world). 

I am greatly looking forward to more puzzles from this amazing duo - Brian and Alexander work together so well.

Keep safe everyone. The new infection numbers are going down in most places around the world but this requires constant vigilance and attention to social distancing/mask wearing. The vaccines will start to have an effect (at least on hospitalisation rates) soon as well.

Sunday 14 February 2021

Man! That was Fast! Man! That was Good!

Man! I was Fast and Man! I was Good! 🤣

Just a quickie again this week - I had to work yesterday yet again (unfortunately I missed another Zoom MPP) and when I got home we had a boiler catastrophe and no heating in the house (not going to be fixed until at least Thursday 😱😱😱) and this required multiple attempts to reset the boiler (failed) and then a mad scramble to source some electric heaters. Mrs S is grumpy/angry at me at the best of times - if she gets cold then I am in serious trouble! My only hope is that she freezes to an icicle quickly before she has time to murder me! Some one suggested on Facebook that I cuddle Mrs S to keep warm on Valentine's day - OMG - that is a dangerous thing to attempt!

At the top of the post is a statement you don't read on this blog very often! I pretty much never claim to be good at puzzling. At best I think I am sub par and at worst bloody awful at puzzling. I do wonder why I keep torturing myself with these things? It may be something to do with the eternal love of wood (a boy can NOT have too much wood) or maybe the fabulous community of puzzling folk who provide support (although mostly to me they just take the piss).  There definitely is something that keeps me buying these wonderful, ever more expensive toys.

So why those extravagant claims? Well, Brian Menold put some wonderful new toys up for sale on his site 2 weeks ago and I was mesmerised - they are just so beautiful and I might just have spent rather more than I should have. I couldn't resist it and in my defence, these were just the second puzzles I had bought this year after Aleksandr's wonderful Ternary pin burr I reviewed last week. Considering that it is the middle of February, I am telling Mrs S that I have been very controlled - she doesn't need to know about the other purchases that are on their way, does she?

Amongst the puzzles released by Brian is a Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC). I adore these puzzles and will pretty much buy any of them when they come up for sale but with Ennui, we have added attraction...this was designed by Laszlo Kmolnar. Laszlo is one of my favourite designers. He is delightful to chat to and his puzzles are always fabulous - well thought out with some stunning logic or a wonderful Aha! moment. I had never seen a TIC design from him and knew straight away that it would be fabulous. On top of that, the TIC-Meister himself, Bernhard Schweitzer, had been extremely complementary about it:

"It has a very very unusual move for solving, a combination of 'unnormal' turns coordinated by 2 pieces together, I don't have any similar solution moves in all of my 240 different TICs (Turning Interlocking Cubes), it is a must for a serious TIC collector"

WOW - what an accolade! Click, it was in my cart. Then, I am delighted to say, Brian was absolutely on fire! He used DHL for the postage which was a little more expensive but unbelievably quick - it took less than a week to arrive and was not held up by customs (I assume that I will be billed soon for the VAT that I will owe). After a short quarantine in the porch by Mrs S, she heeded my plea and unpacked them (yes, I bought more than one puzzle) for me on Thursday evening for me to play with on Friday.

I set to on Friday evening whilst watching a bit of TV and, as is usual, tried to find the position of all the pieces. This allowed me plenty of time to admire the gorgeous wood choices - Brian has used Movingui, Bocote, Peroba Rosa and Maple for this one with some lovely contrasting dowels to strengthen the joints - the pieces are gorgeous and beautifully finished as always. I seemed to be on fire...I found the placements of the pieces in ust a single evening! Unheard of for me and I hoped this boded well for the assembly - but...Brian had said this about it:

"This puzzle has a very difficult to find maneuver. You may be tempted to force the pieces together but you should not do it. You will be able to make the move you must just be patient (or lucky) and keep searching. It requires precision. I have put each of these puzzles together several times and finding the move never got any easier and often took several tries."

As always with these puzzles, it is one thing entirely to find the final positions of the pieces and another, much harder challenge to get them into said positions. I started that straight away and noticed a very interesting move for one piece and then tried to insert the second. No way was that going in - completely blocked. Maybe change the order of insertion? Piece 2 inserted first yep! Oh dear the second (first) piece also blocked. No matter what, these two had to go into these positions and even if they were 3rd/4th the same problem would occur. This was the main challenge of the puzzle. 

I discovered some interesting possible moves of one piece but was still stuck and couldn't get them into the correct positions when the other piece was in place. Time for bed and back to work again on Saturday. This was going to cut things really fine for a blog post this week! After my boiler shenanigans yesterday evening, I was a little frazzled and sitting in a room just about heating up with a fan heater listening to Mrs S rant about the failure of British Gas to offer an appointment any sooner than Thursday (we have a service contract) and I focussed on Ennui to try and decrease my feelings of "weariness and dissatisfaction" (the definition of Ennui). Eventually I narrowed it down to only one potential move for those pieces and remembering what Brian had written, I fiddled very carefully.

AHA! That was Good!

Actually, it was better than good. It was amazing - I have done quite a lot of TICs over the years and I cannot recall a move sequence like that. The precision required is amazing - everything needs to be placed absolutely perfectly to the fraction of a millimeter. The rest of the pieces were inserted over the next few minutes to give me my assembled cube:

Man! That was good!
As Brian stated, undoing the assembly is fairly straightforward but putting it back together never seems to get any easier - it must be just perfect or it won't go - brilliant design by Laszlo.

In the end I managed it in 2-3 hours over 2 evenings - that's pretty quick for me to solve a puzzle - I was Fast and I was Good......for once.

I might have a few more puzzles to play with and hopefully something to write about next weekend. Wish me luck!

Take care out there guys - the numbers in Europe and the UK are heading in the right direction and even in the craziness that is the USA, the infection rates are decreasing. But this is not the time to let down your guards - stay at home as much as possible and wear your masks when out and about. 

Sunday 7 February 2021

Aleksandr Terned My Head...Again!

Ternary Pin Burr
My Russian friend Aleksandr Leontev is another king of the N-ary puzzle (alongside Namick Salakhov) and when he emails offering toys my brain just starts to dribble and I immediately hand over cash. You see, I just love N-ary puzzles - some might say that they aren't really puzzles but I argue that if you need to explore a sequence to discover a logical sequence of moves then that is the very definition of a puzzle. Plus if one of the best puzzlers in the world, Goetz Schwandtner, collects them, solves them, writes about them and catalogues them, then they are certainly going to be good enough for me.

Ternary burrs
Initially I had just been wanting to add to my collection of Ternary burrs - above is Eric Fuller's reproduction of the Ternary burr (designed by Goh Pit Khiam and originally made by Brian Young) and alongside it is the wonderful extension to it "designed" and made by my genius friend Derek Bosch. Whilst I always prefer wood, there is definitely something special about the plastic ones too. This little collection got me thinking about other puzzles I had that may belong with them - how many Ternary puzzles in my collection? I found quite a few with the help of Goetz' site and even managed to find a good few of them (there are a few missing in action because I have them stuffed into chests of drawers and not on display).

As many Ternary puzzles as I could find
After placing my order with Aleksandr, it only took a week for it to arrive and then it sat around whilst Mrs S quarantined it in the porch and then I needed to find time to play. Yesterday I was forced to write our on call rotas a week early because I'm an eejit and put myself down to work next weekend when I would normally have written it. Luckily catching everyone by surprise with an early rota meant I had less requests to contend with and it took quite a lot less time than usual. I was therefore able to play afterwards and only fell asleep once during my playtime.

Grooves give a hint
First few moves
According to Puzzlewillbeplayed, the N-ary sequence for the Ternary pin burr is 162 moves long which, by the standards of Aleksandr's previous puzzles, really quite short and very pleasant. In just a few minutes I had the sequence worked out and completed with a piece falling onto a cat's head (he barely noticed - another advantage of plastic puzzles):

161 moves done
N-ary pieces removed
At this point I had a little blow to the head! It occured to me rather stupidly to try and look inside. This didn't end well as the pieces move against each other very smoothly and easily under gravity alone. I turned it out of the horizontal orientation and peered inside just in time to watch several pieces drop out onto the cat (who began to pay attention). I desperately tried to prevent them from falling out and dislodged several more and it became very unstable and collapsed in a heap on the cat who ran off my lap with rather sharp claws - OUCH (but no Whack!) scattering pieces everywhere. Oh boy! Now I had a REAL puzzle on my hands:

What was I thinking?

Ternary burr pieces
With the previous Ternary burrs I was able to dismantle them slowly and organise the pieces and learn the (dis)assembly method but here I just had a whole bunch of bits and only the vaguest idea of what goes where. First of all I had to separate them into types and take a photo - then it was going to be time to Think© which may hurt quite a lot! 

Mrs S told me I had to stop last night and then it was time for bed and then it was time for breakfast and blog post writing - this puzzle currently sits on the Kitchen granite nicely ordered and taunting me - can I put it back together? I am sure I can do it if I enter all the pieces into Burrtools but am not so sure if I try and use my very small tired brain! I'll give it a go and report back next week:

It may stay like this for a while...unless the cats get to it first...
It may end up partially under the fridge!
This was my first puzzle acquisition of 2021 - if this continues then I'm hoping for a VERY good year!

I have finally received my second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and am hopeful that this will allow me to be a bit safer and certainly prevent me from reinfecting Mrs S as I did in June. She was not impressed with the size of my viral load!

Stay safe guys - it's improving out there but nowhere near what we need to allow us to relax our vigilance.