Sunday 25 April 2021

I Needed To Think Even Further Outside the Box


I couldn't resist it...yet another design by Alexander Magyarics. I have been watching this week as he seems to be on a design roll - I think at least 4 if not 5 new designs of his were published on Puzzlewillbeplayed this week alone! Having received a nice bunch of puzzles from Eric a few weeks ago, I have been gradually fiddling with them as time allows. I wanted to get back some of my burr solving mojo and jumped in with the brilliant Spy (reviewed here and still available). After that I tried my luck with BurrBon, the rather fun little 6 piece burr inside a 6 piece burr that was brought to us all because I drew it to Eric's attention on Facebook after the design was shown off by its' creator, Tim Alkema. Eric said that it was extraordinarily difficult and I soon found out that was the case...I failed! Trying to find something for today's blog post, I moved on to the other item from Alexander - the MagneTeam. For a moment I was worried that I had bought a duplicate puzzle - there is a very similar design I reviewed a while ago called Super Magnetic from Pelikan puzzles with an identical box but different pieces and the challenge to pack them inside. I really struggled to solve that puzzle and adored the incredible Aha! moment after I got it some 5 hours later. 

4 simple pieces
The MagneTeam has been stunningly made by Eric with incredible tolerances (0.002in - why can't he use metric measurments? I have no idea what 0.002in looks like!). The box is a lovely pale Ash and the 3 larger pieces are Granadillo - they need to be placed inside such that no gaps are visible. Just like Super Magnetic the top of the box has a plus shaped hole and the bottom a minus shape. This requirement is a huge constraint - surely this will make it fairly simple? On top of that the shape of the larger pieces effectively means that they can ONLY be inserted into the box and placed vertically - another huge constraint. This must mean that this will be quite a quick easy solve? Oh hell no! Remember guys, that I am a bear of very little brain and solving puzzles is really not my strong point. I seem to find that I am MUCH better at buying puzzles than solving them. 

Starting outside of the box, I realised that there are a huge number of 3x3 assemblies with these 3 pieces but quite a lot less with the vertical arrangement constraint - I was getting there! Errr no. After 4 hours over 3 days of trying I had not found the solution. What was wrong with me? This was the easier of the challenges. I took it to work and handed it to my ODP (anaesthetic assistant) whilst I was doing an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm repair and I periodically watched what she was trying to do. All of a sudden, I had an epiphany! Alexander designs his puzzles very carefully with pieces intended to fool you or throw your thought processes the wrong way. I suddenly realised what I had been missing.

Helena failed to solve it and told me in no uncertain terms that I HAD to show her the solution right away! Gulp! I did explain that I had so far failed as well but whilst waiting for the surgeon to do a particularly awkward suture line deep in the pelvis, I had another look and completely amazed her by solving it right before her very eyes and before the surgeon was able to cause any more blood loss.

Take my word for it - this is solved!
It has to be on its' side for the photo to stop a piece dropping down
What had changed? How had I managed to solve it this time? I realised whilst watching Helena play that I had been trying to do it entirely outside the box and using my virtual 3x3x3 grid had completely missed that one of the pieces after dropping through could then move outside of that small grid. I had actually assembled the correct positions of the pieces many many times whilst trying to solve it but had not been able to think outside the box in a fully unconstrained way - sigh! Really not very bright.

Helena was amazed at my prowess - this is quite a delightful feat for an old man like me in front of a pretty young thing like her. Unfortunately that was very short lived - I then explained the next phase being to repeat the process with the 4th piece (made from Morado). She looked at me expectantly and basically said "go on then". Let's just say that the admiration in her eyes faded very quickly! In fact it was just like being at home with Mrs S looking at me with disappointment in her eyes! Eventually after another 3 days of playing with it I finally found the correct solution. It really is a significant challenge with the entry of the final piece requiring 9 moves to get into position. Unlike the Hydrant puzzle from Alexander, the addition of the 4th piece actually requires all the pieces to be rearranged and not just find a way to pack it into the same arrangement.

What an amazing design! Beautifully made as one would expect from eric and a significant pair of challenges (especially for those of us who are 3D challenged). It is still available as I type and well worth adding to your collections.

Mrs S is currently quite pleased with me (well, partially pleased). I did manage to repair our Dualit toaster - it needed 4 new heating elements and a new timer switch - I fixed it yesterday without making a mess and without killing it. She is ever so slightly disappointed that I did not do the repair whilst in the bath and with the toaster plugged in! 😳 Especially after she went to all the effort of buying all that extra life insurance for me!

Yay!! I did not get electrocuted!
Stay safe everyone! Whilst the UK is currently doing very well, things are going really badly in parts of Europe and horrifically badly in India. Get your vaccination when it is offered to you - they are all extremely safe.

Sunday 18 April 2021

Taking it Slow but NOT Easy

Matrix by Émil Áskerli
Unfortunately work has interfered with my puzzling and blogging this weekend - the NHS never stops and never sleeps and as the pandemic begins to ease again, the workload to try and catch up with the backlog is going to increase. Unfortunately I am missing a virtual MPP and having to write this review in advance.

My friend Johan Heyns unfortunately decided to abandon making puzzles (except for his own enjoyment) and selling them on his store which is now shut down. I am very pleased that in the few years that he was selling I managed to buy quite a few of his creations (starting with the phenomenal Really Bent Board Burr designed by Derek Bosch). Most of Johan's puzzles had a number of features in common - he made them from sticks which he cut very accurately and then glued together (this is really obvious in the photo above) and also almost all of his creations were supplied with a stand especially designed to hold a particular puzzle. Some of the stands are almost as complex as the puzzle itself and I distinctly recall that one of them needed assembly and it took me ages to actually work out how to put just the stand together!

Stand perfectly designed for the puzzle
Tray of shame! Matrix always present.
Back in 2017 I bought the Matrix puzzle from Johan. It looked interesting as a stick burr that was combined with a complex frame made from interlocking boards. This puzzle does not have a particularly high difficulty level with a solution requiring only 45 moves to remove all pieces ( Despite this so called ease, I have been completely unable to solve it for years. Many puzzles like that get shelved and brought out periodically to be tried again (and again and again) being put away between attempts each time. The Matrix, however, was different...the moves were really quite interesting and I always seemed to be making progress but then getting stuck about 15 or 16 moves into the solution. I couldn't bring myself to put it away and it would always end up returning to my tray of puzzles I am "currently" playing with. It has been on that tray in the living room for 5 years being picked up and fiddled with every few weeks/months. Always always, I would get stuck at exactly the same spot. Maybe I was down a dead end? It seemed unlikely that one would be this long but I could not find an alternate path and have remained fixated on this blasted puzzle for years.

There is something really special about the designs from Émil Áskerli - Eric made the Clamped cubes back in 2017 (if Eric makes something you can always assume that itis a very interesting puzzle)

Clamped cubes
Clamped cubes pieces - looks simple?
I also received a gorgeous version of Émil's Tvan from Johan and it also remains compulsively unsolved but stunningly beautiful on display.

Tvan on stand
This week, I have had to medicate one of our boyz and he is not enjoying the process. In the evening, by the time I get to settle down with a puzzle, he is usually clamped to my lap and I realise that I have forgotten to put out any of my new acquisitions to play with. So this week I have been forced in the evenings to continue playing with Matrix - after all, it has been within reach for 4 years!

Each day I have repeated the same sequence of moves and been unable to get any further until Thursday when I have a fabulous Aha! moment. I've found a move...a REALLY complex move that involves the frame shifting along with several of the sticks. I don't know why I found it this time. I suspect that I must have been holding the puzzle in such a way as to squeeze it and initiate the move. Johan doesn't use a smooth lacquer to finish his creations and this may have created some friction which made it harder to find the hidden move. Having found the new move, I was on my way and I quickly laid a pile of pieces on the purring boy. It soon became obvious that I was never going to get this back together again without Burrtools and have spent a happy few hours creating the solution file.

At long last!!!!
Absolutely brilliant puzzle! I hope that Émil continues to design and that other craftsmen will make his designs. I know that Johan has several other hobbies and a grandchild keeping him busy. I will miss getting puzzles from him as they are very different to those produced by others. I hope that everyone who went to the MPP had a good time? Hopefully we will be able to meet and play in person soon.

Finally, I know that some of you have subscribed to my email list to get these articles emailed to you. Unfortunately, Google has announced that it is withdrawing this service very soon. I apologise for this - I am still looking into making a jump away from the Blogger platform (as Steve C has done with his Boxes and Booze site) which has become increasingly frustrating to use. This is another factor motivating me to jump ship - hopefully I can find the time to do it sometime soon. 

Sunday 11 April 2021

I Have Not Burred For a While

Juno's 6BB Oddly Extended Burr (possibly #1 of several)
You very nearly didn't get a blog post to read today. There is an odd bug in Adobe Lightroom 4 which causes the app to hang if there is a video file in the folder that you are trying to import from. I have spent the best part of 2 hours trying to get my images in and edited. Only by sheer fluke did I work out what the issue was and manage to get it sorted. I have lost even more of the small amount of hair that I had left!

Over the years I might have bought a few of Juno's puzzles! I especially like his SD puzzles and they have appeared in my best of year many times but I also seem to be rather addicted to his burrs as well. He particularly seems to be able to design interesting board burrs which remain very stable during the disassembly process. It appeared that there was a limit to how interesting a standard 6x6x6 board burr can be and so Juno looked into elongating the boards to make an 8x8x8 puzzle. My interest was peaked when he stated:

"If the length of the board burr pieces is simply extended from 6-unit length to 8, we can not expect higher numbers of movement for assembling and disassembling since the filled area (block) strongly restricts the possible movement. Simply extending the blank area (voids) also causes another issue since it makes the puzzle too unstable when being assembled. Then, how about extending the length of the pieces and partially extending the blank area?"

Juno realised that this would greatly increase the number of possible interesting puzzles and also ensure they had decently high numbers of required moves (up to level 24 for the first piece). The first release in this series (I do hope that there will be more) is a mere level but is still a fabulous puzzle.

The page on the Pluredro store (the puzzle itself is in the archive area now that it has been sold out) states that the size is large. I obviously didn't read that bit and when the box was opened and puzzle unwrapped from several metres of bubble wrap, I got a huge shock...its huge! I know that he extended the dimensions in Burrtools but OMG...this puzzle is 12.8cm in each dimension and weighs 360g. To prevent his board burrs from having any risk of snapping along the wood grain, Juno always uses his own home made plywood. This is not just any old white plywood from the DIY store this is gorgeous stuff - he uses PNG Rosewood (aka Amboyna) and New Guinea Walnut. The Walnut has a very interesting feature in that depending on the direction of the light it varies in colour from deep brown, through light brown to a yellowy silver colour. It took me a while to realise that the centre wood was the same in all 6 of the boards but just looks different for each of them because they are oriented differently.

It has been quite a while since I played with a board burr (in fact, I have not done much burring at all) and it took me a while to get used to the thought process of exploring without getting hopelessly lost. The difficulty level is perfect for me - as a board burr it is possible to see everything that is happening during the interaction and almost plan where you want to go. There are a number of blind ends but not too many to get me hopelessly confused and lost. There is a definite rhythm to the disassembly of this as certain sequences are needed several times as other boards are unlocked. Despite the very extensive holes in the centre area of the boards it stays very stable. At several points it looks like a rotation may be possible but it never seems to happen and you don't need multiple hands to keep everything aligned whilst you progress. I really enjoyed this one - with my back and forth approach to solving all burrs, it took me about 3 hours to find my way right to the end:

There is a LOT of space in these
Even when 2 or even 3 pieces have been removed it remains pretty stable. There is absolutely no way that I would ever be able to assemble this from scratch but I was delighted to realise that even after so long without burring, I was still able to reassemble this without BT (even if I did have a bit of a struggle working out how to get the penultimate piece back inside). Of course, I have created a BT file for it. That is an essential part of the fun for me! Now the puzzle is how I am going to get this into my display cabinets? The Juno section is pretty packed already!

Spy by Alexander Magyarics
I had several puzzles saved up to be delivered from Cubic Dissection by Eric's wonderful assistant Sara. I had finally spent more than the required £200 and they came winging across the pond to me. Mrs S loves the neat packaging but she was very unimpressed that 4 arrived at once! The first puzzle from the four that I wanted to try was Spy by Alexander Magyarics. I think this is the first of his puzzles that Eric has made and I hope that many more are coming. I have bought a LOT of Alex's puzzles from both Brian and Jakub over the last couple of years and can honestly say that he has become one of the best designers in the world (he is delightfully humble about it too when I get to chat with him). It is not just about producing something with a high number of moves...Alex designs things with a nice achievable level which has the solution masterfully hidden and/or with just the right number of blind ends to make it challenging. When Eric offered up several of Alex's interlocking type puzzles I just clicked the add to cart button without hesitation. 

Spy is another of Eric's gorgeously precise creations made with a box from Figured Maple and burr sticks made from Yellowheart, Purpleheart, and Chechen. It is 3" in every dimension (Americans don't seem to understand metric yet) - the joinery is incredible. Reading the list of woods reveals something missing - Eric says this:
"Spy is an Interlocking Puzzle with a secret. Four Purpleheart and Yellowheart pieces packed into a Figured Maple container...simple, right? Perhaps a closer look is in order. With a level solution, Spy is definitely hiding something! Even disassembly is a difficult task"
Having bought this purely because it was designed by Alex, I started with this to establish why Eric was so enthusiastic as to take the risk making yet another "straightforward" caged burr. Very quickly it becomes apparent that there is nothing straightforward here...the 4th wood is revealed as a piece hidden inside which blocks a lot of movement but also the burr sticks are not based on a 2x2x6 grid. Several of them have single voxel protrusions meaning they are based on a 2x3x6 grid which hugely ups the ante on the interaction possibilities. Movements which look like they should be perfectly possible just won't happen and this is not helped by the presence of 5 extra protruding voxels from the interior of the frame. 

At several points during the solution process it looks like there might be a rotation but it is never possible and the sequence is delightful. I spent at least 5 hours before I had managed to disassemble it and was quite surprised that even after one of my cats dislodging the pieces from their careful placement (he turned them into a heap of wood), I was still able to reassemble this one with only a little bit of trial and error. I must admit that there is no way on earth I would be able to assemble it from scratch but scrambling the pieces did not hinder me too much having effectively learned a rough assembly path. Yet again Alex has designed an absolute masterpiece - it is still available as I type. Go and get one whilst you can.

The 4th wood type is revealed
A stunning puzzle (both design and craftsmanship)
I still have quite a few burrs in my "to be solved" pile but am pleased to have got by burr mojo back again. They are still amongst my very favourite puzzle types.

I do have a new Stickman to play with as well but I think this will take me several weeks or even months.


Sunday 4 April 2021

Like Plastic Sudoku

Bird 11 box
I have survived my week off without electrocution! Luckily for me, the spare parts to the toaster remain unavailable and hence my bathtub electrocution has been avoided narrowly. Instead, Mrs S has forced me to work in the garden (something I absolutely hate) in the hope that I will either be struck by lightning or the exertion will kill me off. However I am extremely proud that, according to one of the post-Covid studies I am participating in, my "fitness age" is down to 39! Yes, I have managed to shave 15 years off my age by working out regularly on our rower. This has dashed Mrs S' plans to cash in on an insurance policy. Phew! It's a shame that it usually feels like I am going to die when I get up after the bloody exercise! 

Back to the puzzling:
When I placed my order from Mine, he also had a couple of Yuu Azaka puzzles available at the same time. One I had bought from PuzzleMaster already (I reviewed it here) and the other I ordered from Mine. This one is Bird 11 and is a sort of packing puzzle...except really it's not. I bought it because I had really enjoyed all of his previous creations - they have been packing puzzles with a twist...something that makes you think differently. They are not about randomly placing shapes in a tray or box until something happens; they require an Aha! moment which often catches you by surprise. Who can resist?
11 very odd birds to fit in 11 very odd nests
This puzzle is much less colourful than Yuu-san's previous creations. It has been very nicely made from good quality plastic and acrylic. We have a grey tray with 11 nests/cut out holes in it and 11 very deformed chickens that need to be placed in the nests. It looks pretty simple!

I set to straight away and started placing the birds. At this point it becomes clear that the shapes have been very precisely thought out by the creator. Certain pieces will only fit in certain nests and usually will only fit if flipped right side up. Quite frequently, it looks like a piece will go but her wings/legs are a couple of mm out of alignment and it ain't going to go. The only thing to do is start placing pieces and work your way through. This has been rated by Mr Asaka as only 2 out of 5 so it is not that surprising that you race through placing more and more pieces before suddenly hitting a wall and one won't fit in any of the remaining spots. In fact having placed 5 or 6, none of the rest would fit anywhere. That's interesting! Tip them out and start again. Obviously with shapes like these there is no way to remember what you have tried before so starting from scratch gets you nowhere...again. This time, instead of starting from the beginning again, I take a blocked piece and attempt to find where it will go and remove the offending blocking piece. This leads to a cat and mouse race around the board often looking great but ending up with pieces blocked. After an hour or so I manage to reach a point where I have one piece left to fit into its nest:

So near and yet so far!
I put it away for a while and try to think© for a bit (ouch). I come to a conclusion and one evening whilst chatting to Derek we realise together that this puzzle is going to require pen and paper or a spreadsheet and being systematic. I ma not great at being systematic so I put it aside for a couple of weeks. Yesterday after finishing my stint in the garden I decide this puzzle needs to be put to  rest and being too stiff to lounge on a sofa with a puzzle, I sit at a desk with the Bird 11 and take notes. 

It takes about 30 minutes to get all the information tabulated and I start placing the birds in their correct nests. Once you can see the pattern on paper then it is quite satisfying. This puzzle is rather like a Sudoku but made of plastic. In the end I found it quite satisfying despite my initial disappointed reaction when I realised what was going to be needed. 

You are certainly not likely to solve this one by randomly placing the pieces in the holes. You need to think and plan and unless you have an incredible memory you will almost certainly need to take some notes. I agree with Yuu-san's rating of 2/5 but don't let that low difficulty put you off - it is actually a nice diversion.