Sunday 30 May 2021

So Gorgeous I Will Hang it On a Wall

Coming very soon from Jakub and Jaroslav

An earlier batch was also sent out

Yes, it's time again for some more gorgeous challenging new from the wonderful guys at the New Pelikan Workshop. The release that is due any time soon is a mammoth release. I guess that with no IPP they have had more time for their own puzzling production rather than producing exchange puzzles. Jakub sent them out to me in two batches to give me more time to work through them - something for which I am very grateful as the pressure to review quickly so that they can go on sale is huge. I don't want to keep anyone waiting.


I have to start with the most striking puzzle which gave the title of this blog post: Bugs!

The picture above does not give any idea at how impressive this puzzle is in real life! Have a glance again at the first picture in the post to get an idea of the scale of it. It is fabulously impressive - at 21 cm in each direction and 2 cm high this design by the unbelievably prolific Alexander Magyarics would make a wonderful picture to mount on the wall of your puzzle room. In fact the guys at Pelikan have drilled a hole in the back for it to be wall mounted and also made an edge holding an acrylic cover which will prevent the pieces falling out when put on display.

Wall mountable
Acrylic cover
It's a fun tray packing puzzle with a beautifully made wooden frame and 4 lovely mixed wood bug shapes to fit inside. The challenge is not enormously tough but using what looks like the "obvious" positioning won't work because the blocks in the frame prevent insertion of what looks perfect outside the box. Therefore this puzzle forces you to actually think about all the ways that the pieces might fit together. Once solved, it is really lovely(no, I am not going to show you the solution). This is a perfect decoration for anyone's puzzle cave.  Even Mrs S has agreed and I will be putting a screw in the wall very soon.

Key Trap

Key Trap
I've picked up Key Trap by Christoph Lohe first from the second batch of puzzles because it's absolutely stunningly beautiful. Everything by the New Pelikan Workshop is lovely but this is one of the most gorgeous puzzles I've seen in a long time. I also cannot resist the puzzles created by Christoph - he just seems to always find the very best sequences and combinations of moves that are possible in a shape. Here,as the name would suggest, we have a wooden lock made with lovely bevel inlays and slipfeathers in the shackle. The key is locked onto the shackle whilst being buried in the workings of the lock. Initially there is only a small amount of movement and after a little while begin to find a few more things that are possible and more wild movements are available to you. After a short while I felt I was getting somewhere and might even be able to soon remove a piece. I then tried my usual technique to aid memory of backtracking to the beginning and realised that I had got myself into a position where I was unable to remember the path and spent a rather fraught half hour trying to work it out. If you've not paid attention then the correct movement is very well hidden - it took me quite some time to find. Like most locks the key is the "key" to the solution. The position of that locked key on the shackle is the major thing to work out - you have to move it about the right way (no rotations though). Even at the end that key remains shackled in place. 

Reassembly from scratch is also possible if you are good at these. This is a fabulous puzzle - Christoph and Pelikan pull it off again!


This took me days!
Another wonderful 3x3 cube packing puzzles from the amazing brain of Osanori Yamamoto.  My copy has been beautifully made by Pelikan from Zebrano with Purpleheart pieces.The holes in the box are interesting here. The larger hole is just a single layer high but quite extensive (taking up 4/9 of the top layer) which severely constrains the possible assemblies. There are also 2 more holes in the box which must be filled at the end and these holes are the opposite corners from the main one which makes finding the finished assembly much more difficult. This difficulty is compounded by the complexity of the pieces. I struggled to get them to fit together at all initially and then getting all the opposite corners filled in any potential shape proved really tough. Having found just a few potential assemblies, I realised that every single time I would be unable to place a piece inside the box. After a few days of attempts I wondered whether Osanori-san had been up to his old rotational tricks and started looking for them. The dimensions and size of the pieces made this very hard to find but eventually I found a rotational solution and was really pleased with myself. Afterwards, out of interest I wanted to see if there were any assemblies that fitted inside but didn't fulfil all the hole filling requirements and entered the puzzle into Burrtools and to my utter horror I saw that I had totally failed! There IS an entirely linear solution to the puzzle. I made sure that I didn't look at it on my computer and spent another 3 days before finding the true solution. Either this is a brilliant puzzle or I'm really quite dense! You choose. Actually, this is a brilliant design which seriously challenged me.


At last!
This stunning creation made from Wenge and Yellowheart also comes from the warped mind of Osanori-san. I am not sure why it has that name but it may be because the pieces dance around each other during the solution. I initially thought that the enormous entry hole through which 3 rather complex pieces need to be inserted would make for a significantly easier challenge and, oh boy, was I wrong about that. Whilst it initially appears like there is a 2x2x2 sized hole for entry, it actually is even larger than that due to the fact that the bottom corner slopes gently down indicating that this puzzle is based on a much bigger grid. Obviously once solved the hole should be completely filled and that in itself is a huge problem. That sloping edge also makes movement of the pieces much more difficult. I managed to place the pieces inside the box in several different ways pretty easily (which made carrying the puzzle to work much easier) but I really struggled to find a way to leave the entryway fully filled and so I tried to think outside the box. After 4 days I had only found 2 ways to assemble a 3x3x3 cube which would fill the hole completely and none of them could be placed inside the box. I was forced to resort to Burrtools to find other possible assemblies - there were another 2. Even knowing the possible other cube assemblies still left this one as a huge challenge. Each finished cube could be rotated through 120º giving 6 more assemblies to try. Finally after several more days I managed to find the solution with a sigh of relief. If anyone says that only 3 pieces makes for an easy puzzle then laugh at them - with a disassembly level of 10.1.3 this is a massive challenge. Very enjoyable and a must buy for any Osanori fans.


Dozer - there's a surprise inside
Next to Stephan's original
Jakub and Jaroslav don't make very many burr puzzles these days but when they do any Burr fans should sit up and pay attention - they only choose the best of the best of them and this marvelous design by Stephan Baumegger is fantastic. The wood choice and finish with all the bevelling is the mark of fabulous attention to detail. Inside is a shape that gives the puzzle its' name - when Goetz classified it he was forced to enlarge his Burr zoo to include machines! I had solved the original back in 2015 after a huge struggle (I had managed to get lost in the puzzle about 20 moves in and could not find the next move for a very long time). Of course I was completely unable to remember even a single step from the solution and had to start from scratch on this one and managed to get stuck yet again about 20 moves into the solution. The movements are smooth and there is minimal catching of the pieces as they slide. I was really very pleased that Jakub had sent this to me several weeks ago as it took me several weeks to wend my way through the maze of moves. The puzzle does not have a stupendously high level ( but is a wonderful challenge with lots of exploration. The blind ends are frequent but not too long and so not too frustrating. Inside is one of the most beautiful pieces of wood work I have seen from them.

There is no way I am reassembling it without Burrtools!


6L by Alexander Magyarics
Another of Alexander Magyarics' packing designs - 6L does what it says on the tin...there are 6 L shapes to be placed in a 3x3x3 box through a restricted entryway. Straight away it's obvious that the entry shape cuts the possible entry orientations of the Ls and then to make things much more interesting there are 2 cubies fixed inside the box which greatly limits the possible positions and movements. I started by just randomly placing pieces inside to see how it might work out and discovered that it is easy to get 4 of the L shapes inside but then you quickly get blocked and left with bits sticking out. As always, think© outside the box and then think© inside it. We have 24 cubies to place inside a 27 cubie space and on top of that there are 2 fixed cubies inside blocking your movements. This leaves a single gap which is essential for the movement of the pieces during the solve process. With a bit of planning the possible finish becomes obvious and you only need to work out how to prepare for it. There is a lovely Aha! moment with this one. It's not as tough as some of his previous ones which is a bit of a relief. It is still fun and definitely suitable for a beginner or a child. It has been beautifully made by Pelikan and is very tactile. Solved picture might have a small spoiler so hidden behind a button:


Mouse Hole
No spoilers here - solved after many hours
These designs by Alexander just get more and more spectacular. Very few craftsmen would have agreed to mass produce this piece with a beautifully crafted box complete with a captive sliding arm (shaped like a mouse hole in a skirting board) and holders which are made from contrasting woods. The movements are wonderfully free and yet exceptionally precise. There are 3 moderately complex Purpleheart pieces to be placed in the box through a fairly wide opening but this entry is severely restricted by the moving arm over the top. I had left this one to the last because it frightened me a lot. In the last batch of puzzles from Pelikan, Alexander had given us a multi-challenge packing puzzle (Sliders) which had captive moveable pieces on the walls of the box which significantly hindered the ability to place the pieces. I had really struggled with most of the challenges he had set. Similarly his Wishing Well puzzle from last year had also been very difficult for a rubbish puzzler like me. I was cutting it very fine - this one was only solved yesterday, just in time for this blog post (it is always a bit embarrassing to write about puzzles that I haven't solved yet). There are 45 possible 3x3x3 shapes that have the top S shape filled but only one can be inserted into the box with the restriction provided. The solution process is considerably narrowed down by thinking about which orientations of the pieces can fit through the restriction and once that is taken into account the number of assemblies is low enough for mere mortals to manage. Still incredibly difficult and not for the faint hearted but very solvable.

Also due to be in this upcoming release but not yet solved and reviewed by me will be:


Another design by Dr Volker Latussek, Bubble looks extremely simple but I suspect will be a massive challenge like most of his puzzles. The drilled out hemispheres in the 4 L-shaped pieces of wood have to be paired to form complete "bubbles" . The goal is to make a free-standing structure containing four bubbles. I am looking forward to playing with this one next.

Euklid for Kids and Shrinking Soma

Euklid for Kids
Shrinking Soma
Euklid for Kids has been slightly redesigned by Dr Latussek to make it more discoverable for kids and increase the enjoyability of the puzzle for beginning puzzlers. Obviously adults will still have an Aha! moment and enjoy the beautifully made puzzle. If you missed out on either of these the first time then now is your chance to get hold of a copy.

Sunday 23 May 2021

Noisy is OK in a Conference

A Nice Quiet Puzzle?
Helical (L) and Hellical (R) burrs
Last week
I wrote about the Brass Monkey 4 and raved about it (have you bought your copy yet? Hurry up!) but what I didn't show off was that in the same package Steve had sent me the latest 4 piece burr design from the genius that is Derek Bosch. Yeah! I know that 4 piece burr doesn't sound like much but this is one of those Helical burrs - in fact it is the "Helical burr 2" which they have decided to call "He'll lick all bare, too" - a name which makes me shudder ever so slightly and I cannot bring myself to enter it into my database like that. 

This new design is not currently on the Two Brass Monkeys store but I am sure will be there at some point - if you are in a hurry then it is available from PuzzleMaster whilst stocks last. It looks just like the original Helical burr and the name sort of sounds like it too but, believe me, it is NOT like the original puzzle! I enjoyed the original puzzle a lot and even used to use it as a worry bead. Even Derek describes this version as a BEAST - although I always thought that I should take that statement from him with a pinch of salt...Derek often admits to me that he is completely unable to solve his own designs! However, in this case the numbers tell all - Helical burr requires 11 moves to remove the first piece whilst v2 here requires 39 moves! OMG!

Just 3 moves!
I should have realised how tough it was going to be early on when after just 3 moves thisgs had moved a very long way. But I didn't get much chance to work that out early on. After my initial failure with the Brass Monkey 4, I did my usual "put it down and stare blankly at it for a while" before deciding to have a try at the Helical burr. After approximately 1.2seconds Mrs S stared at me with daggers, or maybe I should say sgian-dubhs as she is Scottish (I actually wore one of these on my wedding day as I got married in a kilt). Straight away she warned me that there was no way I was going to play with this puzzle whilst we were watching TV - it is too noisy! The 3D printed plastic is quite smooth but they layers do scrape on each other quite loudly and was making "she who scares the bejeeeezus out of me" ever so slightly annoyed. Gulp! I put it down and went back to BM4.

I do the vast majority of my puzzling in the evenings in front of the TV with Mrs S...when was I going to be able to play with this? Luckily, last week I actually managed to get some study leave approved to attend an anaesthesia conference (now that Covid seems to be improving in the UK, we are being allowed time for annual and study leave in limited numbers). Things are not quite so great here that we are all heading to hotels and attending meetings in person but quite a lot of conferences have moved to a virtual format. It's not as much fun but certainly is convenient and slightly cheaper. 

Aluminium washer cylinder
I therefore spent two days last week sat on my bum staring at a computer screen for 8 hours! Lord, that is bloody tiring! In fact the only way I could stay awake at times was to pick up various puzzles that are around me and have a fiddle whilst listening to the lectures and watching the slides. I worked my way through almost my entire Strijbos collection and even managed to solve the Aluminium washer cylinder which gave me so much trouble all those years ago when I initially bought it. Yay! The conference was proving very worthwhile! Eventually, after I ran out of Strijbos puzzles, I picked up the new Helical and figured that noisy would be OK in a virtual conference.

I knew this that this puzzle was going to be tough after Allard showed off a picture of it half solved and the comment that it was never going to go back together again. This was a little worry as I have had a similar issue with the very difficult TwiddleDum (or is it TwiddleDee?) - one of those is currently in 4 pieces and has not returned to assembled puzzle in nearly 5 years! The Helical burr 2 has a very interesting loop in it's early pathway. At least I found it interesting for the first few hours. It kind of got a bit boring at the end of my first conference day as I had traced the same path many hundreds of times and not found a way out of it at all. On day two of the conference, whilst fully fortified with coffee and a rather sugary breakfast, I listened avidly to a discussion on the effect of anaesthetic agents and pain killers on cancer recurrence and restarted the Helical with little hope.

At some point during the first couple of hours, I had had no complaints about the noise and looked down to see that it looked different. What had I done? Could I return it to the beginning? Cue slight panic... my usual modus operandi is to go back and forth and effectively memorise the moves of most burr type puzzles. I had not been paying attention and had no memory of what I had done. I tried to backtrack and realised I had an "Allard situation" - this was only going in the forward direction! Oops. I resigned myself to adding another 4 bits of plastic to my 'pile o pieces' in a box but at least I could say I had dismantled it if not actually solved it. Even having found that hidden move it was still not an easy progression to the end. I continued to be noisy for a large proportion of the rest of the conference before I had this:

He'll lick all bare, too solved
I might as well lick it as I stand equal chance of reassembling it with my tongue as my hands!
The puzzle is a beast. I have spent several days trying to reassemble it and can't even get to the place where I had my unfortunate realisation. I contacted Derek and he sent me a nice little pdf. Apparently big Steve is a dab hand with the OpenScad software and has created a step by step reassembly diagram in it. I can barely draw a cube in it and yet he is performing miracles. I am going to try and reassemble the beast after I've uploaded this blog post.

You are all MUCH better puzzlers than me! You definitely should buy this one - it will be a nice challenge for you and I know for certain that you will manage it in just a pleasant couple of hours. Go on I dare you!

I have received a new batch of puzzles from Jakub and Jaroslav - I am going to power my way through as fast as I can so that they can be put on sale soon!

Sunday 16 May 2021

Something Happy and Something Sad

Brass Monkey Number Four
Today, I am very happy to show off to you something wonderful! Yes, you all need one of these in your collections - it's not really tough but it is really well made and has a fabulous Aha! moment. I mentioned last week after Allard reviewed the fourth in Big Steve and Ali's Brass Monkey series that I had ordered my copy. It arrived on Tuesday and after Mrs S warned me that if I dropped the heavy object and broke a kitchen tile or work surface then she would "break me". As a Scottish woman with nurse training, I had to take her seriously (the violent tendencies and skills have to be seen to be believed) and immediately took it into the living room and forced myself to only play with it there. I have to say that she is not wrong - you could do some serious damage with this chunk of metal. At almost 800g (1.1Lbs) with each piece 70mm long and 19mm in diameter, it's a bit of a monster. You can always count on Steve and Ali producing something very well made and great fun in the puzzling. Despite fear of Mrs S, I was delighted with my purchase.

So, it's a six piece burr made of brass like all the others...except it's not! Only one of the Brass monkeys is a straightforward burr puzzle. The rest have all sorts of interesting locking mechanisms hidden in the depths of the metal. They all look pretty much identical except for the engraving on the ends of the burr sticks... number one has a dimple on each end, number two has the dimple surrounded by an engraved circle, number three has the same plus an extra circle. Number four must have...nope! It has a deeper hole drilled in each end. Is that significant? I'll let you find out.

How do you go about solving it? I have no idea how others do it but after looking and shaking whilst listening (no, that doesn't help me), I finally resort to pushing and prodding before finally just swearing at the bloody thing! As a man of a certain age who has got beyond the point of needing ever longer arms to read books with (especially when I found that my arms weren't long enough to place an arterial line I had to buy some multifocal contact lenses) I even resorted to using the magnifier function of my iPhone to look at the puzzle. Nothing helped. Apart from teeny tiny motion of the burr sticks, it stayed firmly in one piece - sigh!

This continued for a further two evenings with Mrs S looking at me with amusement as I continued to fail and continued to mutter swear words under my breath. Allard had said that there was something very subtle to be found. Those of you who know me are very aware that subtle doesn't work for me - I need to be hit with a brick before I notice anything. But you also know that I am very persistent. I have been known to keep trying with puzzles for months or years before eventually solving. I did kinda hope that this one wouldn't take that long but I was ready for it. Eventually, whilst using touch rather than sight, I had my first Aha! moment - man! that was hard to notice. Suddenly, things were changing and I had "stuff" to play with.

For an evening, I just went back and forth on this one discovery without working out how I could utilise what I had found. I pressed everywhere to see what would interact with what I had found and this was not helpful as always. I was four days in when I had one of my very rather Thoughts© and I went from back and forth, to what if I do this? to OMG! I cannot believe they are going to do that!

The final realisation of what they have done hit me hard and there was a laugh out loud moment! Stunning idea and beautifully implemented. No force required just a bit more exploration of the mechanism and it comes apart - just in time for a huge grin and a shout that annoys Mrs S! Yessss!

Don't be silly! No clues here - just a pile o brass.
This is BRILLIANT! Stop reading my website and go here to buy one! NOW! It will eventually be available at PuzzleMaster if you can stand the wait. It pains me to say it but Allard was right - the others are good but this is the best so far - I just cannot believe they did that!

Felix Chein - rest in peace my dear friend
Finally I have to finish off with some sad news. My good friend and puzzle mentor Tsy Hung Chein (aka Felix) has passed away a couple of weeks ago after a long and brave battle with Lung cancer. Most of you will have barely heard of him but he has quietly been in the background of the puzzle world for many many years, quietly influencing people and providing help and advice. He was a major player in the Taiwanese puzzling community for many many years and will be sorely missed by them all there. He had also been an attendee at the International Puzzle Party when he had kept better health.

Felix contacted me within a few months of my blog starting up and from the beginning provided fabulous advice. He helped me decide what puzzles to buy and many many times tried to stop me buying puzzles that he did not think were worth my money - he was almost never wrong! He sent me a huge pile of LiveCubes to make puzzles with and then encouraged me to buy the fight cubes too. After a little while he even sent me puzzles that he had made - they were a little rough and ready but the puzzling fun was always superb. When he said that a puzzle was good - it was bloody good! Felix was a master of wire disentanglement puzzles but always loved interlocking puzzles that had something special to them (not simple burrs). Like Bernhard, he was a huge fan of interlocking puzzles which involved either a dance of the pieces or rotations and boy, did he send me some wonderful toys! Looking back at my database, I must have 50 or more wonderful puzzles from him (either made by his fair hand or just gifted to me from his collection) - you couldn't hope for a better puzzling friend than him. The puzzle community are a wonderful welcoming bunch but such generosity was incredible. Felix was also a designer and his puzzles have been made by several craftsmen - one of my all time favourites was Castle made by Pelikan - it made it to my top ten that year.

Made by Felix
Made by Jakub
Over the years, I have shared nearly 1000 email conversations with him (each thread being 5 to 20 emails long) - it amazed me that he always had time for more questions and advice. I never actually met him in person but I consider him one of my very best puzzle friends and will miss him greatly.

It was not only me that he befriended and mentored - Felix was a major influence in the puzzling world. Here are a couple of tributes from two of my good friends:

From Christoph Lohe (puzzle designer)
"Four years ago I got in touch with Felix (Tzy Hung Chein), and we quickly became real friends. We exchanged emails almost daily, and discussed puzzling topics as well as things far beyond just puzzling.

Felix has been one of the most experienced puzzle collectors and designers I have ever met. His main puzzle category has been disentanglements, and he knew virtually everything about these puzzles. However, he had also a deep knowledge about interlocking Burr puzzles, TICs, and packing puzzles. Over the years I received countless puzzle recommendations from Felix, and he never failed. Without him, my puzzle collection would not exist as it is.

Felix was also my first contact for discussing new design ideas, and new designs I invented. As I have "two left hands" when it comes to building puzzles, Felix has hand-made various prototypes of my designs, and had sent them over to me in Germany. His comments and suggestions were always very valuable for me, and highly appreciated.

Felix was not a person who wanted to stay in the lamp light. He was well linked in the puzzle community, but he prefered to remain in the background. He has been engaged in the TPC (Taiwan Puzzle Community) which organizes regular puzzle parties. His focus has been bringing puzzles from his collection into the parties, and let younger members fiddle with them. Felix has been very aware of the importance to care about young puzzlers, and he guided them through the world of puzzles.

Even if I have never met him personally, I am very happy that I had found a close friend in Felix, and that I could communicate with him so often during the last years. Felix was a real gentleman, extremely supportive, helpful and kind, and I learned a lot along with him.

During the last year, Felix was patiently and bravely fighting against various health issues he had to deal with. That fight took most of his energies.Even then, he did not give up, and kept his optimism and open mind. He peacefully trusted in God. Felix was an amazing person, and I will miss him very much! Rest in peace, my dear friend!"

From Brian Menold (puzzle craftsman)

"Since entering the puzzle community several years ago, I have always been amazed at the wonderful people that make up this unique group of folks. One such person was Felix (Tzy Hung Chein). I became friends with Felix about seven or eight years ago and I’m not quite sure how we connected. But we did, and that connection quickly turned into a very strong friendship.

I call many people in the puzzle community my friends, and many of them, like Felix, I have never had the pleasure of meeting face to face. But the frequency and warmth of our conversations took this friendship a little farther than most. He became a mentor to me. I think it is safe to say that many of the puzzles that Wood Wonders produced over the past several years were made primarily because of his influence. His advice and counsel were invaluable to me. He would graciously send me prototypes that he had made for me to review and then he would explain why he thought it was a good puzzle to make. Needless to say, he was always right. 

I will never forget the man who encouraged me to make puzzles that were perhaps a bit outside my comfort zone, the man who shared his wisdom about what makes a good design, and of course, the man who, in spite of his own health issues, always helped keep my spirits up while my wife and I were fighting our health issues. This world lost a great deal with his passing and I lost a great friend. 

I will never forget you,


 Rest in peace my friend.

Sunday 9 May 2021

The Breitenbach Singularity

Setko’s Bullseye, grandchild of W.C. Breitenbach’s Great 13.
Hooray! I am finally feeling better! Thank you to those of you who sent well wishes, I really appreciated it. I was contacted by Mike apologising that he had let me down but he really hadn't...he had sent today's post the day before I got sick and it had been my intention to edit and post it last Sunday but could not get out of bed or off the loo for long enough to even log on. I have lost a considerable amount of weight and Mrs S has said that this confirms that I am "full of $&*t" as it all left me over a torrid 5 days. So, today is the long awaited next post in the Setko series from my wonderful friend and PuzzleMad foreign correspondent, Mike Desilets:

Before I let Mike take over, I must point you all to the TwoBrassMonkeys store where Big Steve and Ali have released Number 4 in their Brass Monkey series. Promising to be different to the previous iterations, they claim it a "puzzler's puzzle". How could any of us resist? I haven't and it should be posted to me tomorrow. I will no doubt let you know my thoughts but if it is anywhere near as good as number 1, number 2 or number 3 then I will not be disappointed. Go buy it whilst stocks last.

Now over to Mr D...

Aloha kākou puzzlers,

Since the last communique from the PuzzleMad Foreign Office, Hawaii Branch, I have enjoyed a lively correspondence with noted peg solitaire analyst George Bell, and at a degree of separation, even more noted mathematician, computer scientist, and peg solitairist John D Beasely. What follows is largely inspired by those exchanges, but of course the foolishness, misrepresentations, and errors are all my own. It is a fairly small subset of the community that take a serious interest in peg solitaire puzzles, which is unfortunate, but hopefully this post will encourage many of you to give them a try. The cost to value ratio is exemplary. (Ed - I have asort of fascination for them but really do not have the skills to solve them).

Now, I have to confess right off, the English 33-peg swiss cross and its many variants, of which you are all painfully aware, have never been my thing. These DO deserve your attention, and George Bell has given the musty old cross some especially serious attention, (article here) which you should make it a point to study (yes, you will always receive a homework assignment from the Foreign Office). But working a 33-peg board is often a real pain in the arse (Ed - I am sooo pleased that you have used the correct expression and not the American donkey!), especially the constant board resetting needed when, a good 25 jumps in, you discover an irretrievable peg. Let’s put it this way for now, those standard commercial boards are really just gateway drugs; there exist better, more potent drugs, if you are willing to search them out. 

So then, how does one improve on a classic puzzle? If it involves 33 moving pieces, a good first tactic would be simplification. The well-worn truism applies: the most elegant puzzles are those wherein a minimal elements produce maximal challenge. Geometric symmetry doesn't hurt either. The 33-peg cross board has a very pleasing shape, to be sure, but it does not shout elegance (which should never be shouted, Kevin) (Ed - as an almost cockney, I have nothing to do with elegance!). This was noticed well over a century ago during puzzling’s Golden Age, and many great solitaire innovations were the result. We will focus in on one particular designer from that era and see if we can’t expand our consciousnesses ever so slightly.

Original 1899 design patent drawing, The Great 13.
Kevin Sadler, Eggman to my Leper Messiah, you know exactly where we are heading now don’t you? Yes! We are going to look at the brilliant work of late Victorian era puzzle designer William C Breitenbach. The cultured among you will instantly know Breitenbach from his most influential and long-lived peg solitaire puzzle design, The Great 13 Puzzle. The design for Great 13 was patented by Breitenbach on July 25, 1899 (Patent). You will find a nice picture of it in your copy of Slocum and Bottermans, New Book of Puzzles (turn to page 99). Regrettably, I cannot show you a picture in this post because I am writing several thousand miles away from my stuff. I’ll include it in Act 2, at a later date. 

The rules of Great 13 are just as you would suspect: jump peg-over-peg (marble-over-marble if you are lucky enough to have an original), in any direction, removing the jumped peg. The center starts empty and the puzzle is solved when you discover a series of jumps which place the final peg back in the center. This is known in the industry as the center compliment problem. With only 13 pegs, and a beautifully symmetrical design, I consider this puzzle as among the most elegant of the entire class. Mr Beasley observes that the allowance of diagonal moves “does tend to make the game too easy.” Fair point. However, I think for the average person-on-the-street, it’s a fine and fun challenge. The general public was, after all, the intended audience for the Great 13. There is a replay-value angle as well. Solving Great 13 once does not guarantee success on the next try. As we will explore in Act 2, the ability to solve a puzzle is one thing, the ability to solve it every time is quite another. The later is the gold ring and the PuzzleMad standard. (Ed - if only I could solve things more than once!)

For some very useful analytics on Breitenbach’s Great 13 design, please now flip to page 10 of John Beasley’s 2014 IPP paper An update to the history of peg solitaire (Download it from here). Mr Beasley has generously provided some hard boundaries for your exploration, regarding especially what is and is not possible to achieve on a 13-hole diamond board. In so doing, he also provides the motivated puzzler with many fun challenges beyond the classic center complement. Quoting directly from the article:

With the help of diagonal moves, the following single-vacancy single-survivor problems can be solved:

  • Initial vacancy at 1: the final survivor may be in any hole except 6 or 8.
  • Initial vacancy at 2: the final survivor may be in any of the eight holes around the edge.
  • Initial vacancy at 3: the final survivor may only be in hole 1 or 13.
  • Initial vacancy at 7: the final survivor may be in hole 7 itself or in any of the four corner holes.

Position assignments for Beasley’s analysis. 

Based on this, you can generate quite a number of unique challenges, even considering the redundancies inherent in a symmetrical board. The latent potential of the Great 13 as a multi-challenge puzzle, so critical to modern commercial puzzle design, was put to its greatest effect by none other than Nob Yoshigahara in his Hoppers. Hoppers was produced by Thinkfun starting in 1999 and is still going strong. Don’t be fooled by the juvenile design, this is a puzzle you should pay attention to. Someday I will do a post about the gems known only to the 5 to 10 demographic. You are walking past fantastic and noteworthy designs every time you take your kids to the toy store (or section). 

Early Bullseye from Setko.
Your instructions.
I don’t know how many versions of Great 13 have been made over the years, but it’s a lot. According to the patent text presented further down, design patents were good for 7 years at the time Breitenbach was working. By 1906 then, the Great 13 design had entered the public domain. Since it was a design patent and not a utility patent, the basic scheme could have been used by others much earlier. It was actually, but that is a story for Act 3. (Ed - soo many acts in this play!)

At any rate, I’m not aware of many produced examples during this early period, based only on a quick survey of the Slocum and Hordern-Dalgety online resources. I do know that by the mid-1960s numerous versions had been produced in the US, most of which are still available and relatively cheap on auction sites. My favorite version, and I think one of the earliest from this resurgence, is Calvin Brown’s Setko version, called Bullseye. That’s clearly a better name, by the way, than Great 13; far more expressive. Bullseye was offered in walnut and oak, with characteristic Setko brass, aluminum, copper, or nickel-plated-something pegs. No other version comes close in terms of raw quality. (Ed - I will need to find one of these in Walnut with nice pegs for my own collection)

Setko means business with these ‘pegs’.

A little back-of-the-box ad work.
I’m not going to focus on the handsome versions just mentioned, of course. The images you see here are instead of Calvin’s earliest issue of Bullseye (as far as I can determine), consisting of a modest pine board with authentic #¼-28 x ½ heat treated socket head cap screws. Prior to producing puzzles as a serious business venture, Calvin Brown’s peg puzzles were in the service of his actual business, manufacturing and selling set screws. The text on the box is pretty clear, and if you’ve handled the Setko ‘pegs’, pretty convincing as well. This is definitely at the top end of the “advertising puzzle” quality hierarchy of the time, and certainly a significant investment for a hand-out. But then recall (from previous post), that Mr Brown had, around this time, patented several new puzzles of his own invention. He was a puzzle guy, so this was probably a completely natural course of action, regardless of cost. It was the first important step on the road to building his independent puzzle business. 

Hoyle/Stancraft marketed version of Bullseye (Setko manufactured). Copper pegs on walnut.

Again, for emphasis, I am without access to my stuff. Otherwise I would show you the pretty versions. The best I can do right now is the above Hoyle (Stancraft) version of Bullseye gleaned from the web. More sophisticated packaging, but still made by Setko. If you don’t have some version of Bullseye in your collection, you really should. If you’ve already spent too much on puzzles this month, as my editor surely has (Ed - how did you know?), you can just make one with a piece of paper and some farthings. I have it on good authority that Mr George Bell does this regularly, it’s perfectly legitimate.

Cool as they are, I wouldn’t highlight the Great 13 and Bullseye unless there were something more to the story. Kevin wouldn’t keep me on staff if I couldn’t tell you something you didn’t already know. So, for the next part, I’ll limbo under that bar. (Ed - so flexible! I'd just fall in a heap)

The Great 17 (13+4=17).
The Great 13 puzzle (and its' later reproductions) gets all the attention from collectors and analysts, and it is no wonder, given its simple elegance and great longevity. It has the advantage that it was actually produced and sold. But, as most designers tend to do, William Breitenbach also explored other variants, none of which appear to have made it to market. One example is what can only be called The Great 17. This design was patented March 28, 1899, four months before the Great 13 patent issue (Patent). 

Looking at the Great 17, we see that it is an extension of the Great 13, simply adding an outer square perpendicular to the last. Rules of play are not listed in the patent, but we can assume they are precisely the same. This extension, adding only four new peg places, obviously complicates the puzzle quite a bit. It may just be the answer to the easiness issue dispensed with above. 

Unfortunately, you will have to look elsewhere for any kind of technical analysis of the Great 17; I don’t have anything whatsoever to offer. I can only hope that the recreational maths portion of the readership become intrigued (Ed - George, please feel free to send me stuff to append or even create an extra guest post). The questions here are potentially much broader than simply establishing parameters, maxima, minima, etc for a larger version. What we should be concerned about are Great N problems. Thirteen is apparently the limiting minimum size for this puzzle, but it can be extended infinitely thereafter. At every iteration, you simply add an outer square. It's in the picture below.

Infinite possibilities, of a single type.
Great N analysis would look at what this growth entails. Take something like the fewest moves for center compliment. What is the growth curve of that quantity? Is there a formula for determining the fewest moves for arbitrary n? Would a brute force calculation end up NP-complete? Or, from a puzzling perspective, is there an elegant way to always achieve fewest moves, some kind of deep pattern that remains consistent as n grows? There are dozens of questions of this kind. (Ed - I wish I understood what you were talking about! George?)

This could take forever to solve.
Alas, you will never get the answers from Kevin or I, that is safe to say. This requires the services of the gentlemen mentioned earlier. Let’s shelve the technical stuff for now. In a practical sense, as a mechanical puzzle, you can’t really grow the Great 13 much past 17, because each new growth doubles the area of the puzzle. It isn’t obvious at first, but looking at the progressive G-13 to G-21 images above, you can see it better and measure off the changes. Visualize folding. The newly added area for each iteration equals the previous (now inner) total area. With this doubling rule in effect, a Great 13 puzzle, beginning at a very modest 2-square-centimeters will after 26 iterations be the length of George Bell’s great state of Colorado. It gets big fast. It also gets small fast. I wasn’t quite right previously when I suggested that 13 was the bottom. As it grows outward infinitely, so too does it grow infinitely inward. There is no bottom. The Great 13 puzzle is simply a slice two layers thick (so to speak) of an endless fractal.

This is all very interesting, says Kevin, but what does it all mean? Well, my friend, the Great N perspective answers the age-old question of why there is a point in the middle of Mr Breitenbach’s puzzle, and why the center compliment is the most beautiful form of play. As the internal squares become smaller and smaller, in an infinite progression, they converge on the precise center of the puzzle, ending in a dimensionless point. Notice that all the other peg places are on vertices of the squares. The Great N center peg, however, is on a special point which can be thought of as encompassing all vertices and all lines (the dimensionless point of collapse). That is why it is appropriate to place a hole there, why it is especially appropriate that it be vacant at start of play, and why it is surely most appropriate that the final peg end in the center, effectively swallowed by the singularity. Kevin, you dullard, Great N theory allows us to finally construct a solitaire puzzle in which NO PEGS REMAIN! (Ed - I am definitely a dullard - you lost me several paragraphs ago!)

That concludes Act 1. We have not even gotten to the good stuff yet. The third Breitenbach design is a real kicker and I can’t wait to tell you about it. And Kevin, thanks for the very kind mention a few posts back. It’s always a great honor to have my musings on PuzzleMad. You’ve built something really special here and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. I’ve just consulted the staff and we agree that the Foreign Office is committed to another 10 years of unscheduled, infrequent submittals. Take us home my friend...

Wow!!! What a tour-de-force! Thank you so much, my friend. I am in awe at your puzzle writing skills. You make me look like a rank amateur. You have even committed yourself to another two articles on a similar subject. These puzzles look so amazing and I really must try and obtain some tice copies for my own puzzling and collection. I have very few vintage puzzles. My words from my tenth anniversary post were very sincere, you have considerably helped me in this journey and I am very grateful for everything you do. I am looking forward to another 10 years of guest posts from you.

Sunday 2 May 2021

Sorry - no post today

For only the third time in 10 years there is no blog post today.  I’m afraid I’m much too ill today to puzzle or write about them. It’s not Covid related. I hope that normal service will be resumed next weekend.