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.

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