Sunday 4 July 2021

Aaron Extends Some Classic Puzzles

And Gives a Huge Challenge (which I even solve for once)

Axes and Hammer
At the beginning of the year my friend, Aaron Wang, showed off his latest creation on Facebook (it had quietly been shown off in the IPP design competition in 2020 for the IPP which had not happened due to this blasted pandemic). It was a very exciting announcement because he had clearly gotten very big ideas - not only was he making new disentanglement puzzles but he had branched out from simple hand made wire puzzles (which you will have seen a lot on this blog) into making beautiful versions out of stainless steel. Of course, I am addicted to his puzzles (I think I have bought almost everything he has produced) but how could I resist when he moves into a new medium? An order was placed and then it all went rather badly wrong! The Pandemic has really hammered the international postal service from China to the rest of the world.

Several of us in the UK had ordered these at the same time in March 2021 and  the tracking reached the airport and stopped... they stayed at the airport for weeks and weeks. Of course, I trust Aaron and he was just as exasperated as I was but we decided to just keep on waiting and after 3 months (just when Aaron was contemplating absorbing the cost and sending another package out with a different courier) the packages suddenly started to travel around the world. Phew! Once they had left China they arrived here pretty quickly and I was delighted to receive my fabulous puzzle - in fact there were 2 in there (he had made me a gift of another great design).

The star of the show (pictured at the top) is the Axes and Hammer puzzle. As soon as I saw it I recognised the type of design - I have featured this at least twice before much earlier in my adventure. The very basic versions are the Scorpion (available frome Puzzlemaster here) or the Smuggler's revenge which seems to be no longer available.

Smuggler's Revenge
These are functionally identical with a classic solving method but are not quite the same as Axes and Hammer in that the string/chain loop only feeds through once. For this more complex version then you should look at Scorpion's Sting from Puzzlemaster or the Wedge from the sadly no longer with us, Livewire Puzzles - you will notice that these have a double loop through the puzzle:

Scorpion's Sting
The Wedge
It won't fit
The solution for all these puzzles involve moving the ring to various positions and then feeding one end of the string/chain through the puzzle before continuing to manipulate the ring further. It is actually not a particularly difficult one (Scorpion is level only 8 (Demanding) out of Puzzlemaster's scale of 5 to 10 whilst Scorpion's sting is level 10 - I would put it down at level 9 at most). The key feature is the ability to move the ends through the puzzle. I quickly set to playing with Aaron's version and quickly discovered that Houston has a problem! As you can see in the picture to the left, the axe heads will not go through. It can only pass through at the very end and this is impossible with the ring in the way as pictured which is an essential position for the solution of the more basic versions. Oh yesssss! This is why I buy puzzles from Aaron - he does make his own designs but he also takes other designs and makes them MUCH more fun.

I worked on this for a couple of days and really had to Think© and make some more interesting discoveries before I had it solved. The tolerances on this are absolutely perfect...if you don't get the plan and the positioning just right then this will not solve. Aaron could have made this one easier by only having a single loop like this:

The equivalent of the Scorpion rather than the Scorpion's Sting
Too easy for Aaron 
The weight of the Axe heads also adds to the challenge as they pull down and make the accurate positioning more awkward - I would suggest that it is almost vital that you have the help of a cat to solve this - if you are not working at a table then you need something to lean on:

He is essential - couldn't have done it without him
Wonderful challenge - a great variant on a classic
The next puzzle was a delightful surprise which took me down the puzzler's path of frustration - elation - frustration and tears! Aaron was very kind and included a gift to me of a new puzzle called the The Bodies:

Three bodies
I instantly recognised this puzzle on two levels! This had been made by cannibalising the All Cuffed Up puzzle (from the same range as the Smuggler's revenge). It is a version of the Classic ball and chain puzzle which I have written about at length before (especially here). It is interesting for me that the All cuffed up version was the one that Aaron used. The Ball and Chain puzzle has a very specific sequence of moves with the puzzle held in exact orientation to solve or else produce an ever more complex loop or knot. EXCEPT the All cuffed up had a fatal flaw - the "ball part" which was a triangle on the end of the chain was able to fit through the hole in the end of the circle and this would allow the ring to slip off easily, avoiding the main solution method. Aaron had taken the flawed puzzle and removed the reason for the flaw by chaining three of the circles together ensuring that nothing could fit through where it shouldn't. This meant that the Three bodies was a Ball and chain on steroids - the same idea but much MORE!

Aaron has done similar dreadful things to these puzzles before and kept me occupied for days, weeks and months before:

Classic Ball and Chain puzzle

2 layer variant
3 layer variant 
Yet again it was time to Think© and again utilise the help of a cat to hold the pieces in place. There is no chance of a cheat here and I definitely needed to be careful - many of Aaron's more complex constructions have a quick release mechanism to help after creating a horrendous knot. The Three bodies had no quick release and if I made a mess then that was the end of the puzzle. Luckily my trusty Burmese boy made short work of the puzzle and after a couple of evenings of play the ring was removed:

Now put it back!
The reverse process was not a huge challenge because I had properly mastered the sequence having had to do it several times.

As usual, this success lulls me into a false sense of security and I then move on to puzzles which are well above my skill level. Aaron has made a whole bunch of Ball and chain variants over the last year  or so and I have dutifully bought them all and singularly failed with almost all of them (apart from the 2 and 3 level variants above). I was flushed with success and confidence and quickly moved back through my collection to puzzles that have been lying in my work bag for nearly a year:

Maze B&C
Wholly B&C
I really thought that I might have managed to develop some real skillz with these classic puzzles and all I can say is "thank heaven for the quick release mechanisms"! I managed to get quite close with one - but as you all know - close is not solved so no cigar for me:

So near and yet still not there!
I never managed much better than that with this puzzle despite hours and hours of trying. Interestingly, if I start with the solved puzzle and work in reverse then I can usually reassemble to the unsolved state but at no point can I go the other way!

The Wholly B&C looks simpler but has proved to be a complete nightmare for me - I cannot assemble or disassemble it and in either direction end up with a complete mess. I repeat...thank heavens for the quick release:

Not even close! An horrific knot
Aaron has created other B&C based puzzles and yep, you guessed it, I can't solve them either! I will keep trying but suspect it might take me years. Great value for money of course. You should all keep an eye out for even more puzzles being released later this year - he has been teasing us on Facebook for a few weeks now.

Thank you for reading my drivel guys! I seem to have somehow passed the 2 million pageview mark! Amazing

My goodness you are suckers for punishment!

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