Sunday 29 August 2021

Sometimes I Just Gotta Think©

Sometimes I Just Gotta Think Over and Over Again!

Grooved Three Piece Board Burr
Sometimes I think that I am really not terribly bright - Mrs S agrees with me about this almost all the time apart from when she wants something. The beautiful piece of joinery above is the Grooved three piece board burr designed by Kouki Kusumi and fabulously made by the Doctor of wood, Eric Fuller using Maple, Wenge and gorgeous Zebrawood with some tiny acrylic dowels to engage with the grooves.

This very simple design was released at the beginning of August and I couldn't resist it because the design looks so simple (just 3 identical pieces) with a nice challenging level of 8.2 and also because it won a Jury honourable mention in last years' remote IPP design competition. This alone would make it worth purchasing but mostly I have come to accept Eric's choices. He loves interlocking puzzles and burrs but they have to be something really special to pique his attention. He could make anything he wants with extremely high level but he almost never makes that sort of puzzle. Eric only produces puzzles that he personally finds clever and interesting. 

This sat next to me for a few weeks whilst I worked on some of my new toys from Mine and the latest twisty puzzles. Finally I had a little time to play and out it came. The premise is simple - interlock the pieces into a standard board burr shape. A teeny tiny bit of thought© allowed me to deduce how the pieces should end up and where the dowels should be. It is trivial to get two of the pieces to interlock and then when it's time to get the third piece in, it is immediately revealed that the dowel gets in the way. Take it apart and try a different orientation and same result. Doh!

That took some rather special thinking©
I spent about an hour the first evening doing the same thing over and over again but in different orientations with no success. How can it be that hard? The following day, I tried again and had some more thoughts© - I tried to be logical and move pieces around in preparation and Aha! I had my assembled puzzle. That was wonderful - why had it taken so long? I disassembled it and left it for a half hour and tried again...NOPE! Wasn't happening. For some reason, despite having a vague memory of the sort of moves required, I just couldn't reassemble the bloody thing! I kept ending back at the same place as the first day. Time to finish for the day and go back to it the following day...same problem.

More time to think© and I eventually manage to relax my feeble brain enough to let a new sequence in and I had it assembled. There is something wonderful about this design. It is really not terribly complex but it still seems to me to be really challenging. When I try to think to hard I cannot assemble it - I seem to have to try and achieve a relaxed brain thinking© each time before I can solve it - I don't actually think there are very many puzzles quite like that. Random movements won't do it and thinking too hard is counter-productive. The delight here is a sort of unfocussed thinking. This is rather different from the next puzzle.

Sunday 22 August 2021

Skewb Extras

New Twisties
The middle two look really fearsome but the outer 2 aren't that bad
A very long time ago, probably about 18 months into my puzzling "career", I published one of my most popular posts of all was an article in which I described to people what directions were open to them after they had learned how to solve the basic odd and even order Rubik (face turning) cubes. There are lots of pathways and all are hugely fun because everything you learn on the basic puzzles can be utilised later on different geometries, different rotations or puzzles with "extras". This post was so well received that I had to write a follow up once more varieties had been released. In fact, when I do get asked by beginning puzzlers what they should buy, I always try to entice them into twisty puzzles - they have huge variety, they tend to be less expensive than many other puzzles, they are truly logical and the repeatability is fantastic. Yes, I know that for many other puzzlers the twisties are a group that many of you just cannot get your heads around but I still believe that everyone should try the cubes and a few other variants before making up their minds. The rewards are fabulous. You may need some help early on from fabulous puzzlers on YouTube like SuperAntonioVivaldi or Pete Wyspianski (and many others) who show off the basics with great explanations as well as the solution to incredibly complex puzzles. Once you have got these basics then you just gradually build them up and use what you learn in more and more complex ways. The Twisty Puzzles forum is full of help as well.

I am by no means an expert on these puzzles but somehow I have managed to acquire nearly 200 different twisty puzzles and have solved most of them (sometimes with help). Recently there have been a whole lot of new and ever more complex puzzles manufactured by those clever chaps in China (why in China? It seems that they have easier access to the tools required to manufacture complex plastic puzzles)

Arrived this weekend - Master mixup cubes (type 1, 4 & 6)

One of the routes I advise newbie twisty puzzlers to go down is into cubes that turn through different axes and one of the classic is the Skewb - it's effectively a deep cut corner turning 2x2x2 cube. I found this really quite challenging when I first bought it and it must have taken me a week or so to master. This is not because there are difficult algorithms to learn (you only use the famous up, up, down, down sequence to solve it) - it's because the change in turning orientation really upset my rather feeble bwain! Once understood it is a lovely little design that makes for a fabulous worry bead and also really really upsets non-puzzlers when they see it and try to move it. It does seem rather unnatural.

I was quite excited when my favourite twisty puzzle store (HKNowStore) had a bunch of new Skewbs available - the Meilong Mixup Skewbs come in 3 variants with extra semicircles in the middle of the faces. I have previously extolled the virtues of cubes with circles in them as they effectively provide a second puzzle within the first puzzle and then extra approaches to the solution order. I could see that the version with only whole semi-circles was going to be fairly trivial so I ordered the type 2 and 3:

Meilong Mixup Skewb type 2
Meilong Mixup Skewb type 3
As you can see the deep corner turning cuts are there so it is "just a skewb" but after a partial turn the semicircles become complete and can be turned:

Semicircles aligned and turned
More possibilities for the rotation
Having got these and taken some pics I just threw caution to the wind and scrambled them - I was ever so slightly pleased with myself for my stupidity/courage and I was delighted to have something rather beautiful once scrambled - there was a small chance that it might just end up staying that way. When I showed off the scramble on FB I received encouragement that it really wasn't that tough a puzzle.

Gulp! Gulp!
So how to go about them? I am not going to go into huge detail but I decided to start trying to recreate the semicircles on the 2x2 version which was a fun and logical set of moves which got just a little harder as I got towards the last few and then with the last couple it took a little working out to make sure that the last pieces were oriented right. This, again, doesn't require any special algorithms, it just requires thought©. After that the Skewb solve is just as always - except for the fact that I have not solved one for quite a few years and it took me quite a while to work out how the up, up, down, down worked when used with different puzzle orientations. After an extra hour of swearing at my feeble bwain I had the puzzle reassembled.

The Mixup Skewb version 3 was MUCH tougher for me. I know that others had said that it was easy but I had failed to realise that the reassembly of the final semicircles was going to cause me significant challenge and a lot of swearing. In the end, after at least 5 days of forming one semicircle whilst destroying another I had a wonderful AHA! moment. These pieces could be 3 cycled very like you would 3 cycle the centre pieces in a 4x4 or higher order face turning cube. It is easy to move a piece from the front face to the top (in the equivalent position) and the piece it displaces moves to the front to one side of the starting piece and then that pieces moves across. This exact idea can be performed on the "centres" or circles in the partially turned Skewb. This 3 cycle can get a little confusing because the left, right and centre wedges of the semicircles are not equivalent and it can take a little while to work out exactly which wedges need to move where. With a little trial and error, I got it. 

Here you can see a three-cycle and how the L and R wedges can be out of place
There is a sort of parity where one semicircle is mixed up and won't get fixed simply but this is an error of "false equivocation" - a piece from one semicircle needs to be swapped with one from an equivalent colour. Yes it's such fun!

I have to reiterate that these puzzles are enormous fun and are just part of the natural progression within your Twisty puzzling journey...start with a simple 3x3 cube, learn it (don't bother with speed as that is mostly for teenagers) then go for a 4x4 and understand the differences. Then branch out and try other types of rotation or other geometries and then you are all set for puzzles with "extras".

Go for's fun. The water is all warm in here.

Stay safe guys - the pandemic is still going and still highly transmissible. The unvaccinated are filling hospitals and intensive care units. GO GET A VACCINE!!!!

Sunday 15 August 2021

The Best Helical Ever - Polar Burr

 aka Twisting the Night Evening Away

Polar Burr
Over the years of this blog you will have seen quite a few of these. They are helical burrs all designed by the genius, Derek Bosch. It is quite a telling thing that out of all the incredible puzzlers in the world, only he has designed this sort of puzzle - this is for several reasons...primarily he is a genius but also because he thinks in 3D in a non-linear way that the rest of us normal human beings cannot think and especially because he has a very twisted mind! I personally would be grateful to have a mind at all let alone an evil twisted genius one. Mrs S often berates me for my lack of brains and she is absolutely right (see, I admitted it and she is not standing behind me brandishing her lochaber axe!)

I had reviewed the "He'll lick all bare, too" a few months ago and described how I had dismantled it whilst having gotten lost in the move sequence and then had no idea how to put it back together again. I survived the daggers (aka the Sgian-dubh - my, aren't I full of the Scottish weapons of violence??) that Mrs S threw at me with her glare at the noise. The nature of the 3D printing process always mean that these are built up in layers and they make a rasping noise as you move the pieces about and this noise is particularly annoying to wives (or is that just my wife?). 

Big Steve (from the TwoBrassMonkeys store) showed off the latest creation from Derek's twisted mind and claimed that the Polar burr (named for the snowy white peak) had the highest number of moves yet for any of these helical puzzles. Of course, how could I resist and a short chat with Steve had me sending some PayPal his way and he posted me the next in the series the following day. "Yay!" said Mrs S. Except she didn't. In fact when the box was opened and I gleefully showed of the puzzle that was supposed to have 36 moves to remove the first piece she stared at me long and hard as if to dare me to play whilst we watched TV. GULP!!!

Being extremely frightened of Mrs S and her assorted weaponry, I took the puzzle to work and annoyed a few surgeons with it but couldn't really work on it there because the stuff that I tend to anaesthetise requires a lot of concentration and attention to what is going on (I probably cannot afford to lose focus when doing an AAA repair). This meant that I had to risk possible retribution from Mrs S and play in the evenings. I would wait until she had a cup of tea and a cat on her lap to pin her down before I would get the puzzle out and hope that she had not brought her throwing knives into the living room.

Over the next few evenings I explored the burr in a back and forth manner as I usually do to lay down the pathways in my memory. There is quite a lot of movement in this puzzle which makes it a lot of fun. I personally find that burrs with too many false paths rapidly become less fun to play with because it is really tough to keep the decision tree in my head (I have a minimal capacity brain). The Polar burr is nice because it has quite a few false paths but none are so deep or have multiple branches to leave you getting lost. Several times in the process, I got very close to removing the first piece but it was always blocked. One problem with these rotational puzzles is that false movements are sometimes possible if pieces are rotated in an unintended way. With Polar burr this is not possible - a few times it did become a bit rickety and nearly ready to fall apart but remained stable.

Nearly there? Not for a while yet.
During the process there are several lovely moves that make you almost gasp in delight. Back and forth the pieces dance around each other gradually moving towards the exit. I say "almost gasp in delight" but remember that "she" is armed and dangerous and I cannot afford to risk upsetting her any further. 😈

Finally after 4 evenings I removed the first piece and yelled silently (see my reasons above). I was slightly concerned that I had not really understood the last few moves as I had been watching TV at the same time. Without moving anything else, I decided to put it back together again and relearn all the steps...except I could not reverse the 2 or 3 moves that I had done to take the piece out. Damn! Swearing at my stupidity I spent a rather fraught ½ hour desperately trying to put the loose piece back in much to the amusement of Mrs S who delights when I am in pain. Eventually it went back inside and I returned to the beginning. Now, how did I manage that last move? It took me one more evening to finally solve it and completely take the puzzle apart with the confidence that I could return it to the beginning again:

Just 4 pieces but rotational moves make for a huge challenge!
I have to say that I think this is the very best one yet - the level 36 is huge but this is very solvable even for a puzzle idiot like me. If you want to play with it then Steve has put a few up for sale on PuzzleParadise - they take a very long time to print so will only be made in small batches - keep an eye out for Steve's items there if they are sold out - the Twobrassmonkeys store is kept for metal puzzles and the plastic goes up on Paradise. I seem to have been quite busy with these over the year:

Lots of helicals (one might be lost somewhere in my collection)
The one in pieces is either TwiddleDum or Dee - I can't remember and can't reassemble it

Stay safe everyone - despite what the UK government has said, it's probably too soon to be abandoning masks in public - the Delta variant is extremely infectious so every little thing you do to protect yourself will help. The numbers in our hospitals here are increasing inexorably and this includes the younger population. If you can have a vaccination then take it - any of the vaccinations are effective. We have had hundreds of millions of doses now with almost no significant adverse effects (a few hundred blood clots out of hundreds of millions of doses is insignificant). We know for certain that the vaccine works - pretty much ALL the patients admitted to hospital with Covid now in the UK are the un- or partially vaccinated or those with immune compromise. GO GET A JAB...NOW!

Sunday 8 August 2021

Free Me From All This!

Is that something that Mrs S has muttered at me having opened the door to the UPS guy twice in one week? No, it is the motive for the latest challenge from Joe Turner - Free Me 7:

Free Me 7 (back to the usual format)
We have all been waiting quite a while for this to be released. Joe is a busy man and producing puzzles to satisfy the community's insatiable appetite is a long difficult process. The email about both Freem Me 7 and 8 came out way back in the middle of 2020 in which Joe explained that number 8 was going to be released a lot earlier than number 7 and, of course, I couldn't resist one of those. I am not entirely sure why he didn't just change the numbering so they were sent out in order but I am not clever enough to be a puzzle producer. The Free Me 7 was delayed because he was struggling with the required tolerances. It must have been a huge struggle because the offer of the next in the series didn't arrive until a few weeks ago. As you know I am never one to refuse a sequential discovery puzzle (or any puzzle for that matter) and I sent of some of my hard earned GBP (converted to USD) and risked the ever increasing ire of "She who must be feared".

When it arrived it was accompanied by a sealed packet containing specific instructions and a solution leaflet which so far I have resisted opening. As always, the aim is to take the coin out of the box whilst using only tools that are released as you play. Joe's wood craftsmanship is visibly progressing as he makes more puzzles. My first one was the Free Me 6 and, whilst a great puzzle, was not anything much to look at. Here we have a puzzle that is nicer on display and finished beautifully.

I couldn't resist! I had reached a dead end with the Abraham's Well from Brian Young and had this one on my pile'o'puzzles to solve next to me and went straight to it.

It is quite obvious that the end comes off but there is only a tiny amount of movement in the dovetail before the blockage is evident. OK, how do I release the blockage? There really isn't much available at this stage. Turning it over and over in my hands, I can hear things moving inside but no matter what direction I turn and what angle I am at I cannot release the dovetail. I consider putting it on the lapcat and spinning it but decide that isn't a good idea - it has been a few weeks since we trimmed his claws and I didn't want a "lap" injury when he zoomed off. I also wondered whether spinning the puzzle might actually be considered shaking? I carried on doing the same thing over and over again for a whole evening thinking I had a broken puzzle.

Of course, I did not have a broken puzzle! I was just too stupid to think of what else was possible. After a soothing day (?) in the hospital, I came home wonderfully refreshed and ready to puzzle again. OK, maybe that is a little exaggeration but I had been thinking about what else I could try and again with cat on lap, I tried something new. This time there was a change inside and the top slid off - yay! In my usual way, I wanted to understand what had happened and tried to reverse the process and lock it back up again but, yet again, I couldn't do it. I was able to replace the lid and lock it on but it was always trivial to unlock again. I could not seem to understand how it was properly locked. Time to give up on that aspect and continue...

Looking inside I could see that the coin was held securely in place by a piece of metal and I clearly needed to move or remove that object. I tried all sorts of orientations and moves and had to stop myself again spinning the bloody thing. It was not going to come free easily. Another evening passed and it was back to work again. The next time I played (starting from almost the beginning) I made a discovery... it is really quite important to enjoy a puzzle slowly and listen as well as feel and look at what it happening. I heard something happen at one point and repeated that move a few more times. It happened every time - Aha! What if I????

Having made a nice discovery that could be heard and felt but not seen, this started me on an interesting path of discovery. I noticed things changing but never quite enough. I need to think© a bit more. 

After I had thunk, I realised that this sequential discovery puzzle is special in that there are almost no useful tools. I had been hoping that more stuff would fall out but what was really needed was to use the tool I had properly:

That took me several days!
After my shout upset Mrs S, I went to take a photo and then reassemble it. I suddenly realised that I had not fully understood the mechanism. I could put it back together but it was quite easy to open again and remove the coin. There was more to it aka "you did it by pure luck!" 

Finally, after another evening of toil, I think I have understood the puzzle mechanism. It is all hidden and needs to be manipulated blind which is not one of my strong points. Much less complex a construction and solution than either FM 6 or 8 but requiring very accurate movements. I can see now why Joe struggled to produce these - the tolerances would have to be fractions of a mm. Delightful and really good value puzzling - I am delighted to have this in my collection. I wonder when version 9 will be coming?

Sunday 1 August 2021

Juno Sequentially Discovers a Cube

Sequential Discovery Cubed Box
I am unfortunately at work again today and have rushed to solve something and have posted this in advance to keep you amused. My backlog seems to be getting bigger and I may be looking for someone to let me sleep in a spare room soon because Mrs S might well chuck me out the house when the bunch of puzzles that Mine has posted arrives!

Previous puzzles in the series
We have all known that Juno has been planning something big, something special, something to continue the puzzling line of the Sequential discovery burred boxes (reviewed here, here and here). The anticipation has been rising and many puzzlers have been worried that the puzzle flippers would get hold of it quickly to make a quick buck. True puzzlers absolutely hate those people and none more than Juno (and Yukari) who has written a blog post about how he plans to prevent it from happening - I really hope that he was successful. He will in the future choose not to sell to people who he discovers flip his creations for a quick profit. I whole-heartedly agree with him. I am aware that I am privileged to have a good job and can afford to buy but selling within days is just a sign of disrespect to the creator. At some point I may have to sell some puzzles either to make space or to downsize my house or, more likely, to prevent a murder in my home but at the moment my collection is my pride and joy and I love owning and displaying them as well as solving them.

Ages - still not solved!
The sequential discovery cubed box went on sale and sold out completely in 4 minutes (all 140 copies) - I got a warning from a friend that it was about to happen (thanks so much Jay) and was logged in and ready when the site loaded with the puzzle and and out with my preciousssss. Postage from the other side of the world was remarkably fast considering the pandemic has trashed world wide flights and post, I got my mitts on it on Thursday night and set to work. Turning it over and over to admire the beautiful workmanship revealed a rattling noise inside - what could it be? It is an absolutely lovely object - Fijian Mahogany is used for the main part of the puzzle, and the wood used for the internal parts is mainly Iroko, Jarrah and sapwood of Bubinga, with Jarrah being used especially for the parts that require durability and wear resistance. The base is not part of the puzzle, it is there to display the puzzle - it is made from Spotted Gum.

You might be wondering why I started work on this puzzle when my most recent additions have also been wonderful sequential discovery puzzles from Brian Young and Joe Turner? Lets just say that one has been solved without understanding how it works (I'll get there before long) and the other has me stumped at the moment - in fact I am still stumped on the third move of Brian's Ages puzzle bought way back in November 2019. I also could not resist starting on the Cube because as soon as I picked it up I could feel something moving...just a few mm but definitely moving.

This something moved and stopped and then moved back. It felt "odd". It's a bit like having something painful on you - you just can't stop yourself prodding at it. Each time nothing would happen and it would return to the original position but one time it went clack when I wasn't really looking and I had a really big hole. OMG what had I done? It wouldn't return to the start position and I realised I was committed to working on it properly. I managed to take the photo at the top of the post with the puzzle in the moved position and the changes were carefully hidden from view. We had to have dinner and then it was time to play with a customary cat on my lap and the TV on. Having made that first inadvertent move that I couldn't reverse, the puzzle started to move in ways that a lot of interlocking cubes do. I have hidden the later pictures behind spoiler buttons - I have tried to avoid showing off too much but don't look if you don't want even a small chance of a clue.

After some of this movement we see Juno's classic hand made tools - one is available for the picking and others are stuck in place ready for later. The first tool is now available and easily used (it's just asking for it) and I have the opportunity to return to the beginning. I have a huge grin on my face because the way that first move works is now understood and it's delightful. I put it all back together and have my nice springy area again and OMG! cannot do that first move again! Lord! I am rubbish at puzzles. It is at this point that I recall looking inside and noticing something that didn't really impinge on my consciousness at the time. What if I??? Oh yes that is delightful. A really nice touch to the first move that happened accidentally the first time but should be done with thought.

Couldn't do it without him!
Time to continue the journey. I do my first few moves again and get to further configurations before coming to a halt. Stuck again and time to Think© which seldom works for me. I then get reduced to randomly trying stuff before realising that metal has a very interesting property. He's a very clever devious man is Juno. More progress but only momentarily as it suddenly undoes itself. Stuck again, I look at the cat for assistance and he suggests something. Should I listen to a cat? Well, this cat did manage to solve my disentanglement puzzles recently so I took not of his suggestion and I tried something new. Yet another Aha! moment and the whole puzzle became rather unstable. Gulp! Time to backtrack...except, yet again, I couldn't! One of the moves seems to have been irreversible! Stupid cat! At this point it is time for bed and I carefully put it down in such a way as to not let it fall apart. Another day at the hospital and I was ready to continue my assault.

The next evening, I am back and listening to the cat. I refuse to continue until I understand what has happened and am able to reverse my current position. It takes a while and a bit of deduction. I have a plan and manage to carry it out in both forward and backward directions although I cannot seem to do it every time I try. Time to move on I think to myself. At this point we see that it will come apart (like most interlocking cube puzzles) but there are still compartments to open. Again...if you are awaiting this puzzle or just don't like spoilers then stay away from the next image (don't press the button).

I now have a number of pieces and only my original tool. Now what? I need more tools. Coming right up said Juno and the cat. Actually it took me quite a long time to find the next tool and then another long time to work out how to use it. It continues along like this and then we reach the final compartment - oh that is a clever locking mechanism. I now have found the source of the rattling noise - at least this time it is not bread!  

One cube inside another cube! Solved it.
Reassembly is a nice process with only the difficulty of the quirky move that I struggled to understand the first time. With a bit of practice, I can solve this puzzle at will. I am delighted - it is not the most difficult of puzzles but is truly delightful. I really hope that Juno has more ideas for puzzles in the series - I will definitely be wanting to continue adding these to my collection. Now I need to get back to Free Me 7 and Abraham's Well and maybe play with Derek's latest dastardly creation made by Big Steve, Polar Burr

Remember to stay safe guys - our numbers are rocketing up and the younger unvaccinated population are the ones who are now being admitted to hospital and our ICU. If you haven't yet, go get a vaccine as soon as you can!