Sunday, 17 October 2021

False Sense of Security

Let this be a lesson to me! 

Dig Ears
Only level 9?
I received a bunch of wire puzzles at the beginning of September from Aaron and thought to myself that I might manage to solve a few at least. I started on the Dig Ears puzzle which was "only" a level 9 on Aaron's Richter scale which goes up to 10+. How hard can it be? It would be a lovely gentle reintroduction to this sort of puzzle and might give me some confidence. 


I worked on it for over a week and managed to move the shuttle around and about but never even close to coming off. I was obviously missing something and tried all sorts of shenanigans which often seemed to be instinctively wrong. Aaron offered me a little hint and this was a big help. I had actually tried what he had suggested on quite a few occasions but it felt wrong and I back-tracked every time for fear of doing something silly. Now with new confidence, I was able to persevere and finally after 2 weeks on a single puzzle I had my long sought after Aha! moment. Phew - I was beginning to think that puzzles weren't my strong point!

Thank goodness!
At least there is one that is not going onto my list of shame:
List of shame!

I have had very little time for puzzling this week but I have had yet another go at a rather wonderful challenge from Rich Gain (Microcubology). This one is called the Switch cube - Rich had shown off a few copies that he had printed on Facebook and I realised that despite having bought loads of cubes from him over the years, I had never even heard of this one. Some bright spark chimed in that this was a really fun challenge as an assembly puzzle so like a fool I requested it be sent to me in pieces! Doh!

Oh dear - a little more complex than I had expected
The aim is to make a 5x5x5 cube - how hard can it be? There had been no mention of rotational moves or that it was a TIC so I set to. Oh boy! This has beaten me - my success with the wire puzzle had given me a false sense of security - I should have realised because I have failed ALL of the other wire puzzles that I bought at the same time and have not managed to solve this one! I have gotten somewhat close but never quite manage to get the last piece in place. The puzzle has so far been a fun challenge but it is terribly frustrating to always get it all assembles with one piece sticking out.

Close but no cigar
I have so far resisted the lure of Burrtools but I'm not sure how much longer I can stand it. I love interlocking puzzles and it is only recently with the arrival of lots of TICs on the market that I have dared to try them as assembly puzzles. Maybe I should go back to easier ones?

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Painful But Very Worthwhile

I'm Not Talking About Mrs S! I Mean The Butterflower Cube

The Butterflower Cube by LanLan
Yes, two twisty blog posts in a row! I have really not had a lot of time for puzzling since I went back to work after my time off and I figured that it was time to finally play with something that I had been carrying around with me since it arrived back in July. I had immediately worked on and solved the Skewb puzzles which were a fun challenge - just the right difficulty level for someone who had not been solving twisties for a while. I had not worked on it because it sort of frightened me as there seemed to be so many parts to scramble and solve and my twisty prowess was at a low ebb. I showed it to several colleagues who just shuddered and shook their heads at me. 

I had thought when I bought it that it was a combination of a Clover cube (a cornerless Curvy copter) and a Dino cube. I have always adored edge turning cube - starting with the Curvy Copter and moving up to the incredibly difficult Skewby Copter Plus. I was sure that this would be a lot of fun and hopefully not too difficult - I was right after a little pain and a little thought (some of which was painful).

Independently edge turning and corner turning
The Butterflower cube turns very nicely and has corner and edge turning properties which includes the usual edge turning jumbling moves. Luckily for me the corner turning and jumbling moves cannot work together otherwise the puzzle would have gotten much too deformed and complex for me to be able to follow. 

Last week, whilst waiting for an intensive care bed for a patient to be made available, I had a little time. I scrambled the little bugger in front of people at work. They looked on with almost as much horror as I did. Stupidly I went straight for a full jumbling scramble and quickly had a dreadful mess:

Believe me, it is properly scrambled - you cannot separate every coloured piece from all their neighbours.
To jeers of disbelief, I set to work and initially just returned it to cube shape - it was less difficult than I remember the Curvy copter being. Then it was time to Think© - I realised the diamond shaped central pieces were more or less fixed and could only rotate through 180ยบ so I assembled what were effectively edges. Then it became clear that the true edges were split in half and spread all around the place - next job to move them into place by intuition and the puzzler's favourite algorithm ("up, up, down, down") with twists of whole edges in between. It took a while and appeared fascinating to my audience that I could achieve such a thing but was not very difficult. When I explained what I was doing, they looked at me like I was some sort of magician but it really is not that tough - I would go as far as to say that a standard Rubik cube is harder than what I had been doing thus far. 

Having recreated inner edges and outer edges it was time to work on the oval "petals". These are split into a large segment and a small triangle which needed to be combined before being put into their correct position. Again, I worked on this entirely using intuition and the 4 move algorithm. Basically, the petals can be moved around using Curvy copter moves until the ones that you want are arranged around a cube corner. Then the corner is rotated to connect the parts of the petal and the formed part then moved away for use elsewhere before turning the corner back and recreating the edges as they had been. Each completed petal could be moved into place and I worked my way from the white face up the cube. Over the space of a day, I managed to do the whole lot until I was left with 4 or 5 incomplete petals and I was stuck. I could not seem to complete them without breaking other things. 

Time for a Think© again! Maybe I had been going about it wrongly? I was fairly certain that my general approach was fine but maybe the last part was doing too much at once? Probably reforming the petals at the same time as moving them into their places on the cube was just too much to do at once? My problem was that I gradually placed myself into a position where there was no room to manoeuvre and then I was unable to complete either of the remaining processes. As is usual, thinking told me to separate the processes. I re-scrambled and did my early sections again. This time I decided to just recreate the petals and store them somewhere safe rather than try to actually place them in their final places. This was much easier and still almost entirely intuition. Once I got to the last 2 or 3 petals it was just a matter of moving them around into appropriate places around a corner, turning the corner to make the petals whole and moving them out. If I replaced them with 3 petal of the same colour then I could turn the corner and realign the outer edges without breaking any petals up again. Yesssss!

I just had a Curvy copter to solve, complete with jumbled moves that had taken them out of their proper orbits which, as I have stated many times is one of my favourite puzzles to solve. It had taken me 2 days and a fair bit of pain but I had conquered the Butterflower cube.

Why painful? For once, it was not down to a Whack! Ouch! from Mrs S (even if she had accused me of looking like Plug again). Well, my very small brain hurt quite a bit but also this puzzle can be lethal on your thumb nails - I think the sharp corners must have nearly torn them off nearly 50 times in the first solve:

See that pointy corner at the back left and right?
Imagine getting that under your thumbnail many many times!
Apart from the pain the Butterflower cube is a wonderful puzzle for anyone who has mastered the basics of the beginners twisty puzzles and wants to go beyond the simple edge turners. This would be another puzzle that would be added to my advice to a beginner twisty puzzler. Once the alternative puzzles have been mastered then this would be an ideal next step up.

Remember to get your vaccines (either first doses or boosters if you are eligible) - they are a LOT better than getting Covid - believe me because I have had Covid and looked after people with it in hospital). They do provide a significant protection from death and significant illness - plus it is everyone's duty to protect the members of society who cannot protect themselves. No, the vaccines are not perfect but they are up to 93% effective for at least 6 months. The only way out of this dreadful pandemic is for people to get vaccinated. Do it! They do NOT affect your DNA! Anyone with knowledge of physiology and genetics knows that is a bloody ridiculous claim. They do NOT affect fertility (also utterly stupid). They are not injecting microchips! Have you seen the size of the needles used to put microchips in pets? They are ENORMOUS! Also most of you carry a phone with you everywhere you go - tracking is pretty easy with that and remember that in your homes Alexa, Siri or Bixby are listening to everything you say anyway!

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Twistytex' 3x5x7 Masterpiece Gives Me a Hell Of a Challenge

But Using Basic Techniques Got Me Through

Twistytex' 3x5x7
That was really silly!
I have been chatting to my friend Casey Weaver, a wonderful generous Texan, for a couple of years. He had seen that I had a copy of SuperAntonioVivaldi's amazing version of the 3x5x7 cuboid and wondered whether I would swap my original copy for one that he had made by 3D printing extensions and hand finishing to a very fine polished surface. SAV had classified this puzzle as an "ultimate shapeshifter" - you can see why from the picture above. It was a collaboration between SAV and the incredible Gregoire Pfennig to create something truly wonderful and ground-breaking. I had solved it way back in 2013 and had incorporated it as one of the ways that a new twisty puzzler could go if they wanted to expand their puzzling skills in a logical progression. I had really enjoyed the approach to the various types of cuboids but very seldom solved them because this one as a Shapeways puzzle still dropped black powder from inside every time I played with it. This completely drove Mrs S crackers and so I had put it aside for a rather long time and when the opportunity came from Casey to obtain a still very limited edition version which I could actually use without threats of violence, I jumped at the chance. I had managed to obtain a couple of others in the interim period:

Ultimate cuboid family (3x5x7 by SAV, 5x7x9 by Traiphum and 4x6x8 by Jeremy)  
and we even had a mass produced version made by Calvin's puzzles after a design by Hunter Palshook. I was lucky enough to get the hand-made prototype and after giving it back so that the puzzle could be mass produced I was one of the first to receive the actual puzzle:

Calvin's 2x4x6
It has been several years since I had played with any of these puzzles - in fact I have not done a twisty for several months! I thought to myself that I should still be able to manage it despite the time gone by - so I scrambled it and admired the chaotic beauty that I had. Then, having scrambled it, I realised that I had forgotten every single one of my cuboid algorithms! I also had not even solved a 3x3 or 4x4 for many months.

It was going to be back to the basics for this one. I have refreshed my abilities with basic cubes and decided that I would try and use a technique that did not require any special algorithms at all. Yes, it "should" be possible to do this using nothing more than techniques used for a 3x3 and 4x4 cube and a bit of block building to reduce the puzzle to a rather beautiful but misshapen 3x3x3. The technique is reminiscent of the 4x4x4 AI cube that took the twisty world by storm:
Original AI cube
GRcubed AI Megamorphinx mod
These very difficult puzzles are solved by organising the 2x2x2 blocks onto the top two layers and manipulating these layers to recreate the correct piece positions. It actually is mostly done by intuition apart from the last few pieces. If a similar thing is done for a standard 4x4x4 cube then the fancy algorithm can be skipped because there are so many pieces in the last layer with the same colour and if really struggling the centres can be easily placed alone using standard 4x4x4 methods.

Obviously the 3x5x7 was going to be slightly difficult - I was going to have to make it into a 3x3x3. First thing to do is to recreate the edges:

Here we have longer edges - you can see where the 2 central edge pieces need to be moved to align with the green and red true edge. All edges of the correct length need to be moved onto the top half - this is easy and then the corners placed to allow the 2nd and 3rd layers to turn:

A corner is placed alongside the edges and if not oriented correctly then using just beginners 3x3 method (Ri, Di, R, D repeated ad nauseum until correct). This needs to be done until all the to corners are oriented to allow movements and then the central edge pieces are moved into place. Easy peasy...sort of! It definitely works but takes a lot of thought and planning:

All edges done - placing them like this is just for the photo
Once all the edges have been recreated then the same thing needs to be done for the compound corners. First create the outer 3x1 column and then the inner one. Then line them up and stash them in the bottom half for safety whilst continuing to use the top half for work:
OYB outer column formed
Outer column combined with inner
All Yellow corners done - start on white
Getting the final corners recreated is quite a logic challenge - it requires multiple movements of corners to different places and then rotation using the standard 3x3 algorithm and then rinse and repeat...many many many times. After several days of swearing and huffing and puffing (Mrs S said it sounded like I was doing a very painful workout and it certainly hurt my bwain), I had a 3x3x3 to solve:
Layer 1 solved
Layer 2 solved - top to go
After 3 or 4 days of blood, sweat, tears and threats of violence (again!) I finally had solved the 3x5x7 using nothing more than 3x3 and 4x4 techniques and a lot of thought. It is definitely not the most efficient way to do it but requires minimal specialist algorithm knowledge and is very rewarding!

Solved in front of a Cactus
Probably a lot smaller than the ones that Casey has near his home.
I always recommend to newbie puzzlers that they should seriously consider incorporating twisty puzzles into their repertoire. They are fabulous fun, a huge challenge and very repeatable. They are also collectible and can be worth a lot of money if solved later (so not a bad investment in terms of time or money). There are loads of really challenging puzzles out there for us all to play with and learn from. It is not necessary to memorise lots of algorithms for the vast majority. If you wish to try an Ultimate Shapeshifter then a few of the 2x4x6 cuboids are still available and they can be solved in this way (although reducing to a 2x2 cube instead will be much less arduous) and maybe I will give that a go next.

Thank you so much Casey for making such a wonderful challenge for me and reminding me of the fabulous puzzling that can be had from twisty puzzles. Amazing quality!

I got my booster jab a few days ago and, apart from a sore arm for a day, I had absolutely no adverse effects at all. This will help the world get out of this pandemic so if you have the chance to get your vaccine then please do so - it may save your life, it has an even higher chance of saving someone else's life - do it, the science says so. Reading a few crackpots on Google, Facebook and YouTube is NOT "doing research" - if you want to do research properly then get a research degree and then start reading all the scientific literature before joining a PROPER research institution and doing it well and publish your data in a journal not on the web!


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