Sunday 30 January 2022

Something Magnificent from Pelikan

The latest challenges from Pelikan are as gorgeous as ever!
Last week a delivery from the Czech Republic arrived much to my delight and much to the disgust of Mrs S! I haven't put anything away in my study in months and months - there are puzzles everywhere in my study. She says it is a terrible mess and I call it organised chaos - I know where everything is and it is a bit of a mess but I haven't really had much time for tidying up, All I seem to do is work and eat and sleep really really badly. She sort of agrees with that which is why I am not being murdered in my sleep or actually even being nagged about it very much. When it comes down to it, Mrs S is a keeper (after over 27 years of being married I should sort of hope so!)

I was a little surprised that there was going to be a new Pelikan release so soon. These things are always hellishly complex and more recently with non-rectilinear shapes must be pretty tough to manufacture to such incredible tolerances. Yet here we are just 6 weeks since the last batch and we have some more beauties for me to review as quickly as I possibly can and for you to buy (Friday Feb 4th 10am CET, 9am GMT, 4am EST, 1am PST). I have worked as quickly as I possibly can to solve as many as possible to show to you with an opinion.


Victoria by Christoph Lohe (in Wenge)
Much to my amazement and pleasure, Jakub and Jaroslav have been venturing out over the last few years into non-rectilinear grids and it’s not surprising to see them venture into the amazing realm of puzzles inspired by the Star puzzle that Stewart Coffin has taken so far with extensions to the shapes whilst retaining the familiar interlocking mechanism. These puzzles need incredible accuracy to construct and have some very odd angles involved. I had been informed by Christoph that he has been experimenting with this grid for a while and had come up with something new. When it arrived I was amazed at the beauty of the puzzle and how well it has been constructed. It is very easy for puzzles like these to have small gaps here and there but this one from Pelikan is absolutely perfect. Having solved quite a few of this type of puzzle before, I knew how the basic approach to dismantling it and once I’d found the separation axis and direction I quickly had my six pieces. 

Perfect cuts - 6 identical pieces
I was surprised to see that all 6 were identical and am even more surprised that Mr Coffin had never found and published this shape. I had taken it apart pretty quickly and scrambled the pieces and deliberately not paid attention to the orientation. Reassembly was a lovely fun challenge that requires a little planning (especially fun if you’ve never seen one of these before) and a fair bit of dexterity. Be careful… those corners are sharp. This is a wonderful new design from Christoph and it is great to see him branching into different geometries. As always Pelikan has made masterful job of the woodwork.

Seven woods

Seven woods by Stewart Coffin
This is another puzzle by the master himself, Stewart Coffin, and is one that I’ve heard of but never actually seen before. It is another of his fabulous designs similar to the classic star puzzle. These are notoriously difficult to make well and accurately. Needless to say, Pelikan have made them absolutely perfectly. This is a gorgeous mix of beautiful woods with no gaps where there shouldn’t be. Despite having been around in the puzzling world, I have never actually seen this puzzle before and certainly not played with one. I spent almost an hour searching for the correct place and orientation where it slides apart - it is rather like one of the Pennyhedron puzzles in that if you don’t put your fingers in just the right place and try to move in exactly the right direction then it ain’t coming apart. At one point I started the move and was called by Mrs S to do something so slid it back together and when I returned to it, I couldn't find the correct way to slide the pieces again. Eventually I was further astounded at just how smooth the movement was - the tolerances are absolutely spot on - this is almost held together by what seems like suction. Once it has been dismantled be careful, the points on the pieces are very…erm… pointy. Stabbing yourself is not fun. It is not difficult to work out how the puzzle is reassembled but care has to be taken to line up the points properly or it won’t go (it has to be mm perfect) and also avoid hurting yourself (I swore having stabbed myself quite a few times much to the amusement of the cat on my lap and the wife next to me). 

6 pieces
This is what happens if you don't pay attention
My first reassembly ended up with 2 faces not correctly matched (which does look lovely) and I had to do it again with more stabbing - great fun…ouch! 


Pedals by Alexander Magyarics in Ash and Jatoba
The packed delivery arrangement is lovely
Yet another wonderful 3D packing puzzle from Alexander Magyarics - there seems to be no end to the extent of his talents. It has been beautifully made by Pelikan as always. In this one (named for the shape of the top of the box), there are just 3 pretty complex pieces made out of only 17 Voxels. This means there will be quite a lot of empty space inside. Is that helpful? Not to me it wasn't! It actually makes it quite a bit harder as a challenge because there are many more ways to assemble the pieces into a 3x3x3 shape but finding ones that cover the 6 holes in the top of the box is a fun challenge which is made much tougher when you suddenly realise that the complexity of the pieces significantly restricts the way they can be inserted into the box. They are all quite long as well which means they block each other during manoeuvres. I have to admit that I’m always going to rate these highly - I adore them. This one has just the right challenge level for me. It took me most of an evening to find the right assembly and work out how to insert it.

Very clever solution
After triumphantly showing it off to Mrs S and then watching some TV with her, I was slightly horrified when I found that I was completely unable to dismantle it. Interestingly, the visibility inside is quite limited and I couldn’t see well enough to work out what to move where. It took me about half an hour to take it apart! Absolutely Brilliant!


Hummingbird by Osanori Yamamoto in Bubinga and Garapa
Osanori Yamamoto has done it yet again with a stunning 3 layer design containing 4 identical looking branched pieces that interlock on a frame. As always the aim is to remove the pieces either using linear or rotational moves. This is made into a real challenge by the sheer accuracy and incredibly tight tolerances that Pelikan has built into this creation. The moves are very restricted by the shapes and the way they get in the way of each other. There is no bevelling to make things easier so everything has to be lined up correctly and there are no cheeky shortcuts. After a nice fun exploration, it took me a little while to find the right path and with a nice smile worked out which pieces needed to be rotated and which just linear moves.

Just look at the accuracy of those pieces!
Having taken the pieces out and scrambled them it became a seriously tough challenge to reassemble it. To my shame it took me a couple of evenings - a brilliant challenge by Osanori-San.

Euklid V2

It is gorgeous even if I will never manage to solve it!
Yes, it’s another packing puzzle by Dr Volker Latussek and it’s a brilliant one. Volker emailed me to tell me that it was coming my way and to say "that I won’t like it". But I have to say that he is most definitely wrong - I always love his designs even if I cannot solve them. The original Euklid (made with all the blocks in one wood type) was a hugely tough puzzle that I only ever managed to solve with a little help. Then along came the second in the series, Euklid for Kids (only 3 blocks to pack) was one that I did actually manage to complete by myself. To Volker's horror, it was eventually revealed that V1 of Euklid had more than 20 solutions (I only ever found the one with help) and in response he designed the third, Euklid for Nick, (made with 2 types of wood for 2 types of block) which I am rather ashamed still lies unsolved. This was a success for Volker but he couldn't leave the series with the faulty puzzle and so has has redesigned a Euklid version 2 so that it only has one solution (hopefully). He specified that Pelikan make this from 7 different hardwoods and I have to say that it is simply stunning! I cannot remember the original solution and don’t know whether it has changed. As Volker predicted, I have so far not been able to solve it. I know there will be some lovely rotations and quite possibly some will be coordinate moves. Having taken all the blocks out of the box (with some difficulty) for my photo, I am ever so slightly chagrined that I cannot even return it to the delivery packing position. I hope to solve it one day but it will look great on the shelf until I do. I eagerly wait word from the master (Nick Baxter) of news on the number of solutions. I hope for Volker's sake that there will only be one!

Jakub’s Cube

Jakub's cube by Alfons Eyckmans
Alfons Eyckmans is one of the best designers (and craftsmen) of burrs and interlocking puzzles in the world! Over the years, I have collected many many puzzles from him (I daren't admit how many to Mrs S) and absolutely love them. Over the last few years he has been designing beautiful cubes made from interlocking burr pieces as opposed to classical burrs. Some of them I have even managed to solve! The process always involves a wonderful period of exploration and fun - I adore these puzzles! They are fun to play with and look incredible on the display shelves. Many of these beautiful cubes have been named for or by well known members of the puzzle community. Michel has named a few after his family, I have named some after my Burmese cats and one of the best of them was named for Pelikan’s own Jakub. Alfons made me a copy early last year and I’ve never managed to solve it despite several weeks of attempts (I must be missing a hidden move). 

Identical cubes - one from Alfons and one from Pelikan - both gorgeous
Alfons never expected it to be produced in any significant numbers because the pieces are incredibly difficult puzzle to make - he was absolutely delighted to see Pelikan create their absolutely stunning version. To be perfectly honest I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so beautiful from anyone! I have not had time to play with this one yet (apart from the several weeks spent on the original) but have found all the moves available to me to be extremely smooth. There will only be 35 of these made and it is extremely unlikely it will ever be produced again. Get this whilst you can even if it is just for display purposes! At some point I need to get all the cubes together and take a photo of them all in one place.


Belopo by Alfons Eyckmans in Wenge and Zebrano
This stunning burr made from Zebrano and Wenge is another design by Alfons Eyckmans. I have to admit that I was really quite frightened to attempt it…I have a few mixed board and stick burrs from Alfons and a couple are trapped in a position that I cannot get out of. The movements can get very complex and a simple man like me easily gets confused/lost. This puzzle is a 6 piece burr trapped in a frame - only later on did I realise that the frame is not what I thought it was - surprisingly, the frame is actually constructed from 12 identical very simple burr sticks. Movements of the pieces are smooth as silk and there are only a few blind ends. I needn’t have been frightened as this particular design is very logical to explore and reveals its secrets without getting lost too easily. It remains stably assembled for quite some time allowing careful removal of individual pieces and keeping track. I was able to keep it together as an ordered puzzle right to the very end.

6 burr sticks and 12 frame pieces
I should have been able to reassemble it had I not had a cat move and scramble my careful organised pile of pieces in my lap and chair. Creating a Burrtools file will be a real pleasure for this one. 

Which are my favourites? It is difficult so difficult to choose. For me, the pick of the bunch has got to be the incredibly complex and gorgeous Jakub's cube (even if I will never manage to dismantle it without Burrtools). My next favourite is the Pedals by Alexander as I just love the supposedly simple nature of a 3x3x3 packing puzzle which is made so much more difficult by having the extra constraints of the restricted entry. Belopo is fabulous as a variant on the 6 piece burrs which I adore. The star puzzle variants are stunning and beautifully made even if not terribly tough to work out. You, of course, should buy them all when they come up for sale soon.


Sunday 23 January 2022

Snap Right To It

Snappy burr by Jerry McFarland
Yes, as soon as you see a picture like this then it's immediately obvious this was made by the incredibly talented Jerry McFarland.

At the very end of last year Jerry contacted me again to let me know that he had got sidetracked yet again! Yes, Jerry seems to have a very short attention span - he could make a fortune churning out his old puzzles to the new hordes of puzzle lovers that have joined this hobby over the last couple of years and when he produces and is happy with a new puzzle then he does make a bunch. But...he just can't seem to keep his focus on making more of the same and his incredible 3D visualising brain ends up wandering off into more thoughts of what can be achieved by interlocking pieces of wood. Over the last few years he has been very distracted by the possibilities of magnets and has created some of the best and most fun puzzles I have ever played with. 

Apparently he thought he had run out of ideas and then something new sprung to life in his head (I really wish something would show signs of life in my head - I am completely empty, Mrs S will confirm it). Previously some of his puzzles have had the added bonus of being very nice fidget toys as you get to make long sequences of magnets and burr sticks move after a single push. This time he made something that has a fidget toy inside and whilst it can be played with whole as a fidget toy (very satisfying it is too) but the aim is to remove it and play with it outside the puzzle. Jerry did not think it was  a terribly difficult solve but thought it would be fun...he really wanted some feedback - I am delighted and flattered to be one of the few given a chance. My McFarland collection really is quite wonderful now.

A snappy move reveals a hint of a serial number
On unpacking, even Mrs S admitted it was beautiful. It has been made with Mahogany, Walnut, Cherry and Kingwood with the absolutely characteristic finish that marks one of Jerry's creations. Then Mrs S lost her brownie points by saying it's "just a cube" like most of my other puzzles. She was unmoved when I told her that it was actually a cuboid and even then not a proper cuboid due to the side edges being slightly recessed. I wonder why Jerry did that? It became obvious later. Dimensions are 4.01x2.92x2.92".

I couldn't resist a little exploration even if Mrs S wanted me to do some chores instead. I very quickly realised why it was called Snappy burr (or at least one of the reasons). The fidget toy inside is controlled by some really powerful magnets and it snaps back and forth by pushing one way and the other and surprisingly the Kingwood pieces on the top and bottom spring in and out as well - this has a lovely coordinate motion with magnetic attraction and repulsion too.

I spent several days enjoying that movement whilst searching for anything else that might be possible or released by the initial movement. I had a few ideas but nothing was happening. Time to check with Jerry whether I was being silly (something I do very frequently). Jerry provided a little hint which confirmed my initial thoughts and what I had been looking for before. It was not really obvious what else could possibly move - Jerry has taken with his recent designs to putting false interlocking sections that look like they should prevent a movement but in reality don't. I had been exploring some of these pieces and made a discovery about them but had not put 2 and 2 together. Once Jerry sort of reassured me that I was thinking correctly, I tried something new and OMG! that was an unexpected thing to happen! No wonder I had not found it easily - there are some really strong magnets involved.

Another reason for the name is part of that move I just found and also what happens when you reverse it - the puzzle snaps back together with a very sharp click. It's another aspect of the fidget toy in this. After I had amused myself with it for a while I tried to see where that move had led and started dismantling bits. It doesn't come apart completely without thought. I had to work out a few movements to make some space for clearance and then out came a section. Then I managed to get a second section off. I stopped there - I was sitting on an armchair with a cat on my lap and did not want to lose track of pieces or lose anything down the cushions. 

All pieces and a fidget toy
Later in the week I managed to find time to completely dismantle the puzzle - it is not hard to do once you have worked out the initial few steps. The fidget toy is just as compulsive to play with outside the whole puzzle. I am truly delighted to have number 2:

I think Jerry is making another 8
I had scrambled all the pieces but, as with most of his previous designs the insides of the pieces are marked with what position they should go in to ensure they all fit together and align properly. Despite this the reassembly was not straightforward - I did know where everything should have gone but, having constructed the various sections according to the labels, it was not immediately obvious how to get them to slide together. On several occasions I realised that my last section could not be slid into place and I had to dismantle and try in a different order. It took an extra half an hour before I managed to "SNAP" it back together with a very satisfying clack.

Jerry has designed something very different to his previous puzzles - it's not terribly tough but it is stunningly beautiful and wonderfully satisfying. I intend to use it as my fidget toy for quite a while before I put it on display in one of my cabinets.

Coming soon from Pelikan

Coming soon from Pelikan puzzles
I have received a wonderful new bunch of gorgeous puzzles just a few days ago from Jakub at Pelikan puzzles. The race is on to solve them as fast as possible so that they can go on sale.

Here we have (from the back L to R):
Belopo (Alfons Eyckmans)
Jakub's cube (Alfons Eyckmans)
Euklid version 2 (Dr Volker Latussek)
Pedals (Alexander Magyarics)
Seven Woods (Stewart Coffin)
Victoria (Christoph Lohe)
Hummingbird (Osanori Yamamoto)

They all look fabulous and, as always have been beautifully made. Several of them will be seriously difficult - I have an original Jakub's cube from Alfons and have not managed to solve it yet (I sort of got distracted by a pandemic).

Sunday 16 January 2022

I Cut this Right Down to the Wire

Loki - on the blog for a third time!
Well, we very nearly had no blog post this week. I have been desperately trying to solve something all week and getting absolutely nowhere. My biggest puzzle has been how to run our on call service as more an more of my colleagues either catch Covid and have to isolate or are household contacts and have to isolate. Almost every single day, I get a message that someone who is due to be on call cannot do their assigned duty and need to find an alternative.

Someone suggested on Facebook that I should shine a bright light through the Ages burr from Brian Young and see if I could notice a mechanism or possible movement that might be possible either before, during or after the 2 obvious moves. I got a nice bright torch and shone it across the puzzle towards me, side to side and away from me. I could see the pins that I had seen all along and nothing new. The same old third rotational move is possible (due to a pin) which I am reliably informed is not part of the solution. After a couple of evenings of shining lights, I had to give up - there is nothing new visible. Brian did suggest that the light in Australia was pretty bright but not required for the solution. I guess that Ages will spend another couple of years next to my puzzling armchair before I shelve it. It wasn't cheap so I don't want to put it away without solving it.
What a filling
Broken propellers
I also have a bunch of 2D packing puzzles designed and printed for me by the incredibly talented Alexander Magyarics. I got cocky because I had solved 2 of them after a little while and quickly moved onto the rest. The 2 above look fairly simple but after 2 weeks, I still cannot solve them! I may have to take them to work and force one of my colleagues to solve them for me!

I have also been desperately working on the Loki lock from Boaz Feldman. I had spent weeks and weeks doing the same thing again and again. I have previously said that I could turn the key (which obviously wouldn't work) and sometimes turn the key and be able to remove it whilst turned (occasionally I couldn't reinsert it which was a worry). My madness did not improve until Goetz sort of dropped me a hint that wasn't a hint. I felt rather foolish as I have given this advice to lots of other people and was a little ashamed not to take my own advice. Having used the "not a hint", I was able to continue with the challenge and found "stuff" to use on other "stuff". It was all very exciting and I learned why you shouldn't do these sort of challenges on an armchair with a cat on your lap. There are small pieces involved and if lost down the side of an armchair would make solving it very difficult. Losing them inside a cat would mean a day or two of waiting and a very unpleasant "sifting" challenge at the "other end". Yuk! I used my puzzling non-skills and finally had opened the lock:
I was flushed with success and then crashed back to the ground when I realised that the trick I had used to open it would not work in reverse. OMG! I had an open padlock and couldn't close it again. I have been trying to close it every evening since then (2 weeks). Boaz lent some encouragement and explained why the reverse process wouldn't work and peering closely inside (using my torch again) reveals that he is an absolute master of tricky design and manufacture. 

After 2 weeks, I contacted my tame (but not toilet trained) locksmith mate, Shane and he was helpful enough to make me think about how the lock worked but not helpful enough with a clue - he basically didn't really help at all! In the end it would appear that he has absolutely no memory at all of how he solved it! I was still left to my own devices trying the same thing over and over again. Of course, they wouldn't work and I had to think©.

This afternoon, literally just 20 minutes before starting to write this blog post, I tried something ever so slightly different and yesssssss! I managed to reassemble the lock. Finally after a week of struggling I have something to write about. I nearly missed my schedule.

Loki is a devil of a lock puzzle - Beautifully made with several steps to the solution and including one of the oldest tricks in the book taken to a silly level! Go buy it, you will love it! You should also keep an eye on Andrew Coles' website for the Mind the Gap lock - I loved it and it would appear that Allard thought it was quite fun too. It should be released for sale soon.

Now I need to lie down for a little bit and recover my nerves...except I still have a backlog of toys to play with and really not very much time to do it. Better get to it quickly then.


Sunday 9 January 2022

Brian Tops the Chart Again

The best of 2021 - Abraham's Well
Yes, I am ever so slightly ashamed of myself that my review of this amazing puzzle has happened in 2022 and not when it arrived in July 21. Somehow Allard managed to obtain and solve his copy within a few days of receiving his copy and yet mine remained next to my puzzling armchair for months and months in various stages of solving until New year's day. My excuse? A small virus thing sort of impeded me, an abundance of other distracting toys got in my way and a lack of brains got in my way. BUT primarily I took so long because I kept getting stuck and could't work out the next steps and did not want to cheat by asking for help or, heaven forbid, use external tools or force. The solution videos were sent out to owners after a few months of letting us stew and I even kept away from those too. In the end I managed almost all of it without help but did need a sneak peek to see whether I had done it right according to Brian's rules (I had broken one or two, sob!)

When this thing arrived in July, the first thing that springs to mind is that it's surprisingly heavy for an object of only12x8.5x8cm in size - it weighs in at 425g. Whilst there is obviously a bit of brass in it, the external view must hide a rather decent volume of metal. The next thing that springs to mind is the sheer quality of the product - it is simply stunningly made. The brass parts are polished beautifully, the wooden exterior has been laser etched and everything fits together beautifully. The well looks like a...well. There is even a piece of rope hanging inside. The cats showed an annoying interest in the rope and at one point in my puzzling it was distinctly wet giving a hint that someone/thing had tried to swallow it. In fact, I was fairly certain that it was frayed and slightly shorter one evening when I returned to play.

Initially nothing moves apart from the bar holding the rope (which rotates freely) and all that you can do is turn it over and over in your hands and admire it. In examining it carefully something changes (you can hear it happen) and suddenly a piece can move. It's not fact, it is the obvious thing to happen even if the reason why is not obvious. I quickly put the moved piece back and lock it back in place. Try again and find that the move is repeatable. Examine further and more movement occurs. Put it back to the beginning and it's not repeatable every time. Why not? What am I doing differently when it works? I cannot quite understand it so I proceed with the discovery. More movement and I have pieces - Yay! I need to understand how that happened so I try to reset to the beginning and I cannot! Stuff is in the way now. Oh boy - we're really on now. Time to continue and hope that I can get instructions later for the reset.

I find a tool and get more pieces - quite a LOT of pieces. I have no idea which of these pieces will be useful to me either next or later. I use one of the tools and and use it to move more "stuff". In the end when I watch the solution videos, I realise that I used the wrong tool at that time. I don't actually think it was cheating as there was no force. I just did not notice something that would have provided a clue about which tool would have been useful. Partly I blame my middle aged eyes for that oversight - it was a pretty subtle clue and without exceptionally good light and a magnifying glass, there was no way that I was going to see that. In any case, I had made my next discovery.

More movement but not in a useful way. Had I missed anything? Turn it over and over and have a look at every surface. I did see some oddities that I did not know what to do with (no tools would fit) and I was left moving it again and again. Time to put it down for a while and come back to it fresh. I got side-tracked by other things and came back several weeks later. Playing again, I am left doing the same movement over and over without any change (yes madness is never very far from me). Suddenly =, for no obvious reason the movement stops - I have no idea why. Panic! Wiggle stuff. Turn it over and over and wiggle more and phew, I can now move it again. Definitely time to think©.

Thinking doesn't get me very far because I am not good at it but I manage to lock the puzzle up again several times before a little observation comes in useful. Doh! Why did I not notice that? A combination of moves and I have a new tool...except it is just out of reach. Don't bash it he said but the temptation is high. Those little spikes on the surface of the puzzle are quite effective at stopping you thumping the puzzle - they hurt! Think© you fool - Aha! Clever bastard!

Now my small pile of pieces is getting quite big. I have to keep them in a little bag to stop losses down the sofa or cats swallowing them. Here I get stuck again for a quite a while - months in fact. In the end, I complete the next step in the wrong way. I would be very surprised if many people manage to do it in the way that Brian intended. The process I used relied on me realising that certain pieces were the exact size and shape to be used as a tool when in combination (yes, Brian intends you to actually build your tools as well) and having worked out the tool construction, I ended up using a little force to complete the next step. As the instructions state, no force is needed but there was absolutely no way that I would have deduced that. I would be very interested in hearing how others achieved that crucial step - drop me a line via my Contact page or leave a comment below. Once I had seen the solution, I saw that the intended approach was incredibly elegant but there was no way I would ever have thought of that.

Now I have even more pieces and am not sure what to do to go further. Observation is absolutely crucial here and I had run out of brain power. More months go by...I pick it up every few days/weeks and cannot find a tool to do what I need to do. The temptation to make my own from something not included with the puzzle is high but I avoid it. Until New year's day - I decide that I have to right my review and I look up the final part of the solution. OMG! That is very well hidden. The movement that I wanted to do is correct and I feel slightly vindicated. The puzzle is finished and I have found the artifact that was hidden inside. 

Reset is "just the reverse" of what you have done before. JUST? Easier said than done. I have managed to reset it a few times and at this moment, it sits next to me with me unable to complete the final movements - I just cannot seem to visualise what is required and we will keep trying it.

Should you buy this puzzle? Hell! Yes! It was my number one for 2021 for a very good reason - the quality is superb, the puzzling challenge is incredibly varied and fun. Allard certainly loved it and recently Steve has also written positively about it. I am certain that most of you are better puzzlers than me and will be able to solve it the correct way without assistance. It has taken me ages to get to the end and I loved it. Now I need to get back to the Ages puzzle which has taken me even more of an age...I have found only 2 moves so far and the elusive 3rd still evades me after 2 years.

Ages has taken me ages!

Saturday 1 January 2022

Happy New Year - My Top Ten(ish) of 2021

The desk has only gotten worse despite threats of terrible consequences

Happy New Year everyone! Doesn't time fly by? Have I had fun in 2021? Yes, I think so. I (in fact the whole world) had hoped that last year was going to be better than 2020. In terms of world events, it probably was a teeny weeny bit better. We started to get better at treating Covid-19 and the vaccines were rolled out and were definitely shown to be extremely effective. Unfortunately, the vaccines also showed off the darker side of humanity (I guess the whole pandemic, mask and isolation thing did that too). Hopefully 2022 will see the beginning of the end of this blasted thing and all of us healthcare workers might get a bit of a respite and maybe live in fear a little less.

Now for was a VERY good year for acquisition! I spent a fortune and managed to get myself a bunch of fabulous new toys to play with. For solving it was less good - I seemed to have very little time to play and my solving mojo deserted me for quite a while. I struggled to concentrate on anything much let alone complex puzzles.

   Last year's new feature has now become a yearly regular event (I hope), the PuzzleMad saviour/foreign correspondent has sent me his top puzzle(s) of the year (vintage version) - over to you Mike...

Foreign Office – Vintage Puzzle of the (yester) Year

Tower of Babble, by Leonard J. Gordon, circa mid-1970s to mid-1980s

Tower of Babble gets my vote for Vintage Puzzle of the Year for the simple reason that I underestimated it. This is a 3D packing puzzle in which seven variously configured pieces need to fit snugly into a hexagonal column. The column is three units deep. Sounds pretty simply, right? I thought so too. My original challenge with this puzzle, however, was getting several of the individual pieces back “together” after they had somehow come unglued (and then mixed up of course). To make matters worse, Tower of Babble was in a bag together with Gordon’s other similar puzzle, Infernal Triangle, when the disaster occurred. There was thus a complete mess of intermingled pieces, many broken, from both puzzles. It was a physical manifestation of the Babel story, which I guess is somehow poetically appropriate. The only thing I could think to do in this circumstance was to email Rob Stegmann and ask nicely for an assist. Rob has a phenomenal collection of puzzles from this period and I knew he had Babble because it was on his ‘assembly’ page. If you scroll to Babble on his page now, you will see the pieces and assembly sequence, with a note directed to yours truly (Ed - wow! You are proper famous to be mentioned by Rob! One day I hope to be mentioned too). Rob graciously sent me detailed photos of all the Babble pieces, and I was then able to glue them back together in the proper configuration. Getting them back in the hex column, however, took me forever. It got to the point where I was compelled to double-check my handiwork. But eventually I got them packed, and my respect for Babble went up appreciably. This thing must have a single unique solution, that’s my only excuse. At any rate, it’s a cool little puzzle. The graphic design work is pretty neat, and the fact that the packaging is part of the puzzle is a nice touch. It’s also colorful and festive. So, in honor of cheap plastic puzzles of a bygone era, and of metagrobological collegiality, please accept Tower of Babble as 2021 Vintage Puzzle of the (yester) Year. (Ed - awesome...thank you)

Foreign Office – Antique Puzzle of the (yester) Year

No-Jump-O, circa 1899

For the three readers out there (Ed - there are a LOT more than three!) who care about really old puzzles, I’d also like to highlight a great antique puzzle I had the pleasure of acquiring this past year: No-Jump-O. This is a sequential movement, or combinatorial, puzzle of the type that I am currently into. The  challenge is to place all the markers into the triangular tray and move them around until they match the pattern shown on the box cover. It is not very difficult to solve, but it is fun to play around with. Because the ‘switching’ area at the bottom right of the tray holds three pieces, you can make progress quickly (the cover photo looks like it is meant to be two, but the actually puzzle easily permits three). This puzzle had some of the markers missing when I got it, so I cut some replacements from a dowel and painted them as close to original color as I could manage. The “white” ones had long since lost their pigment. 


Not many puzzles come with a sworn affidavit
Final point of interest: note the affidavit on the inside box cover, swearing to the fact that the puzzle is universally solvable. That’s kind of interesting. You can find this puzzle in one of the Slocum books, with better and more accurate information than I’m giving here. Like most puzzles of this type, you can make yourself a working copy with a pocket full of coins, piece of paper, and pencil.

Ed - thank you so much for all your contributions and help last year. You have gotten me out of a hole several times and your very different view and approach to the subject matter is refreshing for me and I am certain for the readers as well. Here's hoping that 2022 is a great year for you.

Here are my own fudged sort of top 10ish puzzles of the year:

12) Jerry Obscures The Solution

Obscure Burr
You can pretty much count on anything by Jerry McFarland appearing in my top ten(ish) puzzles of the year. His stuff is just sooo original and clever and the workmanship is unique and stunning. In 2021 Jerry created the Obscure burr which I struggled to solve. Others had solved it (Bill Cutler and Five Sinatras' Brent) but they had done it by cheating - shock horror! they used lock-picking techniques to beat the locking mechanism. I knew that I could do that but wanted to solve it properly. I needed a clue - the solution was a mathematical one which is not one of my strong points but once I had that small hint, I solved it and had a fun time taking it fully apart and reassembling it. I wonder what Jerry is working on now? His mind never stops!

11) Twisty Challenges Worth Waiting For

TwistyTex's incredible 3x5x7!
Casey Weaver is a hell of a nice guy and a master and modifying/extending Rubik cubes. He had promised me one of his 3x5x7 Ultimate Shapeshifter cubes for a rather long time but he got very busy and then we got a little virus thing going on. I had almost forgotten about it when I received a message that it was ready - YIPPEE! When it arrived, I was blown away with the quality and ease of turning. I gathered my courage and scrambled it and promptly realised that I had forgotten the standard approach to this type of twisty and had to work my own method out based on building blocks using the AI cube approach. It took me quite some time to work it out and was a very frustrating exercise in failing to work out the correct algorithms for a considerable time. Eventually, I found the right approach and happily have solved it at least a dozen times since. It takes pride of place amongst my handmade Twisty puzzle to the right of me at the desk. Thank you Casey, for a terrific gift! Maybe one day I will be brave enough to ask for one of your shape mods of this puzzle? Shudder!

Butterflower cube
Over many years of the blog, I have often extolled the virtue of new twisty designs that are created by combining the movements/cuts of more than one geometry of puzzle. The Butterflower cube was a wonderful combination of edge turning (Curvy copter type) with corner turning (Dino cube type) - it required some extra thought and I definitely had some fun solving it. It is not too difficult for anyone who has mastered the basics.

10) The Funnest TIC Ever!

Definitely best to buy in pieces
Aha! Brilliant!
Richard Gain advertised a few of his Switch Cube for sale in September and after it was heartily recommended by several brilliant puzzlers and especially as an assembly challenge, I couldn't resist and bought a copy asking for it to be sent out in pieces. This challenge very nearly broke me but after continued encouragement from puzzle friends, I kept at it and the Aha! moment was amazing! If you can convince Richard to make any more then you should buy it without hesitation and if any of the fine craftsmen out there want to make it in wood then just tell me how much money you want and it's yours!

9) Bolted by Phil Wigfield

Beautiful Brass
After Allard showed off this puzzle from a new UK based designer and craftsman, I couldn't resist having a try for myself and...Oh boy! I was not disappointed! Phil's work is immaculate and a fun voyage of discovery. The Aha! moments are wonderful and clever - I cannot wait to get my hands on the latest one (I don't seem to have the time recently to buy and my puzzle budget has gotten a little tighter the last few months.

8) Three Sides To Osanori

Octopus 33
Den Cube
Osanori Yamamoto has figured on this blog a LOT over the years and has appeared in my top tens quite frequently. This year his designs were frequent and wonderful. He is probably best known for his packing puzzles based on a 3x3x3 cube with limited opening to insert the pieces (often with diagonal obstructions) and Sudachi was one of the most fun of these this year. However, he also designs lots of other types of puzzle and 2 of them were so wonderful that I have to include them in my top 10(ish). The Octopus 33 is a "simple" sliding piece disassembly puzzle. Often this type of design can be either infuriating or simple to solve but the Octopus 33 was amazing in that it had a sequence of discoveries, one of which was stunningly unexpected, Finally the Den cube is an interlocking puzzle with 3 fairly simple identical pieces locked together in a frame. The aim to remove them was very like untying a knot without properly being able to see the shape. It was lovely and even a fun reassembly challenge which was unexpected. You can always rely on Osanori (and Pelikan) to produce something wonderful every year!

7) Christoph Does It Every Year

Key Trap
Mini Lock 2
I have said on this blog many many times over the years that Christoph Lohe designs fun puzzles! There is something about what he creates - they always have something interesting and challenging about them without being impossibly tough and a test of patience through trial and error. His designs, beautifully made this year by Pelikan (complete with a collaboration with the master of the TIC, Andrew Crowell) gave me such a lot of pleasure this year that I could not resist including them in this hall of fame for 2021.

6) Packing With Alexander

Colliding Galaxies made by Pelikan
Magneteam made by Eric Fuller
Pillar made by Brain Menold
Pepper Castor made by Pelikan
OMG! Where do I begin? Alexander Magyarics had an incredible year! He collaborated with both Pelikan, Brian Menold and Eric Fuller to produce some of the most incredible packing puzzles. He has taken a leaf out of Osanori Yamamoto's book and taken simple finishing shapes (mostly cubes) and asked us to place them inside a box with very limited entry holes. They look easy and yet are anything but a simple solve. The best of them require a wonderful logical set of thoughts to solve them and definitely NOT random poking and prodding to get them arranged. The three cube based puzzles that I picked above are not necessarily the only fabulous designs - I could easily add a few more. The workmanship from those 3 fabulous crafthouses are absolutely stunning. Then, much to my amazement, Alexander branched out into non-rectilinear puzzles and Jakub and Jaroslav had the courage to attempt to mass produce them - what an amazing feat! Pepper castor wasn't the only one but was my favourite. I cannot wait to see what they do in 2022.

5) Locking Me Out For Ages

Mind the Gap
Within a few weeks of each other I received some beautifully modified brass padlocks. Mind the gap from Andrew Coles should be released to the general puzzling public soon and I can heartily recommend it - the use of a new shape of lock and some substantial alteration makes for a nic Aha! sequence. It is not terribly tough but the logic and implementation is wonderful. Loki by Boaz Feldman stumped me for several weeks. In the end, Goetz sent me a sort of hint that was not really a hint and it made me look at my puzzle a lot closer before noticing something wonderfully hidden. After that, my sequence of discovery was fun and led to finally opening the damn lock! Now I cannot reassemble the bloody thing so I think more thought is still required. Both are wonderful!

4) Monkeying About With Ali and Steve

Can you tell the difference?
When Steve and Ali get there evil minds together, fabulous fun things happen. I cannot believe that they managed to design and mass produce 2 ,ore in their wonderful Brass Monkey series. Both of these look identical but have completely different mechanisms. BM4 (left) left me gasping out loud that I couldn't believe "that they had done that" - the mechanism is one that takes many of us MPPers back to fun times. Then, out of the blue, BM5 arrived and left me gasping out loud that I couldn't believe that "I had do do that". Stunning mechanisms for both - not hard but great fun and absolutely beautifully made as always. It was very tough to move this to position 4.

I also had to throw in one of the TwoBrassMonkeys' plastic productions. The polar burr designed by Derek Bosch was my 10th in the series of helical burr puzzles and it was my favourite so far. This was designed to have the highest number of moves yet in one of these and despite this, I found it a challenging but still fun puzzle to solve. If you get a chance to buy just one of these then this is the one that I would recommend.

3) Sequential Discovery Cubed Box by Junichi Yananose

Definitely not just an interlocking cube!
This incredible fourth puzzle in Juno's sequential discovery burr series (first here, second here and third here) is a tour de force of unexpected movements and tools. The sequence has plenty of Aha! moments as well as at least one "what the hell have I done?" moment before you realise that all is Ok. It has a couple of difficult to fathom moves (one of which was so difficult that I missed it and had to be told by the genius that is Derek that I needed to look again - once I found the special sequence, I was truly blown away by Juno's brilliance. I cannot imagine where he will go next.

What a series!
Whilst I am blabbing about Juno, I have to mention the latest two additions to the Grooved 6 piece board burr set. Numbers 5 and 6 were released towards the end of 2021 and they took the complexity and fun up to a whole new level! They were simply awesome and they make for a fabulous collection (hence the group photo).

2) Stickman PuzzleBox number 35 - the One Hand PuzzleBox

She's ready to blow! Should I pull the grenade pin?
Who can resist a Stickman? I would buy one if offered but as a gift, this was an amazing show of generosity. Asher Simon designed it as a combination box and packing puzzle which took me a whole year to solve. There is an incredible Aha! moment in the solution which I would like to believe was the reason I took so long but we all know that I am terrible at packing puzzles. An astonishing design by Asher that has been beautifully made by Robert. It will take pride of place in my collection.

1) Abraham's Well by Brian Young

A work of art!
Brian Young always designs the most incredible sequential discovery puzzles and Abraham's Well was his only production this year. It is an amazing feat of creation (that took 3 years to complete) with pieces made from wood and metal, all hand made by Brian. I am not quite finished yet but what I have done so far has blown me away! I expect to finish this on New Year's day and am therefore going to bend my rules and include it in this year's top ten (they are my rules so I will do what I want with them!) The sheer quality of workmanship that has gone into them is nothing short of astonishing. Brian decided to beat the puzzle flippers (who he utterly hates) by making sure that supply was definitely not going to be a problem. I love this! Here's hoping that New Year's day brings me success.

Do you agree with my top 10? If you have any different thoughts then please comment below or even use my Contact page to tell me how wrong I am. I look forward to your thoughts.

Happy New Year to you all!

I really hope that you all keep safe and stay well despite the chaos that is unfolding around us. I look forward to entertaining and maybe helping many of you in 2022.