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.


  1. 2 of your top 3 are in my top 3, so I guess we do agree mostly.

    Nice post and Happy New Year.

    1. It would be boring if we all had identical preferences. What did you put in your top 3 then?

  2. hello Kevin
    nice frist review of the New Year and all the bst for you especially Health;
    the Tower of Bubble reminds me alittle bit of an very old design by a fromer DDR designer, we made it in wood and have to search for it again

    1. Happy New Year Bernhard and Kristin.
      I’ll be interested to see the original design.

  3. A wonderful tradition to wake up to each year. I love reading your list. Happy New year!

    1. I’m so glad you find it fun. It’s quite a lot of work but an utter delight looking back over what I’ve bought and solved over the previous year.

  4. it was designed by Rüdiger Thiele and was the same concept, made for his book from car cylindric metall parts to form a 3 layered Triangle Pack

  5. Hi Kevin
    I´ll make pics off it, hope I have one item left over

  6. Yes, thanks Bernhard, that's really interesting. Need to see the pic!

  7. No-Jump-O is in slocum/botermans new book of puzzles, pp 114-115

  8. Hi Kevin
    did you get the pics of the puzzle similar to Tower of Babble

    1. Hi Bernhard, yes I did and will pass them on to Mike shortly.