Sunday 27 February 2022

You Cannot Rush A Good Puzzle

Or...Failure Again!

Swiss Cheese and Grape
A couple of weeks ago I showed of Bruno's Caffe Latte packing puzzle and have to say that despite it being a packing puzzle, I absolutely adored the process of solving it (I hope that all of you have gone out and bought your copy?) He had sent me his Swiss Cheese and Grape puzzle as well which was really admired by the very discerning Michel and I just needed to find time to play. I had actually expected to have some time this week but something went badly wrong. My week rapidly filled up with work and my puzzling time disappeared. I even failed to attend the virtual MPP yesterday due to work (bloody virus!!!) and the last puzzling opportunity passed by.

I decided to give it a go this morning and early afternoon in the hope that I would have a tale of rapid success for you today. How foolish am I? 

The standard maze plates
The premise of this wonderful design is to place your 6 cheese slices into the frame in such a way as to allow the holes that run through will allow the ball bearing/grape to drop all the way through from one face to the other and out. I am not sure where this falls in the puzzle classification - I wonder if it straddles two classifications? It is certainly a Maze but this is one where the maze has to be created by the puzzler.

The slices have the letters from the words "SWISS CHEESE" spread across them. Each slice has multiple holes...some blind ending and at least 3 passing obliquely through to the other side. Therefore it is a simple matter of stacking them so that the exit hole of one matches up with an entry hole of the next and so on. Easy peasy? Sigh! Maybe for Michel (or you) but definitely not for me. I really thought that an hour or so experimenting would get me to the end and a success story. Alas in answer to my question above...I am VERY foolish - or really really dense!

Creating stacks of 3 or even 4 of these slices is pretty easy. It just needs a bit of fiddling about and this works - the grape slides through with a very satisfying rattle (I am not sure grapes should be that hard). Adding a 5th slice is a bit problematic...quite often none of the 2 remaining slices have holes that will line up with either entry or exit holes at each end. There are 4 orientations to try with each slice and when it doesn't work (which is often the case), it is time to start trying to interleave those remaining two slices between the ones that I had already assembled. This usually mucked the whole thing up and led to me starting afresh. My maths abilities are not great but I think that if I just try random picking of slices and orienting them randomly one after another then there are 96,909,120 different possibilities. Maybe one of you mathematicians could correct me if you think that I am wrong (it has been a VERY long time since I studied Combinatoric theory). Whatever the true number is, I am highly unlikely to find the solution by randomly picking pieces and placing them. It needs the old Think© trick - nooooo!

The Thinking© was where I fell down. I realised quite early that 2 of the slices have one side that does not line up well with the other pieces - I need to improve my odds first by positioning these two and then later working on the more freely placeable slices. Even with the letters on them, I struggled to keep track of what I was trying in my head and began to take some notes on a piece of paper. After an hour or so, my notes were completely incomprehensible to anyone and I had quite a headache brewing. Wow! this is one tough puzzle! 

I have spent a good 3 hours on this today and so far gotten absolutely nowhere! Maybe I am rushing it to try and get a blog post? All this has shown me is the title of the post - "You Cannot Rush a Good Puzzle". I will continue working on this one and hopefully get some time to solve it during the week.

Sunday 20 February 2022

Window Lock

Window Lock by Dick Hensel
Unfortunately I am working this weekend and so only have time for a quickie - it's still a goodie though! Who would have thought that you can make a lock out of wood? I certainly wood not have thought it possible but then what wood I know? Even more interesting is when the entire workings of the lock are visible through an acrylic Window. Allard reviewed the Window lock back in November and I couldn't resist asking Dick if he was going to make any more. He said that he was thinking about it and wood let me know if he did. I was truly delighted when he contacted me at the end of January with an offer of a copy. My version was made from a different wood to Allard's and had an extra feature...the ball bearing which, I suspect, made one part of the solution a little easier to perform.

As the name states, everything is on show and yet it is not just a simple matter of looking and doing to open it. I have been fiddling for a week or so before I managed the complete solution. The first possible movement is relatively obvious because all you can do at first is roll the BB around (which does nothing) and look for anything else that might move. Once you have found what else moves then your vistas open up into a bit more confusion. Yep, movement happens and immediately there is something that screams to be done but due to the fancy angles Dick has cut the wood at, everything just slides back and forth without achieving anything. It's a sort of mesmerising sliding back and forth but that doesn't help you open the blasted lock. 

Next, there is something else that screams at you to try and it requires more dexterity before you can make it happen (and sometimes I couldn't make it happen). At this point there is an audible oooooh! in the room (Mrs S doesn't mind those sorts of sounds) and more things become apparent. There are magnets inside - knowledge of which actually doesn't help you and even if you are not careful can seriously hinder later moves. At this point, I got stuck for a week...I could make another "thing" happen inside and it was very satisfying but did not appear to get me anywhere near to opening the "blasted" lock. I was beginning to understand why Allard had enjoyed it, The next couple of evenings were a succession of failing and succeeding to do the first move or two and then "click" swearing under my breath. I was missing something crucial.

As they say, it was now time to Think© and it didn't help. With the Window lock, it was time to Look and then Think©. A very foreign idea for me but it certainly worked - as I have said, everything is on show if you look properly then there is more to Think© about and at that point I had an idea...what if I?

Damn! That should not have been so hard!
This clever puzzle literally has everything on show through a window but seeing it is not enough - you need to think and plan an attack. It actually is not that tough but the moves are not obvious until you try to work out a pathway to releasing the shackle. I absolutely love it! I really wish that I was able to open my other lock from Dick. I bought the Hensel Lock in 2017 and have not gotten any further than a few moves in! I am truly terrible at locks/burrs/packing/puzzles in general!

Whilst chatting with a new friend on FB messenger, I came to the realisation that I have a problem...I haven't tidied up my desk in 6 months! I actually know where everything is but Mrs S is starting (actually she's continuing) to get annoyed at me! Do you think I should tidy up? I actually think I could leave it a while longer:

Looks organised to me! 

Sunday 13 February 2022

How Hard Is It to Get a Cup of Coffee?

It would appear to be bloody awkward!

Caffe Latte puzzle by Bruno
I have been chatting on and off for several months with a lovely Parisian puzzle designer, maker and seller, Bruno Hemon. This has probably been a rather frustrating experience for him as my communication ability over the last couple of years has been rather hit and miss due to my rather high and extremely unpredictable workload. A few years ago he wanted me to give my opinion on a couple of his designs and I ended up pointing him at my expert friend Michel to get a really decent assessment of his puzzles. Michel writes a regular newsletter and gives his quick assessments of puzzles that he has bought each month. I was very pleased to see that a couple of Bruno's designs featured in them and was really delighted to see that Michel had put one of Bruno's designs in his top 3 acquisitions of 2021 - for a puzzler and collector of Michel's standing, this is a huge tribute to both quality and puzzle standard.

The very prolonged conversation ended with Bruno telling me that he was sending a couple of puzzles as a gift to evaluate. I was a little mystified when I received a notification of a German parcel being sent to me and could not understand why this could be or who it could be from. Mrs S clarified it for me earlier this week when she kindly opened the package for me to find out who had sent me something. Nicely packed with a little card was the Caffe Latte puzzle (complete with sugar cube) as well as the Swiss cheese and grape puzzle which I have yet to explore. He has quite a few other puzzles on his site and I will probably head back there to make a couple of purchases when my finances settle a little. I couldn't resist the Caffe latte as my first challenge. I loved the shape and idea as it reminds me a lot of the type of packing puzzles that I adore designed by Alexander Magyarics - it's a simple idea made difficult by having a very restricted entry hole. The addition of the sugar cube which may end up mobile within the puzzle is a nice extra touch. Having a cylindrical shape was also going to make it more difficult due to the fact that pieces could swivel around the central axis.

Whilst waiting for a critical care bed before a big operation would be allowed to start, I was going to have a little while with nothing to do but be bored twiddling my thumbs. I am NEVER bored! I always have lots of toys with me, either to confound my colleagues or, more usually, to solve for the weekend blog post. Out came Caffe latte. 

The usual approach is to assemble the shape outside and then work out how to place it through the restricted opening...a third stage here will be to do the whole thing with the sugar cube in place. As part of my being rubbish at packing puzzles, I start of trying lots and lots of random ways of assembling pieces. This usually gets me absolutely nowhere and I have to actually Think©!  Yes, it happened again. After a good 30 minutes amusing my colleagues with my choice of swear words, I stopped and thunk about it. The shape consists of centres with both inner and outer rings all split into quarters. Two of the pieces straddle 3 layers which is an added problem. Aha! number one, lets me work out a way to assemble the pieces into a full coffee shape (there is a nice gap inside for the sugar cube which I will work on later). Whilst the outside of the cup is conical, the interior is just a cylinder so there will be two possible ways up. Needless to say, I start working on the wrong orientation and have to stop to start my big case...pesky patients always getting in the way of a good puzzling streak!

At home later that day, I work out how to disassemble the shape through a limited entry and decide it's time to put it all together. Problem number 2...2 of the pieces will not fit through the hole in the top at all! I am not sure how this wasn't immediately obvious to me from the beginning but I now have to work out how to get these quite large pieces inside without snapping them. Each needs a rather accurate rotation to place it and once one is inside then the other gets tougher too (especially if you place some of the smaller pieces in first). I finally work out how to get these pieces inside and realise that I cannot remember the assembly. Sigh! I'm a bear of very little brain! Time to remove everything - a real struggle to do and then take notes on each required move. One of the most interesting features of this challenge is that the whole of the assembly needs to rotate inside the cup to align pieces to accept and move subsequent pieces. This puzzle probably cannot be modelled in burrtools for this reason.

Next, using my notes and working everything in reverse, it's assembly time. This needs bit of dexterity and a bit more swearing. After 2 days, it is assembled but without the sugar cube. Time to start again. Another batch of swearing and I restart the puzzle with the extra piece and realise that it gets in the way a bit. A very specific couple of moves are required and these are even more fiddly but the end result is a perfectly sweetened Caffe Latte ready for a photo and a drink:

What a wonderful challenge!
Disassembly is also a challenge once you have left it a while because the view inside is extremely restricted.

Bruno has outdone himself - this is a fun challenge and is definitely worth you all having a look at. Whilst you are on his site, there are quite a few other challenges - a similar type of puzzle, the Espresso coffee and Michel's winner, the Hexabox. I will be going back soon!

Sunday 6 February 2022

No Need to Fear It!

Progressive Exploration Helps a Solve
Master Clover Cube - looks ferociously tough
Halfway through last year I restarted purchasing twisty puzzles after a little hiatus (mostly induced by fear of how difficult the newer puzzles looked). This batch I worked through gradually over a few weeks and published about them here and here but the Master Clover cube caused me considerable an edge turner it is going to jumble and to shape-shift which is normally a fun challenge but with so many layers, this was potentially going to be painful. If you are not familiar with the concept then let me quickly explain. Normally with edge turning puzzles, the individual pieces are restricted in their positions to certain orbits and cannot leave them. However, a jumbling move occurs when a partial turn occurs of an edge which lines up the cuts enough to allow an adjacent edge to be rotated. This can cause shape-shifting if it isn't lined up with the opposite side or "just" take pieces out of their usual orbits. Part of the attraction to me with these edge turning puzzles is that there are two distinct solves to be done - a non-jumbled scramble can be mostly solved using an entirely intuitive approach without any fancy algorithms and just a bit/a lot of thought and planning - this is great fun usually. Then a jumbling scramble makes for a much tougher solve needing even more thought and often needs a more fancy algorithm or commutator to solve (and half the fun is working out these commutators). It also ends up with a hugely shape-shifted nightmare puzzle.

Inner edge turn and outer edge turn
A jumbling turn in process (outer edge)
I had put off the final one in that batch until just this week. It frightened me to death! I recalled that many years (2013) ago I had bought and eventually solved the big brother of the Master Clover Cube, Eitan's Master Curvy Copter and the process it had nearly killed me. It was a seriously difficult puzzle with a lot of shapeshifting and a hugely difficult set of commutators to find.
Are they subtly different? Both Master edge turners but a lot more pieces in the Curvy copter
Eventually after procrastinating a long time, I ended up discussing the puzzle with Derek who happened to be working on it at the same time. My fears seemed to fall on deaf ears and, as usual, he started to badger me to get on with it and eventually I succumbed when he practically screamed "DO IT" at me via FB messenger. This shamed me into at least trying a non jumbling scramble in the hope that it should be solvable by intuition:

"This should be fun", I thought/hoped and my initial approach was similar to how I solve the ordinary Curvy copter or Clover cube

I basically do it layer by layer working my way up from the white face. The petals in the Master clover cube are split up so it was just a matter of creating the white face (easy) and then assembling the 2 side faces of the corner pieces and then adding in the half petals. With delight I noticed that the centres and the corners are not separable so solving one solves the other. It can be a little arduous but I managed to get half of the puzzle solved really quite easily. I was on a roll and then I hit a problem - the half petals in the remaining half are much harder to pair up when there is very little room to play in. One of the most important things I realised was that doing the puzzle layer by layer always ends up with a scenario where there are single half petals that cannot be placed in the end game without doing jumbling moves to finish. I was ever so slightly disappointed in this but I should probably not have been surprised. It was always going to be unlikely that such a complex puzzle was going to end up with nice easy intuitive 3 cycles of pieces. Having solved the lower half, I was able to turn the puzzle back to that orientation and experiment with the jumbling moves to see what effect they have. In a normal Curvy copter, the double jumble swaps a the two opposite petals on adjacent faces as well as either side of the cube. This can occur here but it is possible to split the inner and outer edge jumbles as below:

A single jumble swap
Two jumble swaps
Four jumble swaps on both layers
As you can see that matching inner edges with the front outer edge swaps 4 petal pieces. Doing it twice swaps another 4 and then twice more leaves in a very nice scenario (pictured right). Could I use this? Oh yes, I was sure I had the puzzle beat...and then this happened:

Hell! Not enough pieces swapped!
I was stumped for ages. I tried every combination of jumbling that I could think of and was always left with 2 pairs of swapped petal pieces. Time to Think© - Ouch! that hurt. I eventually realised that I needed to swap 2 more pairs at the same time but not alter the faces. Think© you fool! Aha! A lovely moment happened when I realised that I could move petals from the bottom face onto each side and if they were swapped over in a double set of jumbling moves then there was no mixing up of something else that I didn't want mixed. YES! I had it solved layer by layer.

Reporting my success and struggle back to Derek, he replied that he had not had anywhere near so much trouble as me with a non-jumbled scramble. ???How is that possible? It transpired that he had reduced it to a standard Curvy copter first and this could be done without any jumbling moves at all. I had to have a try and yes this was also a LOT of fun. So many aspects to just one twisty puzzle. At this point we were both procrastinating...he said that he had not had time to do a full jumbled and shape-shifted scramble but practically shouted at me to get on with it! Gulp! I am, of course, too stupid to say no to an instruction like that so off I went. I note that Derek has still not fully scrambled his copy! 

First of all, I did a jumbled but not shape shifted scramble and at this point I was very pleased that I had done my earlier experiments and gained a lot of experience of what could be moved where - the solve took me a couple of hours of enjoyable fun. Then it was time to screw my courage to the sticking place and do it properly:

This might have been a very bad idea!
The shape-shifting does seem to get blocked at various points during the scramble. It is mostly internal and does feel like it could be pushed past. But my experience with the original Curvy copter plus warned me off forcing anything. Everything I had learned about the puzzle up to that point stood me in good stead. Returning to cube was no more than awkward and then it was just a fully jumbled solve. I love this puzzle! It is definitely less difficult than the Master curvy copter but in a way that is a good thing. The vast majority of this can be solved by intuition alone and then just a bit of experimentation using the already solved half will provide what you need to be able to complete it. There are several challenges (non-jumbled, reduction approach; non-jumbled, layer by layer, jumbled non-shape shifted and finally fully scrambled) - this is great value for money. I bought mine from the HKNowstore but for those of you in America/Canada then PuzzleMaster have it in stock as well. Go on, give it a try, you will love it!

There are a couple of other non-face-turning Master cubes that would be great if those wonderful cube producers would have a try at manufacturing: The Master Curvy Copter I have shown and the Master Rex Cube as well would be incredible:

3 Master cubes - hopefully the back two will be mass-produced