Sunday 27 March 2022

Getting Ziggy With It

This has been written ahead of time and set to publish at my routine time. Having had some time off work, I have to pay the price by working two weekends in a row! Sob!

Whilst I am here, can I ask that you all think about the awful atrocities that are going on in Ukraine. One of our fellow puzzlers, Peter Grabarchuk, has asked that I highlight to you what is happening and request that you consider doing anything you can to help out. Either give to a charity that is helping in Ukraine or that is helping support refugees. Anything you can do will help out and ease a terrible situation. 

Back to the puzzling…
My friend Eitan has been rather busy with work and having a family over the last few years and seemed to have almost withdrawn from Puzzle design and manufacture. My other puzzles of his were the incredible Eitan's star (one of the most difficult and marvellous twisty puzzles ever mass produced) and the Master Curvy Copter which he designed and used Shapeways to 3D print for me. With some considerable surprise I saw him offer up a new design called Ziggurat, which he was 3D printing himself. The Ziggurat is a massive Mesopotamian pyramid-like structure usually with 2 to 7 stories. Eitan was going even more massive with EIGHT! How could I resist? I jumped on the offer and sent off some electronic money (not actually a lot) and got some feedback from him that the colours that I had chosen were great. I waited for the US and UK postal services to get their acts together and finally took delivery.

In the meantime, Michel van Ipenburg had written about it in his newsletter as well as pronounced on Facebook that it was a very nice fun design which was a great relief. Michel is the foremost connoiseur of the N-ary puzzle group and if he approves then it is definitely worth purchasing. 

Eitan had thoughtfully sent the puzzles out with 6 of the plates already assembled into a stack connected to a display stand and another 2 extra plates were loose in the box ready to be added to the stack. Initially, I did wonder why he had started the puzzle off for me and possibly gone halfway but then I realised that he had actually been very clever and thoughtful. The stack of 6 was definitely not ready to just start adding the other 2 to. The stack had to be completely dismantled before the reassembly with 8 was going to be possible. Having 6 ready assembled allows the puzzler to explore the sequences and understand the puzzle before embarking on the main odyssey. Once apart, the clever design of the plates and how they interact with each other across 3 layers is apparent and I was further impressed with Eitan's skills. The 2 colours have plates that are mirror images of each other.

I spent a couple of evenings on my chair watching TV working out how it worked and got ready for the full assembly - there were going to be a LOT of moves that had to be done in the right order and in the right direction.

Hidden by the spoiler button is the initial stage for the first assembly - having to do that was completely unexpected and very nice to realise. Once I thought I had it begun, it was time to begin the arduous process of working my way through the many many moves to stack the plates tidily. Everything moves very freely and easily despite the 3D printing. I initially just worked my way through but on 3 occasions realised that at some point I had turned myself around and was heading the wrong way. In fact, the first time this happened, I only realised that I had done this when I returned to the start position...DOH! Having inadvertently back-tracked 3 times, I decided to take notes to prevent further errors and to also allow me to take a break and obey Mrs S' commands with work to do around the house. I hate to think how many extra moves that I actually ended up performing but I got there in the end:

All 8 plates locked together
Stacked! As Eitan intended
I love it! The sliding mechanism places no strain at all on the very delicate thin tongues of plastic and it is a fun puzzle to explore. It will not be something that you solve multiple times but the experimentation and assembly was a pleasant diversion and even getting lost in the path multiple times only added to the enjoyment. It is ready now to go on display in my N-ary section.

Thank you Eitan, I look forward to future designs from you now that you are back designing again.

Sunday 20 March 2022

Dig Ears Revisited

Shuai Chi’s plucky little Dig Ears.
Yet again, my good friend and PuzzleMad foreign correspondent, Mike Desilets, has sprung into the breach! I have had a week off and been away in a place with extremely poor internet access. Whilst puzzling was possible - I never go anywhere without some of my lovely toys to help me ignore Mrs S. Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear. Somehow, as he always does, he senses (does he have some form of ESP?) that I need him to fill in for me and an article arrives in time. Thank you mate, I really owe you! Over to Mike:

Aloha Kākou Puzzlers,

This shall be a very modest post. I’m trying to keep the typing fingers limber more than anything else. I also, unexpectedly, experienced some great puzzling over these past few weeks, so wanted to spread that joy. Without further into, let’s start in with a really fun new disentanglement from Shuai Chi - “Dig Ears.” (Ed - I discussed it here) It was included in Aaron Wang's last annual mega-batch of puzzles, which I insist is his best and most diverse yet. Shipping has been a challenge for many makers and purchasers this past year, no surprise to most of you, and Aaron’s box took a good several months to arrive. He remained in close contact during the whole period, however, tracking the package; it was never a serious concern. Aaron’s service is as outstanding as his puzzles. (Ed - I totally agree)

Whenever I get Aaron’s annual package, I immediately search for the one or two puzzles that are below level 10 (Ed - hahaha, me too!). As those of you in the know, know, Aaron’s disentanglements are always very challenging. I’ll just go ahead and all-caps that, VERY challenging. Aaron basically invented the 10+ category. I have yet to solve a complete batch before the next one arrives (some 12 months later). At this point I am faced with an impossible backlog. I believe this is the case for the entire PuzzleMad staff. (Ed - seeing as that is just you and me, I definitely agree!)

The insert.
Anyway, when I saw Dig ears clocking in at a manageable level 9, I knew I had a chance.  Also, no string involved, yet another plus. Three weeks and a few widely interspersed sessions later, I had the shuttle off and had also achieved repeatability. It was a great day to be alive! The old hands know what I mean. (Ed - 3 weeks? That is pretty good for this one! I think it took me 2 weeks and I am supposed to be quite good at wire puzzles)

I highly recommend dig ears to all serious puzzlers, even if disentanglements are not your thing (which seems to be quite common, unfortunately). It’s hard to express the brilliance of this modest little puzzle. Shuai has done a really great job here, and I can see why Aaron chose to make it. Like most innovative disentanglements, it takes known elements and combines them in a new way that is at first (and sometimes forever) quite baffling. In this case, you immediately recognize the classic ‘cowboy hobble’ form of the main component, but then the spiral arm is extended a full extra turn. The other dangly bit is hung off the main body with it’s two rings and finally the shuttle hangs off that. The very first move seems obvious, but the second is far less so. I would even say that it’s the main challenge of the puzzle. Once you have that licked, the third and fourth should fall into place without tremendous effort. Reassembly will be a little tricky, even if you were wise enough to pay close attention to your procedure. If I’ve learned anything at all doing this stuff, it’s to slow down and study individual moves before taking next steps. Even with this, however, there is a degree reverse-solve required; things just don’t look the same going backwards. By the end of the process, however, you should fully understand the puzzle. It’s really unlikely you will get it back together unless you do.

This is a very satisfying puzzle, and it is not impossibly hard. Just regular hard. You can (and should) THINK© your way through this one. In fact, I would say that the THINK-fiddle ratio is about perfect. My personal thanks go out to Shuai for creating this design, and also to Aaron for the flawless craftsmanship. Proportioning and tight tolerances are really critical for this kind of puzzle. It’s a stainless-steel beauty and will take an honored place in my collection.

Dig ears has inspired me to work diligently on this new batch and resist the procrastination which these really hard entailments inspire. I was well on the way to solving “cable car”, but somehow got myself all mixed up in the middle of the process. I need to gather my wits and get back at that one. But I can tell you already, for a fact, that it is a great puzzle. And also, a very handsome puzzle. It would be on my top shelf, if my house had shelves.

Cable Car. I love this one. I’ll love it even more once I solve it.
(Ed - I also bought this one - it's actually called Cableway, I was thinking that it would be a relatively straightforward N-ary type puzzle but the construction of the doubled over frame means that the expected N-ary simple moves cannot happen. At present I am completely stuck on it and still at the beginning)

Before we close, I’d like to throw a quick ‘me too’ in the direction of Allard Walker, friend of the blog, who recently posted on Join Liu’s Axes and Hammer puzzle. Kevin Sadler, occasional contributor to PuzzleMad, also gave it a very positive review in July of last year. Those gents have about covered it, so I’ll only say that I fully concur. This is truly the freshest, most interesting take on Robert Boomhower’s 1966 classic in a very long while. That’s really saying something, since it is one of the most widely copied and modified disentanglements of all time. Axes and Hammer is also extremely well-made and I have been fondling this puzzle in my front pocket (as far as you know) for days on end. (Ed - we all believe that is what you are doing in your pocket!)

Axes and Hammer from Join Liu, 2020 IPP Design Competition entrant.
Finally, I want to extend a heartfelt Thank You to Cubic Dissection for the beautiful Slideways puzzle I recently received. I was lucky enough to be the winner in their last puzzle lottery. It was a pleasant (and shocking) surprise; like my editor, I never win anything at all, not a damn thing. This little puzzle is stunning, as you would expect from Eric and his dissectors. It reminds me that I should perhaps be more diligent about tracking CD releases. To be honest though, the very thought of participating in a quarterly electronic mad scramble is stressful and off-putting. Most likely I will continue to check in late and search for table scraps. Fortunately for people like me, CD often produce multiple editions of the very best puzzles, which helps a lot.  

Slideways, among the best CoMo puzzles of all time. You can’t have too many copies. If I had to have just one, it would probably be this CD version.
(Ed - Yes I have to agree about how good a puzzle this is - I have a metal version of the plain burr and also a couple of Pelikan variants - stunning puzzles and fun to fiddle with)

Ok, that’s all I have, back over you Chief…

Wow! A nice romp through some really wonderful puzzles! If you get anywhere with Cableway then you might have to give me a hint. Thank you so much for all your efforts and I hope that you continue to enjoy your puzzling and chat with us about it soon. Take care mate!

Sunday 13 March 2022

May the Success Continue!

Ice 9 by Yuu Asaka
I may have said once or twice on this very website that I am rubbish at packing puzzles and I stick by that assertion whole-heartedly. I have accumulated quite a few packing puzzles over the years and they give me a huge headache. I have gotten much better at the 3D interlocking type puzzles from Osanori-san and Alexander-san but any puzzles that involve placing lots of pieces (especially very similar blocks in a cavity) stump me. I have only managed to solve the Euklid for Kids and still not managed the other 2 Euclid puzzles and the Fermat, with only 3 pieces but a non rectilinear geometry, have me beaten. I just don't have the skills to work them through and am reduced to trying hours and hours of random attempts which I cannot keep track of. If there is a logical approach to them I just don't know it. I am in awe of Nick Baxter who not only solves them with little difficulty but seems to be able to find extra solutions. One day I will saw the top of his head off and examine his brain! Don't tell him though or I suspect he might avoid me. To my eternal shame, I cannot even solve a one piece packing puzzle - bought from Eric back in mid 2020 - it's "just" a big block to be placed in a shouldn't be that tough! Tray packing puzzles with complex shapes are also a huge problem for me - is there a technique for them? I just don't know. I have a bunch of Alexander-san's puzzles which I dip into quite frequently and so far I have only managed to solve a few of the very easiest of them:

Very pretty and very difficult!
Last week, I extolled the virtues of Yuu Asaka's tray puzzles - they tend to have low numbers of pieces and a very nice logic to them that you solve with an initial splurge of trial and error before you are forced into a period of Think©ing and actually end up working the blasted thing out properly. Every time I manage one, I am amazed at how he made me think© inside the box/tray! Yes, these are puzzles where thinking outside the box doesn't seem to work (at least not for me) and it requires you to notice something odd about the pieces before you can work it out. I love the Aha! moment with these - it is not just down to random trial and error.

The Ice 9 was included in my hoard from Mine but it really frightened me...NINE pieces to place - Aaargh! After I published last week, I took it out and began to fiddle. As always, I started with trial and error. This has a bunch of odd shaped pieces which all have various odd shaped notches or protrusions which must obviously interlink. The squarer notches can be filled by either square protrusions or rounded ones. Is this going to fit together perfectly with no gaps? In doesn't say on the box. All it says is to fit the parts in the tray and that it is level 5/5 (PuzzleMaster rate it as a 10) with the estimate that it will take about 3 hours. Last Sunday evening did not see any success and I took it to work in the hope that I might find time. We had a big educational meeting via MS Teams on Tuesday morning and this was my chance to listen to the talks AND play with my toy at the same time. I promise sincerely that I was paying attention. Initially, it was just random placement of pieces which never works for these with so many pieces to place. Time to Think© and it was hard. There always seems to be a piece left over that cannot fit in.

First I counted the notches and the protrusions and they don't equal each other - bugger! Then I looked at how many notches I could make by placing pieces side by side - it still wouldn't match. Maybe there was going to be a huge gap but estimating the surface area of the tray and the total area of the pieces told me that there was a pretty close match and no big gaps. Time to be systematic and look at the lengths of pieces and estimate where they could fit when placed in pairs. It wasn't really successful in a way that I was expecting but I did manage to fill large parts of the tray with almost no gaps at all - the unequal pairing of notches and protuberances seemed to be less of an issue this way. I seemed to be filling the tray quite well. Until the last piece would not fit. At this point, rather than tip it out and start again, I did try moving tiles around and swapping a few without mucking up the really nice tray filling that I had achieved. Gradually, the tray filled better and better until I was left with one awkward piece which looked odd.

What if I can??? Oh, you sneaky man! That is very clever and really quite tough. The Ice 9 has a very lovely Aha! moment which cannot be found randomly. It will start random, move to a definite thought process which won't work and then noticing something special.

I think I did take about the requisite 3 hours making this rather good value for money. You should definitely consider getting one or two of these challenges! Maybe it is time for me to pick up Alexander's puzzles again?