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!


  1. Cabeway! Of course. Quality control is an ongoing issue at the Foreign Office. I'll have a word with the staff.

  2. Hey Kevin, great puzzles by the way. Is cable car or dig ears puzzles available anywhere?

    1. Hi,
      Whilst quite a few of Aaron’s puzzles are on sale at PuzzleMaster, the ones here are not (yet) available from them. At the moment they have to be purchased directly from Aaron. You can find him on Facebook or use my contact page to email me and I’ll let you have his email address.