Sunday 17 April 2022

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed...

And now I'm Blue!

My table of toys - some have been here months or even years!
Much to the chagrin of Mrs S, my puzzle arrivals keep on coming and I haven't had time to put any away in ages - they are EVERYWHERE! I have quite a lot that I haven't managed to solve or haven't managed to even play with yet. Some of my most longstanding puzzles that are suitable to be left somewhere warm and which are suitable to dip into periodically are left on a side table in our conservatory. I find that at weekends, after the obligatory exercise on the rower (if I get fat, she will chuck me out! 😱), I tend to sit on the sofa next to these puzzles and pick up something to idly fiddle with. Sometimes I don't get a chance to sit down because its not always my seat...

It's warm in here! Zzzzzz
Sometimes I wish I was a cat!
A correspondent of mine (that's you, Steve) also seems to have a penchant for Aaron Wang's disentanglement puzzles and recently asked me how I had gotten on with the Boxing Gloves puzzle and if I could provide a clue to help him. I shamefully had to admit that I had singularly failed to solve it in over 4 years - shame on me! That puzzle has been sitting on that glass table for longer than any other - I keep thinking that I should be able to solve it and keep failing at it. 

Boxing Gloves - looks familiar?
Does it look familiar? It should is "just" a Ball and Chain puzzle - I have written about them before in their various guises, from the original classic that I bought from the sadly missed Livewire puzzles to the fabulous complex versions from Aaron I bought in 2015 and again last year which I had so much fun with. The thing about ball and chain puzzles is that they have a base move that they all share but after (or even before) that they need careful setting up and obviously careful movements after that. The Boxing Gloves is doesn't even look that complicated unlike the Maze B&C that I failed at so spectacularly last July. One thing that frightens me about these puzzles is the tendency to get into a terrible knot. Recently, Aaron has been using wonderful quick release mechanisms so that it is easily possible to reset a tangled puzzle but this one has nothing to help you if you get into a mess - I was rather frightened of it but could not stop myself from trying it every few weeks or months.

After my recent correspondence, I had to try again. I sat down (having moved the cat) on Good Friday and started playing again. I kept getting into the usual trap and having to carefully backtrack to avoid the inevitable mess and ended up sitting staring at it thinking© to myself that it is just two interlocked Ball and chain puzzles! It should not need anything fancy to solve it. Why wasn't my standard B&C approach working? The second one always could not be set up properly. 

At that point the cat insisted on more food and I put it down to feed him. During that process my thoughts went along the lines of..."if the second one is always set up wrong then what if I don't have a second one?" That sounds fairly cryptic but if you are reading this, Steve, then you have a fairly big clue right there! I tried something that I had not thought of before in 4 years and it didn't work - something wasn't quite right. Looking at it, though, it was clear why and I needed a very specific setup move before trying the same thing again. It frightened me quite a bit because the whole thing seemed on the verge of a knot and it required every single bit of the length of that chain but suddenly...

Aha! At last!
I cannot believe it - I have finally solved an old puzzle after years of attempts. It is a fabulous idea and one I should have managed earlier but needed me to have a particular train of thought©! Returning it to the beginning requires the same setup move (which took me a little while to find again) and then the usual sequence for this style of puzzle. Thank you Aaron, it is wonderful!

Anti-Gravity Box+
Next I tried something new - I had received a few beauties from Eric recently including the Anti-gravity box+. The plus here is because Eric worked with Frederic Boucher to add an extra challenge to his original puzzle giving us 2 sets of 6 sticks to be inserted into the box, one has 2 solutions and the other solution. Eric has beautifully made this from Iroko and Paulownia with magnets glued in flush either on the side or end of the pieces. The two puzzle sets can be told from each other by the presence of a decorative dowel in the end of the set with the unique solution. 

The top of the box has a nicely fitted acrylic lid to allow the failed puzzler to quickly remove the pieces either to try the next puzzle or, more usually, to start again having failed miserably. My initial thought was to find a stacking method that would not allow the magnets to repel each other and then simply slide the pieces inside whilst using gravity and tilting to get the pieces to where I wanted them. Doh! I should have read the instructions properly - the box has to be placed on a work surface/table and cannot be manipulated after that. The challenge is to insert the pieces through the two windows and any manipulation of those pieces can ONLY be carried out using the sticks themselves - you are not even allowed to poke your fingers inside. Now that really ups the ante. Yesterday, having finally convinced myself that I had definitely understood the Boxing gloves, I decided to try this. Luckily this time the cat was on my lap and I could use him as a table. The snoring was a little off-putting though. The set with two solutions has an extra magnetic piece and this makes manipulation quite a bit simpler (although not easy by any stretch of the imagination). After about an hour of trying various ideas, I finally worked it out and had my box packed - the lazy boy had not even woken up to admire my efforts. The next challenge was a variant of the first needing quite a bit more thought© and planning. I had that challenge beaten in another half hour and was feeling quite chuffed. At last I can place my prowess on the same level as those of Brent (Five Sinatras) and Jerry Loo. Except...I have a nagging feeling when reading their reviews that I might have done something I was not allowed to do. I think I will have to ask Fred whether I have been silly or not. If you get a chance to buy this puzzle then I think it is a perfect challenge for an idle hour of puzzling which should leave you full of admiration for Fred's warped brain and Eric's craftsmanship.

Something borrowed??? Over 9 months ago, I was very kindly lent a copy of the ResQ puzzle (again designed by Frederic Boucher and made by Eric) and I have been playing with it off and on every few weeks when I get time. To my eternal shame, I have found only one move and discovered a tool. Having found my tool, I have no idea what to do with it - there seem to be absolutely no "tool-holes" for me to place it and all I can do is admire the wonderful workmanship. I am very grateful to Andrew for lending it to me and his enormous patience as I have kept it for so so long! This is how puzzle friends are - such a wonderful bunch!

This leaves me feeling a little blue - but not as much as a partial solve...

Sax 2

Another fabulous challenge that I had bought from Aaron was a set of pure wire puzzles designed by Shuai Chi and beautifully made by Heping Gao. I loved the look of these for the theming but also the fact that they are pure wire meaning no knots. It does not, however, mean that they are easy. Aaron has given them all a level of 10+ which means that he found them pretty hard to solve himself and that means that a simpleton like me will really struggle and, oh boy, did I struggle!

Over the last 6 months since they arrived I have played with all three of them and can vouch that they are very very tough. Whilst they look very similar, they are all distinctly different and moves that are possible on one are not possible on the others. Seeing as I was so flush with success from the Boxing gloves and then I chose to have yet another try at this set that had beaten me so far (it has been in my conservatory stash the whole time). I chose to try the Sax 2 puzzle because I thought that one less obstructing ball might make for an easier puzzle. To be honest, this probably isn't the case because the loop on the end of the shuttle effectively causes a major obstruction because it cannot pass through the lowest of the hoops on the main body. I wasn't to know that at the time. 

There are some very interesting movements possible in this puzzle and it blocks up quite easily but during all my experimentation had never gotten to a point where I got lost and couldn't backtrack to the beginning. I was on a bit of a roll - I made a discovery that wasn't going to work but looked like it should so it was time yet again to Think© (damn you, Allard and your thinking - it's not good for me). The discovery really looked like I was on track but the next step was blocked. This forced me to do something I had not done before - I tried to picture the moves in my head if the blockage wasn't there and this should definitely solve the puzzle. So how do I circumvent the blockage? Oooh! What if I? Yessss! I am not used to solving disentanglement puzzles like that - I was able to plan out the appropriate moves in my mind and before long I had this:

So why am I so blue? Having had something old, new and borrowed must be the reason. At this moment, I still have the puzzle in two pieces - I have spent a whole day trying to return it to the beginning and seem to be missing a trick. My head now hurts quite a lot and I think I might need to put it down for a while! Once I have it fully solved i.e. returned to the beginning and then moved both ways a second time then it will be time to try the others in the series - wish me luck!

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