Sunday, 22 May 2022

Cast Cyclone

Yes, it's another Hanayama review! I have felt a little guilty over the last year or so because I have focussed a lot of my attention on craftsman made puzzles and this might have excluded a number of puzzlers because this is a rather expensive hobby and not everyone has the ability to spend hundreds or even thousands of pounds/euros/dollars/AUD on toys. I am well aware that I am in a very privileged position and am trying to make up for it a little by reviewing at least a few more reasonably priced puzzles for you. The Hanayama cast puzzles are probably the greatest example of a quality item available for a small price. Over the last 11 years I have managed to buy almost all of them and do try to keep up with the recent releases - this is me catching up.

The Cast Cyclone is a level 5 on Hanayama's 6 point scale and I think they got it just right - this is a proper tough puzzle but definitely solvable if you fiddle, look and think©. Designed by Kyoo Wong, this looks gorgeous with 4 interlocking rings that have single gaps at one point on their circumference. One ring is a gold colour and the others are shiny chrome. All four interlock with each of the others. This, along with the sheer width of the ring means that movement of the individual pieces is really quite restricted. If you look carefully at them then you can spot some obvious differences between them (2 are labelled Cyclone and 2 have Hanayama engraved on them) - I would advise you to really look closely because the subtle differences will make all the difference between success and failure.

This is a disentanglement puzzle and will require planning to dismantle. Looking at the gaps in the rings, it is clear that these need to be aligned to allow individual rings to slide off each other but the bulks ends at the gaps prevent them from reaching the appropriate position easily. It also becomes quickly obvious that these may not align at 90º to each other when they slide. I began playing with this one about 2 weeks ago and had to be careful because it is pretty jingly and might cause upset in the Sadler household. For 2 weeks I got absolutely nowhere. I knew roughly what I wanted to achieve as my first move but I could not work out which combination of pieces and orientations would actually achieve it. This impasse pretty much lasted the whole two weeks until suddenly I did something ever so slightly different and a sliding move started to occur. I had no idea what I had done differently so I backtracked and undid that critical move. Of course! I couldn't do it again! I spent another 3 days before that move worked again. At least, I did not waste any time trying it with the wrong pieces - that first move requires extremely precise positioning and having done it a second time, I was careful to watch it and still cannot manage to reproduce it regularly. That sort of exact placement is exactly why Hanayama make such perfect puzzles.

That initial slide move was very exciting for all of about 5 or 6mm! The pieces slid along each other and stopped dead - they would not separate due to being blocked by the rings of the other pieces. Now what? At this point there is an obvious feature that you are desperate to utilise and the obvious sequence is started and gets you... nowhere! I got stuck here for a while and eventually realised that the next move was being done correctly but needed a tiny tiny bit of force. This is the only negative feature of this puzzle - I personally think that you should never ever need to use any force as it leaves a puzzler questioning whether they have done it correctly and may prevent them ever finding the solution if they are not willing to use that force. This is not the first time that a Hanayama has needed force - the Cast Helix which I reviewed way back in 2013 here had a similar requirement and I was quite critical of that one for the same reason. For an experienced puzzler or a collector then the Helix and the Cyclone are good puzzles to continue challenging yourself but a novice stands a high chance of getting stuck.

Having realised what was required, I was well on my way and the remainder of the disentanglement continued with only a little interruption for thinking© and I quickly had my 4 pieces laid out for the photo.

That was quite fun and took me much longer than expected
At this point, my hands were a little sore so I left the puzzle for a few days which was probably rather foolish. I am well known for not being very bright and I have proved it here - I cannot reassemble the puzzle - I had not paid attention to the orientation of all the pieces as I separated them and now the reassembly seems to get stuck no matter what I do. It is not the force move - I get to a point where that looks like the next thing to do but there is no way that is happening - it would require a LOT of force which is not right.

This is definitely a nice puzzle for the experienced puzzler but probably not a good idea for kids or novices. I reckon all the readers of this blog (all 10 of you!) should be perfectly able to solve this one.

Next week, I will be back to craftsman puzzles! I have received the upcoming batch of Pelikan puzzles and am going to have to work on these as fast as I can for a week. wish me luck! See the New additions page for a quick preview photo.


Sunday, 15 May 2022

Cast Valve - I Think They Need to Speak To Derek

Cast valve - level 4/6
Cast valve - Damn, these things are hard to photograph!
Last week I started with my return to the Hanayama Cast puzzles/Huzzles with the pretty easy (level 3) Cast Dice. I have not had much time for puzzling this week apart from continuing with those nice pocketable puzzles and working my way up the difficulty levels. I unfortunately have to report that my Cast Snow remains in a locked up position with only a tiny amount of wiggling possible. 

The Cast Valve seems rather oddly named - I work with several different types of valves in ventilators and obviously have valves for my car tyres and none of them look like the shape of this puzzle but, to be honest, I cannot think of anything better to name this one. It was designed by Vesa Timonen who has been extremely prolific over the years and has had nine other Hanayama puzzles produced as well as several others over the years. His designs are always fun and usually just the right level of difficulty to challenge you without putting you off. Hanayama has rated it as level 4 out of 6 and PuzzleMaster as level 8 (in their silly 5 - 10 scale).

The puzzle here is a rather attractive hexagonal shape with a frame into which there are three further pieces inserted. It is 4.5 x 4.2 x 1.6cm in size and made from a yellow brass-like metal frame and matching colour centre piece and two shiny silver semicircular pieces that fit between them. The aim is to dismantle the puzzle and then put it back together by navigating the interior moving maze formed by the pieces. Now, the master of this sort of puzzle is the genius himself, Derek Bosch, the designer of the original (and many subsequent) helical burrs which I have gone completely bananas over on this blog. Having solved this puzzle by Vesa, it reminds me of the very first of Derek's designs, the Tubular burr which is effectively a stick burr in a frame but with circular pieces that can rotate around and through each other. The Cast Valve is just like this.

My early fiddling showed a fairly constrained bit of movement as the pieces lock and unlock each other. I realised early on that I would probably need to take notes to keep track of the moves that I try so that I don't go around in circles (literally as well as figuratively) - I sort of needed to make up my own notation for it. Within about 10 minutes, I had made great progress and the pieces were rotating and rising and falling within the frame nicely. Great I thunk, I'll have this done in no time and have one in the bag for the blog. Except, I felt I had made reasonable progress and could not advance any further. I must have missed an exit of the maze pathway somewhere so time to backtrack and trace it out with pressure on different bits to try and find the hidden path. It's a fiddly bugger when you try and do that - just a bit too small to allow you to do this with ease. After an evening of playing and swearing (I seem to do that a lot!) I realised what was going on - yes, it is just like any other burr in that it has blind pathways that lead you the wrong way. Yes, of course, my first exploration had taken me completely in the wrong direction.

Having realised my error I made pretty good progress again until I reached a point where I was almost able to remove a piece but not quite. Here again I got stuck for a while. The tolerances on these are very very tight. Things need to be lined up just right to let you progress at certain points. After a couple of days I had managed this:

Not a spoiler - you cannot possibly see enough to work it out.
I put the pieces aside for a few hours before attempting the reassembly. I have to say that this would be a huge struggle if I had not spent so much time going back and forth on the disassembly. I had enough muscle memory that I was able to reassemble it with only a short period of getting lost. The level of 4/6 is just about right in my opinion.

This is a nice little puzzle which I enjoyed a lot. What it did reinforce to me was that Derek's helical type burrs would be fabulous made as a cast puzzle (the original would be a perfect difficulty level) - I am sure that Steve and Ali have looked into making one out of brass but they would be hellishly tough to mill - it would be perfect to cast. Please Hanayama, have a little chat with our friendly genius!


Sunday, 8 May 2022

Cast Dice - A Fiddly Little Bugger

Cast Dice
It says level 3
Over the last year, I have watched on Facebook as various puzzlers show off the latest of the Hanayama cast puzzles/Huzzles. I watched with interest but never seemed to get around to buying them and by now I think 5 or 6 have been released and I am way behind. I can only blame the pandemic as I just never seemed to find the time. At the end of last week, I suddenly got the motivation to ask my usual Hanayama supplier (Nic Picot in the UK runs the Hanayama puzzles UK site and I usually buy from him due to the ease of having him in the same country as me. If you are in North America then I can recommend PuzzleMaster or if in Europe then either my friend Hendrik or Tomas and of course in Australasia then you cannot beat Brian and Sue Young. All are personal friends and are very trustworthy suppliers.

I asked Nic about the most recent ones and he had all apart from Cast Planet in stock and I placed an order for what he had - they arrived 3 days later much to the disgust of Mrs S who is thinking about where they are going to be stored and also about how jingly they will be whilst we watch TV. A couple of days later Nic told me that Cast Planet will be in stock shortly and it is currently in my porch waiting for me to open the post. Yay!

Part of my motivation for buying these is that they are almost invariably really fun challenging puzzles which are beautifully made and also because I need something lightweight to work on for a bit. My work life seems to be out of control and I struggle to find time for any serious puzzling - Mrs S has actually complained that I am hardly ever home which I am surprised about as I thought that would be a good thing for her. She only shouts at me for being in the way when I am at home! 😱

Of course, thinking that these may be a bit of puzzling light relief may be a bit silly - the Cast Hourglass  has been sitting on the desk next to me for 2 years in a position where I cannot seem to go forward or back! But at least I may have a little light relief with the easier ones here.

I started initially fiddling with the level 2 cast snow and after 2 evenings of exploration have to shamefacedly admit that after a little click occurred with a simple movement, it is completely locked up with only a little wiggling possible, I must have forced a move with minimal force and gotten it locked up. Hopefully, a pair of pliers will help me reverse my predicament.

Having failed so spectacularly on Cast Snow, I picked up the rather attractive Cast Dice puzzle. This 3cm cubed challenge was designed by Timothy Collins (a name I have never come across before) and has been beautifully made with a grey anodised holed cubic frame into which have been fitted 3 eccentric cotton reel like pieces. The three pieces all overlap inside the frame so they do not drop out. The aim is to remove them and then, of course, put them back. It has been rated as level 3 on the Hanayama scale of 1 to 6 and by PuzzleMaster as Level 7 (in their 5 to 10 scale). I really did not expect much of a challenge which would be a nice refreshing change (but then I did not expect the Snow to get into an uncorrectable position).

Yesterday morning after breakfast, I had a little time before chores would be expected of me and I picked it up and had a fiddle. It is pleasantly tactile but could do with being a little bit bigger to make it easier to control the pieces. All the offset cotton reels appear to be rotated to about 45º and this made me think about possibilities. After a bit of fiddling and within about 5 minutes I had a plan in my empty head.  After some further fiddling, I was able to remove a piece without losing the position of the remaining ones. I put it back quickly and reset it to ensure that I knew the approach.

The second time I attempted that same move it would not work. Was I oriented wrong? I wasn't sure but carried on trying the same thing a few times and suddenly a pair of pieces fell out. Well, that was unexpected - there seem to be two possible dismantling methods. I took the obligatory photo for my album and the blog:

Clever idea - now to reassemble
The photo above is not a spoiler as it is on the packaging of the puzzle. Having taken my photos, it was time to put it back together and here is where the title of the post comes from. I could not remember either of the positions that I had when the puzzle came apart but figured that I could work it out fairly easily. But, when it actually came to doing it, I really struggled - I could get 2 of the 3 pieces in and interlocked but the third would not engage properly. This took me an extra 15 minutes of swearing (luckily not whilst watching TV with Mrs S) before it went back together. Phew!

Even now, a day later, I am sitting with the bloody thing half-assembled next to rebut not quite slipping into place. It might be a little bit easier if it was an extra cm inside across each access. This inability to put it back together definitely earns it the difficulty level 3 grading as the disassembly is pretty simple. I think it will take me several more attempts before I have it properly worked out.

Definitely worth adding to your collection.


Sunday, 1 May 2022

This Alien Caused Me Months of Anguish

Visitor Q+ from Frederic
ResQ by Eric
Many months ago I missed out on managing to buy the ResQ sequential discovery puzzle from Eric's Cubic Dissection and bemoaned the fact on line afterwards (the puzzle was sold out of my basket whilst I logged into PayPal. It had been a big hit amongst the puzzle community (reviewed by Ken and it's predecessor Visitor Q by Brent). I was flabbergasted shortly afterwards when a wonderful friend and all-round generous chap (thank you Andrew) offered me a copy of the ResQ on loan so that I would not miss out and so that I could write a review and then I was truly delighted when Frederic Boucher contacted me afterwards to offer me one last copy of the Visitor Q puzzle to make up for it and then telling me that he had added an extra step to my copy to make it special. 

I was staggered when a package arrived with a whole bunch of puzzles which I am still working my way through. I have said to Frederic that I do not understand how his mind works - he has designed things that I can barely understand let alone create myself. There is one particular packing puzzle that I am completely stumped on despite trying to solve since October. Both the ResQ and the Visitor Q+ has been sitting in my rather upsetting pile 'o puzzles to solve for a while being picked up every few days or weeks and not getting anywhere.

I literally was unable to do even the first move. I was aware from the instructions on Eric's site that there were tools to be found and used during the solution and I sort of understood that this would also be the case with Frederic's version. Frederic had said:



Unlock the Vortex? How? Eric also mentioned the Vortex being unlocked. But nothing moved! In the ResQ there was one obvious thing that could be done and I think I did that straight away - I had released the Alien from his "psychic prison" but this isn't really help and putting it back in place was a fiddly bugger when you have middle aged man eyes like me and a cat stretched out on your lap much of the puzzling time - in the end I stole a tupperware container from the kitchen and stored the tool in that whilst I thunk©. I assumed that I had a tool but didn't know how to use it/them. But I did not have a tool for Visitor Q+ - what was going on. Yes, it was time to think© and, as you know, I am rubbish at that. I tried it for months with no success. Eventually, I looked at the two puzzles side by side and wondered what I could do with what I had on each and how that would/could be similar.

AHA!

I had a breakthrough late last week. Why had I not thought of that before? Well, I can answer that with the fact that I had completely ignored something with Visitor Q+ and had been frightened of scratching/damaging the ResQ wood. Stupid of me but finally I had found a way to make the first move and it had opened up a whole lot of puzzling for me. There was a whole lot of movement possible. I had to work quite hard to prevent rotations as they are specifically not allowed in the first part. The spaceship was found and it had to be manoeuvred through the vortex until it could  come out. This should have been the easiest part of the puzzle but I still struggled (I was happily doing both ResQ and Visitor Q+ simultaneously - yes, a very privileged position). For some reason, it took me a couple of days to release the spaceship (and with Visitor Q+ the Alien)
After this, I decided to concentrate on Visitor Q+ because there was less to do and I very much doubted my ability to simultaneously solve them now. I had to find a gift in the vortex - certainly nothing had been obvious during my early explorations. I guessed it must be something that would only be possible after the removal of the spaceship. It is quite interesting to see what is now possible with that rather significant cylindrical piece removed - there were a LOT of possible moves available to me and I had to be very careful not to get lost or force anything for fear of being unable to reset the puzzle. 

I found the gift quite by accident - actually my sleeping furry boy found it as it dropped on his head during my solving. It didn't wake him up and nearly gave me a heart attack as a small piece fell down the side of my armchair to be lost somewhere in the folds of fabric. Much swearing later and laughter from Mrs S and I retrieved my precious metal gift. My special copy of Visitor Q+ (the cause for the plus) had the extra step of finding the lost star inside the vortex. I spent another day moving all the parts of the vortex around (again being careful not to get lost) before noticing some "star-sign" and a few minutes later my puzzle was solved:

What a space odyssey!
Alien and spaceship freed from the vortex, a gold gift and the missing star.
This is simply wonderful - a brilliant gift from a brilliant friend - I cannot believe he created an extra step just for me - solving this has made my day/week/month/year and I am certain that this will end up in my top ten at the end of the year. Thank you so much Frederic, I will treasure it.

So, what about ResQ? Time to move on to solving that. There were going to be a good few more steps and they were going to be different. I realised that straight away because the move that had released the gift from Frederic's version did nothing for this one. Eric also had some different instructions:
1. Free the Visitor from his Psychic Prison
2. Unlock the vortex
3. Retrieve the Spaceship without using rotations (to avoid making the vortex even more unstable)
4. Navigate the vortex and retrieve the spaceship parts:
    -The thick and thin Antenna Assemblies
    -The silver Fuel Disk
    -The gold Reactor Orb
    -The six-orb Navigation AI Module
OK! Now what? I tried a lot of the movements that I had been using before and whilst it did not drop anything onto me or the cat, it did show me that there were going to be quite a lot of tools to find and use in various creative ways. This was fun, a LOT of fun but also very frustrating. The vortex was very unstable and pieces wanted to turn and move and drop into holes all the time making control quite awkward. Gradually, I found some pieces and then had to hunt for where to use them. At times these tools needed to be combined and this made for even more fun. I was on a roll!! Until I wasn't anymore.

I had found the Antenna assemblies, eventually found the silver fuel disk (that took me quite some time to realise what it was having seen it inside and not realised it was something I needed) and then the gold reactor orb. The navigation module was a problem. I could see where it was going to be, I had worked out how to combine my tools to get the compartment open and it wouldn't work! Bugger!!!!

Yes, my roll hit a brick wall. I knew I was on the right track but my combined tool could not reach to open the compartment. Now what? It was obvious...I had to move the compartment to where it would work. Yeah! Really obvious. But where? There were several possibilities and I spent several days trying to get things in place. No luck.

I should also mention that during all this manoeuvring I frequently got all my vortex pieces into positions where I could not back out - I wasn't taking notes, I was just moving pieces around (this included some fairly complex rotations) and I could not keep track of what I was doing. At several points there was a little chest pain and some swearing whilst I desperately tried to backtrack. In the end, I got really quite good at moving around the vortex into lots of different positions. I had noticed something in the puzzle which I was sure could not be a coincidence. Eric NEVER does anything without a good reason! I tried to use what I found but it was not helpful. After quite a few hours stuck at this position I asked for help. Allard was absolutely no help at all apart from telling me it was a bugger to reset (I think he had no recollection of the solution). I then asked Goetz for a hint and he reminded me of what I knew already but emphasised the feature I had found. Most importantly, he suggested that I get a light source to look inside at what I found.

%£$k!!! Eric is a sneaky bastard! I had been right all along but the positioning was off centre and I had not been doing it right for days! As soon as I had seen this, I was able to carry out the appropriate manoeuvre after a long sequence through the vortex first and I retrieved my AI module:

My goodness what an effort went into this!
Time for some photos. Time to reset both the puzzles and write my blog post! Yay!

Except...I cannot remember where all the parts of the ResQ actually belong! I am currently left with a couple of pieces left outside the puzzle and no idea where they belong! Aaaargh! I really hope that I can work it out as it would be really really embarrassing to return it to Andrew with a piece out of place!

So what do I think? These two puzzles are some of the very best I have ever played with! Visitor Q is a wonderful experience and I am delighted to have a personalised copy. Then Eric has taken the idea and run with it out into the galaxy. It is simply incredible! I am very unhappy that I did not manage to purchase a copy for myself but am so so grateful to Andrew for lending me his copy (thank you mate) - I will return it once I have put it back together. The two of these puzzles will be pretty high in my top ten this year. If you get a chance to buy the ResQ then jump at it - you will love it!


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