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!

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