Sunday, 26 June 2022

So Tough I May Just be Bones When It Is Reassembled

PuzzleMaster and Jerry Loo's Skull
This blog post was produced a day earlier and in a hurry because I am working the weekend yet again - the solution to this one nearly killed me and I have not even attempted to reassemble it yet! It may remain in pieces for the rest of time which is unfortunate because Mrs S actually likes the look of it.

This fabulous creation which has been mass-produced thanks to PuzzleMaster's use of a Kickstarter campaign is now available for everyone to try out but you should all be warned... the level 10 is very well deserved! This is a seriously complex and difficult puzzle. 

It had originally been designed by Jerry back in 2019 in a simpler form called Cranium which was iterated over a period of time until it reached the current (considerably harder) form. Later that year, one of the earlier versions was produced by Eric Fuller in a very limited edition (this one had 26 pieces and was called the Berro-skull). As it got more and more complex, it was only ever made by 3D printing and never in any significant numbers. Jerry has been known to produce small batches of stainless steel puzzles, one of which I reviewed (along with the PuzzleMaster anodised aluminium version) here. He did attempt to produce the 67 piece skull in steel himself but could not find a way to do it himself and his local fabricator could not work with such tiny pieces. Luckily for us all, Leon Stein (owner of PuzzleMaster) decided to spend the time and effort working with Jerry to get this produced and functional. The end result is stunning!

I backed the Kickstarter campaign but it is now also available as part of the PuzzleMaster own brand metal puzzle collection at a very reasonable price of $144CAD. Believe me, for a puzzle of this complexity with this many well-finished parts in any material, this is a very good deal. In stainless steel this is bordering on unbelievable! You could say it is a steelsteal. It is a substantial item at 7 x 6 x 5.1cm and weighing in at 800g. Mrs S straight away told me in no uncertain terms that it was not allowed anywhere near the kitchen work surface or floor tiles - if I break any of them then she would break me! For heaven's sake, don't show her the picture at the top of this blog post!

I was again too frightened to start on this for a very long time but eventually screwed my courage to the sticking point and had a fiddle. Much to Mrs S' amusement, there was no progress for an embarassingly long time. I was able to find that the wooden mouth shape was easily removable and also found another move of a single piece but nothing would slide off/out. Bugger! I think it must have taken me another 4 or 5 days before the next move became apparent to me much to my relief. This wasn't because of any flaw in the deign or manufacture - I was just rubbish and did not attempt the correct move for a long time. Having found that next move, pieces started to be removable...lots of them and I got "the fear". I quickly backtracked and put it back together again and left it for a while. Several days later, having found some more courage (I seem to recall that gin helped), I did it again and went a bit further by removing about 10 pieces. This was fun! Great fun! Then I tried to backtrack and had a pair of pieces that I could not replace - I am blaming the gin but you may think it was me being a simpleton. I was able to put it back together with that pair of pieces left outside the puzzle and after a bit of a panic, I could work out from the holes left where they went and reassembled it properly. 

That experience frightened me quite a lot and I left it alone for several weeks until my workload meant that I had to find something to solve soon or there would be no blog post this week. Once my fear of no blog post and exceeded my fear of the puzzle, I started again and decided that the best thing to do was to lay all the pieces out as I removed them and backtrack regularly during the disassembly. Of course, once I was about 10-12 pieces in, I was unable to return to the beginning and there was a huge flurry of effing and blinding as I desperately tried to work it out. Yes, I scared the crap out of myself again and decided I would take a few videos of the dismantling so that I might possibly stand some chance of reassemble. The video had to be taken over several attempts due to the need to feed a very loud Burmese cat, having to deal with Mrs S making very disparaging comments about my prowess and due to my general incompetence. I got stuck on the disassembly on numerous occasions and on several occasions had to desperately try and work out where some random piece of metal had come from after it fell out from inside with me having no clue of the original position. When I looked back at the videos to try and see where these pieces had come from, I realised that quite a bit of the recording was 1. out of focus, 2. out of site of the camera and 3. not helpful with my mystery pieces.

After about 4 hours of swearing and being laughed at I could take a photo - this is the pieces carefully arranged in a rough order that they came out in 3 batches - believe me, this is NOT a spoiler!

This may be how it stays forever more!
I have wrapped the pieces up in the white pillowcase that I have used to provide contrast for the photo to try and prevent the curious cat rearranging the order or even running off with any pieces. I hope that I can one day reassemble it - I am desperately looking at my rubbish videos to see what I can do. The review left on the PM site from Tyler (a well known puzzler and friend) states that if you take your time about the disassembly then you should manage to put it back together. I tried to do that but at some point lost track and just proceeded anyway. I think that I might be in trouble - wish me luck! There are hundreds of solutions on the PM site here but predictably this one is not amongst them - GULP!

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Qiyi Clover Pyraminx - Looks Fearsome But...

The Old Up-Up-Down-Down Works a Treat!

The Clover Pyraminx
An edge turning tetrahedron
This might be even more incoherent than my usual drivel. I have actually managed to have some time off and went to Edinburgh to visit some friends as well as relax and visit the Outlaws. A very nice relaxing time in all and a few very nice expensive meals as well. I have just arrived back home having driven 250 miles and am trying not to disappoint all you suckers lovely people who, for some reason, keep reading my rubbish. 

I had bought a few new twisty puzzles some weeks ago to try and catch up with the backlog of new toys that have come out and are being shown off by the return of Rline to YouTube. Amongst them was this Clover Pyraminx, a tetrahedral version of the edge turning Clover puzzles I have reviewed before.

I love edge turning twisty puzzles for several reasons...primarily because a lot of the solve process for them tends to be very intuitive right up to the very end game and also because they shapeshift and jumble, taking parts out of their natural orbits and often leaving all sorts of fearsome looking "sticky-out bits".
After just 4 moves!
Having seen the frightening shapeshifting, I quickly went back to the beginning and did my usual first approach for these and attempted a non-shapeshifting scramble using entirely 180º turns. It is a lovely turner but you do need to watch your thumbnails as the edges get caught and attempt to rip your nails off (YeeeeOuch!). It doesn't take long to get a nice mixed up puzzle and as expected the solve is a pleasant logical one of performing 3-cycles on the petals until they are all in place again. To you non-twisty puzzlers it sounds impossible but it really is just pure logic. The first 2 times that I did this, I magically ended up with an easily fully solved puzzle after just doing my logic solve process. At this point, my luck ran out because the centre triangles were scrambled when I had finished. For some silly reason I had just thought that solving the petals was just automatically solving the centres at the same time. As has been said by almost all puzzlers around the world: "you are not terribly bright sometimes"!

Oops! Now what?
I sat and stared at this for quite some time with absolutely no clue how to control the centres without mucking up the petals. In desperation I descrambled and resolved and from now on every single time left me with 3 centres swapped around. Not always the same ones but always three of them. It was time to Think©. I use the copyright symbol even if Allard cannot/won't do twisties because I know that if he really tried then he could easily do them. After some fiddling with the Up-Up-Down-Down combination for a while I had a Eureka moment (No, I did not make Mrs S sick by running around naked). A simple set of 4 moves moves 3 petals and leaves one centre piece from one face on an otherwise untouched 3rd edge. If I turn the third edge and undo the original 4 moves then I reverse all the petal moves but have created a 3-cycle of the centres. It is a COMMUTATOR and I found it all by myself - I am a genius! Ok, maybe not (that term refers to Derek) but having found my little set of moves I was now able to solve the simple scramble every time - Yay! Time to take the next step and do a full jumbling and shapeshifting scramble:

Oh dear! That wasn't a good idea!
Yet again I nearly lost my thumbnails and suddenly wished that I hadn't done that! The usual first stage is to return it to the original shape (it always leaves you with pieces out of orbit but you can sort that later). The process of returning to tetrahedron had me stumped again for quite some time. My first time I managed to almost do it before realising that every single edge was perpendicular to the correct orientation and I had created an unsolvable position. I corrected that and tried again. Each time I could get almost there but was always left with a protrusion (not bad for a man my age!) and yet again I had to think© - luckily for me the thinking© did not have to be deep. If I do my Up-Up-Down Down moves with a partial edge turn and it sinks the protrusions back inside...Mostly!

Where did that come from?
I managed to get it back to tetrahedral shape except there were black pointy bits sticking out and it was not terribly obvious where they had come from. They had no stickers on them and therefore were obviously internal pieces that had been left outside during scrambling and partial solving. Where did they belong? The clue to that came from looking at where they always appeared. They were always found in the place of the centres and I could eventually (after banging my head on the wall for a bit) workout that the centres were now inside the puzzle.

If you twist some of the edges until you find a little clue:
The centre is hidden in a little cavity inside the corner - in the picture to the left the red triangle is inside the puzzle and only revealed by partially turning an edge. So, how to I swap those? On various occasions, I have managed to get anything from one to 3 separate sticky-out bits on various faces. The secret to beat it? Yes, you are good at these! It is the Up-Up-Down-Down moves again. This time you need to do it with 2 edges hard turned out of place and then performing our magic sequence which returns the puzzle to proper shape. Phew! That wasn't too bad was it? Actually, it nearly killed me - all of these discoveries were over a period of 10-14 days and had my colleagues at work laughing at me when I either swore at the bloody thing for having protrusions or swore at it for injuring me. I really suffer for you guys, you know!

Once I had my shape again, I was able to do my intuitive solve using the magic sequence. This, I knew would only get me so far as some pieces will inevitably shifted out of their natural orbits and would not have been returned by the removing of the shapeshifting. Eventually, I ended up with something like this (sometimes on several faces)

Nearly solved but 2 petals are out of orbit (ignore the centres)
With the Curvy copter or related Clover cube (both cubic edge turners), this sort of issue is sorted by carrying out double jumbling moves to swap orbits until they are back in the correct orbit and then can be moved into place by intuition. There aren't enough faces to do that here and I had to adapt the magic technique to allow the fix to happen. Again we have a 3-cycle of pieces using the simple 4 move sequence but starting with a partially turned edge:

Turn one edge and then cycle those petals
Using the front left and right edges and starting with the left one, I can do a Down-Down-Up-Up and those 3 petals cycle around until they are correctly placed. After that is done with all the orbit errors, then the centres may need to be solved and you are done! Fantastic! I worked it out all by myself with only a little (alright, a LOT) of help from Allard. My colleagues were amazed and everyone thought I was brilliant.

And then I tried to do it a few more times and found something awful:

It's a 2-cycle! That's impossible!
My colleagues laughed at the look of horror on my face when I came up with this scenario. I had just 2 centres swapped and as any twisty puzzler knows, a 2-cycle is against the "law of the cube". This is just impossible. 

After my initial blank thoughts, I went back to some of my early blog posts and realised that I had an error caused by a "False equivocation". This occurs when you place a piece into position because it looks like it should go there but in reality it is out of place. This can occur either because it looks identical to some other piece or because it has no stickers to tell you where it belongs (this was the case here). I realised that I had put the blank sticky out bits back inside the puzzle but they were placed randomly into whatever vertex I found. I realised that I had inadvertently swapped 2 of this blank internal pieces with each other and had no way of knowing. The manifestation on the outside was a pair of swapped pieces but in reality it was 2 pairs of swapped pieces and this is perfectly possible and relatively easy to fix. I used my earlier fancy move to take a vertex out and swap it with a centre and then replace it with a different vertex before putting the second one back where the first had been. This invariably left me with a 3cycle of centres to do and my puzzle was done. Hooray!

This is actually a wonderful puzzle - it is not too difficult for any experienced twisty puzzler and has some interesting features to make it a must-have in the collection. I would also say that anyone who is just starting out on twisty puzzles should also obtain a copy - solve the Clover cube or Curvy copter first and then move onto this one. It takes you several steps further in your solving and learning process without being too frustrating. Just watch out for those thumbnails! It is available from most good puzzle stores - PuzzleMaster have it here, or you could try the Hong Kong stores. Well worth your money!

Sunday, 12 June 2022

Cannon Puzzle

Puzzlemaster Cannon
A real quick one today as I had to write the work rotas yesterday (including August and September with the school holidays). It took me 8 hours or more and I am fed up sitting on my arse in front of a computer!

When the PuzzleMaster Kickstarter campaign came to an end, they offered the chance to buy some of their metal puzzles and add it to the rewards that you had purchased. Most of them I already owned but the Cannon was a puzzle that I had seen before and played with (loaned by a friend several years ago - thank you Michel) but never managed to obtain my own copy. I couldn't resist it at $30CAD. This is a remake of a classic puzzle and it has been very well done. 

The puzzle is rated as 7 on PuzzleMaster's 5-10 scale and I think this is about right. It is beautifully presented and really nice and shiny in Brass with the painted red cannon trolley. The aim is to release the cannonball from within the barrel of the cannon - it is sort of a very simple sequential discovery puzzle. I did find it quite humorous that there are instructions telling me that the trolley is only for decoration/display and not to be dismantled to solve the puzzle.

In all, it took me only about 5 minutes to solve but part of that will have been because I had played with the other version, The manufacture of this is spot on - tolerances are perfect and, if you have never seen it before there are a couple of very nice Aha! moments during the solve process.

The cannonball blends in with the granite
Keep it away from cats and toddlers!
Whilst it is not difficult, it is a lovely classic puzzle that everyone should have in their collection - it is perfect for showing to non-puzzlers to get them hooked on the aha! moment. Unfortunately it is sold out  at Puzzlemaster for the moment but it is available from Brian and Sue Young in Australia here and if you don't own the Houdini's torture cell yet then go and buy it with the Cannon together (a special deal here).

Sunday, 5 June 2022

A Cat for the Mantlepiece? Yes Please, Juno!

Yes, Junichi and Yukari Yananose have done it again! They have created a masterpiece that is fun to solve, a nice challenge for a puzzlebox newbie like me and have also made something that Mrs S approves of and wants displayed in the living room.

Back view
Mittan is the name of their own rather lovely Ginger cat (I have a photo so I know that she is lovely). I cannot resist these puzzles from Juno and despite the relatively steep price, I immediately decided it was a must buy. I also knew that Mrs S, as an archetypal crazy cat lady, would not object to this one (I haven't actually told her the price though). We originally started with our lovely Burmese cats in the hope that having real cats might decrease or even stop the ever increasing accumulation of cat substitutes around the house (this was silly of me in retrospect). The entire house has cats stuff everywhere and now it has one more item. Juno absolutely despises the puzzle flippers who only buy to make a profit and hence the price was made high (the woods and work carried out were quite expensive) and for this reason he also made a larger number than usual - 150 in total (as of writing this there remain 13 in stock). The woods making up this startlingly beautiful puzzle include Zebrano, Golden Sassafras, Fijian Mahogany, American Black Walnut, Europian Beech, Amoora, Silver Ash and metal parts (including magnets). It was initially available with the opportunity to buy either dark, medium or lighter Zebrano but the dark has sold out. I actually chose a medium to have a very marked grain pattern. I was not disappointed - it is stunning and even Mrs S liked it.

There are two aims with this puzzle - to see how they managed to put a bell on(?in) the cat and to find the fish that Mittan has eaten - it is supposed to be a Taiyaki (a sweet in the shape of a sea bream). I am not going to take you through the solution - you need to buy it or borrow a copy and do it for yourself. 

The solution of this actually took me a whole week! It arrived unbelievably quickly considering the distance that it had gone and I set to straight away. There are a few pieces that are obviously intended to be manipulated and quite quickly a sequence of interesting moves builds up. After a short while you get to do things that you really shouldn't be doing to a cat but try to bear in mind that it's not a real cat and carry on. After the first few moves, I had a couple of pieces and got stuck. It is quite different to the other SD puzzles from Pluredro and nothing I had done before was terribly helpful. Eventually, I worked out what the next move needed to be and I had a new tool and a possible place to use it. My initial attempts at using that tool completely failed - the rest of the puzzle needed to be in the correct positions for it's use to work. Eventually the dismemberment continued...poor Mittan!

Continuing my odyssey into cat dissection, I reached a point where I had more tools and an obvious way to use one of the new ones but it was locked tight. This needed some of Allard's thinking© and I proceeded to dribble into my coffee in the evening. One more Aha! moment produced a critical movement......of about 4mm before it stopped dead. Flummoxed again! I tried the same move over and over and over again in the hope that maybe I had done it wrong the first 8 or 10 times. Needless to say, nothing changed with subsequent attempts and I proved that I met the criteria for madness...again!

At some point I did wonder to myself whether the prize inside might have blocked the mechanism but I know Juno too well. This just does NOT happen with his puzzles. I was missing something. In fact, I missed it for 5 evenings of increasing desperation. Finally, whilst idly playing with all the pieces in a pile, I made an unexpected discovery. Now that should not be there! Unless, of course, Juno had put it there for a reason! I looked for any way that I could use my discovery and I was rewarded with a sudden movement of the piece I wanted. I finally had the bell from/for poor Mittan. It is hidden behind the spoiler button (it's not much of a spoiler but don't risk it unless you really want to).

Once you have found the bell, you have also found the fish that Mittan had eaten:

At least he didn't put a loaf of bread in it - this proves it's NOT a box
The reassembly back to a complete cat with all the pieces inside is a nice sequence which only partly needs to be a reverse of what you did to open it up. I loved it and have done the whole thing multiple times since my first solve. The clever (and not hugely difficult) solution is fun to do and does have an element of the worry bead in several parts. I did not show the dismemberment to my own boy despite him sleeping on my lap through much of it. I didn't want to give him nightmares as he already wakes me up at 5am every day demanding food and attention!

Having finally finished playing with this wonderful creation, which, I must say, was worth every penny of the price. I asked Mrs S whether I should put it into my display cabinets with the rest of Juno's puzzles? She actually said that it should go on display on our mantlepiece alongside quite a few other animal figurines and puzzles:

An embarrassment of cats!
There are several cat puzzles on show (Maahes the line from Stephan Baumegger, Burrlephant from Jerry McFarland, Jack Krijnen's Bison from Jakub Dvořák and the Elephant also from Jakub Dvořák. As you can see, there are quite a few porcelain cats and the elephants that I inherited from my late mother (she grew up in Kenya and had elephants in her garden as a kid).

I think I might just attempt one of the new twisty puzzles next. I do still want to try and review puzzles that are a little less expensive to help the puzzlers out there who may be a little more price constrained than me.