Sunday 31 December 2023

Happy New Year! My top ten(ish) puzzles of 2023

Finally cleared my desk

Now I have a REAL puzzle room!

Happy New Year to you all! I have no idea what happened to 2022 - it seems to have disappeared without me noticing.
Welcome to my customary end of year post looking back at how I did over 2023 and which were the best puzzles I managed to solve. As always, thinking about it was triggered by Peter Hajek's request for the top 3 acquisitions of the year. Peter wants to know the best arrivals in the collection and I always write about my best puzzles solved which makes it a little harder to come up with a good list. Whilst I have had a pretty good year of puzzle arrivals (much to the disgust of "she who must be feared"), it has felt like a bad year for me in terms of puzzle solving. I feel that I have worked my little arse off in the various hospitals and don't think that I solved very many. Except that after looking back through my archive of blog posts and my database, can I see that I didn't do that badly. 

Nowhere Near Solving!
I did purchase quite a lot of puzzles that I have so far completely failed to solve (some despite months of trying)! So here is a quick list of what look like absolutely fabulous puzzles purchased that I cannot solve:

Orbit by Dee Dixon (I've found nothing useful whatsoever!)

Uplift by Dee Dixon (It rotates and a button pushes but that's it!)

Burner by Dee Dixon (only arrived a few days ago)

Smack-N Moles by Stickman (gorgeous and I have no idea what is going on inside)

WDIGMI from Tanner Reyes (a gift that looks gorgeous and compelling and is completely beyond my meagre packing skills)

A whole bunch of N-ary wire puzzles from Aaron Wang - they should be lovely and logical and yet I am still stuck! Thank heavens for the quick reset!

Crazy Double Circle Cube - Encouraged by Jason Burgo to give it a try and was getting somewhere when the black version broke on me. I have since replaced it with a coloured plastic one and am too frightened to touch it again!

Free the Washer from Phil Wigfield. Phil is quite a character and creates some absolutely beautiful puzzles from brass and steel. He has got rather side-tracked on dexterity puzzles which I cannot do but also an SD puzzle earlier this year. I've been trying for months (9 of them) and only managed to find one move!! Aargh!

Euroka - stunning design by Juno. I dismantled it and it now sits in its' cloth bag in pieces because I cannot put it back together despite having a video to look at.

Almost there
In this section I always place a few fabulous puzzles that in anyone's year should be a top ten puzzle but because I am greedy and have bought more puzzles than Mrs S thinks are good for me, I have to place a few fab toys in this section just to highlight how great a year it has been:

Magyarics Amazement
Alexander continued to work with Pelikan as well as 3D print some of his own puzzles and they are all so SO good but due to some amazing challenges also produced this year, they have been dropped down to the "almost there" list and believe me, they really are almost there! It is a mark of how good a year it was that these are down in this section:

Captain Hook

I almost feel guilty that one of Alexander's puzzles is in this position. His stuff is all incredible and with Captain Hook, his entry into burr design has the usual Magyarics flair with some very unusual shaped pieces and a very confusing yet fun sequence to assembly as well as disassembly. In a normal year this would be right up there at the top.


This is CLASSIC Magyarics design! A packing puzzle with restricted entry. Alexander has done many of these over the years and all are fun. Many of them (erm Tigridia) are almost too difficult for a [numpty]( like me. The Infinite puzzle, however is just spot on! It is difficult but not impossible and supremely logical! It is possibly the best of Alexander's designs to date!

Stupendous Osanori
I received puzzles by Osanori-san both from himself as well as recreated beautifully by Pelikan. I am continually amazed at his design skills. There were some of the best puzzles ever from him this year


Gem was an incredible design both as an assembly puzzle when bought direct from the designer but also still fun as a disassembly puzzle from Pelikan. It is a remarkably simple design but the sequence to discover is fabulous.


Shutout won a prize at the IPP in 2022 and for a very good reason. The version from Osanori himself as well as the Pelikan version is stunning and a perfect challenge for all levels of puzzler.

Finally...On with my top ten(ish) puzzles solved in 2023:

12) Japanese packing delights
I have bought rather an embarrassing number of packing puzzles from Mine and have only managed to solve an even more embarrassingly low number of them. The tray packing puzzles are a particularly difficult challenge for me but there have been a few that were loved at MPPs and by a certain fellow puzzle blogger and so I worked extra hard on those.

Chained Lumbars looks so easy with identical sized sticks held together by a chain - that chain really gets in the way so you have to work out how best to use it.

Coin Wallet - Piles of coins to be inserted through a limited opening into a plastic wallet. Can it be that difficult? I spent quite a long time working on it and really loved the final sequence - I keep it in my work bag to torture colleagues with.

Karakuri packing - Allard loved it, Michael Q loved it and I couldn't solve it! Finally, I had to impress a young lady at work and worked on this during a very long boring operation in the angio suite. I amazed both myself and my colleague by doing it within an hour or so. The required moves are beautifully hidden!

11) Peanut puzzle

The Peanut puzzle is an incredible design by the Puzzle Master himself, Stewart Coffin. I have never managed to get a beautiful wooden version but was sorely tempted when I saw the cast resin versions created by Lewis Evans. They look amazing and he has recreated Mark McCallum's work as a ring bound booklet giving a whole lot of wonderful challenges. I am terrible at this sort of puzzle but absolutely adore playing with these amazing designs.

10) Parasitic Burr

The whole puzzle world was shocked when our dear friend Eric died so suddenly and unexpectedly. We mourned him and we even mourned his business as many thought it would go with him. I was delighted when Steve, Tom and Jeff decided to continue his legacy and create beautiful puzzles with incredible precision and also choose designs that are so much fun to solve. I could not resist the Parasitic burr by Tyler Hudson (who has designed some really fabulous puzzles) and was delighted to receive something not only beautiful but also a lovely fun challenge that took me nearly a month to solve without resorting to Burrtools.

9) TIC Food

I was delighted to receive 6 food based TICs designed by Laszlo Kmolnar and made by Jeff Baz in the spring from a new friend of mine (Neil Seidlitz) and spent a very happy month working out how to put them together. Even though I am terrible at assembly puzzles, I seem to be getting almost "fair to middling" at these TIC puzzles. The wonderful assortment of shiny woods makes them particularly wonderful!

8) A whole bunch of animals

Jakub, Jaroslav and team have had a tremendous year in 2023 producing some absolutely stunning puzzles for us in multiple different genres. The thing that has stood out this year for me has been the sudden arrival of Kumiki themed puzzles either of their own design or designed by some other fabulous designers. They were all gorgeous and clever in their own way. I think my favourite has been the crab but it is very hard to choose just one.

7) Amazing Twisty Puzzles
I know, I know! Most of you are not that interested in Twisty puzzles but you really should be! They are relatively cheap, have some incredible geometries in them and, once you have gained some experience with them, can be reduced to relatively simple ideas requiring only the use of rather basic techniques and often a lot of intuition.

The Crazy Pyraminx crystal looks horrific but literally can be solved using the old up, up, down down sequence in creative ways. It is almost solved by intuition alone. It is fabulous!

The Son-mum 4x4 is another tremendous puzzle that looks horrific but again is almost entirely solved by intuition until you then have to solve a standard 4x4 cube. It is wonderful and fun.

The Master mixup cube type one looks even worse than the others because when scrambled it looks like a Porcupine. I was worried that I would need some fancy commutator (which I am not good at finding) to solve it but yet again, that was not the case and it solves mostly by intuition - amazing!

Finally I have to shout out the creators at Sengso for producing various crazy cubes. I thought they might be relatively easy but have been delighted to see internal bandaging which adds a whole level of complexity to the solve process. They include the Crazy 2x2 plus set, the crazy 4x4 versions and on my list to buy is the Crazy 5x5 versions too

6) Handy Burr

Jerry McFarland makes it into my top ten pretty much every year! His brain is just not normal - he seems to discover something new and beautiful to do with wood and magnets every year. People do complain that he doesn't manufacture enough to keep up with demand but that's because his attention span is just too short to stick at any one thing for very long. I am always very grateful when he contacts me to sow off a new creation. The Handy burr made me laugh out loud when I realised what he had designed and seemed to be wanting me to do. Fabulous!

5) OMG Packing Heaven or Hell
Almost every time I type Dr Latussek's name I have to comment on his incredible (warped) mind! Volker has had an amazing year with multiple designs produced absolutely beautifully by Jakub and Jaroslav's Pelikan puzzles. There were so many to choose from and all have differing geometry and difficulty levels. I have to stress that some of the ones I highlight here are the ones that were not too difficult for me but I am so delighted to have a good collection of them. My utter faves from 2023 were: 

Tube in cube - the use of cylinders with slanted cuts in a cubic packing puzzle was bamboozling for me but very rewarding when I finally worked it out

Ode to the Bevel - was not terribly difficult to work out various assemblies but all but one was blocked. It had such a lovely move to get that last piece placed.

Fritz Flop - The Flop series are really very difficult and most required me to head to Burrtools to find possible assemblies (I really loved Tetra flop despite having to use BT) but the Fritz flop has a more restricted set of pieces and was actually solvable by me within a few hours. Three of the set are still available now and Fritz flop is on sale!!!

4) Bad Moon

Another incredible creation from Dee Dixon! His craftsmanship is stunning and choice of woods inspired. His puzzles are all nice and chunky which makes them a tactile delight to play with. The logic is superb and great fun to work through. I particularly loved the use of curved surfaces and tracks in this which confused my usually rectilinear brain. In fact I got myself into some trouble and had to use my anaesthetic skillz to get myself out of trouble (Thank heavens for the Glidescope!)

3) Dial Case

Juno has had a relatively quiet year this year but his foray back into SD puzzles was not a disappointment. In any normal year, this would be my absolute number one puzzle of the year but there were so many incredible puzzles to choose from that this amazing creation came 3rd! This was a significant challenge with multiple steps and as always, all pieces beautifully made from wood. The sequence of Aha! moments was marvellous and some of them really quite hard to find. I also really love how Juno always teases me about boxes!

2) Walter's Radio

Yes, Dee Dixon has two slots in my top ten this year!
Last year Angry Walter only made it to number 4 in my top ten. It was an incredible puzzle and the amazing thing is that Dee managed to surpass even that this year. It was less beautiful than Walter had been with his gorgeous cacophony of wonderful woods but the puzzling steps were very complex and confusing. This one took me 3 months to find all the steps - it was stupendous!

1) TIC Vault

I heard about the TIC Vault at last year's EPP and contacted Andrew Crowell as a result, shortly afterwards. Boy! I was not disappointed! A combination of sequential discovery puzzle and difficult TIC is very hard to beat! The only possible way this could have been improved would have been to have been manufactured from wood. The puzzle was/is a masterpiece of design in multiple genres and made me laugh out loud as I completed all of the complex sequences on the way to finding my way inside. Andrew is the master of the TIC and also becoming a master of SD puzzles!

Do you agree with my top 10? If you have any different thoughts then please comment below or even use my Contact page to tell me how wrong I am. I look forward to your thoughts. 

Happy New Year to you all!

I really hope that you all have a wonderful year in 2024 with good health, success and plenty of wonderful puzzling. I look forward to entertaining and maybe helping many of you in this year. Hopefully there will not be any skipped blog weeks either (I've had enough of being operated on now for quite some time 🤞🤞🤞).

Sunday 24 December 2023

I Can See Why Elon Wants To Go To Mars...

Jupiter is MUCH too hard!

Crazy 2x2x2 Plus cubes
Thank you for your well wishes after last weeks' "too spaced out" post. I had completely forgotten how painful a hernia repair is and how long the pain lasts. I am recovering well and have stopped the stronger pain killers to allow me to think a little straighter (let's face it - my thoughts are never what one would really refer to as......ordered at the best of times). I had bought these Sengso Crazy 2x2 cubes a while ago and thought they could not be too hard and I was kinda wrong.

I reviewed the 0,0,0 variant at the end of October after spending quite a long time working out how to understand the odd way it moved. It should have been fairly easy as all the circles on the cube were zero faces (that means the inside is fixed and the outsides move around them - this means it is what is called a "circle cube" and should require just turning the outer faces and solving them having fixed the inner parts. The complicating feature was that there are ONLY outer faces and the inner circles are a sort of bandaged 3x3x3. Yes, my head hurts just typing about it!

I then scrambled the 0,1,1 version thinking that with only a single fixed centre then it should effectively solve like the Jupiter Crazy cube and Jupiter Crazy Megaminx which looked absolutely horrific but were surprisingly easy to solve as they needed only a tiny bit more than a standard cube and standard megaminx (which solves like a cube).

Crazy cube Jupiter
Crazy Megaminx Neptune reconfigured as Jupiter
The whole point of the Jupiter cube and Megaminx is that there is just one single face that will allow the inner and outer circles to be split apart. This means it takes a while to scramble the puzzle properly because all the pieces need to be moved to that 0 face and turned at least once before being moved elsewhere. But then it has the extreme solving advantage that "all" that is required to do to solve the puzzle is move all the pieces onto that 0 face and align the inner and outer parts before moving them off for storage elsewhere until all of them have been aligned with their partner pieces. After that solve the zero face before turning it to the bottom and solving the rest of the cube without moving the bottom face. If you know the beginner's approach or the "Ultimate solution" then it's pretty simple to solve the puzzle without having to move that bottom face again.

I set to the crazy 2x2x2 (0,1,1) thinking that this was effectively just a Jupiter version of the 2x2x2 crazy cubes and would involve the same sort of approach as described above. In my particular version all the faces were effectively turning as 1 faces with inner and outer parts turning together and the white face alone had the outer part turn leaving the inner circle unmoved. With my theory loudly bailing in my empty head, this meant that I scrambled it straight away without any preparatory exploration and stared trying to pair up the inner and outer pieces using just the white face. 
Oh dear, what had I done?

I suddenly realised that this was definitely not a Jupiter 2x2! It was MUCH more complex than that. The reality of this puzzle is that the zero face can change. 😱😱😱
The zero face is actually which ever face holds the white inner piece that is opposite the blue/red/yellow cube (which itself cannot ever be scrambled). OMG what do I do now? 

I have learned over many years from Allard that I mustn't just stop and give up, I must Think© - that's a pretty impressive thing to learn considering that he doesn't do twisty puzzles. Luckily, I was working on this before I had my little operation and started the mind-altering medication so think©ing was still possible. I quickly realised that, with a bit of "fannying around" (that's a twisty technical term!) I was still able to use my Jupiter face to pair everything up as I should and leave myself with what looks like a 2x2x2 cube to solve. 

This looks promising! Or is it?
Having done this, I tried the "simple 2x2x2 solve and quickly realised that it was NOT the same as the 3x3x3 Jupiter puzzle - I did not have the ability to move all faces apart from that 0 face. Any movement of a face that included the bandaged corner (blue/orange/yellow) would move the crucial white corner and move the zero face about. In reality, I had to solve the 2x2x2 using ONLY two faces - on the photo above, I could only move the front right and front left faces to solve the cube. This is a HUGE restriction and proved a massive problem. Almost every single approach that I know requires at least 3 faces to be movable. I was stuck! 

After a week or so of playing about and remembering the large corner bandaged 3x3x3 cube with one huge 2x2x2 fused corner and three movable faces, I did manage to solve the puzzle just once after multiple scrambles and failures and realised that this would be possible about 1 in 12 scrambles by just sheer chance arriving in the right solvable state. I needed more think©ing time and to work out a restricted way to solve the 2x2x2 this way. It is quite simple to solve the back 4 corners leaving just the front 4 using just intuition. At this point I realised that there was a very neat feature of this puzzle. I could not always solve that from 4 corners every time because they had been recreated incorrectly mismatching the centres and outsides. All I needed to do was use my two faces to rotate the faces correctly on that top white face and rotate out the incorrect pairing and put them back in again correctly. This then leaves you with a solvable 2x2x2 cube:

All corners placed but not oriented
Orienting the corners is a trivial thing to do when you know the SUNE algorithm - it only needs to move 2 sides. It's not quite trivial because some setup moves need to be done and undone but it is a fun thing to do (I need a notebook by my side to keep track of the moves). Using this technique, I was able to solve the puzzle multiple times - it was quite mind bending but did not require a lot more than standard cube techniques and the ability to warp my mind a lot. I was soooo pleased with myself until I did this:

All solved with 2 pieces to be swapped - impossible!
Anyone who solves cubes knows that a single 2 way swap is an impossible situation. What had I done here? In the end I had swapped out 2 pairs of pieces but one was not easily seen being the centres that move but not easily visible. 

With a little thought© and planning, I was able to move bits around (fiddly little bugger) and finally could say that I properly understood this puzzle.

These Crazy 2x2s were bought with the initial thought that they might be a little easy entry into the crazy cube series being only 2x2 cubes - I initially felt that this might a nice Jupiter solve. But in reality, having now solved 2 of them, they are definitely not a gentle introduction at all. The hidden internal bandaging makes these incredibly challenging and properly interferes with the ability to move pieces where you want them to be and use basic algorithms. If you are into Twisty puzzles then these are in the "MUST BUY" category.

Sunday 17 December 2023

Sorry, too spaced out!

Yes, it’s time for my weekly blog post and I’ve only let you down 3 or 4 times in the last 13 years. Unfortunately, I had some surgery on Thursday and am much too spaced out on the pain killers to write anything coherent. I know that coherence is never my strong point but just now, I’m quite off my face which is amusing for Mrs S but not great for puzzle reviewing.

Hopefully back next weekend.

Sunday 10 December 2023

Interlocking Heaven and Hell

Do you recognise those shapes?
Peanut puzzle by Stewart Coffin
I saw this on Facebook a few months ago and, despite the fact that it is not a wooden version (which I have lusted after for years and never managed to acquire) I fell immediately in love with it. Lewis has gotten into casting beautiful puzzles using acrylics and had managed to model the pieces of the Peanut puzzle (#67) well enough to make moulds and and then create his pieces using one lovely clear transparent blue acrylic and another using a mixture of yellows and reds and black acrylics made into a gorgeous swirly pattern. I do already have a copy of this puzzle 3D printed by big Steve which I got a few years ago and which I completely failed to solve having dismantled it from the ring shape it arrived in. This was my motivation to try again. It looked heavenly but would I be in hell?

One of the features of this version that particularly excited me was that Lewis had recreated a booklet of construction problems to go with the puzzle. I had had no idea that there was any other challenge other than to use the 6 pieces to make the ring but apparently there are at least 31 achievable challenges. I say achievable with no real hope of this being achievable by me as I am absolutely hopeless at assembly puzzles. Stewart's original instruction sheet said:
From Stewart's original instruction sheet:
"The Peanut Puzzle is based on a two-piece dissection of the rhombic dodecahedron. The half pieces are joined different ways to make this set of six Peanut Puzzle pieces. There are twelve ways that the half-pieces might have been joined in pairs to make usable pieces having no axis of symmetry. This special set of six was found by Mike Beeler, using a computer, to be the only one of 924 possible sets that will construct all the symmetrical shapes below.
If any closed loop is considered a Peanut Puzzle construction of sorts, then many others are possible, some having symmetries and some not. See how many you can discover; then sketch them and invent names for them."
Also from Puzzle Craft 1992:
"The object of this puzzle is to join the pieces together in a closed loop to construct all sorts of different geometrical figures, such as those shown below, using three, four, five, or all six pieces. Or you can invent your own. The pieces are fun to just play with. In order to fit together all different ways, the pieces must be very accurately made, so this is not a project for the beginner."
The quality of the casting of the pieces and their sheer beauty is breathtaking and it even makes me forget about gorgeous wood for once. The booklet shares the same attention to detail. Beautifully printed and spiral bound with instructions on what shape to try for and how many pieces to use. For example puzzle one is as follows:

Excuse the poor photography
This just invites you to have a play. I struggle with assembly puzzles when the pieces are rectilinear and the pieces used here are anything but... they use a rhombic grid and the interlocking of the pieces is an interesting diagonal mating process. Each piece can unite with two others at each end. Therefore to make whatever shape is required you need to effectively make a ring form for them all. Embarrassingly, it took me about 45 minutes to solve the first and easiest challenge! Aargh!

Yay! Solved one!
It is hugely satisfying to do this and unbelievably difficult for a man of my scant brains. Challenge 2 was slightly harder:

How hard can it be?
Blush! Took me 2 hours!
OMG! This is humbling. The first two challenges should not have been so difficult as they are effectively planar challenges. Obviously the interaction is in 3D but the shapes to be created are all in the 2D plane and I was spending enormous amount of time trying to find the right interactions and with my Goldfish memory probably trying the same interlocking over and over again. Sigh - not terribly bright. The following day it was time to venture into 3D shapes with just the basic Tetrahedron:

Still "just" 4 pieces!
Took me a whole day!

I was seriously intimidated! I had a little try at the 4th challenge of a Diamond shape and after another whole day, had completely failed to manage an assembly even remotely close! It is great fun trying but after a while I had to put it down. Then I decided to be a complete sucker for punishment and attempt the hexagonal ring which is the shape most commonly associated with it. The picture to the left is from John Rauch's Puzzleworld site.

And of course, you guessed it! I have completely failed to assemble this shape. Is it just me? Or are these seriously seriously difficult puzzle challenges. I am fairly certain it is me!

I then wondered whether the puzzle could be modelled in Burrtools and maybe I could create a full set of the assemblies in BT format. Do I consider this a "cop out"? Only a little bit. It is all about having fun and I have said many many times on the site that the making of a BT file for a puzzle is a crucial part of the fun for me. I have no real experience of using the non-rectilinear grids with BT so this would be a good chance to try it out. And here is where I hit a brick wall for a while. When starting a new design the options are:
  • Brick
  • Triangular prism
  • Spheres
  • Rhombic tetrahedra
  • Tetrahedra-octahedra
I had no clue! I started with the obvious Rhombic tetrahedra grid and could not manage the creation of any useful shapes. I cannot recall which grid O settled on but I think it might have been the triangular grid which allowed me to model the 6 pieces (with huge difficulty). 

Two of the pieces successfully modelled in Burrtools
Time to model the challenges then - this is a whole lot harder! In fact so hard that I cannot do it. I think I will need to ask an expert for advice on how to go about it. The difficulty I am finding is that the shapes in the 2D representation of the grid change with each layer as you go up the z-axis.

If anyone is able to help with this then please let me know. It would be a fantastic resource for the puzzling world to have a BT file with all the challenges in it. Please use my contact page.

This is a fantastic puzzle design by the Master, Stewart Coffin and has been fabulously recreated by Lewis. They are quite time consuming to make but I am sure that he will be making more if you want to buy one from him.