Sunday 30 April 2023

Complex Heaven and "Simple" Hell from Japan

Aris 3 from Osanori Yamamoto
I follow Osanori-san on Facebook where he shows off a curious mix of beautiful Japanese countryside, delicious looking Japanese food and fabulous puzzles that he has designed and made. Usually my fix of his designs comes from the incredible Pelikan puzzle workshop - he creates fantastic packing puzzles with interesting openings like the Aris 3 above (the Palace puzzle is still available from Pelikan) or fun framed burr puzzles (the Typhoon S1 is also still available from Pelikan). Recently I saw some new designs and contacted him to see whether he would sell them directly to me (Pelikan cannot make everything he designs) and, to my delight, he agreed. This time the cost for one puzzle was matched by the price of the postage and so I added an extra puzzle to the purchase to make it worthwhile. Mrs S was not terribly impressed but she does like to get value for money and couldn't fault me for my reasoning. 

There is something about Yamato post... it is just super efficient! I have stuff ordered from the US and it takes weeks (in fact my order from Cubic Dissection seems to have been misled by customs here 😢). My order from Osanori arrived 4 days after he posted it. This seems to happen for almost all Japanese post - it's amazing. The puzzles always arrive with an alternative packing which os quite neat. This one required a rotation to remove all the pieces. I have 3 relatively complex Walnut pieces to fit into my box in such a way that the openings are completely filled. This time the box has some diagonal edges which significantly inhibits sliding movements and also enlarges the area that must be visibly filled. This was going to be a real challenge.

As usual, I start looking for cubic shapes and realise that there are a LOT of them. After I had solved the puzzle, I went to Burrtools to model it and found that there are 65 3x3x3 cubic shapes that can be made from these 3 pieces. Thank heavens for the restricted opening that creates shape constraints. The requirement for a 2x2x1 top face and diagonally opposite 2x2x1 at the bottom of a column significantly reduces the assemblies to choose from. I had found 6 or 7 myself and BT tells me that there are 14. You would think that having a puzzle with 14 possible assemblies to work through would be a hellish puzzle but no...Osanori has thought about it and the most complex shape has been designed such that possible ways it can be inserted into the box is very restricted. I quickly found that only one assembly seemed to have this piece in a suitable orientation. I was off! Time to work out the sequence of movements. Oh boy - this was really quite a challenge. I usually try it outside the box, first of all simulating the disassembly of a supposed finished puzzle and I really struggled - I just didn't have enough fingers/hands to hold the pieces in the positions they needed to go. I thought about asking Mrs S to hold a piece whilst I moved the others around it and quickly thought better of it - she was unimpressed with my deliveries and I didn't want to risk a Whack! Ouch! In the end I had to abandon my approach and decided to just go straight for an assembly. It looked great as I got all three pieces partially into the box with various tails hanging out through the orifices. It looked like I just needed to "do the usual dance" to  settle them into place. Improved really hard to do it and I even abandoned that approach for a while thinking it was the wrong assembly. I went back to forming cubes again and could not find a better one. After 4 days of trying, I finally upset the sleeping cat by shouting my success. 

There was one particular move I had missed. The pieces pirouette around each other whilst the complex one moves in and out in different directions making room. The disassembly level is 16.2.7 which is an astoundingly difficult level for such a seemingly simple design. This was puzzle heaven!

Gem by Osanori Yamamoto
What was the extra puzzle that I chose to "make up the postage"? It was this gorgeous creation. Osanori gave me a list of other puzzles that he had ready in stock and I went through his FB page to look at the pictures. The Gem was one that he had shown off back in August 2022 and I recalled thinking it looked interesting and very pretty at the time. When I told Osanori-san that it was my choice as extra puzzle, he seemed pleased and said that it was his favourite puzzle.

When it arrived, I was staggered by the beauty of it - the picture doesn't show it's sheer vibrancy very well. The other impressive feature of this one was the texture of the finish on the pieces. They are just silky smooth. The only other craftsman I can recall who finished wood like this was my friend John Devost who (when he was crafting) used a triple buffing technique which left the pieces of wood so delightful to touch. Alas, I no longer have any of John's toys in my collection. I knew that this one was going to be wonderful just from the sensation alone.

The 3 rings of wood need to be inserted into slots in the cube with one at 90º to the other 2. I immediately saw a problem - all three pieces are 2 voxels thick and one of the slots is only a single voxel wide. There was a lovely aha! moment as I found that for just one of the pieces and nice sequence of rotations allowed an insertion of one of them. Interesting. Next it was time to work out the other 2. What relative positions should they be in and how to get them to interlock with the other piece? 

Absolutely delightful sequence
The solution took me only about half an hour but again a lovely aha! moment made better by the silky smoothness of the pieces and how they glide over each other. I could see why this was one of Osanori-san's favourite puzzles. It is delightful. Another piece of Japanese puzzling heaven.

My friend Neal, might have sent me some new Tics and I had better play with them to justify their arrival before Mrs S breaks them up into matchsticks! 😱
The 6 Dessert TICs designs from Laszlo Kmolnar - Mrs S is going to murder me!
Made by Jeff Baz and Matt Hochberg

Sunday 23 April 2023

A Two Week Struggle Motivates Me

Ocupado by Stephan Baumegger
Yes, I have been working my little arse off both at work and trying to solve puzzles as quickly as I can! No, I have not been very least at the puzzle solving aspect. After the huge effort getting reviews done for Jakub in time for last week's sale date (quite a few are still available), I came down with a crash. My tiny bwain felt a bit broken. I have received quite a few fabulous new toys recently and despite a lot of trying, I had very little succeeding. I have been desperately trying to get the second step of Dee Dixon's Walter's radio and having found 2 or three interesting features, I cannot seem to utilise them. Then I also managed to get a copy of Phil Wigfield's amazingly machined Free the washer (which Allard managed to solve with only a modicum of difficulty) and I have managed to find 2 identical moves on opposite sides of the puzzle which do something but that is it. I am not very bright and have no further thoughts other than to do the same thing over and over again! So in desperation when my work on difficult puzzles gets me nowhere, I resort to one of my favourite types of puzzle that might allegedly be simpler (Hah!). Yes, I go back to my burrs which I feel are rather like mazes and just need exploration to find the solution. 

In this case I kept resorting to a gorgeous creation by the incredibly talented designer and craftsman, Stephan Baumegger. He has rather a lot of fabulous designs up on Puzzlewillbeplayed, although not his most recent ones. His last batch that went up for sale included one of my favourite types of burr - the 6 piece burr in a cage. These look so simple and yet can be so incredibly difficult. I bought the Ocupado because it would be a fourth addition to the previous challenges by Donald Osselaer and Stéphane Chomine - Nickel box, Congestion and Chrysalide (bought from Arteludes). I don't know whether Stephan had deliberately made his puzzle to match those from Maurice Vigouroux but as soon as I saw it go up for sale, I had to buy it.

Aren't they lovely?
Of course, when I said I turned to my new framed 6 piece burr to have a chance of solving something for today, I sort of accidentally forgot that out of the 3 older puzzles, I have only actually managed to solve the Nickel box and that took me 2 weeks! The other 2 puzzles are considerably tougher than Nickel box and after a week of play I did wonder whether I had made a stupid mistake.

The manufacture of the Ocupado is stunning from with a lovely smooth finish and 2 inlaid disks on the ends of a couple of the burr sticks (again, reminiscent of the other burrs). This morning, I began to panic a bit - I had been singularly unsuccessful and had found 2 opening pathways and had gone around and around in circles trying to find a hidden exit from one of these paths. I began to despair when I suddenly found something new. It had been right in front of me the whole time and I had sauntered right passed it. Suddenly there was a lot more movement and the sequence was wonderfully logical with the pieces dancing around beautifully. 33 moves on and I had my first piece. The remaining puzzle got a bit wobbly and required careful orientation and holding to prevent drooping and rotation but no pieces could easily be rotated out and a full 14more moves were required to remove the next piece. Even after that the remainder required a bit of a challenge but at least you could now see inside to do it. I finally had my photo and my blog post - PHEW! 

Time to make my Burrtools file and put it back together.
I think that I will end up doing this one or two more times before I store it with the others on display in my living room (Whack! Ouch!) - I feel that in my desperate approach to this I missed some of the enjoyment of the exploration. I hope that redoing it will give me that a second time through. It has also motivated me to get back to the wonderful Congestion and Chrysalide burrs - or maybe not!

After that, I need to get back to all the wonderful toys from Japan as well as the discovery puzzles that I have failed so spectacularly at.

Saturday 15 April 2023

Get 'Em Now - Wonderful Pelikan Challenges

Stunning new releases from Jakub and Jaroslav's Pelikan Puzzles
The pressure was on! I had received these wonderful new toys from Pelikan and they wanted to put them on sale in 10 days. I got a deadline of thursday night for the reviews and they went on sale late last night (Czech time). I'm afraid that the Euklid Meets Fuller puzzle has already sold out but I do hope that they will get permission to make another batch because it is a wonderful difficult challenge with only 4 blocks!

On to the reviews:


Snail designed in house by Pelikan
This is the second of the puzzles designed and made by Pelikan themselves (I really hope this becomes a series). Yet agin it is a “creature” and this one is absolutely adorable. The snail is constructed from Wenge and Maple with dowels to produce eyes on stalks. As before the aim is to disassemble it and then put it back together. It is not a difficult puzzle but the process is wonderful with a couple of nice little Aha! moments. You end up with quite a few pieces. 

I love it - it is fun to play with, good for beginners (as long as they can be trusted to be gentle with the fairly complex pieces) and will look great on display. It will be another one kept in the menagerie in my living room.


Paraugas by Alfons Eyckmans
This very attractive diminutive 9 piece burr designed by Alfons Eyckmans is gorgeously made from Padauk, Wenge and Ash. It is a wonderful challenge, perfect for puzzlers who want to be certain of burr success. Alfons has enormous design skills and has created incredibly complex high level burrs that are almost impossible for anyone other than the burr expert (that does not include me) but also designs puzzles that have more moderate disassembly levels, amenable to the more general puzzler. This is a very interesting design having one giant burr stick pointing up/down and then 4 in each of the other directions. It has a level and is perfect for exploration and disassembly. At first I did wonder whether it required a rotation because after a few moves it appeared to be possible to rotate the large single stick but I have never known Alfons to design these and persisted with linear moves. 

I was not disappointed and had it in pieces after a couple of evenings of struggle. It is also perfectly possible to assemble this one if you have concentrated on the disassembly. I don’t think I could do it from scratch but I am sure a few of you could. 

Lomi Lomi

Lomi Lomi by Alexander Magyarics
Alexander Magyarics has had a bumper puzzle release this time! This is one of my favourites of this release. Lomi Lomi consists of a fairly simple frame made from a glorious Bubinga and lovely contrasting white Maple pieces. The frame is just a simple 5x5x5 affair with a 3x3 gap in each face and only a few extra voxels filled in on 3 of them. The 4 Maple pieces are identical and fairly complex. They are also a shape that really resists much movement when inserted through a face. The aim is to place all inside with everything ending up flush. The faces do not end up completely filled and there is quite a lot of space when it is assembled. This made it impossibly hard to find an assembly outside the frame which would be my usual approach. I had to resort to looking for sequential assemblies inside and this was really really hard for me. I made a huge mistake initially by failing to realise that one of the faces could be used and this lengthened my solve process by an extra 2 days. 

Spinal surgeons should have a great visuospatial ability
In the end I found the level solution and the Aha! moment was ecstatic. It also impressed the 2 surgeons who had been watching me try (and who had failed to manage it themselves!)

Euklid Meets Fuller

Euklid Meets Fuller by Dr Volker Latussek
Yet another incredible puzzle design from the amazing mind of Dr Volker Latussek! I just don’t understand how his brain works. Here is another packing puzzle dedicated to the memory of the much missed Eric Fuller. It consist of 3 Cuboids and one cube to be inserted into one of Volker’s characteristic partially enclosed boxes. The difference here is that the entry into the box is a good bit smaller than usual and most of the blocks can only be inserted in 1 or 2 orientations and once more than one is inside there is almost no wiggle room to move them about. The manufacture is absolutely perfect with sheer millimetre perfection in size and smooth finish. The woods are Padauk, Bubinga, Jatoba and American Walnut. My usual random inserting things got me absolutely nowhere as they block up very quickly (almost immediately!) and in the end I had to actually think©! It took a little arrangement outside the box to find a vague idea of how they could go inside and then working out a possible insertion order. Straight away I got stuck after just 2 pieces were inside before noticing that trying something that Volker had done with another earlier puzzle would open up a bit more space. After that there were three pieces inside and I could see how the 4th should lie but it wouldn’t fit. I needed a rather fancy move to do it and boy! was it difficult. After a lot of dexterity and shaking the bloody thing around, I had a very satisfying click and a couple of sliding moves later it was all inside. HOORAY! I cannot for the life of me reverse the sequence but I haven’t had much time to play. I am looking forward to several more frustrating days of rattling about. This is a MUST HAVE puzzle!

Edition of Additions

Edition of Additions by Alexander Magyarics
The wood contrast is wonderful
Just 6 beautiful shapes
Do you like the Soma cube and it’s associated challenges? If so then you will love the Edition of Additions! Alexander has branched out into a different genre of puzzles to his usual packing or interlocking puzzles and has created something perfect for new and old puzzlers alike. This is absolutely stunning made with Bubinga pieces and an Oak box which has been beautifully made (taking the lid off requires breaking a vacuum seal!). The pieces are assembled inside the box as a 3x3x3 cube and having taken the pieces out for my photo, I realised that I couldn’t put them back inside again! Unlike the Soma cube which has 240 cubic assemblies, this has just four - Aargh! 

It was extremely tough to even make the cube!
To my shame it took me almost a whole afternoon to put it back in the box. Having done this then the wonderful puzzle comes with another 12 shapes to attempt to assemble. None of them are easy as most have between 1 and 5 possible assemblies (2 have more than 10 but I still struggled with them). If shape forming puzzles are your thing then this is a must - if you own and enjoy the Soma cube then you owe it to yourself to add one of these to your collection. To me, any puzzle that comes in a beautifully made box is a must have!

 Making these proved extremely tough!

Pento-Stamp by Alexander Magyarics
Just 6 simple pieces!
Yes, yet another brilliant creation from the warped mind of Alexander Magyarics. This is available with 2 different wood combinations (Wenge pieces or Acacia pieces both in a Cherry tray). Either of these has been beautifully made and looks gorgeous. There are 3 identical pentominoes, 2 mirror image tetrominoes and a corner tetromino. The first puzzle, of course is to make a 3x3x3 cube which has only one assembly - it took me a couple of hours to make it! Either I am rubbish at these or it is significantly harder than expected. Then for extra fun, it came with a sheet of paper with instructions for other challenges. This is not normal for most of Alexander’s puzzles and I had to read it through twice to make sure that I fully understood the idea and challenges. You need to create two full 3x3 layers on top of each other and then a 3rd layer which makes one of the shapes on the sheet. This can only be done by leaving out one of the three tetrominoes (playfully, Alexander doesn’t say which to leave out - aargh!)

I have only attempted and solved a couple of these so far but it was great fun. There are a whole bunch of challenges so this puzzle will keep you busy for quite a long time! Stunning idea and beautifully created by Jakub, Jaroslav and their incredibly talented team.

This puzzle release is absolutely fabulous - a triumph by Alexander and something wonderful from Volker and Alfons. Go get them quickly whilst they remain in stock and hopefully more of the Euklid meets Fuller will be released.

Sunday 2 April 2023

Intrism Level One Assemble-able Maze

Intrism Level One
Well, this is something very new for me - a puzzle I have to make first. I did buy the Buttonius Crazy elephant dance N-ary puzzle but have not managed to assemble it yet (I made a mistake with some glue and ended up shelving it for a while which has ended up as quite a few years!)

I was contacted by Farhan from a couple of months ago and he offered me (and Allard and Steve) a chance to try their brand new creation - how could I resist? Free puzzle! They started in 2015 with their first design the Intrism Pro and the ethos of sustainability. I had honestly never heard of them until they contacted me and the website with puzzles looked really good. The Level One is their latest creation with a slightly different aim to their earlier puzzles. The puzzle has 2 aspects - there is the one off assembly stage which can be done by following the included instructions or, if you are feeling brave then assemble it from scratch using no instructions and only clues from the numbering of the pieces on the boards.

The contents are very well packed
I have been quite impressed at the thought that has gone into this - the box is compact and fits through a letterbox. It opens up to reveal basic instructions on the inside and all the pieces stacked in boards with any loose easy to lose bits trapped inside. It consists of 3 large boards made from laser-cut and etched Baltic Birch plywood (they have the characteristic smokey smell but not too overpowering and the marble, acrylic box parts and instructions all inside (there is a sticker if you are that way inclined and a small piece of sandpaper if you feel the urge to use it (I didn't):

Quite a few pieces!
It is all nicely labeled and inviting. I set off with the assembly. The website says that it can take anything from 30 minutes to several hours to assemble. I think I took about an hour due to difficulty peeling the paper off the acrylic. I did use the instructions because I wanted something to write about reasonably quickly but I would suggest that for all of you puzzlers reading this, then you will almost certainly want to do it without instructions - I think it is definitely achievable.

Board 1 finished
Starting with Board A and piece 1 I followed the very easy to follow instructions and worked my way through. It really is quite fun. I was impressed at how perfectly everything went. The pieces could be pushed out of the boards with ease (there is a pusher tool to help push any tiny pieces out of their small holes) and the precision of the laser cutting is so good that they pieces fit together absolutely perfectly. Not even a hint of force is needed and it all just slides together. As the pieces snap into place they are snugly held and will not fall off whilst reaching for each subsequent piece. On to the second board and it starts to get more complex and slightly harder to snap the pieces together because you need to find a way to push one on without pushing another earlier piece off. At one point I gave myself a little fright by pushing a piece on with the puzzle on the work surface and there was a small crack and anther piece shot off. Looking at it, I should have realised that one part was slightly protruding at that stage and I should not have pushed down onto a hard surface. Nothing was broken and it was a simple matter of replacing the dislodge section. They offer free replacement parts if you were to break something by accident.

Board 2 finished
It gradually got more and more complex and the sheer complexity was stunning. they have made every attempt to decrease the amount of waste. Just looking at the empty boards after the final pieces are removed shows how close the laser cut pieces had all been placed. After the maze components had been assembled, it was time to assemble the acrylic cube. The instructions say to peel the paper coating off them all first which is much easier said/typed than done! Almost half my assembly time was trying to peel the darned paper off! I keep my fingernails short (something which my patients are probably glad of) and finding an edge was awkward to say the least. In the end, I resorted to a small sharp paring knife and made a bunch of fine cuts on the top of my index fingers and thumbs which will no doubt come to bite me when I am working and use the alcohol gel multiple times a day!

Assembled and ready to play
In the end I had a lovely little 4" cube with a maze and a black marble inside and a nice self assembly stand to display the puzzle - attention to detail is really high here. The aim is to move from one chequered area (it can be seen bottom right above) to the other on the opposite side of the puzzle. The Level one version which I have here is the smallest and cheapest of the three puzzles they sell - it is only £25 compared to the Mini which is £53 (for a 6" puzzle with 130 pieces) and the Pro which is £99 (for a huge 8" puzzle made from 217 pieces). The larger puzzles are more similar to the old Perplexus maze balls which I found so frustrating that I gave them away. The larger puzzles have a large amount of dexterity required as the ball can easily fall off the maze. The Level one is totally different - there is still some dexterity involved to keep going the right way through the path but the ball cannot fall off. The challenge is to find the path and get through it as quickly as possible without taking detours/overshooting. Whilst maze puzzles are no longer really my favourite type of puzzle (I haven't bought a Revomaze since the Gold), I have had a fair bit of frustrating fun working my way through this. There are a total of 16 steps/paths to be taken and a few short blind ends. After about 30 minutes I reached the other side and am slightly ashamed to admit that there might have been a modicum of swearing going on at times.

Overall, I can wholeheartedly recommend this - I think the big one will be quite spectacular as a challenge and on show. They are very nicely made (no glue is required), a rather fun puzzle to assemble with instructions and probably even more fun without and a nice little maze challenge afterwards which is not too difficult. The age range states 8 years old as the limit and that's probably reasonable. The price is good and they are trying to be a sustainable company by partnering with organisations that plant trees and clean the oceans.