Sunday 30 July 2023

A Puzzle For A Scrub Nurse?

Shuttle Run
Another 6 day week has meant that I have not managed to solve anything for you. In the few hours I did manage to find, I think I...erm...bit off more than I could chew! The Shuttle Run puzzle is yet another of the incredible designs by the amazing Chinese designer, Shuai Chi. It was one of the designs recently offered up for sale by Aaron Wang from his Facebook page. The puzzles that he puts up for sale are always incredibly complex and ALWAYS very difficult. Most are Level 10 or 10+ and the ones that he does occasionally label as lower than that are, I reckon, actually level 10 for us normal people.

The workmanship in these puzzles is superb and they are priced accordingly. Everyone thinks that wire puzzles are extremely cheap but this one was $47. I must add that it is worth every penny/cent.
I could not buy every single one that went up for sale for fear of spending several hundred dollars and receiving a Whack! Ouch! from Mrs S who has returned from Edinburgh and is unimpressed with the proliferation that has occurred whilst she was away. I bought the few that I felt I might (possibly if the wind is going the right way) stand a chance of successfully solving. I still have a whole lot of his previous puzzles unsolved and persistently beating me.

Recent disentanglement puzzles
The sheer length of string is very intimidating!
You may be wondering why I have called the Shuttle Run a puzzle for a scrub nurse? The operating theatre staff out there who are stupid enough to read my drivel (I know there are a few surgeons and anaesthetists and who knows, maybe even the odd theatre nurse) will all be aware of the vital role that counting plays during any operation. At the beginning and end of every single operation there is an exhaustive count of every instrument, swab, neuro pattie and suture to ensure that nothing that shouldn't be is left in the patient. It is an odd fact that scrub nurses can only count to 5! Any higher number than that and they count to 5 again. The very senior nurses (i.e. old) might manage to count to 10 but never higher than that. If a nurse has counted above 10 then she has taken her shoes and socks off! I often work in a vascular theatre and and counting the patient's digits is no use as the leg count is often less than 2 and the toe count almost inevitably less than 10!

The Shuttle Run puzzle seems to require counting to 5 and no higher! Perfect for a scrub nurse. The only downside is that this puzzle needs you to count to 5 in odd creative ways:

1, 1 2, 2, 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 3, 3, 3 4, 1 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 2 3 4, 2 4, 1 2 4, 1 4, 4, 4 5 etc...

Being a bear of little brain, I could not do this sequence in my head! I had to speak it out loud and this REALLY did nothing to improve Mrs S' mood. She has a cold just now and is not really enjoying my monotonic counting in funny ways. Periodically she interjects random sequences of numbers which has on several occasions forced me to stop puzzling and may have contributed to me backtracking inadvertently back to the beginning.

Is this progress? I hope so, but am not entirely certain!
That sequence is just what is required for the top section of the puzzle - that is obviously a binary sequence. Unfortunately, the sequence has to pass back and forth for each single unit advance of the lower section. I have not yet managed to work it out properly yet due to dementia/confusion, but I think that the bottom section has 2 states to go through for each column supporting the shuttle and thus I am tentatively categorising this one as a ternary puzzle. I may be wrong on this and it may be higher than that because I have managed to get stuck several times and been inadvertently backtracked at least 5 times due to stupidity and interference by Mrs S.

I will persevere for a while and fully expect to fail dismally. However, I am having some fun trying to work it out. 

My plea to Aaron - please please please make a few easier challenges? There are very few people on the planet who can solve your incredibly difficult and beautiful contraptions. Maybe you could make a few level 6-9? This would be helpful to those of us who are less capable than you!

Sunday 23 July 2023

Euroka - not Eureka! Desperation Made Me Do It!

Or: "You Stupid Boy"!

Euroka 10x3 from Junichi Yananose
At the beginning of this year, Juno released another of his complex interlocking puzzles - the Euroka 10x3. I have 3 of these beauties already and they do look fabulously intimidating on display. I really enjoyed playing with a couple of them after being forcefully pushed but mostly they just look gorgeous and remind me that Juno has a terribly warped mind. I love the look of them but they really do frighten me to death. So why did I buy this one? I am not terribly certain, to be honest, and I think it was probably a big moment of madness - but not as big a moment as I had today!

Up until now I had been very careful and had put it on display in my study where it forms a sort of shrine to Juno's madness. 

It is pretty spectacular with a diameter of 240 mm made from 30 identical pieces with magnets and a Base. It is gorgeous made from New Guinea Walnut, PNG Rosewood and Fijian Mahogany. I had intended to leave it on display indefinitely but...

I have had rather a tough week this week with Mrs S up north , a few evenings of mild DIY and quite a long week of work (including Saturday). I had completely failed to find anything useful with Juno's Dial case and reached this morning without having solved anything at all. Drastic measures were required and I carefully lifted the Euroka off the windowsill and into the kitchen for some exploration - maybe this would be a great story of wonder and success for the blog? Erm......NO!

In the words of the great Captain Mainwaring talking to Private Pike:

You Stupid Boy!

It started out OK as I removed first one layer and then a second layer of the pieces came out by just simply tugging them along their axis. I thought to myself that this was going to be triumph for the blog! Erm......NO!

1st layer out
2 layers out - encouraging
At this point it felt pretty stable and I threw caution to the wind - carefully pulled out the first part of the third layer and it held together. Magnets are truly wonderful things.

This is going really well
There appeared to only be another 3 layers. I was full of confidence and continued the odyssey stupidity. I removed one single piece from the 4th looked good. Just a little wobble but looked reasonably firm. Sod it! Lets continue...

Oh Bugger!
Who's big idea was that? I had a pile o' very lovely wood and only a vague idea how they fit together. I also had the terrible realisation that it was really quite unstable with less than 14 pieces in situ. The very next thing I did was count my hands - I reached only 2 which I suspect might be a problem. I then counted the hands of everyone else who was currently in the house and reached zero (even if Mrs S wasn't in Edinburgh then I very much doubt that she would help me). I examined the cat's paws and figured that he was not likely to help me - he has a very paw attention span. This puzzle might end up remaining in pieces for the rest of my life which may be short if Mrs S sees a pile of pieces in the kitchen when she comes home. I really should have fully read the description from Juno:
"Euroka 10x3 is fairly stable once about half the pieces are assembled, but still difficult at the start. Juno himself struggled for nearly an hour to assemble a puzzle prototype without the proper jigs. To solve this issue, we also produced a base that can be used for an assembling jig. With the base, you can assemble the puzzle in less than five minutes if you are familiar with it.

The flip side of the base does indeed have some holes in it to assist with the assembly:

Tidier, but I don't think "she" will be happy with this
It's a jig with Juno's mark
I have spent quite a bit more than the 5 minutes mentioned on the product page trying to put the first half together and am wondering where I can hide it in the house so that she doesn't notice yet another clutter. The New Horizon from Pelikan that I reviewed a couple of weeks ago (still available as I type) also remains in pieces in the kitchen and I had better move it before she returns home.

This failure to assemble puzzles is becoming a bit of a habit here. In fact, I seem to be failing to solve puzzles in general. You should probably ignore my ramblings from now on and just read the other guys stuff instead for real inspiration! Sob!

Right! Back to it. She's not coming back until tomorrow so I do have a bit more time to play. Happy weekend everyone.

Sunday 16 July 2023

Cleaning the Study One Puzzle At A Time

Feed the Monkey by the Two Brass Monkeys
16 small bananas and a giant one
I have been a bit busy recently. The junior doctors strike means I have to try and revamp our on call rotas to ensure all the gaps are covered plus "she" has made me do/attempt some DIY recently. The roof of our conservatory sprung a leak with the huge deluge of rain that the UK has suffered over the last 2 weeks (Global warming? It's been bloody cold here!) and I have been up a ladder in the rain trying to clear gutters, downpipes and see where the water is getting inside. She has been commenting that the silicone seal in the bathroom needs to be redone due to the inevitable build up of mould and after she trotted off up north to visit the outlaws, I spent a day on my hands and knees cutting it all out (along with a bit of grout) to prepare for a redo. This took me most of a day because I am too damn old to be down in that position for long and now I can barely move!

All of this has meant that I have not had much puzzling time after the huge effort put into the wonderful Pelikan puzzles that I reviewed last week (they are all still available now if you feel the urge to torture yourselves). For this reason, I have returned to a puzzle that I solved at the end of last year but did not get around to writing about. One reason to write about it is because it has been sitting on my desk to remind me and I really REALLY REALLY need to tidy up my desk before I get murdered in my sleep:

Houston, I have a tidiness problem!
It all sort of reached a head when I had to do my pre-op assessments on a Sunday afternoon after writing my blog and for that I have to use my work laptop. For....ahem, obvious reasons, I usually need to decant to our dining table only to find that it was occupied by "she who gave me a very burning look" when I turned up to find she had spread her stuff out over it. I was told to F... off/go somewhere else and I beat a hasty retreat to the living room and spread out there. I really do need to tidy the mess up and to start me on my way I could write about the Feed the Monkey puzzle and return it to the Two Brass Monkeys shelf upstairs. I am a little worried about how long that shelf will hold up - the brass is really quite heavy and I have quite a lot of Steve and Ali's wonderful creations. A fully loaded monkey weighs in at 563g and is 90mm tall, 32mm deep and wide.

TBM Brass shelf (plus a a few of my N-ary puzzles)
I'm worried it might collapse

TBM 3D printed stuff
I received my copy shortly after it was released way back in March 2020 and immediately set to. I had bought the male monkey but they also had an identically challenging female version which has cute eyelashes. I removed the long banana that had been in the monkey's mouth and shook the bloody thing about to extract all of the small bananas as well. I was a little horrified to see that there were 16 of them and they all needed to be placed through the mouth inside the case.

It quickly became clear that the cuboid interior could only take 3 of the bananas across and "up" and therefore 9 in a layer. It was only 2 layers deep so should be able to take 18 small bananas or 16 small ones and one double length large banana. Yay! Easy! It must just be a dexterity puzzle. Or so I thought.

I spent over 2 years thinking that my dexterity was crap! I really could not arrange all the pieces inside. I shook them, I rattled them, I rocked them and rolled them! These bananas would not all fit in the monkey! He was always full before I reached the final one. This lack of dexterity was really worrying for someone of my profession - I have to prove my dexterity almost every day at work with cannulae, arterial and central lines, nerve blocks and intubations. I usually think I am not bad with my hand-eye coordination skills but this monkey was not getting stuffed by me! Over that 2 years, I picked it up and put it down again dozens and dozens of times. It stayed on that desk next to me because I could not solve it. 

Then my most heartbreaking moment - a certain blind puzzler (yes, he knows who he is and so does everyone else who goes to the MPPs) solved it whilst sitting opposite me and it only took him about 20 minutes. He solved it and couldn't even see it! Aaaargh! One thing that I did notice whilst desperately trying not to look at him playing with his monkey was that he was not doing any of the stuff that I had been trying. Hmmm. Maybe one of my major thoughts (my only major thought) was wrong?

I went back to it after that MPP last year and had another think© - What if I? OMG! I'm an eejit!

I can now put the damn thing away
There are a couple of new puzzles on Steve and Ali's site which are well worth nabbing (once I have saved some pennies after my recent splurge on Cubic dissection and a few more from Aaron then I fully intend to buy their latest ones.

Don't forget to visit the Pelikan puzzle site as well - the puzzles from last week are still in stock.

Sunday 9 July 2023

Pelikan Creates Some Flops and New Horizons

Upcoming puzzles from Pelikan and their wonderful designers.
I wasn't expecting anything from Jakub, Jaroslav and team until after the upcoming IPP and was very surprised when an email came from the wonderful Pelikan guys informing me about their upcoming releases and a request for reviews as soon as possible. I then received a beautiful bunch of toys and a growl from she who frightens everyone who meets her. To be honest, I cannot blame her this time - there are another 8 puzzles here and I hadn't put away the toys from the last delivery yet. I know my desk is under the toys but I haven't seen it for a very long time!

Luckily for me, a general email had also gone out telling the world that the Pelikan team were taking a summer break and not returning until tomorrow (10th July) and I, therefore, had a nice 10 day period to plough through these fabulous and difficult puzzles (GULP!). Luckily, I managed to do it (apart from one incredibly tough challenge) with a tiny bit of cheating from Burrtools.

These should be going on sale within the next week or so I hope.

First I have to start with the 2 incredible puzzles from Dr Volker Latussek - they have given this post it's title. We have two more puzzles in the Flop series - believe me, these are not flops as puzzles! They are incredible and one is seriously difficult! Volker emailed me and Jakub to explain what he was trying to achieve:

Fritz Flop

Fritz Flop delivery position
Fritz Flop pieces
Fritz Flop has been beautifully created using a lovely pale Downy Birch wood.
I just love how Volker always specifies a delivery setup for his puzzles. It can be quite a challenge if you aren't paying attention to return the puzzles to the start position. Volker wrote this:
"With the release of TETRA-FLOP I announced a small series of four FLOP-puzzles: FRITZ-FLOP, DICK-FLOP, TEFKA-FLOP and SOMA-FLOP. As an encore, the series will be completed with TETRA-FLOP and for lovers of L-shaped tricubes L-FLOP.

The FLOP series puzzles each consist of a cuboid box completely filled with various tricubes and tetracubes. The box has the largest possible rectangular opening on one side. Each of the four FLOPs has a unique kind of rotation. The solution to each should be unique.

When a FLOP is placed on a flat surface with the opening at the top facing forward, the movement of the pieces is sometimes reminiscent of the Fosbury flop - a revolutionary high-jump technique that sent established records tumbling. The inventor of this technique is the forgotten Austrian athlete, Fritz Pingl, for whom the first FLOP puzzle is dedicated.

My friend Fritz hoped the puzzle could be made in birch wood, and Pelikan were able to fulfil his wish. Many thanks for that.

FRITZ-FLOP has only five pieces: two tricubes and only three of the eight tetracubes, making it the smallest FLOP. I think it's really suited to being a coffee table puzzle. I selected this combination from what seemed like an infinite number of possible combinations. I suspect it is the only combination that fulfils all of the characteristics of a FLOP puzzle. The fact that this combination exists at all, fills me with great wonder, as does the story of the high jump. Please play and enjoy."
I reviewed the Tetra flop from the last release and am surprised to see that some are still available for sale. It was a seriously difficult puzzle but had some wonderful moves in it. I needed a little help and despite that did not feel that I lost out on the puzzling. Working out the moves required after getting a little position help did not detract in any way from my puzzling pleasure.

With the Fritz Flop the puzzle is certainly a lot simpler in design and hence very solvable without help. It is still a challenge with the simpler set of pieces and only looking for a 3x3x2 block shape. The fun part is getting the pieces through the restricted opening which it just smaller than 3x2 in size. There will be rotations and space needs to be left for the rotations to occur. Knowing this helps with working out the possible assemblies to try. Before writing this review I entered the pieces into BT and found that there are 28 possible assemblies of the pieces into the block but doing this is not necessary for the solution. I picked the pieces that I felt were likely to be the last to be inserted and then tried to place the rest into a shape that would allow it. Of course, my first decisions were incorrect and I spent a good few hours attempting impossible solutions - they looked good but there was no way to insert them through the opening. Most of the assemblies stand no chance of insertion and can be discarded quickly. After a few hours, I had exhausted everything I could find apart from one which looked promising but I just couldn't get it to assemble in the box. Time for a break and the following day, I had a fabulous Aha! moment - not only is this a packing puzzle but it is a sequential movement puzzle as well. The rotational move is simply joyful.

Believe me, there are no clues in this photo!
I heartily recommend buying this set - it is pure Latussek genius!

Soma Flop

Soma Flop delivery position
Soma Flop pieces (yes, it's a Soma cube)
Soma Flop has been made using Jatoba and Limbs woods - the voxel size is the same as the others in the series. Again there is a very specific position for the storage. Volker wrote this about it:
"Originally DICK-FLOP and TEFKA-FLOP were scheduled to follow after FRITZ-FLOP, but SOMA-FLOP is really special. Everything is there: the seven parts of the SOMA-CUBE and even a cube-shaped box. The only tricky thing is the size of the opening.


I learnt a lot from my experiences with SOMA PACK and SHRINKING SOMA, but I couldn't achieve what I was hoping for from a FLOP puzzle at first. Obviously, the search was eventually worth it: SOMA-FLOP has a wonderfully confusing solution, which I suspect my mind wasn't willing to see. I couldn't see the solution for absolute ages because I didn't know it existed. I guess that's the difference between the designer and the solver: as the solver, you can trust that SOMA-FLOP has a solution! The opening is amazingly large - any larger in fact and the SOMA pieces could effectively be packed as into an unrestricted box.

My thanks to Pelikan for making this idea a reality and to Oskar van Deventer for inspiring me to create SOMA-FLOP with his PENULTIMATE SOMA."
This puzzle caused me "some difficulty" and a minor heart attack. I have waxed lyrical about Soma cubes before and certainly feel that everyone who collects puzzles should have at least a plain Soma cube and a variant or two in their collections. Combining a Soma cube with a packing puzzle and incorporating aspects of TIC puzzling too is a major triumph. This puzzle is very VERY difficult but don't let that deter you. First thing to do is remove the pieces from the box. Easy peasy? Erm - yes as long as you don't allow anything to move once there is a little space in the box. I was not careful enough and after removal of the easy two pieces, stuff slid around inside and I couldn't take any more pieces out. OMG! It took me over an hour to free them up and get to the point of attempting to solve the puzzle.

As Volker has stated, there is a nice large entry to the box but not quite two voxels wide. This restriction is the key to the rotational requirement. The non planar pieces need to be tilted to be inserted and there needs to be enough space for this to be allowed to happen. Does this help you narrow down the assemblies? I think it does if you are an assembly puzzle aficionado. I am an assembly idiot and as everyone knows - there are 240 possible cubic assemblies of the Soma pieces. 

I played for a while trying to randomly find cubic assemblies that would allow the non-planar pieces to be inserted early and the linear pieces last. I found a few but had no way to easily narrow them down. I do think that this is possible for all you great puzzlers who read my drivel but for me to manage it, I would require many days or weeks of attempts and a lot of swearing. I had a deadline to meet and therefore had to use a hint. I got the solution and squinted at it quickly so that I only viewed the two pieces that were to be entered last which would leave me to find the positions of the other pieces and then the rotation(s) required to solve it. After 3 days of working on the cube to be inserted I realised that  I needed more help. Burrtools told me that there are 18 assemblies that allowed the last 2 pieces to be where I needed them and from there I could visually restrict the other solutions until I had a few possible solutions to work on. 

I worked on these possibilities for another couple of days and managed to decrease my solution set to just one by totally failing to get the pieces into the box. That last assembly also wouldn't go in - even when you know what goes where, it is really really hard to make it happen. My Aha! moment came as a huge relief and pleasure. This is simply superb! I don't think that there are any spoilers in the photo but I have hidden it behind a button just in case.

Petit Box

Petit Box by Osanori Yamamoto
Another beautiful creation by Osanori-san made using Limba and a very vibrant Purpleheart.

Recently, Osanori-san has been designing a whole set of interlocking puzzles where board burrs pieces are locked inside a box frame. I have previously reviewed his Gem puzzle and the Slider 2 which is still available. Like Slider 2, this has four plates trapped inside the cuboidal frame and there is a lot of movement after the first few pieces have been moved. This puzzle is a very nice fun challenge. After that first exploration, the pieces move very freely and it is quite easy to get stuck in a loop. There are a few places where it looks like rotations begin but these are not useful to you. On several occasions, I thought I was getting quite close to the removal of the first piece but could not find the pathway and kept backtracking to the beginning. The fun part of playing with this (and it's predecessor) is that it opens up enough for you to be able to look inside the frame and see what is blocking your moves. In the end for me, I had to open the space inside right up and then plan a potential disassembly. After that, it was "just" a matter of utilising the space that I had to wind the peeves around each other. The removal of the first piece takes only 12 moves but it is a real challenge to find them. Reassembly is fun if you have memorised the positions and the pathway and quite possible from scratch if you have not and you are highly skilled.

4 plates and a frame.

Connecting Cubes

Connecting Cubes by Lucie Pauwels
There are 3 wonderful challenges by Lucie in this release by Pelikan and this one is delightfully colourful and a fun challenge for beginners and experts alike. It is very reminiscent of some of the wonderful challenges made by Vinco that I reviewed many years ago.

This consists of 8 cubes each of which has a unique arrangement of a slot cut out of one face and a connecting board on another face. The aim here is to make a 2x2x2 cube. There are also a few other possible simpler assemblies which you will find along the way. I think this is a perfect coffee table puzzle. It looks gorgeous and is something that no one could resist picking up and playing with. The best way to approach this is to actually think© about the different types of pieces and how they interact and allow the chain of cubelets to build up. I started off with random attempts at assembly and quickly realised that wasn't going to work for me. After that, I attempted an exhaustive search for the correct combination which also failed due to my inability to remember my previously attempted assemblies. Having discovered that that there is much more to this than meets the eye, I categorised the cubelets and established how the different subtypes interacted. After that, it took me another 5 minutes to assemble my cube. It is very pretty and I won't show you the solution!


Archipuzzle by Lucie Pauwels
Lucie designs a whole gamut of different types of puzzle and this is a very different design to what I have seen before. It looks very simple like many of her designs but has just the right challenge level. This is very reminiscent of the extremely challenging Stuffing Burr from Dr Latussek (also still available). The aim is to take the 5 L-shaped notched sticks and assemble them in such a way that the notches are all filled. Lucie's version has 5 sticks which alters the challenge considerably. Each stick has the notches in a different set of orientations. Like most puzzles, I started with random assemblies to see what happened and how they all interact as the chains build up. Quite quickly I came to realise that the chains move further and further apart and then the final piece cannot possibly reach to bridge the gap. Then I realised that the alternative was to build a clump of pieces and hope the ends were close enough to reach each other and then also have the notches the correct orientation. Just as with all of Lucie's designs, this also doesn't work well and it actually requires a little analysis of the types of pieces and how to use them. All in all, this took me nearly an hour and I had my assembled chain. It's a fun thing to do and it's only a slight shame that the created shape is not particularly attractive for storage.


Oekanda by Lucie Pauwels
Oekanda by Lucie Pauwels has been beautifully crafted from Oak with Bubinga pieces. It is reminiscent of the Pin-up box from the February release which is an entry in this year's IPP design competition
The third challenge from Lucie in this release is a real fun one that also requires proper analysis for a satisfying solve. It is a packing puzzle but with a difference - the frame is extremely open and the pieces properly complex making it also an interlocking puzzle. It arrives with the pieces sort of randomly stuck in the frame and on taking the puzzle out of the packing bag, half of them fell out and I couldn't work out how to put them back.

These pieces are really quite complex which made me think it would not be too difficult a challenge to assemble into the 3x3x5 shape with 2 voxels sticking out into the frame. My confidence was misplaced! I found this to be a real challenge to create a shape. My random attempts failed (as usual) and then I realised that I had to think© about the shapes and what possible ways they could be oriented within that cuboid shape. Having realised this and starting to work more systematically on the shape and interactions, I was able to discount quite a few of my possible placements. After an hour of play, I had a major Aha! moment and found my assembly outside of the frame and then worked to place it inside. It really is quite lovely and a fun challenge. I have put the next picture behind a spoiler button - it's not much of a spoiler but don't look if you are worried about seeing too much:


Alma by Alfons Eyckmans
Alma has been made using Maple, Purpleheart and Wenge.
It would seem that no Pelikan release is complete without something wonderful from Alfons Eyckmans. He designs burr puzzles that are both beautiful and interesting to solve. The Alma looks like a very complex construction but is actually just a 6 piece burr made from L shaped plates. I cannot resist Alfons' burrs - there is always something fun to explore and this is no different. The pathway to the removal of the first piece is fairly well hidden but there are only a few relatively short blind pathways to get lost in and the removal of the first piece takes a fun 10 moves. After this it remains quite a stable construction (just a slight tendency for one piece to sag) and then another 4 moves to remove the next. 

6 very nice L-shaped plates
Having disassembled this over about an hour, I scrambled the pieces and left them for a while before attempting a reassembly. I thought that I had a reasonable memory of the process but somehow got stuck and kept going round and around in circles with one of the pieces continually being trivial to remove and not being interlocked as it should. It took me another hour to realise what I was doing wrong and get it back together. I definitely think that for the more advanced burr puzzler there is plenty of scope for this to be an assembly puzzle and for the "normal" ones amongst us (are any of us that normal?) this is a fun one to partially memorise and then work on the assembly from that. Of course entry of the pieces into Burrtools is also part of the fun.

New Horizon

New Horizon
The final, but definitely not the least impressive, of the puzzles in this release is New Horizon from Alfons Eyckmans made from Pink Oak and Wenge.
This is something new from Alfons - I initially thought that it was another of his interlocking burrs in the shape of a cube and oh boy! was I wrong! Some of Alfons' cube burrs are really really tough but this is a whole other level. It is not at all what I was expecting - it is not a disassembly puzzle, it is an assembly challenge and a very very tough one. To take the cube apart it just requires finding the correct places to put your fingers and the pieces just pull apart sequentially until you have 12 rather interesting shapes to analyse.

I removed the first 6 of the pieces and decided to put them back together to form the cube. Unfortunately, even with only a 50% disassembly, I could not seem to work out which pieces went where and in what order. Whilst looking for the entry point for the first of those 6 pieces, another one fell onto my pile and then I really was in trouble - I couldn't remember the order of any of them and quickly decided to complete the dismantling - it was quite a fun thing to do.

12 odd shapes
Having taken my photo I have embarked on an assembly challenge and so far have completely failed. There are notches and "sticking out bits" to analyse and which restrict how the pieces will fit together. Also the orientation of the 1x2x2 voxel oak protuberances which will ultimately form the corners can only fit together in certain ways. This will require quite a lot of analysis and I suspect, will end up with me resorting to Burrtools. But the clever ones amongst you should be able to assemble this from scratch - it will be a wonderful challenge. I will keep trying for a week or so before I resort to BT.

So what should you be buying from this release? Personally, I think they are all fabulous. My favourites have to be the Flop series from Dr Latussek - even with a small cheat they are a wonderful challenge with some brilliant Aha! moments. You should also pick up the remaining Tetra flop to ensure that you get the whole set. After that, I definitely enjoyed the Oekanda from Lucie and the Connecting cubes is perfect as a coffee table puzzle. If you are a burr fanatic then Alfons' puzzles are a delight and I adore these framed plate puzzles from Osanori.

There is something for everyone!

Sunday 2 July 2023

Octaballs - Never Look A Gift Horse In The Mouth...

It Might Bite You or Poke You or Frustrate You!

Octaballs by George Bell (kindly made by Allard)
At the beginning of the year Allard reviewed a nice little bunch of puzzles that he had made based on some new designs by George. He called them "diabolical" and I was intrigued. I have lusted after a full set of the Pennyhedron puzzles from the ever so slightly warped Australian dentist Stephen Chin (Ok he is more than slightly warped!) but have never managed to find them at a reasonable price and Chinny keeps threatening to fleece me when I have talked about buying them. George worked with Chinny on many of them and more recently has expanded the geometry to include a hybrid shape between an octahedron and a ball - hence the Octaball. I think there are quite a few new interlocking designs that he has found.

I commented on Allard's page that I am not allowed a 3D printer (apparently, I am told on good authority that arrival of one of these "terrible addictive devices" is grounds for divorce). I was thinking about asking George if I could buy a set from him when Allard let me know that he had made a second set and would let me have them. I thought that it was terribly good of him to preserve my marriage like that. They arrived in mid January and I had a look and admired the lovely materials that had been chosen for the printing. They have really improved over the years. Allard had bundled them all into a ziplock bag all together but had given me a list of the numbered pieces which belonged in each puzzle.

Later that week, one evening after work, I set to attempting the first assembly. I picked one at random. I couldn't work out which was going to be the easiest and chose the first with all 4 identical pieces. It is pretty easy to assemble the first 3 into the shape and can see how the last one will go in. Putting the bloody thing in, however, is another thing entirely! These things have teeth or pointy bits. As you probably know, these are coordinate motion assemblies and I am really not great at that sort of thing. You would think that with what I do for a living, I might find these relatively easy. Except that by and large, I don't do things that require multiple hands holding things in precisely the correct precarious position. I spent an hour attempting to assemble this first one and failed with a lot of swearing which upset Mrs S almost as much as the purchase of a 3D printer. I moved on to another one which had 4 different parts. There is no difficulty working out what goes where but actually doing it was really really tough. I failed on all 4 of them that night and for a little while had a sore thumb where I had managed to lever a pointy bit under a thumbnail.

Tyler had chimed in on Allard's post and had concluded that no human can assemble them without assistance from another helpful human and I was beginning to think he might be right. Allard maintains that Gill did not assist him but who trusts what Allard says about anything? I looked around the house to see if I could find a "helpful human" and there does not appear to be one of those living with me - I was doomed to fail, suffer sore thumbnails and swear a lot before receiving the laser stare and even a Whack! Ouch! On evening number 2, I juggled all the pieces using a hand to hold them and a thigh to prevent a piece falling out whilst I introduced the final piece and Aha! I had a result.

Over the next two evenings, I managed to assemble 3 pieces in, extend the coordinate motion out as far as possible whilst maintaining stability (with a couple of them, I had to work out which pieces were the best for this extension). Then I used various parts of my anatomy as a third hand/stabiliser as I extended beyond stability and finally introduced the fourth piece. I quickly realised that using my nose as a stabiliser was no use as I couldn't then focus close enough to see to introduce the next piece. Thighs seem to work best and one time the top of a sleeping cat's head did the trick. It took me over a week and I had some assembled Octaballs:

Phew! That was a bugger!
These have been sitting on my desk all assembled and looking lovely since then. Unfortunately, I have to chair several MS Teams meetings every month and having a nice big screen at home means it is better to work in my study than in my office in the hospital. The trouble with that is that, I have these lovely big worry-beads just a foot away from me whilst I chat to colleagues. I cannot help myself - I often pick them up and find it quite relaxing to gently start the coordinate motion off and slide them back and forth. Except...

A bloody cat jumped on my lap during one meeting frightening me half to death! The Octaball in my hands that was partially opened flew out of my hands and sprung apart on the floor. In my and his surprise, he shot of my lap and knocked another onto the floor disassembling it as well. The horror on my face was visible to everyone in my meeting. It may have been even harder to assemble them a second time! Aargh! They have been put away in one of the bookcases to prevent this happening again. 

Another gift horse came from Neal. When I bought the set of Dessert TICs he added in a couple of gifts to the package that he had 3D printed. Again, I am not allowed one of these and so I can only ever get these from other people. I reviewed the wonderful Screw burr in May and loved it. Also in the package was a copy of Screw Fit by Oskar:

Screw Fit by Oskar
It has also been beautifully made and is lovely and bright. It consists of a ring made of 4 pieces held inside a nut. There is nothing for it other than to try and screw the nut off the ring and it becomes immediately clear that odd things are happening. The different pieces move in all different directions until they suddenly fall out - OMG!

That wasn't very bright of me
After my initial pleased exclamation, I put the pieces in the bag and left it for a few weeks to try and forget the way they had been assembled/disassembled. 

I was able to work out several times what was required but actually doing it is less easy than it sounds. It would appear that this one also needs more than 2 hands i.e. a helpful second human which I don't have. In the end, after much "effing and blinding" this went together again with instructions to self:
"Don't do that again!"
Unfortunately, I don't often listen to myself and the worry bead thing happened again. I now have it in pieces next to me again and fully expect it to stay this way for a while. I am definitely not terribly bright - but the lovely shiny toys keep talking to me!

Thank you to both of my wonderful puzzling friends who have delighted and frustrated me for so long.