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.


  1. So, thigh will be done! -Tyler.

    1. Ha ha ha! Thank you for your support.

  2. Help is available
    Not exactly the same puzzle, but shows the technique.

    1. You make it look so easy! I struggle to hold the pieces separated enough to put the last one in.