Sunday 28 January 2024

An Original Pelikan

Shows where Jakub and Jaroslav Got Their Skills

Four Corners by Stewart Coffin
I have had a rather hard week at work this week and have been working on some tough new puzzles. This has meant that I have solved nothing! Yes, Nothing! I am rubbish at puzzles - you heard it first here. I wish I was a genius like Steve and Derek or a puzzle solving machine like Louis but unfortunately I seem to be much better at accumulating puzzles than solving them.


The Brass monkey number 6 arrived nearly 2 weeks ago and I have singularly failed to find even the first move. Remember that if you want one then it goes on sale NEXT Sunday. I am sure that you will have a lot of fun with it and solve it in a reasonable amount of time whilst I spend months and months trying to find the first move.

Oleg's Wardrobe

I also received the Oleg's Wardrobe from Dedwood Crafts. It is absolutely stunning and rather huge. It is NOT a box! Even if it has a cavity in it - Dee has said that it is a wardrobe and there's nothing that says I can't have wardrobes in my collection! Mrs S is muttering about storage again but has admitted that it is very very beautiful. Again, I have played for a bit and followed the easy first steps which lead you nowhere and then stopped dead. Yet again, I have accumulated something and haven't managed to solve it. Aargh! I am trying not to cry thinking about the previous 3 from Dee which also remain stubbornly closed.

Erm! I seem to have failed at these as well - I really need to find my Mojo.

All three by Dee Dixon remain unsolved - only one has revealed any steps at all to me!

Al Bus by Jordi Gallen         

Then after that, Having seen the Al Bus (designed and created by Jordi Gallen) raved about by several people at Peter Hajek's EPP and also enthused about by Derek, I decided that I should try and get a copy. It is available to purchase now from PuzzleMaster but when I looked at it and made my decision, a copy was put up for auction to go to charity commemorating the late Eric Fuller. I bid and I won and several rather gorgeous pieces of plastic arrived. I haven't had time to do much more than fiddle so far. It is rather lovely!

Having gotten nowhere with several rather complex puzzles all I can do is show off a rather lovely Stewart Coffin puzzle that I managed to acquire from Bernhard. This copy of the Four Corners (STC#6) was made by Josef Pelikan using 3 woods and is a lovely variant of the diagonal star puzzle. It slides apart beautifully to show 6 identically shaped pieces with the classic base and slightly altered ends:

Instantly recognisable piece types
At this point I noticed that there are 4 different woods appearing at the ends of the pieces (3 Padauk, 3 Wenge 3 Mahogany and then 3 Oak. When the puzzle had arrived, as you can see at the top of the post, all the colours at the ends were mismatched. I hadn't read anything about the puzzle and wondered to myself whether the aim is to reassemble ensuring that each of the 4 poles is the same colour/wood. I also wondered whether there were any alternative assemblies. I quickly discovered that despite the simplicity of the pieces, there seems to be no other way to assemble the puzzle. If you try to put it together with pieces the wrong way then it is blocked.

Sliding together blocked
After fiddling for a little while, I discovered that this one is a little awkward to assemble the halves. I found it quite confusing - I could assemble the top half with the single pole but struggled to manage the differently shaped bottom half. I got there in the end and now have the puzzle arranged with a different wood at each pole:

Much better!
Looking at the online version of "The Puzzling World of Polyhedral Dissections" kindly hosted by John Rausch, there are other challenges involving different arrangements of the colours and symmetry. The four different ways in which the Four Corners Puzzle can be assembled in color symmetry are represented in in black and white below. The one on the left, in which each "corner" is a solid color, is the easiest and most obvious and is how the puzzle got its name. Each has a pair of solutions.


Finally, to extract one more bit of recreation from this puzzle, discover the 24 ways of assembling it such that the patterns of all four colors are identical but not symmetrical. You may skip the 3,808 ways that do not have either property. Hint: in general, these color symmetry problems are not the type that one solves by trial and error. One must try to discover the principles involved and the simple rules that transform one solution into another. You may not even need the physical pieces.

I have managed a couple of these and then got side-tracked by other toys! Now it's time to get back to these blasted sequential discovery puzzles and hopefully solve something for next week - wish me luck!

Sunday 21 January 2024

Trays and Trays of Thought

A Plethora of torture from Alexander
I will say it up front - Alexander Magyarics is one of the best puzzle designers out there. I don't say it because I consider him a friend, I say it because he has proven it time and time again! You all know it from the rather large number of his designs that have been created by Jakub and Jaroslav's Pelikan puzzles team that have made it into all of our collections. Quite a few of his puzzles have made it into my top ten puzzles of the year and they include 3D packing puzzles with incredible shapes (sometimes requiring rotations and sometimes just rectilinear moves), there are now even a few burrs under his belt which are not just a creation made using the Burrtoools software aimed at getting the highest level possible - the important thing about Alex's creations are that they are interesting and require the dreaded thought© to be solved. This requires something very special or very warped in the head - I leave it up to you to decide.

For the last couple of Xmases Alex has made me a lovely and not so little care package of puzzles he has both designed and 3D printed himself (Sigh! I wish I was allowed a 3D printer but if I wish to keep all parts of my anatomy attached then that is not going to happen). I received 14 of them this time and Mrs S was less than impressed (one thing about 3D printed puzzles is that they do look like child's toys and are not attractive i.e. no "wife appeal"). I reassured "she who frightens police officers to death" that they would be kept out of sight and not left on display anywhere and put them in my study in yet another box of puzzles to be solved - my goodness, I have a huge backlog just now!

This last 10 days "she who makes the sun hide in fear" was up in Sconny Botland visiting the outlaws and I was free to leave stuff lying around and play with them at my leisure. I actually did not have much time to myself due to work but the advantage of tray puzzles is that they take up very little space and can be carried around easily. I had some other toys in transit from various parts of the world and until they arrived had nothing that "had" to be solved fast. Time to play with the packing puzzles.

Alex had suggested that I start with this one (I had asked in desperation at preserving my ego for the easier ones). Place 5 of them in the smaller tray and then all 7 in the larger one. Usually I am truly awful at this type of thing and find that all I do is trial and error over and over again because after a while I cannot remember what I have tried before. I started in exactly the same way but within a minute or so, I was able to see some vague logic to them and was able to direct my approach. Wow! I had the small tray done in about 5 minutes and then the larger one in a further 15 or so. Amazing - a feeling of achievement and think©ing had occurred!

1 Billion
This was the second one he told me to do and I really wasn't sure about it. It is very attractive and quite clearly had been designed using Burrtools - how else could he know that there was ONLY one solution? I found initially that I began to place pieces randomly and quickly found myself blocked but there must have been a reason for suggesting this as an early challenge. Alex had asked me why I thought it was called 1 Billion? I suspected because that might be how many years it might take me and hopefully asked whether it was because there was actually 1 billion ways to solve it. I still don't know why the name! Having failed a couple of times, I realised that there are some very complex shapes for some of the pieces and they are very limited in where they can go. Why not start with them? Then move to progressively less complex shapes. After a couple of blind ends in the solve, I had it. Yet again, a tray packing puzzle that required thought© and very little random placement. This is sheer genius design!

Pieces of my Heart
I couldn't resist this one as my next challenge - it looked relatively straightforward - the aim being to create a full heart with it placed in the top left corner. This is Alex's first sliding tile puzzle. I usually find these unrewarding due to the large number of random moves to try and an enormous decision tree that eventually gets created. This apparently can be solved with 45 moves (I did not manage to do it that quickly). Having had such a great time with the previous puzzles I felt that there must be something special about this one too and I was not wrong. Unusually for one of these, the first bunch of moves are very constrained and there is only one path for quite a while. After that, I reached a decision point and took the wrong turn (as usual) but was not led up a huge long dead end with lots of other paths to rule out on the way. The blind ends are relatively short and sweet, requiring a backtrack and searching elsewhere. My memory is awful and this puzzle never required me to commit huge long sequences to memory. I found hot quite rewarding to finally reach the end point - I suspect that about 150-200 moves was used in the end after false paths and backtracking. I may even try it again to see if I can do it in a shorter sequence. Don't look if you don't want to see the end positions.

Finally, I couldn't resist one of Alex's multiple challenge puzzles. The fun thing about a huge number of his packing puzzles from last year as well as this year (and even some of the Pelikan puzzles like Sliders) have multiple challenges to them. I decided to strat with the rather beautiful ICEbreaker:

The pieces look simple (3 copies of the word ICE) and the first challenge had 256 solutions. Now, that is my type of puzzle - even I can solve it (hopefully). Again, this has been created with the aim to make you think© and it worked! My first trial and error attempts failed and I had to look at how the letters interacted with each other. This made it much easier and I quickly found one of those 256. I have not searched for lots more as I won't be able to remember what I have done before. The next challenge with the constraint of having alike letters touching was much more difficult but still a pleasurable experience. Challenge 3 nearly had me giving up - fill the tray leaving gaps in two diagonally opposite corners. I tried to be clever and look at the best way to pack tightly and leave a voxel free in those corners. Well, me being clever usually ends in disaster and I was not disappointed. I spent a good 45 minutes trying the same thing over and over again and it would not work. I then tried something else that was much less clever and this ended in the solved puzzle. I retrospectively entered the pieces into Burrtools to look at the solution set for this challenge and was interested to see that the tightest interaction that could leave a corner empty is not one of the solutions - have I said that this man is a genius? He perfectly led me astray and made me waste my time on something impossible! Challenge 4 was going to be impossible for me and I decided to try for the anti slide challenge. Take 2 sets of ICE and put them in the tray in such a way that none of the pieces can slide.

I have only played with a few anti slide puzzles before and have found that I just do not have the skill set to solve them. Many people at IPPs have loved them and a few have been entered into the design competition. I have played and failed before. But Alex has challenged me and I had to at least try. The problem here is that the pieces are all quite open and the tray quite big when you are only using 2 sets of pieces. I was very surprised at how much fun this was. I initially had pieces freely sliding in an ocean of space and then worked to get them tangled. Progress is very much stepwise as I found that changing positions of some pieces sort of locked bits up but not enough to prevent them all from sliding. I gradually worked my way through moving more and more pieces until there was a big Aha! moment. I had solved my first anti slide puzzle and it was good! I doubt that this will become a favourite genre but it's definitely worth a try and a big bonus as an additional challenge in a tray packing puzzle.

I still have a whole bunch of these to try and a few will always be in my work bag to be taken out during a quiet time. Thank you Alex for a wonderful gift and restoring my faith in my abilities!

Brass Monkey Sixential Discovery Puzzle (BM6)
Yes, it has arrived and the preorders close today. If you want the chance of a slightly early arrival and free shipping then get to the Two Brass Monkey site quickly and place your order. Allard loved his experience of solving the prototype. I have spent a several hours on mine and have not even found the first step (sigh, I am not very bright!) There is a lot of interesting stuff to be seen and it is going to be a huge challenge.

If you wait then it goes on sale formally on February 4th.

Sunday 14 January 2024

Gravitational Burr

A Burr That’s Also a Maze

Gravitational Burr by Junichi Yananose
Gorgeous wood!
Well, what a way to start the year! First, I start on the amazing PicoLock and now I have a stunning and fun chunk of wood sent all the way from t'other (getting in touch with my inner Yorkshireman) side of the world.

This beauty has been made from a rather gorgeously grained American Black Walnut and Juno has mixed and matched the light grained pieces with the dark to make something arrestingly beautiful (I am a sucker for lovely wood) and the fact that it is a fabulously tactile 117mm across in each direction makes for a really nice thing to play with. The only downside is that my Juno puzzle collection is currently stuffed into 2 shelves of my Billy bookcases and this (plus the equally stunning Dual Meanders Box I also received) will now no longer fit in that space and I will need another reconfiguration.

Looking at it, you would think: "so what! It's just another 6 piece burr. Surely everything interesting has been done with this type of puzzle?" You might be right about that as I have multiple burr sets and am always on the lookout for more but this is NOT "just" a 6 piece burr. Juno has added a ball bearing inside and a track for it - therefore it is a 7 piece burr and the seventh piece needs to move around inside to allow the other 6 to move.

In fact, it is even more amazing than that. It is actually a level one 6 piece burr with a solid key piece which Juno has made into a level 2 one by having a tiny locking move that needs to be pushed to allow the key piece to slide. The locking mechanism is held firm by a pair of magnets. Once the key piece is unlocked then the first movements are possible and it quickly becomes clear where the name Gravitational burr" came from. You cannot initially see the ball bearing but you know it is there and the only way to manipulate it is to rock the puzzle side to side or turn it over and over. It is clear when the bearing has moved because you can hear it click to a new position. It is only after 4 moves that you can actually see the ball bearing and at this point a small part of the track/maze that it is in can be seen.

4 Moves in and the BB with some maze is revealed
Having found the bearing, I return to the beginning and try it again - it is weirdly satisfying just rolling the ball around and controlling where it goes by holding the key piece tight and clamping the ball in place and not allowing it to roll or fall until I was ready. I found a choice at the 5th move and I carried on deeper into the maze. After a few more moves I lost my courage and returned to the beginning again...except I couldn't get back to the beginning! GULP! Lost already? I knew that I was in good company because Goetz had got himself into the same difficulty. It was a little early for a full on panic and I just wiggled it about in every direction I could whilst manipulating the movable piece and, after a rather fraught 10 minutes, it was back at the beginning again. Phew! I was unable to play with this whilst Mrs S was around. She often takes the piss out of me for listening to puzzles and she very rarely will sit in silence - there is always radio or music or TV on around her and if it's too loud or too distracting then I cannot tell where the bearing is going.

I carried on with my exploration and found another pathway and all of a sudden my ball bearing was peeking out at me in a different part of the maze on a new section of the puzzle. How on earth did I get there? Back-tracking was really hard as I hadn't been really paying attention to orientation as well as piece position and I must have missed an opening. It took me a whole evening to return to the start.

Time to think©! Ouch! I could see that this was going to be rather complex and maybe I was going to have to draw a maze pathway. I started off doing just that and quickly came to the conclusion that my mapping skills weren't going to work. The problem for me and the fun part of this puzzle is that it is not just a is a maze and to make it extra fun it was a dynamic maze because the pathways moved with the key piece and parts that are blocked become available to explore only at certain positions. On top of this, the bearing needs to be moved by gravity making it impossible to randomly find your way through. I would go as far as to say that randomly exploring will get you into trouble as you will almost certainly get lost and then be in trouble.

Oh, the think©ing hurt me bad this time. I suspect that designing a hidden maze inside a burr using Burrtools might not be that difficult for an expert but that would almost certainly lead to a puzzle that required a lot of random moves and luck to get through - it would not be a good puzzle. Here Juno shows his true genius - with the Gravitational burr, Juno had designed the maze in such a way that once the initial confusion of manipulating the bearing and it popping up in odd places has been overcome, then the think©ing makes you realise that he is showing you different bits of the maze as you go. First you see the top of the key piece, then you see the sides of the key piece and later, a bit by surprise, you get a peek inside the body of the burr and see pathways on the fixed walls of the cavity. Each time you see a bit more it opens up a possible section for use. 

In the end, I actually deliberately worked my way through the pathway section by section until all of a sudden the key piece is in a very extended position to allow the extraction of other parts and full disassembly of the burr. Again, the genius of Juno is shown by the presence of a magnet which holds the ball bearing in place so that it doesn't fall out and get lost in the furniture or swallowed by a cat. In retrospect, I realised that magnet also held the bearing in place at the start of the puzzle - there is no rattle if you listen to the closed puzzle.

All 6 (7) pieces and Juno's stamp is revealed.
Once the puzzle is in pieces then the true genius is on show and you can look at the complexity of the pathway. Not really a spoiler but if you don't want to see the key piece detail then don't click the show hide.

Now it was time for reassembly. Juno has provided a quick assembly method which doesn't use the maze at all - there is a big cavity in one of the pieces where you can store the bearing and just assemble the 6 piece burr without it.

Ball in the hole and then assemble the burr for a level 2 puzzle
As usual, I had not paid attention properly to the positioning of the pieces and which order they came out in. Have I told you before that I am truly awful at assembly puzzles? To my eternal shame, it took me several hours to reassemble the burr without using the maze. Blush

Once I had worked out the burr assembly I was then able to deliberately work out my sequence of moves whilst able to see inside the puzzle and plan out the true reassembly. It took me about an hour to work it out and be certain of the sequence and orientation. Such fun even when you can see everything in place.

This puzzle is a masterpiece! It looks gorgeous, it looks simple and has layer upon layer of complexity and is definitely not solved by chance. It requires initial blind exploration followed by a reveal or 2 or 3 and then definite planning of your moves. Finally the reassembly is not just a simple backtrack - I wanted to truly understand it in its' entirety and that took some time and a lot of fun. Thank you Juno!

The Dual Meanders Box is waiting for me and after just a tiny bit of exploration, I have to say that it frightens me a lot - there are 506 moves to open it!

Are you a Brass monkey fan? You should be! The BM puzzles are amazing. The 6th Brass monkey burr has just gone up for preorder/early bird sale! The previous 5 were amazing and this is set to be the very best yet. Go buy it now.

Brass Monkey 6 preorder information

Sunday 7 January 2024


Definitely Not a Trillionth (10-12) of a Puzzle!

PicoLock from Boaz Feldman
It's beautifully presented
Ouch! Allodynia after surgery is a bit of a bugger! It is not helping me solve puzzles! It is very hard to prevent clothing touching your groin whilst sitting or moving or doing much of anything. I'll leave you with an image of me maybe solving puzzles naked to try and decrease my pain! 🤣🤣🤣😈

I watched as a bunch of people picked up the latest locks from Boaz Feldman and always intended to buy them for myself. This was especially reinforced when Allard reviewed both Loophole and the PicoLock and really seems to enjoy them. But with me being me, I kept buying gorgeous wood and kept running out of money before I bought the new shiny locks. Eventually, I managed to save up enough cash and quickly sent it to Boaz before any more wood showed up and both the latest puzzle locks arrived at the beginning of December. I took my customary photos and set to work on the Loophole first (encouraged by Allard's review) and having failed to turn the key I looked elsewhere and, you guessed it, failed to find anything else! Yep so far I have found NOTHING useful. I put it down and played with a few other shiny things that had arrived at roughly the same time and then, having been coshed by Tramadol, stopped solving anything for a little while. I put the locks aside on my newly cleared desk for later investigation.

Then, just before New Year's eve a bunch of us attended Peter Hajek's End of year Puzzle Party (EPP) and had to show off our favourites from 2023. A few people did mention the PicoLock as in their top three from the year and with the sheer calibre and experience of these puzzlers, I was very quickly enticed back to the locks. This time I decided to try and decrease my frustration and try the PicoLock. I had been Think©ing about the Loophole but my mind was blank.

PicoLock is a standard Nabob padlock from Israel which has been obviously tampered with. There is a hole in the side through which you can sort of see into the keyway and on the opposite side something has been drilled and filled. Boaz always provides the key on one of those wire keyring things keep it safe. 

Yes, I know that it won't be helpful but I have to do it - I put the key into the lock and turn. We all know that it won't be helpful but if we don't do it then those pesky voices won't stop muttering in the back of your head ("maybe it might to something or maybe you might learn something"). I probably should worry about those voices in my head! I turned the key and.... it wouldn't turn! Not entirely unexpected. Time to inspect it properly and see what you can see/do. I often use the light on my phone to illuminate holes etc and as a man of a certain age, use the magnifier function of the phone to be able to properly see inside said holes. Not terribly helpful. Poking at the holes with the tip of the key and my fingernails is not helpful and I'm beginning to worry that it will be another total failure. 

As is pretty common for me, I completely ignore what I have already learned (Mrs S says it is because I am not terribly bright and I can't argue with her) and I reinsert the key into the keyway and this time it turns. Huh!!!! Why now? Some further fiddling revealed something interesting and gives a hint of what Boaz might have done. He's a sneaky bugger! This interesting thing starts me on some of my usual tricks to try on locks and for a very long time, I couldn't to anything until, Aha! I could do something. It was only a small thing I did but it opened up a very unusual step. In fact, I don't think I have ever seen a puzzle lock do that before. After this unusual step, I received a tool and had no idea what to do with it. I was stuck for a while. Time to Think© yet again... Ouch!

At this point, I realised that something special might be possible (no clues here!) The next part of the sequence was classic Boaz - stuff was hidden from you in very clever ways and only Think©ing would find it. I then found another wonderful thing which led to a really clever manoeuvre - in fact, I really cannot believe that he managed to do what he did. After the best part of a day of play, I had an open lock and a huge grin on my face:

There really are NO spoilers here
I can see why this was in the top three puzzles of 2023 for several puzzlers. It is fabulous! I was significantly helped by buying and paying with two at the same time. There is a subtle difference between them that gave me a little clue for one of the steps. You definitely need to buy two puzzles to help Boaz and definitely help yourself with a clue.

I think this might be one that I might take to work to show off to colleagues. I think the orthopods in particular might appreciate the metalwork that has been created here.

If you live in the Americas then it may be easier for you to buy it/them from PuzzleMaster here and here.