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.

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