Saturday, 18 May 2019

Brass Monkey Three

A couple of weeks ago Big-Steve and Ali (aka Two Brass Monkeys) thrust something into my hand and refused to take any folding stuff in return, so I guess that would make this a sponsored posting – so you probably shouldn’t trust anything I say from here onwards!

Get one – you will like it!

In case you’ve been napping for about a year, Big-Steve and Ali decided they were going to produce a series of about 6 or so brass burrs that all sort of looked alike… but would be pretty different beasts. The sort of thing you could line up on a shelf and have muggles ask you why on earth you had 6 copies of the self-same thing in your collection (assuming that isn’t actually your thing!). Of course, when you start playing with them, it would become apparent rather darn rapidly that they’re anything but identical…

We’ve already seen One and Two, this is Three, and true to their word, it looks just like the others. (OK, that’s not quite true! If you look closely at the ends of the pieces, the number of markings identifies the variant – this one has a central dot and two rings – so it’s number three. Simples!)

Get one – you will like it!
Now you’ll recall the first one was the standard burr with a key piece – find it and the thing pretty much disassembles itself… number two was trickier… and number three continues that pattern – it’s even trickier

I spent quite a while turning the big lump of brass around in my hands, pushing and prodding various things in various directions – tugging a bit harder – heck I even tried spinning the sucker at one point. (No, I drew the line at blowing on it.) 

I managed to find something interesting on my travels around brass-lump-land, but couldn’t work out how to use it properly – and that ended up taking me quite a while – and even once I’d more or less decided what I wanted to do, it still took me a while to actually do it. This thing demands accuracy on a par with the superb machining. 

Oh, and don't ever expect a standard, boring notching pattern from the boys - there's always a gentle little sting in the tail from them.

There’s an obvious additional challenge for the truly brave/stupid out there – and I’m sure that several people with dive on in – I didn’t, because I’m a wimp – feel free to tell me you did in the comments section… and what havoc you wreaked in the process!

The boys are really turning this into a smashing little set of puzzles – can’t wait to see what they do next. They’ve proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that they can do pretty much anything they want with these lumps of brass already… who knows where this will end up!

Get one – you will like it!

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Wil’s King’s Day Puzzle Party 2019

This one started with a little more excitement than I’d have preferred!

Gill was rather kindly dropping me off at the airport first thing in the morning and I’d offered to pay for the parking so she didn’t need to get out in the rain... on the way to the pay station I discover I’ve left my wallet at home - no cash, no cards - but I’ve got a passport and a boarding pass... Gill lends me her cash card and some sterling and I engage brain, arguably a little later than I should have that morning!

Once through security I used Gill’s card to draw some Euro’s and reassess the situation... it’s probably OK - you’re just missing a bit of a security blanket... My mind settles down quite a lot when I recall that I’ve stashed a pile of Euros in my carry-on, so I’m not totally skint anyway.

The flight gets delayed a bit ‘cos it’s blowing a hoolie and we do indeed bounce around a little on the way up, and down... the train ride to Eindhoven is a lot less bumpy and I actually managed get a couple of blog posts typed up on the old iPad. (Good news!!! More drivel on the way!)

Louis finds me at the station, I get checked in at my hotel and we wake Wee-Steve up (he’s had an early start to the day apparently, so he’s grabbing some zeds in the early afternoon). Louis hooks us up with some lunch at chez Coolen and we get a little puzzle-time in before Mieke and Laura arrive back from scouting the King’s Day flea markets.

We all pile into the Coolen-mobile and head over to the next town for a seriously impressive escape room at The Space... we don’t quite manage to avert the start of World War III (sorry about that!) - but we did get pretty damn close to it... The Launch is definitely to be recommended - the production is incredibly good, we literally all found ourselves staring at the set in awe at one point - they’re set up in an old grain silo and you will pretty much convince yourself you’re in a Cold War ICBM silo... it’s good! If you’re ever in the neighbourhood of Veghel, go there!

After causing World War III, the Coolens treated us all to a superb dinner and Wee-Steve discovered just what Schnitzel is and that Carpaccio isn’t a cold soup. We all learned a lot that day!

After dinner Louis dropped Wee-Steve off at the hotel again then, he & I spent a few more hours puzzling among Louis’ treasure trove. I got to spend some quality time on Free Me 3 & 6. (6>>3 FWIW) before Louis dropped me back at the hotel to crash before the main event on Sunday... the short drive through to Venlo-ish.

At breakfast Wee-Steve gives me a brief update on the Jabberwocky project (currently 3 years into a one-year project, things aren’t going quite as quickly as he or the other participants would prefer, but things just take a lot longer than you think they will - someone really should have warned him about that! - and he’s being kept quite busy with stuff for his wedding and his exchange puzzles - in case you’re interested).

Louis collects us and we head more or less through the centre of the city (skirting some of the evidence of the massive party the night before!) before finding the motorway to Venlo - to the home of the puzzles.

We get there a little early and find we’ve arrived at exactly the same time as Jan Willemstad, so we get to catch up a little before the hordes descend... seems he’s enjoying his semi-retirement and we manage to grab a few snaps of Wil’s pristine living room - with room to walk between things and admire the puzzles and everything... he’s been up until 2am tidying up in honour of our visit - we are indeed honoured!

Look very carefully to spot puzzles
The first round of coffees and tart (there is always a LOT of tart!) are almost underway when the rest of the gang begins arriving...

Frans has brought me a copy of an old Endo-San puzzle that he’s ended up with a spare -I happily exchange it for some folding puzzles. The shopping has officially begun!

Wil invites me to trawl through a few piles of books he’s discovered while he was clearing out what he has begun referring to as 'the flea market': one of the rooms crammed with puzzles which yielded a wonderful trove of puzzles he’d totally forgotten about.... one of them, Tangram Plus entertains Louis and I later that evening for a while... in fairness, it entertained Louis briefly, and “entertained” me for ages, until Louis gave me a couple of helpful nudges in the right direction - it is an EXCELLENT puzzle - a true Coffin challenge - and well worth picking up if you ever spy a copy anywhere.

The weather obliges yet again this year and we’re able to spend most of the day indoors or outdoors, depending on where the best puzzles / chat are.

Wil has left a momento from his last MPP trip (a sign asking for a good five quid contribution unless you had to fly to get there!) inside the guest loo, but ever the un-observant one, he needs to point it out to me late in the day...

Louis, “assisted” by several folks, spent a while trying to find a specific solution for a hexagonal tray-packing puzzle that Wil had found - it had pieces in four colours and we’d posited that there might be a solution that didn’t allow any blocks of the same colour to share an edge... sadly by the end of the evening, the assertion remained unproven, so I made a mental note to see if BurrTools might be able to advise on the possibility or otherwise - if only to stop my mate wasting his time searching for something that literally does not exist.

Oskar had brought along a large bag full of recent creations - all of which looked throughly bonkers (in a GOOD way!) to this non-cuber. In fairness the closest thing to a standard cube in there was a massive Gear Cube... the rest were all pretty impressive geometric shapes, several of them being hollow or skeletonised. Oskar was wonderfully generous with his time and spent ages talking to all comers about the particular nuances or challenges of a particular mechanism, of pointing out niceties designed into these beasts that casual observation might not spot... he’s clearly on another level altogether!

In addition to keeping us well watered and tarted throughout the day, Wil laid on a seemingly endless spread for lunch...some of us literally lunched for hours - something we may have regretted when we ended up at the traditional Chinese dinner after things had wound down for the day.

In spite of the fact that Big-Steve and Ali haven’t been able to join us for the day, there’s ample evidence of them there - from the Brass Monkey on display in the centre of Wil’s display shelving through to the box of tongue depressors helpfully balancing behind the radiator at the front door, just in case you need one urgently on the way in or out of Wil’s place - very thoughtful!

Everyone spends a good part of the day at Wil’s raking through the myriad of plastic crates filled with puzzles and novelties - in search of treasure to add to the collection. I managed to find a couple of gifts for the boys back home and a sold brass copy of a Mine disentanglement that I’d been on the lookout for. Against my better judgement I also picked up a few egg-shaped Japanese dexterity puzzles - I’m rubbishy at them, but I know a couple of puzzlers who occasionally visit who are absolute whizzes at them, so hopefully they’ll leave them solved next time they visit. (Hint. Hint.)

Goetz spent a while playing with a large disentanglement puzzle that had “somehow” become somewhat(!) attached to the handle of a Hales Pentagon case... each was solvable in their own right, they’d just been joined at the hip, as it were, which ended up making both rather ungainly -but still a good deal of fun!

A couple of us found ourselves examining a pair of wotsits in the flea market, one of which turned out to be a Russian pocket circular slide rule - something none of us had ever seen before, and a couple of minutes later Google popped up a set of instructions for using that specific model... quite impressive for such an unusual little item.

A fairly restrained day’s puzzle shopping, especially by previous standards - add to that the fact that several puzzlers around the world had saved me quite a lot of money by outbidding me on the Haubrich auction and this had turned into a less expensive weekend than it might have been... and I had an awesome time with my mates - priceless!

Somewhere around 6pm we all decamped to the local Chinese for dinner - most of us car-pooled and Rob rode there on his very English packing puzzle velocipede - probably something we said!

As per standard practice, there were plenty of puzzles around the table between the multitude of courses (all excellent as usual!) - Wil had given everyone a copy of Vladimir’s Dodecagon symmetry challenge - find 7 symmetric shapes using the three pieces - and there was a healthy challenge between the different ends of the table to produce all of them. I was not particularly helpful to my end of the table and I suspect that we came soundly second.

Rik had me totally confused during and after dinner with his arithmetic series puzzle on a beermat- I needed a lot of help to finally work that one out! I am not good at spotting patterns right in front of my snout, it seems.

After dinner a few of us went back to Wil’s for YET MORE puzzling (and a nap in Wee-Steve’s case - several actually - we kept waking him up and offering him coffee, to no avail).

Nick's favourite clock
Settling up my account for the day I found that I actually had some Euros left after all the excitement of leaving my wallet behind... serious restraint!

Somewhere around midnight Louis drove us all back to the hotel... another wonderful King’s Day weekend in Eindhoven and Venlo lives up to massive expectations... thanks guys! Hopefully I’ll be able to repay your generosity one of these days.

MPP in June anyone?

Thursday, 2 May 2019

PMPP 2019 seems this blog is turning into me writing about my puzzling gatherings again... and this one will be another of those...

A couple of weeks ago Nick was in town for the Red Bull Escape Room World Champs, and he had some time free the day after it all wrapped up, so he invited a couple of us to partake in a little recreational (i.e. non-championship!) escaping. He’d booked a session at the Crystal Maze Experience in London and a gang of us duly met up at the appointed hour via coffees at Mickey Dee’s and my attempts at walking right past the place - Nick spared my embarrassment by yelling at me as I walked on by...

...a trinket, not THE Trinket
Our suitably camp Mazemaster arrived and introduced himself as Trinket (or Barry for the TripAdvisor review if you didn’t like him! - He looked like a Trinket though...) and started by getting everyone in a suitably silly mood with some wonderfully dubious banter as he got to know us a little. Once that was done, we were whisked (jogging!) into the bowels of the maze, winding our way from Olde England, sliding into the Aztec zone (with real sand on the ground), floating through the future in space (the sight of Ali riding a dodgy-looking thrusting pink “rocket ship” will remain with me for a very long time), the industrial zone, and finally getting our minute’s glory in the dome trying to catch bits of gold foil... much silliness and a whole heap of fun - even if we didn’t even come close to troubling the leaderboard at all!

From there we hopped on the tube to Shepherds Bush (insert own joke here) for a quick bite to eat before attacking “Sherlock, The Game is Now!”. By then we had accumulated sufficient folks for two teams and we separated into a serious team and a slightly less serious team... no prizes for guessing that I wasn’t on the former! Our team was made up of Nick, Anne, Ali, Steve and I - and after most of us had done the Time Run escapes created by the same team, we were really looking forward to this one... and the initial impressions certainly didn’t disappoint! 
We started in what appeared to be a perfectly normal shop front for a service business - the attention to detail had been superb, with signage, posters and marketing material all themed with a wicked sense of humour for anyone looking at the little details... an anteroom literally looked like it could have been lifted straight out of the TV-series set and then we lurched into the game itself, where the rooms (5 parallel sets of them!) were incredibly well-dressed, and each (for there were several) had plenty of seriously whizz-bang technology- it was clear that no expense had been spared - it was definitely on a par with the Time Run production values. If I could have one grumble, it would be that a couple of times you find yourself up against a task to get a bunch of things all answered, before you can progress, and you only get a clue as to whether you’ve passed or failed when you enter the final answer - and then you’re greeted with a pure binary response... no clues as to which element might be wrong... and that got a little frustrating, especially when one of them seemed to be giving encouraging feedback all the way through only for us to be told we were wrong. 
Unfortunately we didn’t manage to escape, but had managed to have a crack at all of the puzzles at least. In the wonderfully themed pub afterwards we had our free drinks and caught up with the other crew who’d literally smashed it.  Talking to them about one of the final puzzles that had stumped me, I wasn’t embarrassed given the solution required, and well-impressed that they’d managed to bash through it so quickly... these guys really are good!

Most of the visitors then headed off for yet more escape rooms - in fact some of them literally toured the UK over the next week visiting some escape rooms that had been recommended on a particular forum...

Later that week, after many,many more escapes, Nick and Anne dropped by to visit for a couple of days so we took them off to Stratford-upon-Avon for a wander through the old historic town with its many rather wonky buildings, a Shakespeare-themed escape room, a visit to the MAD Museum, dinner at E. Moon’s and then an interesting gender-bending production of The Taming of the Shrew at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Next day saw a walk in the woods with the hounds and breakfast in the village before some gentle puzzling at home, Nick got to play with a few puzzles he hadn’t managed to spend quite enough time on at home and ended up solving them all... we got caught up on the book and what still needed doing and managed to pull a few of the final remaining pages together.

Bright and early next morning we fed the tourists before heading down the motorway to Devon and the bustling metropolis of Luppitt. We made pretty good time in spite of the holiday traffic and found a bunch of puzzlers already making merry in the Puzzle Museum.

Steve and Ali shoved something heavy in my hand and refused to accept anything in return. (On a totally unrelated note, you WILL want to get a copy of the new Brass Monkey 3!) I collected a package of little Japanese puzzling goodness freshly off an aircraft... a bunch of new puzzles already in hand and I’d literally only been there a few minutes.

Through in the inner sanctum there were quick introductions and Nick seemed vaguely impressed with the set-up... truth be told, I didn’t see his initial reaction, but if he wasn’t impressed, I’ll eat my Panama!

Chinny’d asked James for some pics of the internals of a family of puzzles he’s currently researching... James had already sent him the pictures but decided he should leave the reassembly to us... so we were greeted by a large pile of pieces all helpfully mixed together... in fairness there was a pretty solid clue as to which bits went together, in the woods they were made of. Ali steamed through a bunch of them, I managed to contribute a pair of them and so did Big-Steve... when they were done, Chinny had asked us to attack another family and we duly dived in... 
...although it later transpired that I don’t know my Triacontahedrons from my Dodechedrons (or frankly my R’s from my elbow!) and Ali and I ended up disassembling and photographing 4 things already rather well-known to the Chin-meister... we had some fun, but it wasn’t any use at all to Chinny - it just terrified the heck out of Ali, Big-Steve and I - so not a total loss then!

James and Lindsey provided a fantastic spread for lunch yet again, although it always seems difficult to attract puzzlers away from the puzzles just long enough to actually take some fuel onboard.

Big-Steve and I spent a while in the afternoon photographing a set of Jean Bihourd jigsaws for Jim - we definitely got the right puzzles this time and Jim was suitably chuffed when I sent the files through to him the next day - at least one of my missions for the day had been successful!

Ethel and Simon had each brought along a crate of goodies for the assembled masses to rake through and I managed to find a couple of little things I’d been looking for in Ethel’s crate, so I swapped them for a little pile of paper.

One of James’ visitors had brought along a puzzle stool (please don’t insert your favourite joke here!) he’d made when he was but a youth... and twenty years later it managed to keep several stout puzzlers at bay for more than an hour - they got it in the end and then enjoyed discussing the elegance of the mechanism with its creator.

During the course of the day I discovered a new set of folding puzzles from Kohfuh which I’m looking forward to having a serious crack at when I get a chance to do some gentle puzzling myself... 
The English weather threw us a serious curve-ball that weekend - catching all of us out by being wonderfully sunny, in spite of the fact that it was a Bank Holiday weekend! So good it was, that we spent quite a while out in the garden launching pneumatic rockets skywards, and then spending a little while in between shots trying to find the errant little rockets among the trees and shrubs at the edge of the garden - serious pop-whizzzzzzz stuff!

During the course of the afternoon Rich decided he wanted a go at Richelieu... except that en route to Richelieu he spotted Goliath, so Goliath duly got stripped down into many pieces which he then thoroughly mixed up (without the need for any of us to encourage him or do some of it for him!). 
During the course of the afternoon Goliath went together bit by bit, with Rich occasionally looking at a piece in his hand, realising he needed to backtrack a bit and duly tearing it all down again... my series of pics of the progress were a bit confusing given the not-altogether-linear-nature of his progress... when I left he was pretty close, and Michael duly sent me evidence that Rich had indeed triumphed over Goliath shortly after I’d left for home.