Saturday, 23 August 2014

IPP - part, the first.

Well IPP probably doesn’t officially start until Thursday, but we’re all in the hotel and ready to go on Wednesday, so this is when IPP really starts for me…

Gill leads the IPP Fabulous Fun Fabric & Fibre tour that leaves from the hotel bright and early on the Wednesday morning. Their coach takes them on a tour of three fabulous & fun yarn, fabric and haberdashery stores around London with a stop around lunchtime for the hungry shoppers to replenish their energy levels. Gill counts the trip as a huge success, not only has she found some interesting new stuff for future crafting projects, she also manages not to lose any of the folks she started the day with – Result!

The boys in our bunch all congregate in the lobby before we head off into London for the room escape we have booked for around noon. We realise that things aren’t going that smoothly when we start getting messages from Nick that he’s been a bit delayed … in fact he’s sitting on a plane at Heathrow when we get the first message. Subsequent messages tell the story of him getting off the plane first, making it past 200 folks in the queue for Customs and then managing to grab a cab for the hotel. When he walks through the entrance we erupt in cheers and after handing his case to the concierge, and changing his shirt he heads off into town with us in search of a room to escape from. 

At about the same time we get emails from Brian and Kellian, who’re coming into London by train from Paris, saying that they missed their train, and then got delayed… in spite of all of that adversity, we all meet up at HintHunt HQ in time for the briefing to begin. We've booked two different rooms for teams of 5 each and before we start the escapes there’s a bit of inevitable trash-talking and competitiveness between the two teams who fundamentally can’t compete. 

We all end up having a brilliant game, with the experienced guys (some of whom have done several room escapes in the US, Canada and even Beijing!) having just as much fun as the neophytes (me!). We had great fun literally trashing the rooms in search of clues and answers to the riddles we found. Solving puzzles along the way and even having to open a few puzzle boxes. 

Both teams ended up escaping from their respective rooms – although we ended up finishing with a mere 55 seconds on the one hour countdown clock… brilliant fun and well worth a visit if you’re in London. 

From there we took the tube up to Camden for some lunch at Lock 17 before heading down to Village Games where we bumped into Otis. Village Games manages to cram an incredible variety of puzzles and games into a really tiny little shop. 

From there we wandered across to the market itself as some of the guys had found some interesting looking Japanese puzzle boxes with a Union Jack on the front. Jim and Jeff each bought a copy and we didn’t manage to convince the lovely young lady in the shop to bring some through to the hotel for us (pity, she could probably have sold a heap of them in the lobby!) – I did manage to get one from their web-shop after IPP though… :-)

After a round of ice-cream cones, some of us headed back to LHR on the tube and then went through registration while I sorted out my duties for the next afternoon. 

Dinner was back at the Three Magpies again and this time we had a waiter who spotted the puzzles on the table and got really interested and seemed amazed when we told him there’d be three or four hundred of the world’s most serious collectors in the hotel across the road. 

Back in the hotel lobby the girls, under Lesley Wiltshire's creative direction, ran an impromptu needle-felting workshop and soon had the Bexfield girls merrily creating a mallard and a dinosaur – they seemed to enjoy it and next day they arrived with a bagful of felting supplies sourced en route to the hotel via a quick visit to Hobbycraft. Methinks the SOAPs are winning friends and teaching new crafts… 

At one point Jeff hauled out Jack (it’s a card game!) and proceeded to teach Brian and Louis the rules and then stepped back and watched them play… I watched from a distance, listening to the verbalised logic and realising that I really wasn’t paying enough attention to keep up. I sat fiddling with a copy of Cast Galaxy that a friend had thrust into my hands earlier that evening – I got nowhere on that either!

Highlight of the evening must have been finally meeting Mike Toulouzas and his lovely wife Margaret for the first time. I’ve been emailing Mike for a couple of years and we’ve chatted about what makes a good puzzle so much that I felt like I’d known him for ages, but it was great to finally meet him in the flesh… and even better to see how well Margaret and the rest of the girls got on as soon as they were introduced – Margaret loves sewing and crafts as much as the rest of them… ‘nuff said. 

The Greenhorn Hat began doing the rounds with Rox… it’s a ridiculously garish blue bowler hat, decorated with union jack ribbons and a pair of large green horns sticking out of it. (I can say it’s garish because Gill made it and it was intended to be as garish as possible!) 

The intention was that the hat would go around to every IPP-rookie (greenhorn!) twice and that every time they had it, they would need to talk to a non-greenhorn they didn’t know in order to pass it on… the veteran then passes it on to a rookie they don’t know yet, after they’ve introduced themselves and had a chat to them… cute idea to get everyone talking and give the new folks an excuse to chat to the big guns! Or that was the theory, but at the start it didn’t seem that Rox was very keen to pass the hat on. When we asked her why she said there weren’t any greenhorns around, which was quite amusing as there were a couple of them within spitting distance, and when we pointed that out, the hat began to shift rather rapidly.

On Thursday morning we met up in the lobby and headed into town for some sight-seeing. We hopped off the tube at Green Park and wandered through the park to Buck-house where the tourists spent a while taking pics of the palace and the Guardsmen leaving on horseback. There were huge crowds waiting for the changing of the guards so we headed down through St James Park and on to Whitehall where we hung around to see the fresh set of guards heading off back up to Buck-house. We followed Whitehall along to Westminster for some views of the Abbey and the Palace of Westminster before heading across the bridge to the London Eye. 

The guys had booked themselves on the Eye, so Gill and I wandered along the river for a spot of lunch while they enjoyed the views from a few hundred feet up before Gill went back to meet the others and I headed back to the hotel to help out on registration and photographing duties. I had a lot of fun at registration joking with my puzzling friends and making sure they were having a laugh while we took care of the business of getting them formally signed up. 

A quick trip back up to the room to get changed and find Gill (successfully back from London with all the tourists in tow!) before joining the several hundred-strong queue for the Founders’ Reception with the usual suspects.  We grabbed a table near the front when we were allowed in and hooked ourselves up with some food and drink before the speeches kicked off – Jerry gave the traditional welcome and made sure that the rookies felt specially welcomed and encouraged to chat to all of the veteran-IPPers. Laurie followed Jerry’s speech with a welcome from the host and the Greenhorn Bowler Hat began doing the rounds rather rapidly after that. 

I had a fun chat with Saul Bobroff who took Gill’s chair when she got up to go and have a chat with someone – she kissed me as she went off and Saul said “She’s a keeper” at which point I looked in the direction that Gill was leaving in and then looked at Saul and with a deadpan look said “Who the heck was that?”. Soon after that Laurie swiped my chair as I’d finished eating so I wandered around and found myself having a chat with Robert Sandfield and Perry McDaniel, discussing, of all things, finishing off puzzles using grocery bags…!

The Design Competition room was opened a little while later and it was immediately flooded with folks eager to get their paws on the latest and the greatest from the best designers and craftsmen in the world. Brian began his marathon attempt at solving every single puzzle in the Design Competition and I made a couple of lame attempts at solving some puzzles… I did manage to open Chinny’s stellated Pennyhedrons and I was quite chuffed with that. 

At one of the puzzle tables I ended up having a long chat with Tomas and Mikko about producing the Souvenir Book – I get some more ideas about just how big a job this is going to be… before I spend a while watching some folks trying to solve Peter’s Golden Ratio box. 

As usual there’s plenty of banter and abuse around the puzzling tables – I spend an absolute age trying to build a 5*5*5 cube out of a few simple pieces and fail miserably… one thing I do spot is a puzzle called Cross Links that looks a lot like Mike Toulouzas’ work and I make a mental note to ask him about it…

Friday is Exchange Day – or to give it its full name, the Edward Hordern Puzzle Exchange, in honour of the wonderful gent who first started the idea of exchanging puzzles when IPP was last held in London many moons ago. 

Louis rocks up at my room bright and early and a short while later we join the queue of folks waiting patiently outside the conference room with our two large cases full of books. Everyone’s chatting animatedly and the excitement is clearly building. 

We’re released into the room and soon 99 puzzlers are setting out their stands laden with 100 of their puzzles… one copy goes on the display table and then we’re more or less ready to begin the games. My table looks like a second hand book stall and today I’m giving away books…

Marti eyes out a book and sidles over before Laurie’s even done his opening remarks – Laurie explains the ground rules and then we’re off … 98 puzzle exchanges follow – you’re explaining your puzzles to others while listening to their schpiel, you exchange puzzles and take the obligatory pictures for posterity and move on to the next table, or wait for the next customer to rock up at your table… some of the puzzles look absolutely fabulous and I know I’m going to enjoy playing with them when I finally get a chance.

Louis and I stop for lunch along the way, pretty tired already – it’s pretty exhausting explaining your puzzle’s aim and the ground rules 90-odd times and I realise that there is no way in heck I’m going to remember the aims of all of these puzzles come the end of the session…

We finish with about half an hour to spare and Louis has done a stunning job of photographing every single exchanger with their puzzle, kept me in puzzles to exchange with others and lugged all my swag around for almost 6 hours… but I think he’s enjoyed himself, and managed to spot some interesting puzzles to look out for at the puzzle party the next day. 

I dump a shed-load of swag in the room before heading straight out again for the afternoon lectures. 

There are some great lectures in the afternoon and I particularly enjoy Simon and Steve’s presentation on Threedy printing, Peter’s talk on secret opening boxes and Angus Lavery’s talk on impossible card folding… and I learn a lot from Markus’ talk on solving disentanglement puzzles – which I’m  unusually rubbish at!

After the lectures I literally have five minutes to get changed, find Gill (who’s only just got back from a shopping trip with the girls) and get downstairs again for the banquet. There are a few tables of Renegades and MPP-folk and it’s terrific to see so many MPP shirts among the masses at the banquet. 

There aren't many speeches, but there are a couple of presentations that are quite special. Gary Foshee has been making the customary Host Gifts for many years now and he'd decided after he'd made this year's gift for Laurie he'd be retiring from that role... so the organisers had a special gift made for him - Brian Young presented him with a special version of The Opening Bat, made with leftovers and reject bits and pieces if Brian's speech was anything to go by - I suspect that he's added a fair number of new twists and "improvements" to Gary's version of the puzzle... 

And with that out of the way, Gary was allowed to present a beautiful Corian Big Ben puzzle to Laurie as a thank you for hosting this year's IPP in London...

The entertainment for the evening is headed by Colin Wright, a rather talented juggler. He pitched the performance just right when he noted that a huge number of folks in the audience juggle too. His routine was based around defining notation for juggling tricks and having described the basics, he then went on to demonstrate by getting the audience to make up a new juggling trick that he proceeded to perform(!). 

After the entertainment was over, we resorted to creating our own and Chris ended up giving the table a master class on solving and disassembling Ramisis puzzles… I faded pretty soon after that and ended up totally missing what I suspect were some world class close-up magic displays at the various tables.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Pre-IPP adventures

I warned you I was going to be a bit busy with some puzzling stuff so I wouldn’t be able to blog for a while…so it’s only fair that I tell you what I was up to…

Friday morning started with Gill and I turning chez Walker into a bit of a B&B for the folks who were about to rock up and stay for a few days. We toddled off to the airport for me to pick up a rental car (we needed a 7-seater for some of our outings) and to collect the Wiltshires arriving from their holiday in Scotland. Back at home we had lunch in the sun on the deck – how often do you get that in Blighty?!

When the Design Competition entries were posted a few days earlier I indulged in a bit of “spot the craftsman” and then at the airport I’d asked Peter if he’d used any roasted birdseye maple recently, whereupon he grinned and said “Maybe…”.  Over lunch he gave me a copy of his Golden Ratio Box as a thank you for putting them up for a few days – something I told him was fantastically generous but also rather trusting as he’d only just arrived! 

Over the previous couple of days I’d been co-ordinating with Ken (arriving T5 from USA) and Otis (arriving T3 from Beijing via Moscow) to get them to find each other in a strange airport (they’d never met!), navigate the Underground to get to Euston station, then grab a train out to Birmingham where I’d collect them… somehow all of that worked and I managed to find them at the train station back at the airport only slightly late in spite of some horrendous motorway traffic on the way there. 

I took Ken to his hotel (chez Walker being jam-packed already) to get checked in and then dropped Otis off at his B&B. As we walked into the B&B there was a familiar face sitting in the sun room and soon enough I was introducing Otis to Brian and Sue Young, Jim and Susan Strayer and Jeff Aurand. Otis was quickly assimilated into the merry puzzling bunch and they promised to take him out to dinner with them, so after a quick catch-up with the guys I hadn’t seen for a year, it was back to the hotel to collect Ken and head back home for dinner…

Jen and Neil arrived after a longer-than-planned drive down from Scotland and we warmed up some dinner for them and the inevitable puzzling chatter continued. A while later I took Ken back to his hotel and wandered off to the airport for the third time that day to collect Louis from his flight in from Amsterdam. Louis arrives with one huge case full of exchange puzzles (the second half of them) and a smaller case with clothes and other stuff he might need…priorities! :-)

A couple more hours of puzzling chatter ensue before I crash for the night – the others spend a few more hours chatting and puzzling…

Next morning we get the car packed up after breakfast just in time for the arrival of the foreign tourists staying down at the local B&B. Rox, and George Miller have arrived by now and she’s making sure that Otis is being looked after. The girls are all heading into Stratford upon Avon for a river cruise (which turns out to be rather damp, but judging from the pics, they manage to enjoy themselves anyway) and then lunch at The Four Teas (a 1940’s themed tea cafĂ© that we love in Stratford) while the boys head over to Warwick for…


We all convoyed out to Warwick, via Ken’s hotel to collect him – somehow I managed not to lose Brian and George who were following me. At The Gap we find a knot of puzzlers already gathered in the coffee area and introductions follow quickly. It doesn’t take long for the IPP-visitors and MPP first-timers to make new friends amongst all the old-time-MPP-ers.  Puzzlers are like that, I find. 

It’s great to see Dor and Yael have arrived under their own steam from London… Brian Young is dishing out laser-cut acrylic board burrs with strings attached and pretty soon everyone is wearing an interlocked pair around their necks! (Thanks Brian!) 

A little while later I head off to the station to collect Diniar and Marc from different stations, even though they were on the same train… :-) It’s a long story – and at least partly my own fault! We get them both back to The Gap where we’ve now taken over the main hall and the tables and chairs are all already set up and MPP16 is truly underway. 

Simon Nightingale has arrived in the meantime with the Toorenburgs – Louis’ presence is hard to miss. 

There is a huge amount of puzzling going on and Neil manages to shift every one of his copies of Iwahiro’s ODD puzzle and his Stickboy copies of the Stickman Domino Box to eager MPP-folk. (I suspect in the process disappointing some IPP-ers who might have been hoping to pick up a copy at IPP itself.) 
Derek, Michelle and Ann ended up spending most of the day at MPP too after their Welsh pre-IPP holiday.

Dale embarrassed me with a “simple” packing puzzle that I singularly failed to get anywhere close on before I gave up and passed it back to him. 

Jeff had brought along a copy of his Apothecary Chest drawers called Reversal of Fortune and I was rather gob-smacked at the end of the evening when he gifted it to me – I’d seen a few folks playing with it at MPP but hadn’t managed to have a go on it myself yet so that was a wonderful surprise. 
We took the obligatory (massive!) group photo that unfortunately has Rox and George missing as they snuck off for a jet-lag-induced nap earlier in the afternoon. 
It was great meeting some relative locals who hadn’t made it along to MPP before – hopefully they’ll be back…

There was plenty of fish and chips from the local chippy at lunchtime and everyone seemed to be pretty well-fed... I did my usual and just snacked all day, knowing just how much food there’d be that evening. 

Shane’s Parallelogram did the rounds with several folks enjoying it and making suitably impressed / amused noises. 

My bus-load snuck out a bit early in order to get Marc checked into his hotel and to set up for the BBQ back at my place. Gill and the girls had already got the obligatory bunting strung up and most of the stuff organised so all we really had to do was take out the rest of the garden furniture, set up the gazebo and the Weber and we were ready to start burning the meat that Gill had just collected from  the butcher (because there was no way in heck there’d be enough space in our little fridge for all that meat!). 

Folks began arriving and pretty soon the place was jumping with puzzlers … we were expecting 45 for the BBQ. The weather held off (probably because of the two gazebos we had out on the deck) and most folks ended up either in the lounge or out on the deck – and there was always someone chatting to the braai-master who ended up burning meat for a couple of hours. 

The pups had a great time with everyone cooing over them and giving them cuddles… and even chucking the occasional stick to the Ben-dog. 

The entire evening seemed to pass in a flash and from my perspective to be punctuated by food… first the meat and then the ice-cream and chocolate sauce. At one point during proceedings there was a minor panic when we thought we’d run out of meat (not usually possible at a South African braai!)- until we discovered a dish on the warming oven with about 30% of the meat that we’d somehow managed to overlook! Suffice it to say we were still eating leftovers on the Tuesday before we left for IPP …

I had to smile when I had to herd some puzzlers INTO the puzzle-cave before they left as they’d managed to totally avoid going upstairs… don’t think that’s ever happened before and says a lot about the attractions of the other puzzlers downstairs! 

Folks left at a pretty reasonable time so I could run the guys back to the hotel and get the place tidied up a bit before crashing for the night…exhausted, but happy. 

Top Secret 

Next morning the boys all got up early to head out to London for a Top Secret cryptic puzzle hunt. We collected Marc and Ken from the hotel and headed east, stopping at Oxford for some coffee and a bite to eat, and if I hadn’t headed back toward Brum in a moment of confusion after my Americano and shortbread, we might have made it on time to the mystery parking lot in north London we were heading for…

We managed to find the parking lot when we spotted a sign for a (apparently not-so-)Secret Bunker at more or less where we thought we were heading for… in the parking lot we spotted a number of puzzlers including Brett Kuehner so I knew we were in the right place. 

Soon enough Steve had us walking down a long pathway and into what looked like an old farmhouse … with a corridor leading off the front room that seemed to go on forever into the hill behind the farmhouse – this, it turns out, was a secret nuclear bunker that would house the command of the British military in the event of a nuclear attack – and we were going to be playing a puzzle hunt in it… how cool is that?!

Each team was given a set of booklets that had a map in them and we were assigned a room number and sent off to solve puzzles. Louis, Neil, Ken, Peter and I made up a team, with Marc joining Brett, Adin, Sophie and Tim to make up another.

We found the first room and set about solving the puzzle – a couple of puzzle boxes contained clues as to what to do with the huge black sheets of foam rubber with strange writing on them. For this puzzle we ended up making two cubes and then decoding the writing on some of the edges for the clues to solve… that ended up taking us quite a while as we grappled with what we were doing and then starting to get to grips with the code that used some pretty strange characters we hadn’t seen before. 

That set the tone for the rest of the day: find some puzzle boxes or clues, solve the codes and then solve the riddles they presented. Over the course of the day we found a stack of Japanese puzzle boxes, most of which we recognised by sight and handed to the person on the team who would open them quickest… one of the rooms had an ammo box secured by a padlock with a key on the hasp – we all yelled Danlock at the same time and had it opened in seconds, grinning furiously. 

One of the room had a pair of Byway Secret boxes with half of an MP3 player in each one – joined up they played Stairway to Heaven – one of the themes for the day – we had to find the words between those on our clue sheet, it turned out… only thing was the MP3 player would only let you skip to the end or beginning of the track, not fast forward or rewind within the track – so out came an iPhone and we could manipulate our copy with ease – clever eh?

We played our way through a virtual copy of the bunker (Neil’s gaming skills came in handy here!) and found where we’d be heading in the end-game …found a 3D-printed Barcode Burr that had digits on the inside of the pieces corresponding to the colours of the pieces, also the colours of the rainbow – the other main theme of the day. 

By the middle of the afternoon we’d completed all of the rooms and ended up outside in the sun eating crisps and chocolate having realised that we’d missed lunch altogether. By the end of the afternoon we were one of three teams who’d completed the rooms and solved all the puzzles to Steve’s satisfaction and we were set up for the end-game. Three teams in a head-to-head final challenge, with a staggered start based on the finishing time for the main tasks in the puzzle hunt. 

We ended up heading out first, sprinting up a never-ending Stairway to Heaven before opening a coded briefcase to get a key and map of the outside world. Sprinted down to the climbing wall where Louis put all those weekend climbing sessions to good use, dashing up the climbing wall, then flying down the zip line to grab a clue being held aloft by one of Steve’s helpers. It took us an embarrassing few minutes to work out where to go next before we all dashed off to the assault course to find an astronomer. Another coded clue (by now we’re virtually reading this strange script like English)  and we slew the telescope around to spot some pages on a board across several fields… so we run across the fields to find more clues to solve (read now) – they send us back across the fields to some trenches where we find a plunger, arm it and then watch a great big explosion which sends our winning certificate into the air – several exhausted high-fives follow before we head back to the astronomer to watch the next two teams fight it out for second place.

Our prize? The first two teams got a multi-coloured 3D-printed Barcode Burr to keep! 

Now I was too busy solving riddles and stuff all day to actually take any pictures, but one of Steve's mates was dashing around taking pics all day and his shots are over here.
Over a few drinks back in town we’re all pretty much agreed that it’s been an awesome day – and we’re all asking Steve to sign us up for the next one, but he’s not ready to agree he’s going to run another one, the pain and effort of all of the organising is clearly still a bit too close for that… I hope he gets over it because it was a pretty incredible event and the 40-or-so of us have had a brilliant day. 

Have to wonder what the real tourists thought of us playing with all the exhibits behind the roped off areas though…

An uneventful drive home with a stop for dinner along the way and I discover that we’ve damaged Ken in the process of running those final few legs – he’s done his ankle along the way and somehow still managed to keep up with the rest of us…

Monday and Tuesday pass by in a blur with some low-key puzzling, Louis and I finishing off the exchange puzzles – and realising that some of them need a little extra attention so all 130 of them get opened and tested and fixed if they need to… they’re all done on Tuesday by lunchtime, just in time for the drive down to Heathrow where we start spotting puzzlers in the lobby as soon as we arrive.
Dinner at the Three Magpies across the road from the hotel and then plenty of puzzling chatter in the lobby until late... IPP is about to begin…