Friday, 15 July 2016


[Let’s see what sort of weird traffic Google sends to my site this time!]
Several of my puzzling mates have been talking about Radek Micopulos’ hedgehog shop and I’d been meaning to get off my backside and put in an order for a while, and then a few weeks ago Oli brought around a couple of examples of Radek’s work and a few days later I’d put in my order – they look really good in the flesh!

Radek’s website has a bunch of interesting information about hedgehog puzzles in general, and if you speech Czech, it has a great little shop – now Google Translate will help you understand what’s in there and get a feel for the prices, but when you try placing an order, there’s no way to give it an address outside of the Czech Republic – which is a bit of blow if you happen to live in a village in England… a short email to Radek introducing myself and asking about the ordering process soon had me agreeing an order and sending across some PayPal… which of course arrived just as Radek was about to head out on a two-week holiday – but just over two weeks later, a delightful little package arrived in the Midlands countryside.

The Hedgehog Shop (not its real name, but I can’t resist, even if only to broaden the puzzles’ appeal to animal rights activists!!) has some wonderful variations on the theme – all of them really enticing and I ended up getting a few representative samples of the different sorts on offer, and I’m really glad I did… because when I say they’re variations on a theme – that probably puts them in too narrow a categorisation… :-) 

Spikeroller / Torpedo 

First up is probably widely known as a torpedo hedgehog although Radek's name of Spikeroller is probably more descriptive (you don’t often find torpedoes with spikey bits sticking out at odd angles, do you… do you?).

It’s a pretty well-known design that has been produced by stacks of other puzzle makers over the years… there is a standard solution that requires some careful observation and some wonderful manipulation in three dimensions – very satisfying stuff!

Original Hedgehog

As you might expect, Radek’s site has several variations on the standard spikey-ball-in-a-cage puzzle – I chose the fancy aluminium version that appears to have the cage spun from single piece of aluminium (very nice work) and a spikey-ball with a little secret inside it.  

This version similarly relies on observation and manipulation, albeit with an added little surprise that when you extract the spikey-ball, you’ll find it unscrews and hides a copy of a set of plans for a flying bicycle… why? I haven’t the foggiest, but it’s a lovely little whimsical surprise… and it’s all very beautifully made!

Oh and the special versions come snugly in a velvet drawstring bag inside a neat, branded protective can. Nice touch!

Gen Hedgehog

Now this one’s a little different...

The first clue is in the spiral bars on the cage – then you’ll spot an interesting slot in one of the ends of the cage… and then notice that the end is double-layered and the inner layer has a number of oddly spaced slots in it as well… 
Oh, and the ball has fewer spikes than you might be expecting…

Walk in the park?

Eh, no.

This one requires some thought and planning, and then a bunch of careful manipulation before you’re rewarded with a ball in one hand and a cage in t’other.

Lovely little sequence of moves in there…

Axis Hedgehog

If the Gen was a little different, this one’s from another (rather heavy-duty!) planet. Not only is the cage a much heavier affair, but each of the ends has an embedded (swivelling!) ball bearing race in it… giving it a brilliantly industrial look and feel – as well as a few extra little things to play with.

This one took me easily the longest to solve – I spent quite a while playing around with all the usual suspects on a puzzle like this and (enjoyably) got absolutely nowhere! The ball is clearly(!) too wide to get between the bars on the cage, and the spikes are too long to permit any sort of passage through or around the bearing races… so I decided that it was probably impossible – if only it weren't for that gnawing memory of a pic of Oli’s  with the ball perched on top of the cage…

Having decided it was impossible, oddly, released me to imagine exactly how it could be solved – et voila!

Definitely a puzzler’s puzzle!

Saturday, 9 July 2016


Two of ‘em!

From Jakub!


I’d been a bit remiss in ordering things from Jakub at the new Pelikan Workshop for a while and decided to remedy that a few weeks ago, and part of that order was a couple of balls…

First up was the Slideways Ball – beautifully presented on a golf tee perched on a little green (nice touch!) wooden base, complete with brass name plaque. Essentially it’s Ray Stanton’s Slideways cube that’s been Pelikan-ised, turning (!) it into a ball.

Having played with my copy of the cube, I understood the importance of getting the grip just right (or you’re pushing against yourself and going absolutely nowhere!). And it took me a long time to get the cube apart – in fact I had to rope in my Dutch super-solver at one point because it was so stiff that I thought it had got itself gummed up somehow – it had, a bit. Or at least that’s my story…

  So when I started playing with the ball I was very careful about how I held it and which way I pushed / slid things… and that helped as I managed to stumble upon the correct grip a few times – but once it’s all back together again, there is literally no clue to where the seams will emerge – beautifully made!

Next we have the multi-coloured Mochalov Ball – this puzzle started out life as the standard Mochalov cube #8 – which is an interesting assembly of 8 identical pieces that form a solid cube. The design’s been altered a little to make assembly and disassembly a bit more “interesting” – and forcing a sequential assembly where the original cube allowed you to pretty much start almost anywhere. 

Again, there’s the Pelikan-ising to produce a beautiful ball in mixed hardwoods. Looks lovely!

I spent ages poking and prodding and tugging at various bits of the ball until I finally found the key-piece and pulled it free… you really do need to tip your hat to the brilliant craftsmanship that produces a perfectly round puzzle with virtually no clues to where the first piece will come free. 

Once the first piece is out, you can deduce which pieces should be able to move next and progress sensibly until you’re left with a pile of interesting variations on the same basic piece-shape… which will force you to retrace your steps and reassemble everything in the same order, pretty much… stunning craftsmanship being sold at ridiculously good prices… well worth adding to your collection if you haven’t already got them!

Wednesday, 29 June 2016


Each year, just before Wimbledon starts, I try and entice Dick Hess into coming around for a day or two so that we can get the local puzzlists together for a gathering… he’s fallen for it a few times now… and last Friday I took the day off work so that I could collect him from the station and spend the day chatting about puzzles and tennis and life in general… Gill and I had a great day with him – and that evening we collected Louis from the airport which could only mean one thing: an MPP was in the offing... and sure enough, next morning the puzzlists descended on Puzzling Times HQ. 

MPP XXiii!

Gill left early on the Saturday morning to attend a workshop a friend was running in Alcester, leaving me to ready the house for the impending arrivals. 

I’d unwittingly arranged a bit of a test for the arriving puzzlists in the form of some major roadworks in our street that resulted in almost everyone having to negotiate some interesting detours, and then negotiate with a surly construction worker to allow them safe passage past the obstruction he was manning with strict orders to keep them out… they all made it through.

Apart form his usual mathematical challenges, Dick had carefully prepared a number of new puzzles to dish out to everyone – after last year’s Four Keys puzzle (which I’d done 90% of and needed Dick to restore the final key for me!) he brought us the Five Keys puzzle – consisting of – you guessed it – 5 differently shaped keys trapped on a trapeze – so far I’ve looked at it, confirmed that all five keys are currently attached and taken a pic of the solved state… and sometime in the next few days I shall embarrass myself by attempting to remove and replace the keys… it only took me the best part of a year last time… Thank you, Dick!

Shane had brought along a couple of prototype lock puzzles that several of us had a go at – and without exception, we were encouraging him to manufacture them and inflict them on a wider audience. 

Oli presented everyone with a 2 pence version of the obloid wobbler and they were duly rolled around to much amusement... cheers Oli!

Big Steve had brought along copies of a Wimbledon-themed Coffin-like 3D-printed puzzle for everyone – a lovely idea and rather generous of him… I didn’t get a chance to play with it until the following day and it’s a great variation on a theme that makes for a really interesting little puzzle: six identically-shaped pieces in three colours fit together to make a neat little rhombic dodecahedron – Thanks Steve!

James had brought along a couple of challenges for us all: a copy of the World’s Fair Prize Puzzle from 1891 confounded everyone, as it had done at our last PMPP, but several folks had a lot more success tackling his yoghurt pot challenge to assemble 6 pots into a three dimensional cross shape in such a way that it holds together of its own accord. I saw several complete structures and also witnessed a number of sheepish looks when a passer-by picked up one that someone else had assembled, only to have it fall apart in their hands… some of the advanced challenges with smaller pots and other sorts of plastic lids didn’t meet with as much success, so we decided they were probably impossible!

Lunch consisted of several pizzas, a couple of quiches and even some salad – can you tell that Gill had organised the food and not me? Oh, and the ice cream and choccy sauce went down quite well afterwards. 

I’d left out my copy of Pavel’s Edgewise for folks to solve for me (having failed abysmally on my last holiday to do so myself).  A couple of folks, led by Chris duly had a stab at it and found some really interesting “features” – but couldn’t quite crack it … although later that evening when everyone had wandered off in their respective directions, Louis and I had another bash at it and ended up actually managing to solve its multi-layered challenges – tremendous sense of satisfaction, almost smugness, ensued. 

A couple of copies of Wil’s new Pachinko box were in evidence and a few guys who hadn’t bought one managed to have a go at solving them… and I think that Oli managed to get all the way through it – well done that man!

Somewhere around mid-afternoon I had to run Dick back to the station so he could get back to Wimbledon in time for his dinner date, so I put Ben in charge and left the puzzlers at it… and when I got back from the station, somewhat drenched from the superbly ill-timed downpour that arrived just as I was escorting Dick into the station, everyone was still puzzling furiously – in fact, had I not told them I was going out for an hour, I suspect that none of them would have been any the wiser! 

Simon entertained us with a set of rebuses (rebii!) that his daughter had created and several times you’d see a flash of recognition when someone was sounding out various words and suddenly they would join together to form the title of a well-know movie… good fun and rather well designed, and drawn, by Charlotte! 

I did learn one very important lesson that day: NEVER. EVER. Tell puzzlers that a particular disentanglement requires a little force! 

I’d left out an intertwined pair of C’s and mentioned that they were a bit stiff so a little force might be required… seems that form then on, anything was fair game and the resulting entanglement wasn’t untangled for the rest of the day… in fact it took Louis and I about half an hour, WITH A VICE, the following morning to encourage the unnaturally joined pieces apart … then we spent a little while tuning the pieces so that excess force would never again be required… probably serves me right for not doing that before they all arrived! 

Another brilliant day's puzzling with good friends... 

BTW did anyone, by any chance, end up with an extra copy of Dick's new book inscribed to me - I can't find it anywhere...