Tuesday, 23 February 2021

VMPP 3

Apologies for the tumbleweed recently – I’m back on it now…

Just over a week ago now we held our third virtual Midlands Puzzle Party – unable to get together in person, we invite our puzzling friends from around the world to join us on Zoom and either just chat about puzzles, play along with some vaguely puzzle-related activities (spoiler alert – some of those are really tenuous!) or just listen in to the banter – whatever floats your boat. 

This time we stuck to more or less the same formula again for the morning afternoon and evening sessions, and Steve pointed out that we should probably consider playing around with the batting order a bit if we run another of these things so that the guys who can just about stay awake during the morning session get a go at the Pu(b)zzle Quiz next time and the folks who can only join us in the evening get a chance to have some general chit chat. We’ll probably stop short of judging the competitions before we release the challenges, although I’m not convinced that will necessarily change the ultimate winners given Big-Steve’s approach to scoring.

The main meat of the morning session was literally just some puzzle chat from the assembled masses. I worked my way around the list of puzzlers online asking them what they were working on (puzzle-wise) at the moment and what they thought of it. Jack showed us an entire table-full of what looked like a wonderful new sequential discovery box – cue LOTS of interest! We met a couple of new puzzlers, including Tamsin from somewhere in the Midlands – so it’s ironic that we met her for the first time on Zoom given her proximity to our usual meeting place. Big Brian showed us the latest addition to his grotto: a running tap floating in mid-air made entirely from scratch – good on yer, mate! Stuart Moskovitz joined us for the first time and fitted right in, so hopefully he’ll be back for more at some point.

Helpfully I remembered to record the first session, so the recording of the morning session is over here for anyone who missed it.

At the end of the session we told folks about our Limerick competition – launched complete with rules in limerick form from the Big-Nick himself: 

"There once was a puzzler called Nick",

Is how you must start your lim-rick.

Be clever, not crude.

And try to include...

Something puzzling or oxymoronic.

We also launched the (now traditional) scavenger hunt, posting the list on the our Facebook page and inviting people to show us the puzzle they most regretted buying, their best bargain buy, the puzzle with the happiest memory and a bunch more designed to make people think a little differently about their puzzle stashes and tell us some stories about them.

Nick and Steve had also pulled together a bunch of rebus puzzles for folks to try their hands on between the first two sessions – the full file is available over here for anyone who wants to have a bash at them.

Each page should clue to a puzzle designer and a puzzle name – for example:

 

…clued to STEW / ART  / COUGH / INN / (a) WOOKIE / HOLE – so Stewart Coffin’s Wookie Hole. Some of them are wonderfully groan-worthy and Big-Steve did a fantastic job of guiding the afternoon audience through a live solve of them all – complete with some loud groans interspersed with some truly hearty guffaws. (Thanks to Nick and Steve for compiling those!) 

After the rebus solve, we handed over to Brian Menold for the main event: a talk about his puzzle-making and a tour of his workshop. Brian talked us through his beginning in puzzle-making back in 2007 when he was producing a gentle stream of puzzles, until something weird happened a few years later when all of a sudden he found his sales seemed to sky-rocket overnight - it turned out that one N Hutchison happened to write about a puzzle he’d recently acquired from Brian’s Wood Wonders store on his blog – and all of a sudden a bunch of puzzlers who hadn’t spotted Brian’s shop yet descended all at once in search of a puzzling fix… and the rest, as they say, is history!

In spite of the fact that it’s registered as a business, Brian still runs Wood Wonders very much as a hobby – he’s doing what he enjoys… he doesn’t enjoy doing the same thing over and over and over again, so he only makes small runs of puzzles. He really likes working with beautiful looking woods, so he spends hours poring over the supplies available at his “local” suppliers (half a day’s drive away!) to pick the best-looking pieces of wood he can find… and its clear from listening to Brian describing all this that he really is enjoying crafting his puzzles. After a brief chat about the background and his approach, Brian took us outdoors to his workshop to show us around and talk us through the various stages from getting raw planks of lumber, through to smaller, neater planks, through to beautifully finished, expertly crafted puzzles. (I might have skipped a couple of steps in between, although Brian showed us all the way through, complete with a bin-to-bin tour of the process. Brian loves a good process. And bins for sorting and keeping things straight.)

All the way through the tour, Brian took questions from the assembled puzzlers, patiently describing how he prefers to do things and showing us all the tools along the way. What surprised me most of all was the little Byrnes Model Machines model maker’s saws that we uses for cutting all his bits and pieces – with Brian joking that some of his mates refer to his Barbie table saws – but you cannot fault the quality of the stuff he produces – Barbie tables saws or not…

At one point during the tour there was a lovely throwaway line from Brian about having built his house… so someone asked him about that and he recounted having spent many months building his geodesic kit-house around working his day-job… then he took us outdoors to give us a view of the place and it looks brilliant… really a wonderfully humble man of many, many talents! Thank you so much for sharing your passion and your workshop with us, Brian!

It was at about this point on the day that I realised that I had blundered, royally – I had not hit the record button on the Zoom session, so there is no recording of Brian’s fabulous session, or indeed of Big-Steve’s group solve of the rebii – that’s the plural of rebus, right? ;-)

Sorry!

The evening session started off with an announcement from James about the future of his amazing puzzle collection. After years of trying to find a collector or an institution who will take it off his hands and keep it all together in a way that keeps it available for puzzlers, Rox and George have stepped forward and agreed to take on this massive responsibility. Rox then showed us around the extra house they’ve bought to house the collection and talked to us about their plans for the collection – including how they’re going to make sure that it’s definitely accessible to puzzlers to play with! George and Rox: May your endeavours be wonderfully successful!

After the big announcement, Big-Steve stepped up with his judging of the scavenger hunt competition: each entry was talked through by the entrant, telling us how they’d selected each of their entries with Steve awarding each entrant a gold star or award of some description – of course by the end of the judging he realised the error of his ways being totally unable to pick an overall winner and deciding that everyone who’d taken part, had won… very New Agey!

Nick sportingly did a great job of judging the limerick competition, based on the opening line “There once was a puzzler called Nick”. (NO prize for guessing that he hadn’t chosen the opening line!) Several people had a go, although some clearly didn’t really understand the traditional structure of the limerick – opting more for what could most generously be described as “free verse”. The winner, one A Morris, had no such trouble producing the wonderfully forgettable:

There once was a puzzler called Nick.

A collector and true fan-a-tic

Misidentified as Nico

Though some say he’s Chico?

His knowledge is “très magnifique”

…managing to introduce several of our beloved MPP memes and including a magnificent final French rhyme in there!

I feel that the other Brass Monkey also deserved calling out for his excellent introduction of a dubious final phrase with a perfectly innocent build-up.

There once was a puzzler called Nick

Who could not solve disentanglements in a tic

When he got in mess,

He called a fellow named Hess,

Who turned out to be a right clever Dick

Nice one Monkeys!

Frank then amused us all with a(nother) great a Pu(b)zzle quiz. Once again there were questions about puzzles and a number of wonderfully random subjects – a section on pretty weird comparisons and even a series of timed maze solves – complete with the imperative trick questions along the way – greeted with the regulation amount of audience groans!

The lead changed hands several times and somehow, I contrived to end up winning the thing, although nobody would have known that as I was competing under the catchy name of “Just another Nick, nothing to see here” for some reason.

We really enjoyed ourselves over the course of the day and I need to thank Frank, Steve, Ali, Nick and Louis for contributing to the puzzles, the planning, running things on the day and grabbing stacks of screenshots while I was rabbiting on. Cheers guys!

…and finally if you want to see the recording of the evening session, here it is.

 

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Lensch Lovelies

Another little treasure from my recent haul of Lensch Lovelies – this time a Magic Box with a surprise inside it.

The Magic Box is a neat, unassuming design from Oskar. The box comes apart into six faces, each with a pair of edges attaches to it, somewhere. 

All you need to do to assemble the box is find the right combination of faces and edges to put together so that when you get down to the last piece remaining, the gaps left on the cube just happen to coincide with the layout of the piece you have in your other hand.

As you might expect from Oskar, there are a lot of ways to not do this one… and end up with mismatching edges and gaps.

The edges on this one are Black Limba and the faces are made of a lovely Bloodwood – it looks stunning.

Open up this box and you’ll find an East Indian Rosewood copy of Coffin’s Half Hour puzzle – so-called because it will probably provide at least half an hour’s worth of puzzling – or considerably more if you’re as inept as I am most days!

The Half Hour puzzle is six-piece 3*3*3 cube dissection with a unique solution – derived by the master designer to provide the best challenge possible in a 3*3*3 cube. 

It won’t disappoint and you’ll invariably find yourself wondering how the heck six such simple little pieces can defy your attempts at recreating a simple little cube for that long.

As you’d expect from Tom, they both not only look stunning, but the fit is as perfect as you could possible wish for… a lovely addition to the hoard!

Saturday, 30 January 2021

OLEO 10

Yuu Asaka burst into my puzzling consciousness (is that a thing?!) at the IPP38 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition with his Jigsaw 29… think of it as a jigsaw and it simply won’t compute… think of it as a packing puzzle, and you’re on your way… it was a lovely playful design that used your inbuilt urges to confound you totally.

Since then I’ve been a big fan of Jigsaw 19, Wave 5 and Wave 7 – although I thought Ice 9 was an absolute SOD!

A couple of new puzzles recently appeared in the UTTO-PUZZLE shop so I acquired a few copies in the name of research… and I think OLEO 10 is brilliant!

Four large black pieces just fit inside a neat white frame and your task is to (clearly) arrange the black pieces in the frame so that you can add six little red circles into the frame as well… simples!

Except,

    no,

            it isn’t.

Try as you might, you will not find a way of ordering those black pieces so that you can engineer six gaps for those pesky little round red pieces – I mean there are plenty of cut-outs on the black bits to fiddle around and experiment with – and there are clearly “enough” of those cut-outs – they’re just never where you actually want the last one or two of them to be…

I spent ages trying the same thing over and over again, fully expecting a different outcome (yes, I know, I’ve used that same quotation in this very blog, about myself, several times!) – before I spent some time think(c)ing about this puzzle, and the designer, and then a whole new world opened up to me… along with several(!) solutions.

It’s a brilliant puzzle – definitely another classic and right up there with the Waves and Jigsaws from this fine designer!

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Pentasticks

A good friend recently offered me a number of puzzles made by Tom Lensch and I had a really hard time turning any of them down… in the end, the only reason I could find for not taking any of them was that I already had a copy, made by Tom, in the hoard… I did not have a copy of Oskar’s Pentasticks made by Tom, so that one headed my way.

This was a new puzzle for me – I literally hadn’t ever even seen a pic of one of these before so I was delighted to sit down and play with it when it arrived.

At first you have what seems to be a pile of sticks in the shape of a Pentagon, with the outline of a pentagon drawn rather badly on both sides of the assembly… and this struck me as odd, because Tom’s work is only ever absolutely spot-on!

Start taking it apart and it’s clear that the four layers of sticks are somewhat chaotically joined, so you can’t just slide one piece out… there is a whole lotta co-ordinate motion going on here… which scared me – so the first few times I tried to summon up the courage to disassemble this guy, I wimped out.

Eventually I threw caution to the wind and another log on the fire and pulled it all apart… mixed up the pieces and then began trying for a reassembly… and then it hit me: the state it arrived in isn’t the solved state – just an almost solved state – those lines on the pentagon that didn’t quite join up weren’t some sort of misalignment they were the subtle goading’s of a great puzzle designer and a superb craftsman telling you to try again.

So I did, once or three times more until I finally manged to land on an assembly that should(!) end up with all of the lines properly aligned… of course getting everything physically assembled remains as the final, rather interesting, challenge – and a deft touch definitely helps on that front.

When it’s properly assembled everything lines up perfectly – as you’d expect from that man Lensch!

My humblest apologies for even entertaining the mere thought that it might not possibly be intended.