Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Jesse Born’s Pi PuzzleBox

Jesse Born arrived on the puzzle box scene a couple of years ago and his work has been getting more and more rave reviews with each new production. My mates started buying his puzzles and they raved about them – a lot… so when he published some pics of little slices of pie that he was making for his current project, I decided I shouldn’t miss out on this one, and duly pre-ordered one.

Over the course of the following month or so Jesse teased us with a few more pics along the way, asked for the group’s opinion on the finish we preferred (and then duly went along with the group’s preference for a satin finish in spite of most of his earlier works having a glossy finish) and then shipped a bunch of them to expectant puzzlers around the world…

While mine was in transit my mate Jim announced to the world that this was probably his favourite puzzle of the year… my expectations ramp up a notch or three, and when it arrived it really is stunning – I mean, don’t get me wrong, Jesse’s photos are pretty damn good, but this thing’s even more gorgeous in the flesh – I waste no time in telling him that…

You get a nine-sided box – with an obvious lid decorated with slices of yosegi pie. There’s evidence of a hinge on one of the sides and the pie slices are all separated. Jesse’s description tells you that in order to unlock the box, you’ll have to slide all of the slice into the centre… OK…

So let’s start sliding them and see what happens… ah – slight problem – they wont slide in… or at least most of them won’t slide in… so we start fiddling around a little bit and then something really strange happens and catches me totally off guard – and I love it when a puzzle does that to me!

This opens up a few more possibilities, but soon enough I find myself down a blind alley with no means of progressing … with all bar one or two slices fully inward… and yet, nowhere near a solution. 

I find myself alternately playing with the box, and thinking about the box, and trying to concentrate more on the latter than on the former, remembering just how enthusiastic the x maths prof had been about it, and thinking to myself that there must be a lot more to this box than some random moves along a solution path – there must be meaning in it…

…and then it hits you, it’s been there all along – and I try a few clumsy attempts at enforcing my new theory on the puzzle, but none of them quite works properly… until I go right back to basics and theorise on something that seems even more promising – and find the right way to think about things – and allowing for a little bit of jiggling here and there, it all works perfectly from start to finish… with the last move unlocking the box allowing the lid to swing up and open – to show Jesse’s signature branding inside the lid…

…and it’s clear exactly why Jim is such a fan! The mathematics at the heart is wonderful – but the way the solution is fed into the box is very clever – I wouldn’t have thought that would work, and yet it does… and then there’s the small matter of implementing all of those rules in a wooden object… I don’t think calling it genius is going too far! 

The icing on the cake for me is that Jesse’s left access to the mechanics for the interested puzzler – pulling out a couple of pins and pegs you can see exactly how he’s implemented the opening rules… if you haven’t had a look at it, do – you will be impressed…

When I told Jesse the box had arrived safely in the wilds of Barnt Green, he asked me to tell him what I thought, honestly, so here you go, Jesse: “I have only two words for you: Genius and Stunning!”

Thursday, 7 June 2018

A couple of new cameras

Ages ago I spotted a picture of a Kumiki-style camera on Bernhard Schweitzer’s site which I subsequently discovered had been designed by William Waite and made by Pelikan. The Camera Conundrum had received an Honourable Mention in the IPP23 Puzzle Design Competition – so I set about trying to find one…

Recently the good folks at the New Pelikan Workshop recreated this old classic and it was briefly available for sale once more – sadly I missed that opportunity and my search continued. But my dogged determination recently paid off when I found a copy of the original Camera Conundrum available for sale… I did not miss out this time! 

Resembling an old instamatic camera with a magicube flash on it [remember those?!] it’s a handsome little puzzle whose aim is disassembly and reassembly, finding a hidden compartment along the way… the coolest thing though is how various actions that you’d associate with those old cameras have been incorporated into the solution. 

At some point during the solution you’ll press the shutter release, manipulate the flash, focus the camera and wind on the film [actual film, remember that?!]. 

Somewhere along the way you’ll discover a drawer with a secret little hidey hole – plenty big enough for a standard ball bearing noise-maker, it turns out. 

Even with a pile of pieces, it’s not horribly complicated to work out where things need to go, and there’s a reasonably logical progression to building up your little camera… you have to love the way William’s made so many of the moves resemble things you’d actually do with these cameras.

The second camera comes from Hideaki Kawashima – one of the indecently talented gentlemen of the Karakuri Group. Back in 2014 he produced a fiendishly difficult Twin Lens Reflex Camera whose second compartment had me baffled, and he’s done it again with his Spring Camera. 

This one resembles an old vintage Voigtlander from around the 1930’s. Once again the detailing on the camera is stunning – you get the impression that lots of the detailing is there purely to make it look the part, but you won’t shake the feeling that some of those little thingies are going to be helpful in opening up this box…

…and so it is – find the right things to do and the front panel opens and the lens unit pops out – all very theatrical… you’ll find yourself closing it up and popping it open over and over again – it’s quite addictive. 

Get that far and you have a wonderfully functional little object… but still no idea of how to open the box… that takes a few more moves and some imagination… applied liberally and you’ll find you way into the little treasure compartment.

An absolutely stunning piece from a young man who is clearly passionate about his photography as well as his woodwork – the photos he puts up on his Instagram feed are fantastic – occasionally there’s even a puzzle pic or two on there…

Here’s hoping there’ll be even more little wooden cameras in future…

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Berrocal Mini Maria

Alternate title: Discovering a new rabbit hole…

I've been collecting puzzles for several years now and up until a couple of weeks ago I had managed to resist buying any Berrocals... frankly, it wasn't that hard - they're expensive and only seem to come up in art auctions where the prices can be eye-watering for a puzzler of limited means.  

Then things changed... no I didn't suddenly come into a large volume of cash; a couple of weeks ago Gill and I were fortunate to visit the Berrocal Foundation in Villanueva de Algaidas. 

We spent several hours listening to Carlos and Beltran talk about their dad’s work while wandering around the recreated workshop and studio – and it’s probably fair to say that we fell under their spell a little bit – in a good way. By the end of the tour Gill and I had decided that we should continue our tradition of bringing back a new piece of art from our holidays – and a mini Berrocal would class as art… we duly selected Mini Maria as the one most likely to fit in with the other stuff in the lounge and maxed out the credit card. (I hadn’t realised my friendly travel agent had just billed all our holidays for the rest of the year to the card on the same day!)

We headed back to the UK with Carlos promising to send Maria along behind us, and last Thursday I got home to find a large TNT box on the front porch waiting patiently for me. The packaging surprised me as most of the recent Mini multiples I’ve seen on art auction sites have come packaged in what I’d describe as an archive file box…and that’s what I’d expected – this one came in the full-blown original award-winning packaging.
Open the first box that’s nicely branded with the Berrocal multiples logo and a subtle Mini Maria emblem in the bottom corner and you’re faced with some nicely printed Mini Maria tissue paper (picture an A2 sheet with coloured pictures of the bits and a completed Mini Maria and you won’t go too far wrong!) cushioning the polystyrene innards – themselves styled after the completed Mini Maria… only a lot bigger!

Open the polystyrene casing and you find Mini Maria nestling in a moulded black plastic stand – complete with a little display plinth to use while you continue unpacking…lift that stand and beneath it you’ll find the instruction / background booklet that will help you take her apart (and reassemble her) while you read about her creation. Under the book there’s a moulded tray for laying out all of the parts neatly while she’s disassembled… a rather lovely surprise for someone who was literally expecting a carboard box!
Inside there are a couple of display stands -  a flat rectangle and a raised circle – you can choose how best to display her, however changing from one to the other requires full disassembly… you’re encouraged to take her apart and play with her bits… brilliant!

It doesn’t take long for me to fiddle around and dismantle her – it’s a pretty fun process, with some brilliant engineering, a solid locking piece and more than a little smut thrown in for good measure. 
Reassembly is decidedly non-trivial!
I resorted to putting together sub-assemblies and then collecting them into something that vaguely resembled the lovely little statue I’d started with. 

Several times I encountered a dead end and needed to back up a few steps, in order to introduce the appropriate piece at a more appropriate time. 

Things get easier as the pile of random shaped bits gets smaller and Maria begins to take shape. 
It’s fun experimenting with these wonderfully organic shapes, coaxing them into something bigger and beautiful. 

At the end of the day we have a wonderful little piece of puzzle history sitting on the mantlepiece in the lounge… the first puzzle allowed beyond the walls of the cave… and I got the warm fuzzy feeling that comes from supporting the Foundation established to looks after the artist’s legacy.