Thursday, 19 November 2020

Virtual MPP 2

A couple of weeks ago we held our second virtual MPP and got to chat with our puzzling friends from (literally) across the globe again. We kept to the idea of running three two-hour sessions over the course of the day in order to make it a bit easier for our international friends to join in a couple of the sessions no matter where they were… and it seemed to work, although a couple of really hardened way-distant puzzlers made sure they were there for all three sessions – so we must be doing something right!

The morning session was a pretty laid-back affair as I’d totally failed to line up an exciting tour as the main attraction. Instead we literally just asked everyone on the Zoom call to tell us what they were currently puzzling on and what they thought of it… there were around 25 or 30 of us on the call and that ended up filling the morning session with plenty of chat, and I suspect that I wasn’t the only one taking note of some of the recommendations along the way!

I gave George Bell’s Chocolate Box a bit of a plug having received it the week before and really enjoying the solution to it… at first it seemed really fiddly and the round box had me chasing pieces around and around, until I had a bit of a Think (c) and then loved the solution.

Dor’s recommendation was a binge-solve of virtually all of the Popplocks – which sounded like an excellent way to spend the better part of a weekend, and Nigel confessed to really enjoying working back over Kagen’s Lotus Box trilogy in order to really enjoy the latest arrival.

Ken teased us by showing a copy of Juno’s Puzzler’s Cage from Cubic Dissection still in its plastic wrapping – and after plenty of goading I think we managed to convince him to take the pieces out of the plastic wrapping - we did not succeed in goading him into actually solving it during the course of the day, however. 

Jack showed us the new box he was working on – cue plenty puzzler’s lusting! Amy shamed the lot of us by showing that she’d been working on two high level Baumegger burrs, and a couple of folks told us they were working on Juno’s SDBBB:M – all with fat grins on their faces, as you’d expect.

It was great seeing that Wil had managed to join us, although without a webcam or a mic, he was only able to lurk in the background – he did however grab some brilliant screenshots of the folks on the call and unwittingly provided some of the pics that found their way into this blog post – as I didn’t record any of the sessions and didn’t take any screenshots myself – so thanks for that, Wil! :-)

It was great having a chance to just chat about puzzles we were currently working on – a bit like we’d normally do at an MPP – only with our mates around the world, and if this doesn’t sound like total blasphemy, I wonder if there’s a place for these sorts of “get-togethers” even after we all get out of our various shades of lock-down?

At the end of the first session, we gave everyone a scavenger hunt list that included a bunch of things that would need explaining in the second session, including: a puzzle that makes you smile whenever you play with it, a puzzle you’ve crafted yourself, the smallest and largest puzzles in a single shot and a puzzle that you need some information on. During the break between the first two sessions folks posted their pictures on the MPP Facebook page.

During the first part of the second session, Big-Steve walked everyone through the entries received, inviting people to explain their entries and tell us some of the stories behind their particular choices, and then awarding random points for the various entries – which seemed to be based more on the amount of humour coming from the selections than for the selections themselves – but the audience seemed to approve and there weren’t any public lynching’s, which is always a good sign.

Frank looked like he had a really strong set of entries, starting with his awesome Kumiki Robot with a tiny Alan Boardman micro-burr perched on its shoulder… he seemed to be scoring unbelievably well too, until Steve decided to deduct WAY MORE points than he’d awarded on the grounds that Frank had actually already seen the scavenger hunt list earlier in the week when we’d been doing our preparations for the MPP!

Brian put in a solid performance, totally acing the “puzzle you’ve crafted yourself” – come to think of it, he’d made most of the puzzles across all the categories in the first hunt – not many people could say that.

We worked our way through all of the entries before we handed over to Pantazis on the lovely Greek island of Kastellorizo for a tour of his puzzle museum. In spite of me managing to time our Greek island visit to coincide almost precisely with Pantazis’ renovation of the puzzle museum and the arrival of a multitude of crates consisting of three quarters of his puzzle collection, Pantazis still managed to do a sterling job of showing us around.

He’d spent the days immediately prior to the tour working tirelessly unpacking crates and crates of puzzles so that he’d be able to show us some of his favourite and rarest treasures – and he didn’t disappoint. His obvious love for puzzles in general, and for spreading a love for puzzling, shone strongly through all of his stories about his experiences of sharing the puzzles with folks on the island. 

I loved the story of one of his mates tossing one of the puzzles into the harbour (don’t worry – it was shallow enough to save it!) in disgust when he found out that the puzzle he’d been trying to solve for absolute ages, had been solved in minutes by a blind friend of theirs. (Reminds me of a fearsome puzzler I know…)

Pantazis’ whole mission in life seems to be to share these wonderful puzzles with as many people as possible – puzzles should be played – and if that means that they occasionally need some repairs, then so be it.

There were plenty of questions and even a little dose of maths, as you might expect, in the form of some interesting results on his analysis of the ancient Stomachion Puzzle.

With the light fading and the electrics not yet quite finished due to the renovations, Pantazis was absolutely undeterred and fired up the torch to continue the tour on the ground level – it really was lovely to see around Pantazis’ Puzzle Museum – THANKS PANTAZIS!!  (And bonus points for managing to find a rare pair of hamster twisties and posting a pic on the MPP Facebook group a couple of days later – our memes salute you sir!)  

At the end of the second session we posted another scavenger hunt with similar levels of “interpretation” required – although nothing could quite prepare us for Shane’s entry this time around. At the first VMPP Shane had managed to score negative points for posting a picture of a dirty sock as one of his entries (fair scoring, right?!) – this time he posted a split keyring as his entry for all ten topics – although in fairness his justification for some of the topics was pretty funny. I’m not sure the judge was that impressed though!

Once again Steve did an awesome job of walking the various entrants through their selections and coaxing them into telling us some of the stories behind their choices – I love hearing puzzlers talking about the puzzles that are important or particularly interesting to them.

After walking through all the entries we headed into Frank’s Pu(b)zzle quiz hosted through an online app that handled all the scoring for us (to avoid any more unfortunate incidents of bribery)… a couple of us had play-tested the quiz during the week and we still managed to get a few good belly-laughs at some of the questions.

For some reason there were a lot of questions about cheese, but not many questions about train stations. Puzzles did feature in some of the questions and there was the obligatory trick question to check whether people had taken the trouble to read all of the instructions before the quiz began. (I think we managed to catch the actual Nick out with that one for the second time in a week!)

At the end of the quiz, I think Michel came out on top of the leader board – I’m sure someone will remind me if I’m wrong! To be honest, it was a lot less about who won and a lot more about the fun that we managed to have along the way… and that was there in spades.

I reckon we might need to have to do another one of these… they’re fun. 


Friday, 6 November 2020

Kelly Snache’s EWE EFO

The short version: Kel socks it out of the park!

The longer version:

Kelly had already been teasing a new puzzle box on social media for a while when I had an email from him asking if I’d be interested in  acquiring a copy. Facebook had been littered with tales of a gang of five fluffy four-legged creatures and their (stolen) fantastical flying machine of fun. Not just tales, there were pics too, and they looked thoroughly fab. So I piled in and managed to acquire #5 of the 17 copies made and released into the wild…

The flight across the pond was completed in no time at all, no doubt due to the ewes' patented rangtangdangular oximobinator.

It’s a mighty handsome little puzzle box – complete with 5 portholes each with one of the ewes peeking out – courtesy of some custom art that Kelly commissioned via ‘tinterweb. There’s an obvious top to the box, and four clear sides, all of which have a porthole on them, and then the bottom has a (not so) secret escape hatch built into it…

You mission is to release Wee Fae from the top of the EWE EFO – because she just wants to go home while the rest of the crew want to go off exploring, apparently. All righty then…

You are told to leave the four brass nuts alone until you’ve totally solved the puzzle and released Wee Fae – and then you’re free to undo the nuts and remove all the innards and marvel at them… Kelly also tells you there aren’t any tricky magnets at play and you won’t need to tap or bash anything to “encourage” it.

Starting with a bot of exploring around the sides and the top, you’ll find lots of interesting “stuff” going on, but not a to of it will really do much – you can tell that they will do something at some point, e.g. the tiniest wiggle might suggest this is a panel that could move or open at some stage, but right now, they’re all rather tightly locked in place.

A few of the little portholes will move, and aside form making it look like the little ewes are inside a washing machine, that doesn’t seem to do an awful lot. At some point you might even find linkages between the different sides, or indeed between a side and some mystical hidden forcefield, and you’ll need to learn how to control them in order to make progress.

Along the way you will almost certainly come across some rather useful tools that will assist in your reconnoitring, for reconnoitre you must!

I really enjoyed the whole exploration of this this little piece of art – having a pile of tools laid out next to a partially dismantled EWE EFO wondering which panel to attack next and what tools could possibly be useful to me. In all I spent a couple of wonderful afternoons exploring this craft and slowly progressing through the Trap Door, the Guillotine and the Four Finger Force Field. (Yup, Kelly really went to town on the backstory and the mythology of this puzzle – it was clearly a massive labour of love for him!) 

For me the best part was getting Wee Fae out of her turret and then dismantling the rest of the craft to see exactly what all those strange mechanisms inside the craft really were… and Kelly has done a super job in there – the mechanisms are simple once you see them, but delightfully duplicitous when you’re trying to work out how to release them while you can’t see most of the gubbins in there…

Everything is always fair and yields to some sensible Think(c)ing though… just give yourself a couple of afternoons like I did – it’s a wonderful puzzle to wile away several happy hours!

Once again Kelly has outdone himself, producing a stunning looker of a puzzle with some wonderfully interesting mechanisms and locks along the way.

Awesome work, Kel!

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Juno's SDBB Master

Juno’s latest well-telegraphed release of an epic sequential discovery puzzle (the Sequential Discovery Burred Box – Master, to give it its Sunday name) resulted in a bit of a deluge at the appointed hour, sadly crushing his web-site under the weight of stacks of eager puzzlers wanting to shower him in PayPal for the chance to test their wits. Unfortunately it took his web server quite a while to recover and as result some transactions ended up taking many hours… so having a young dog that is still getting you up in the middle of the jolly night for a quick wander around the back yard turns out to be a good thing on this particular night… she times it right, and I manage to snag a copy of Juno’s latest masterpiece.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’m ripping open the well-packaged puzzle and thinking to myself that this is definitely one of my largest six-piece burrs… it is a big, handsome brute of a puzzle. From a distance you might think it’s “just a six-piece burr”. Pick it up and start playing with it and you’re left in no doubt whatsoever that this is a heck of a lot more puzzle than it might seem.

The first thing you notice when you explore which bits might be able to move, is that there are interesting things hidden on the insides that you can’t see when it’s in its starting position. If you start disassembling things, you’ll find some very interesting movements in there before you manage to get all six pieces separated – for, yes, dear reader, there are indeed six pieces to this burr… however, that is only really the beginning of this epic quest.

The fun really starts now!

From here on in, you’re in serious sequential discovery land… you’ll find tools galore and challenges aplenty, and sometimes you’ll be wondering which way to go next, but one thing I can tell you is that every single mechanism you encounter has a beautifully elegant solution to it… something I discovered the hard way because the first time I worked through the puzzle I found myself at “the end” and realising that I still had a locked compartment – which is weird… so I retraced my steps and realised that I’d unintentionally bodged one of the stages and applied a somewhat agricultural approach to opening a compartment – a little time Think(c)ing and I found a far more elegant solution, which then resulted in the perfect tool for the next step and my Yin and Yang were once again in perfect harmony.

Trust me - this isn't a spoiler!
Since that first time, I’ve gone back over the solution again and again and really marvelled at the clever design that’s gone into creating so many different locking mechanisms – each one unique, and each one requiring some serious lateral thinking.

In a wonderfully witty twist, Juno’s description of the puzzle tells you that he’s placed a little infinity symbol in the last compartment so that you’ll know that you’ve reached the end ;-) – and also in my case so that you’ll know if you’ve done things wrong and cooked the solution! There’s a lovely progression through the different compartments with some very interesting tools along the way – sometimes they’re quite obvious, and sometimes you really do need you apply the little grey cells to imagine what might be required.

I’m very chuffed to have managed to snag one of these – I’ve even forgiven Barkley for all those trips around the garden in the rain in the middle of the night! This puzzle made that all worthwhile – it really is another classic from Juno – another one to be mighty proud of, Juno!

And if you didn’t manage to get one of your own, make sure you make friends with someone who did and play with their copy! Or better still, come along to an MPP if we ever hold one in the real world ever again and play with one of our copies!

SPOILER ALERT: Kevin’s a big fan too!

Monday, 26 October 2020

Kagen Sound’s Butterfly Box

Part, the third, in the Lotus-Trilogy announced several years ago by Kagen Sound arrived in Barnt Green recently. This time the wonderfully sturdy round shipping box came with not just the usual plastic cushioning wrapped around the box nestling inside – it was additionally cushioned by six comically large wood shavings, as though Kagen had been fine-tuning his kanna while he was packing up these beauties.

I’ve described my encounters with the first two puzzle boxes in the series over here and here – in short, I found them absolutely delightful – they had a lovely rhythm of trying to work out what pattern you should be striving for, trying to get the pattern to work, completely, opening a drawer and then repeating the process until you’d opened all four drawers around the hexagonal boxes. Each one started with a visual clue to the first pattern and as you progressed, each drawer would somehow provide the clue to the next pattern… both of them presented a lovely little journey and a nice sense of achievement.

The third one in the series – the Butterfly Box - builds on that progression in about the same way as the Burj Khalifa builds on the mud hut. Ostensibly it looks just like the other two (OK, I realise my Burj comparison just fell flat!) with some subtle changes to the wood varieties on the main parts, but the main features maintain the strong family resemblance: the pair of drawers feel the same, the rings on the top of the box seem to handle themselves like the previous two and generate similar sorts of patterns – you might even be tempted to think that once you’ve done the previous two, this one won’t pose a huge challenge.

That would be a large mistake.

This one is the proverbial wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing – don’t be fooled – this is not a simple little exercise in making pretty patterns, even though they are VERY pretty patterns! This is a proper puzzler’s puzzle!

From the get-go in this one you realise that things are going to be different: on the previous two you always had somewhere to start… this one gives you literally nae clue! You’ll need to cast your mind back to Kagen’s original premise of a series of puzzles where the first two helped you solve the third one…

Knowing this, I duly set about re-solving the previous two in the series in order to jog my memory a little, and to try and find the way in to this final box – and that was a good idea, not just to remind myself of the mechanics and the approach to completing the patterns (often you’ll find that the "right" pattern isn’t possible given some of the rings won’t be able to get into the position that you really need them to be in) but there is also a beautifully disguised clue waiting there for you in plain sight, sort of… and that is the start that you need for the Butterfly Box. (It is beautifully hidden and I have to admit that in the past two years I hadn’t “seen” it until now.)

Diving into the Butterfly Box it won’t take you long to clock that this one is tougher – sometimes not all of the rings really want to play ball – and that can be problematic. Finding the clues for the successive drawers is a lot harder than on the previous two boxes – so several times I found myself retracing my steps literally back to the start again in the hopes of finding something different along the way. Sometimes I found myself totally stumped with no idea of where I should be heading next or no idea what the next pattern should be – word to the wise: there are stacks of very beautiful, wonderfully symmetric patterns that won’t open a drawer for you! Creating random pretty patterns may be a wonderful way to wile away the time, but it isn't a good puzzle-solving strategy!

Find all four magic patterns and you’re ultimately rewarded with a little piece of paper with a URL on it that will transport you to a video of some of the making-of this stunning little trilogy. That video really blew my mind – seeing the amount of work that has gone into creating the sliding rings is truly gob-smacking, and some of the little details in the mechanics are wonderfully clever. (I love the use of wooden “springs”!)

And after all that, you find out that Kagen’s hidden something else in this box that you almost certainly haven’t found, so you need to go back through it and find it, don’t you? Only it’s so well-hidden that it took me several goes through the entire solution before I could finally say that I ‘d completed all of the challenges this box provides.

At the end of the day, the Butterfly Box is both a stunning work of art from a craftsman who really knows his stuff; and a memorable puzzler’s puzzle – there are 98 of them out in the wild – track one down and solve it, properly – it will make you feel good about yourself!

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Popplock T12

I bring you a somewhat overdue blog post about a stunning puzzle that I got at just about the same time as the country went into lock-down… that will become important later on in the story… in the meantime, you just need to bear in mind that was seven months ago!

When I got the eagerly awaited email from Rainer announcing that he was ready to start selling his new Popplock T12 I didn’t waste any time and a few days later a rather heavy package arrived in Barnt Green.

The T12 is a brute of a lock – this thing will do serious damage if you’re ever clumsy enough to drop one. It deserves respect, and it definitely got more than its fair share of that from me… over the course of the following six and a half months or so!

In its starting state, you have a key with nowhere to shove it, a large block of brass, which might just as well be solid for the lack of anything doing on it at the start, and a really solid looking straight steel shackle. (Mental note: can you call a straight metal bar a shackle if it performs that role? … Hales?)

There are a couple of obvious things to try at first and they generally result in finding something actually rather useful: a keyhole! (Bet you didn’t see that one coming! Even thought you were given an actual key with said lock, remember…?!)  Putting the key in and turning it, sadly, does not open the lock…

Examining things a little more carefully provides some clues as to some things that might be interesting at some point  (that’s a whole lot of somes and I’m not good at numbers!), albeit right now they’re stubbornly useless…

Several days later my troubles began: I thought I’d found something interesting and potentially useful, and indeed it may well have been, were it not for the fact that I found I couldn’t retrace my steps and I’d somehow managed to trap the key inside the lock… cue mild panic… and a seriously concerted effort to release said key.

A few weeks later I reach out to my tame locksmith to ask if he’s ever seen that before on this puzzle – “Eh, nope! – You’ve obviously done something stupid, ya muppet!” – Not a direct quote, actually he was far more sympathetic and suggested I send it back to Rainer, but neither of us was convinced that a T12 would actually allow me to do anything irreversible – and I decided it was far more likely “operator error” so I kept at it...

It sat on my desk for the next few months – getting picked up from time to time whenever I had some downtime in “the office” but sadly the key remained very much trapped.

By now we’re well into lock-down so I can’t even rely on the usual services of my puzzle-whisperer to rescue me from my stupidity – he’s trapped in The Netherlands.

It became a bit of a standing joke with some of my puzzling mates on our regular Sunday evening video calls – I’d show them the T12 with key trapped, they’d laugh at me and ask me if I’d tried blowing on it yet. (Yes. It didn’t help. Damnit!)

After several more weeks of their enjoying my misery, they finally took pity on me and coached me through some things I swore I’d already tried, exactly that way, about a million times already, but somehow the key was no longer trapped!

Promptly reinvigorated I managed to make some serious progress over the next week and a bit – using some of what I’d managed to learn while the key was trapped in there to finally release the shackle, a mere seven months after getting this thing…

What do I think of it? Given that for the vast majority of that time it was apparently locked up refusing to give up its key? It’s BRILLIANT! This thing has locks on the locks – getting all the way through the solution gives you a terrific sense of achievement – you earn the victory on this one… for a puzzle with so little apparently going on on the outside, this one packs a big punch! Would I have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t had to wrestle with it for months to give up its key? Hard to tell… either way, there’s no denying it’s a fabulous new puzzle lock from the master.

Monday, 12 October 2020

Blinded II

Dee Dixon (he of DEDWoodCrafts) has burst onto the puzzle scene producing a flurry of intriguing puzzle boxes recently. I’d managed to acquire a pre-played copy of his Where’s My Hammer and rather liked the ideas I found in there, so when Eric Fuller had a bunch of Blinded II’s on a recent update, I decided that I needed one of those too…

It’s a rather handsome little box with a stunning Zebrawood top on a Sapele box reinforced with several beautiful Maple slip-feathers reinforcing the main joints. The first thing you’ll notice is a little “handle” to one side on the lid, and as soon as you touch it you’re going to realise that it’s attached to the lid by a pair of rather strong magnets…

Explore a little more and you’ll realise that Dee’s given the box a floating base (so you won’t have any trouble with humidity) as a rather nice touch. Aside from the tiniest amount of play on said-base and on the lid, there is very little to find to interest your puzzling instincts!

I ended up doing the only obvious thing left to do and dragged the magnetic button all around the box in search of something “interesting”… and I did manage to find some “interesting” areas, but I couldn’t get them to actually produce anything worthwhile… so the box made it’s way onto my shelf-of-shame where it was duly pulled out every now and then and new theories explored as and when they hit me – often while I was “in the office,” as it were.

I’d kept exploring new theories, and to be fair, retrying the old ones over and over again in the hopes of getting a different outcome (I know!) until I had a bit of inspiration and tried something totally different – and all of a sardine I had actually done something useful, and then having found a little forward momentum, I managed to wander through the next few steps in a couple of minutes…

So I reckon it only took me a few minutes to solve it, but there were several weeks between the first couple of minutes and the last couple of minutes! :-)

Having solved it, I really like this box – the locking mechanism is clever – it suckers you into totally overthinking it and then blows you away with the elegant simplicity in there… and it’s all on view when you open the box so you aren’t left wondering about anything… it did leave me feeling rather foolish for some of the grand designs I had envisaged going on inside there, though.

Great as a puzzle, cleverly engineered and very well made, highly recommended!