Thursday, 22 January 2015

Thanks Oli!



A couple of months ago my mate Oli (yip, the one we blame for almost everything) began experimenting with impossible folded playing cards … he posted pics of his experiments on FaceBook and they were generally rather well-received, attracting praise and encouragement from none other than the god-father of such things (yip, the one I blamed for the earbud cube … and I guess I should blame him for the next one as well!). Soon enough Angus was taunting Oli with pics of his new designs and Oli was eagerly stepping up to the plate and coming up with his own versions of them… 


Not content with merely making impossible playing cards, Oli then set about putting those impossible playing cards into bottles, and indeed displaying them inside said-bottles in various impossible manners… like with bolts through them, hanging from chains, secured by tightened nuts… 


Soon the awful people of internet-land began goading him into further impossibleness so he placed several twisty puzzles inside bottles with throats too narrow to allow them out (sensible use of a twisty puzzle in my books!).  

Then someone challenged him to put a miniature artist’s posable mannequin inside a bottle and that looked pretty impressive, but when you find out how the limbs are connected (springs stretch through each limb) you feel like bowing down in awe… 

...then there was a large 6-piece burr in the bottle, but he didn’t like how the key piece flopped around so he bolted it to the next piece with a tightened nut on the end of the bolt… 

OK, so he’s graduated First Class from the University of That’s Not Blimming Possible and he’s doing things that he really shouldn’t be dreaming of…


Now back when he started playing around with impossibility, he offered to make me an impossible bottle as a gift … and when I ran into him at Peter’s place just after New Year he had brought along an entire crate of impossibleness, some to give away and some for sale – several to chat about. 

He’d also made up a slew of impossibly linked cards that he proceeded to give to all comers, and soon enough he’d presented me with an impossibly braided strap and a mini 3*3*3 in a tiny mason jar, told me to take my pick of the bottles and only allowed me to give him a nominal payment when I took his bolted-burr-and-impossible-coaster-card-in-a-bottle from him as well… 


…and that’s how I ended up with a haul of Oli’s impossibility – including a Royal Flush, most of it bolted and suspended from a chain inside a bottle, secured by a Monkey’s Fist knot or two – Just Brilliant! 


Thanks Oli!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Karakuri Christmas 2014



Unfortunately this year my Karakuri Christmas presents took a bit of an extended detour via the Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs so they didn’t quite make it in time for Christmas… but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t puzzling away on Christmas day!

I’ve written about how the whole Karakuri Club works in the past, so feel free to have a look back at the previous write-ups over here or here if you’re still wondering how it all works. From memory their prices have remained pretty much the same for the past few years and I reckon they’re still excellent value for money – as long as you don’t mind the lucky dip element: you won’t know what the puzzles are until you open the package… you can select the craftsmen you want, but they get to decide what they’re going to make for Christmas.
 
This year I got six Christmas presents from Japan. Five from established craftsmen I knew I’d like and one from a relative newcomer who’d produced the Old TV earlier in the year. The TV had been really unusual and I’d seen it stump several seasoned puzzlers for quite a while so I added Kasho to the list this year…

Kasho’s puzzle box was a rather quirky-looking cactus plant with a hat, called Tequila … happily it’s not a terribly difficult puzzle so you shouldn’t find yourself driven to the bottle for inspiration. It only takes a couple of moves to open it and you’re probably going to go straight for the locking mechanism without much experimentation – definitely not much of a challenge, but a funky looking puzzle!

Tatsuo Miyamoto brought us a puzzle box in the shape of an antique wooden Lock – once again the mechanism isn’t particularly complicated, but the workmanship does mean that you won’t spot it straight away – once you do though, it’s pretty much game over with a little drawer popping out immediately. 

Kamei produced an interesting variation on his parcel cube series from the 1990’s with New Parcel Cube. It looks a bit like the old parcel cubes in that it’s a cube with a set of bands around the sides. Whereas the originals had bands that stood proud of the cube, the new version has darker bands that are flush with the surface of the cube … and a little thinking might give you some ideas as to how to get the mechanism started. I found myself taking a little while to work out the right grip, but then I’m a bit slow sometimes … and you might be interested to know that there are two compartments to find … one thing that really struck me about this puzzle is the superb fit – some of the pieces will go together in various orientations, and if you deliberately change their orientation as I did, the final fit is still absolutely perfect … gosh!

Shiro Tajima produced a rather cute looking Sheep. It's clearly a box, and something is obviously going to happen with the belly and the back of this little beastie, but it has a tricky little mechanism to keep things locked up.  

Once you find the first move, you'll be shown a little of what's going on inside, but until you work out what you can see in there and how to use it, this little box is going to remain firmly locked. It's a bit fiddly and won't reward clumsiness, but a deft touch will have it open in seconds.
 
Hideaki Kawashima continued his tradition from last year and produced another Ring Box (no. 3). The first one wash reasonably straight forward and the goal was really to open the box. The second added a great trick to stop you from removing the ring, allowing you to get into the box reasonably easily. This year took the previous puzzle and made it a lot harder … and this one took me by far the longest to solve … I had it out next to where I usually sit to watch the telly and I’d pick it up and try various things each evening – generally to no avail. 

Now, I wouldn’t be spoiling anything to tell you that the box comes with a little card telling you that the goal is to remove the ring from the box … opening the box is pretty straight-forward – there isn’t even a trick to it – the lid is just very well made and virtually invisible to a casual inspection. Once you’ve opened it you’re greeted with a silver ring nestling in a standard ring-box insert – except this one’s thoroughly locked in place! Fiddle around with the box and there are clearly things going on inside there – but it’s hard to tell if it’s a ball bearing or a metal bar in there – one thing you can tell is that working out how to release the ring is non-trivial … so I spent ages fiddling with it over the course of a couple of weeks. 

Every now and then I‘d get a call from one of my puzzling mates who’d ask if I’d solved it yet, and we'd commiserate about the fact that we still hadn’t got the ring out … and then try some more…

One evening I had a call from James asking if I’d solved it yet and then he told me that he’d buckled and had a look at the solution which had just arrived … but that didn’t seem to make sense, so he phoned a friend and between them they managed to work out it, he refused to give me any hints and told me that I’d like it, so I picked it up again and set about things a bit differently, and this time I found the solution, and James was spot-on – I do love it! It’s a brilliant progression from the first two, and I’m not ashamed to say I was totally suckered by it! 

Last but not least, Hiroshi Iwahara brought us Confetto Box 2 – all the goodness of the original Confetto Box, with bells on! Having only recently got a copy of the first Confetto Box, I probably had a bit of a head start on solving it, but it was easily the most complicated of this year’s Christmas presents. Finding the first panel to move isn’t that much of a challenge, finding the next one is rather tricky, and then it only gets harder…

Once you think you’ve worked out the rhythm, it throws you a massive curve ball, and the opening the lid requires understanding everything up to this point and noticing something interesting along the way … get it into the right state and you’re rewarded with a panel that can be removed and a view of the innards – definitely the most complex of my haul of this year’s presents and definitely worth a punt if they come up for sale in the future…
 
So how would I rate this year’s haul? For me there are a couple of fairly simple puzzles that won’t hold up a dyed-in-the-wool puzzler for very long… a classic re-make with a twist, a really unusual looking tricky little box, a brilliant variation on a theme and a terrifically complex puzzle that’s fun to work through… all told a great haul! 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Very sad...

...to hear this evening that John Moores has passed away. 

Having met him in Washington for the first time we shared a common appreciation of Jane Kostick's wonderful work - she'd told us to look out for one another because she thought it was kind of neat that two of her new fans from another continent would be attending the same puzzle meeting in DC.

It was brilliant to have John join a few of us on a puzzle hunt and see him find a new version of one of his Karakuri puzzles in a Tokyo department store and happily add it to his collection. 

...and seeing him in London was truly bitter sweet - we could all see he was struggling, but enjoying being there and getting a huge kick out of taking part in the Exchange - it was exhausting for those of us in good health...

I'd like to think that Big Ben was a way to say Thank You to his puzzling friends - a little something to remember his joy in puzzling. 

So long John... 

...my thoughts are with all your friends and family everywhere. 

Thank YOU.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

It’s all Angus’ fault



[You’re off the hook this time Oli!]


Back at the end of November Angus Lavery posted a pic of his latest impossible object – an earbud cube…


Now having had a limited amount of success with some matchstick cubes a little while back I decided to have a bash at making an earbud cube as well … I reckoned that it should be a bit easier than the matchstick cubes in at least one sense – there were thicker bits at both ends and I reckoned that would probably help with getting the right degree of tension set up in there…


So I duly added a few boxes of earbuds to my next shop at Sainsburys (Yes, I got some very strange looks!) and set about having a go at producing one just before Christmas. 


The ground-rules for these objects are simple – you only get to use the objects themselves in the final construction – no glue or threads or Blue-Tac – just the earbuds.


Now the earbuds may well have thicker bits at both ends, but they’re rather light little things and you need to be careful not to sneeze or breathe too heavily when you’re working on them… 

I followed more-or-less the same approach as I had for the matchstick cubes but as I was worried about keeping the first layer in place, I used a sacrificial piece of masking tape sticky side up on the desk to keep the first nine buds in place… working my way up to virtually full height didn’t take very long and I found that the buds tended to stay where I wanted them rather nicely – so perhaps the masking tape wasn’t necessary after all. 


When it came to lifting the cube and compressing it I found that getting it off the tape was quite a delicate procedure, especially while you’re handling around a hundred odd earbuds loosely assembled into a cube, trying desperately not to waste the last hour’s careful stacking and cajoling. If I make another I suspect I’ll pass on the masking tape…


Building the structure outwards once it’s been properly compressed a couple of times was pretty straight-forward and the structure turns out to be quite forgiving – I found I had a side that wasn’t square so had to effectively remove and replace it in-situ and things help up fine… 


Filling in the sides once the outlines of the cube were done was pretty therapeutic, knowing that the hard work and the risky bits were effectively all done by then… and the end-result after an hour or so’s fiddling – an earbud cube to go on the shelf next to the matchstick cubes from a little while back – success! 


…and thanks Angus for posting that pic and reminding me to have a bash at making one! 

___________________________

On a related theme … I got to meet Sándor Bozóki at IPP34 -  Sándor is one of the leading lights when it comes to matchstick cubes and the like – he not only makes impressive looking matchstick cubes, but he puts them inside bottles as well … and yes, he does them properly! No glue, just matches …


Sándor had a bunch of his pin cubes available for sale at the puzzle party so I picked up two of them… 


Now even though these pin cubes do use adhesive to get them going, they’re still very impressive pieces of patience and engineering … the smaller of the two is made up of 267 11mm pins whilst the larger of the two comprises around 2200 34mm pins … lovely little objects for the shelf of impossibility.