Friday, 18 August 2017

Laurie Brokenshire - In memory

Our good friend Laurie passed away surrounded by his loving family while we were in Paris at IPP37. This morning we went to his funeral.

There were a few puzzlers there… there were a lot of Royal Navy personnel there… there were a number of Sea Cadet folks in uniform… there were a lot of folk from the fostering community (and young people the Brokenshires had  fostered) there… there were a lot of Magic folks and plenty of Church folks… 

We got there early and managed to get seats – a lot of people who also got there well before the service was due to start didn’t get seats… there were a lot of us there to say goodbye to our friend, colleague, father figure.

Gill & I only met Laurie about 5 years ago, but it seemed like we’d known him and Ethel for ages – he was that sort of bloke – instantly disarming and warm, and just welcomed you into his life and made you feel that you belonged there.

I’d always marvelled at the things that he and Ethel got up – it always seemed that they had a million things on the go at the same time and somehow managed to make time to do each one of them brilliantly. I just love telling my friends and colleagues about this crazy puzzle-friend I have who not once, but twice, flew into the wrong coast for a North American puzzle party and then cycled from Alaska to Ottawa and DC… Laurie was just one of those guys you meet once in a lifetime – the guy who drinks from the firehose of life and still wants more.

At the service this morning there were some familiar stories (picture a group of submariners yelling "Blindfold the duck!") and comments that we immediately recognised as being spot-on descriptions of Laurie ("the red pom-pom's attached to the yellow pom-pom, and the yellow pom-pom's attached to the...") … and then there were the stories we hadn’t even heard (singing Drake's Drum in the main cabin of HMS Victory!) that made some of us realise there were so many more facets to Laurie that we hadn’t even known about… he truly was a giant among men – literally and figuratively.

We're going to miss our puzzling friend – lots of hugs to Ethel and all the Primes. 

Love Allard & Gill

Monday, 14 August 2017

Doing good stuff...

We interrupt this IPP37 broadcast to bring you news of a puzzler wanting to do something good for charity!

Matt is an American puzzling mate of mine who likes to do nice things for people every now and then... for the past couple of years he's commissioned a unique puzzle gift and then given most of them away... and sometimes donated them to a charity auction. 

He's hoping to raise some money for a good cause by asking people to donate to Tony's Place in Houston, and then doing a random drawing from those donating and offering them one of his puzzle gifts: 

 - in 2016, it was the Texas Coin Puzzle from MINE,
 - in 2017, he was gifting a 3-coin puzzle from Robrecht Louage, 
... and next year he's planning to give away copies of Shiro Tajima's "In a cage" puzzle.

I'm lucky enough to own a copy of the first two and got to play with the third in this year's Design Competition at IPP37 (where it received a Jury Honourable Mention Award!) - they are all terrific puzzles... why not do something good by donating to Tony's Place and give yourself a chance at bagging a great puzzle too?

[Pics all courtesy of Matt.] 

Sunday, 13 August 2017

IPP37 Part 1 – Tuesday and Wednesday

Our flight into Charles de Gaulle on Tuesday was relatively dull and boring – the best sort of flight – and the short cab ride got us straight to our hotel on the left bank – or Rive Gauche if you want to sound like a local… at the hotel we immediately find our recent visitors to Barnt Green lurking in the lobby along with Nick, Peter and Lesley…

We check in and unpack before heading down to catch up with everyone, grab a bite to eat and a coffee at the Starbucks in the lobby – Otis is going to like this place! I catch up on Saul’s news (he’s had some lovely young lady jumping on his chest apparently, but he’s doing a lot better now and is certainly a lot more chipper than the last time we’d been in Paris together – his heart now beating at a good pace). 

Gill and I end up in the organisers’ office stuffing welcome packs with brochures and maps (mainly in the puzzlers’ chosen language, but we decided that some of them really should learn a new language and gave them some help) and helping to sort out the t-shirts that had helpfully been rammed randomly into boxes by the suppliers.

We catch up with the gang about an hour after we were supposed at L’Alouette – we’d eaten there in March and were looking forward to going back again as the grub is terrific! We order as soon as we arrive and somehow we get ours at the same time as the others who’ve been there for ages… I have a fantastic burger and John raves about his ravioli so I make a mental note to try that later in the week.  When we get the bill, Nick does the sums and announces what we owe… so we all chuck in and Judith gets thoroughly fleeced – we realise there’s something amiss when the last few people tot up the takings and find they don’t need to put anything into the pot… Susan checks the sums, corrects Nick’s error and we manage to split the bill fairly equitably. For a bunch of international puzzlers we seem to struggle with numbers!

We chat and puzzle in the lobby for a while after dinner – several of us try our hands at Markus’ three-layer maze and all manage to fail spectacularly… I decide it’s probably impossible. (Markus’ puzzles are never simple, but generally also not impossible…). I crash early knowing that Gill’s going to need to be up early to lead the Fabric & Fibre tour…

The alarm does indeed wake us early on Wednesday (and it’s painful, already). Breakfast in our own IPP dining room feels like a big reunion – getting to see friends from all around the world again.

After breakfast Gill and Paulette lead a tour of crafties around the stores they’ve chosen on the recce back in March – the first official IPP37 tour is underway and it feels like a bit of a milestone. (For the record, everyone seems to have a fab time with several people who were just going along for the chat buying a kit and learning a new craft because there was an expert in the group who wanted to teach them… it’s just that sort of group…)

Back in puzzle-world, a couple of us head downstairs in the hope of finding the Design Competition room open for business, instead we find Nick and Gary about to start setting it up for business, so we join in and soon enough have sixty-odd wonderful new designs all laid out and ready for puzzling. At that point we virtually have the room to ourselves and I reckon you can tell a lot by the puzzles that Neil, Peter and I each made a bee-line for. 

Pretty soon I was cursing Peter and my record for that first session was 0 for 4…

I met up with Lionel in the lobby and we introduced ourselves – I’d “met” him online through a puzzle forum and we’d chatted a bit so when I realised we’d be visiting his city I suggested we meet up for a chat and some puzzling and he offered to show us around some of the puzzle shops he knew in Paris… when he mentioned that he hadn’t seen any international puzzlers for around 15 years I decided to try and improve his batting average a little and told everyone I saw in the week or so beforehand, who’d be in Paris, that I was meeting Lionel on the Wednesday morning and we were going puzzle-hunting, feel free to join us…

There were 18 of us there to meet Lionel and wander around his city with him…that group included some serious puzzling royalty and later on back at the hotel I was able to introduce him to even more of my friends… I think we improved his average just a bit that day!

So eighteen of us hopped onto the Metro to the other end of town to visit Variantes, the main shop everyone wanted to get to with fears that the “good stuff” might be gone if we didn’t go there first… we needn’t have worried! Plenty of puzzle-shopping ensued as Wil had clearly stocked them up before our visit – when we were done we all posed outside the store with the assistants for a group photo.

From there we headed north to take some pics of the Notre Dame before searching for some Berthillon ice cream at Haym’s insistence… of course being August, the main outlet was closed, but several local suppliers were more than happy to fulfil all our desires. Wandering west in search of the Joker took us past the beautiful City Hall – heck even the rear of the building is stunning! The Joker turned out to be a bit disappointing as a puzzle store (but gosh it had plenty of games and the like!) and we were beginning to flag so we took over the rear half of a brasserie close to Tumbleweed -which was closed and where the owner has a tongue-in-cheek sign on the door explaining in English that she’s quite lazy now so the store is only open three days a week!. Lionel ended up treating some of us to lunch… merci, mon ami

From there we had a bit of a trek in the stunningly bright sunshine to find a Metro station to head out to Rouge et Noir… who stocked some interesting puzzles and a selection of stunningly beautiful handmade spinning tops… Neil bought a couple to add to his collection and left a very happy man.

We walked the roughly one mile back to the hotel, passing a really long queue for the catacombs near the hotel – it seems to be a hugely popular attraction!

Back at the hotel’s Starbucks I grabbed a coffee with Lionel to share a few puzzles with him and managed to introduce him to Gill and several more puzzlers who happened to wander by and say hello… his batting average improves further. 

After we say our goodbyes I chat to Gill about the super-successful Fabric and Fibre tour before we find the gang for dinner. A bunch of us find ourselves in a little Italian joint just around the corner from the hotel enjoying pizzas and more… there’s plenty of chat about a project that most of them have been involved in and lots of puzzles are being played with around the table… the waiting staff manage not to show too much interest in the puzzles. 

Back at the hotel I spot Wil and give him a jar of crunchy peanut butter that he’d enjoyed so much at our place when he visited earlier in the year… (it’s the little things…) then I head up to his room with a pile of cash and leave again a short while later with a couple of new puzzles including a great little puzzle box and a new assembly puzzle that JCC has made for him.

I hit the Design Competition room once again – this time with a little more success before collecting my crates of exchange puzzles that had arrived via a fellow puzzler's courier service… gawd those things are heavy – I’m going to need a sneaky plan to get them down into the exchange on Saturday without either doing my back in or ruining several pieces of luggage in the process…

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

MPP XXviii

Bloggers challenge: you find yourself with one hour free after a hectic puzzling weekend just before you fly out to a week’s worth of puzzling at IPP – you want to write up the blog post about that weekend but don’t really want to miss your plane… WARNING dear reader – this post may contain more than the usual degree of typos and bad grammar!

MPP XXviii started a day early for me with the early morning arrival of Ken from the US – I collected him from his 07:10 flight and took him back to our place and then fed both of us warm caffeinated beverages…. And then the puzzles came out…

I had one or two new things since he’d last visited 3 years ago, and he’d rather kindly brought along not just a copy of his new puzzle for this year’s IPP – Migraine – it deserves a complete blog entry so I won’t say much more about it here – he also gave me a set of puzzles that had been rejected by an earlier IPP as a delegates’ gift… he introduced them as his rejects… and if those were rejects, then WOW, just WOW – I loved them…

Later on in the afternoon Jen and Neil arrived not-so-fresh from Scotland where they’d been visiting Neil’s family and we headed down the road to the deli when we met the gang from up North: Frank and Jo had ferried down the American and Australian visitors and we duly took over the little local deli for the night – strangely none of the local pubs could accommodate 13 of us – or they’d heard about just how rowdy these puzzlers can be! Not sure which it was…

We had a brilliant time catching up over pizzas and various cold drinks – Jim was relieved he could get a Martini… I’m not sure John enjoyed the burger much, but the pizzas were fab and I know that Brian enjoyed his pizza… after dinner we decamped to the house for some coffee and a gentle round of puzzling – actually it was mainly chatting given we hadn’t seen one another for the best part of a year in most cases…

Next morning Neil, Ken and I headed down to the hall to open up and set out the tables before folks began arriving… Tim T was first on the scene with a whole bunch of antique puzzles for sale so he spread himself out over a couple of tables – possession being nine-tenths and all that! I laid in supplies of cake and cooldrinks and we were ready to go.

The “local” puzzlers rolled in first, with the visitors arriving a little later – apparently jet-lag is still a bit of an issue… that or they’d had a few very late nights up-North! Brian laid out his wares on a table that was instantly mobbed by eager puzzlers wanting to collect a copy of The Louvre and a number of other interesting goodies…

Big Steve had been printing stuff again and had us all puzzling on a co-ordinate motion collaboration between himself and Derek where the co-mo is both compression and expansion at the same time, albeit in different axes… lots of fun to encourage puzzlers to squeeze here and then watch the looks on their faces when the puzzle literally explodes and leaves them with a bunch of pieces on the table, floor or in their coffee: Oli and I were watching Kevin experiment and it duly exploded sending pieces everywhere and splashing his coffee in the process… Kevin expresses concern and Oli and I both at the same time say “As you can find all 13 pieces you’re fine.”  Kevin duly manages to find twelve and we peer intently into his coffee…  he does show a brief moment of panic before he realises that we’re having him on and there are only 12 pieces in the puzzle…

Wee Steve has been busy too and unveiled the Jabberwocky Chest from the Witzend Collective (quite literally – it was in a clear acrylic case and he pulled back the sheet). There are some lovely looking things in there from some of the leading lights in the puzzling community… wish I could tell you more about the puzzles, but we weren’t allowed to touch, so we took a few pics and went back to the puzzles we were allowed to play with…

Lunch was the usual procession to get pig buns and fish suppers… enjoyed in the room next to the hall, with plenty of banter! The girls had a full-on sit-down lunch in the local tea-room – by all accounts it was brilliant too. Best quote of the day went to Oli: Big Steve had turned down an offer of some extra chips telling us his physique was the product of several years of carefully controlled diet and a strict physical regimen – at which point Oli asked “Yikes, how many puzzles have you eaten?”

Simon Nightingale had brought along several crates full of puzzles he was trying to offload and did his usual schpiel of insisting that buyers donate directly to Oxfam rather than give him anything for the treasures he was trying to get rid of… I took several and donated generously the next morning…

John Rausch had brought along a couple of new goodies from Jane Kostick and demonstrated one of them – a beautiful little construction that needs a jig to set it all up (unless you’ve got more hands than the average human – and yes, I know that’s pretty much every single human on the planet -  you know what I mean!!!!) – he wouldn’t demonstrate the other one just in case I happened to end up getting a copy and seeing the shape might help me… nice man that Rausch! 

The rest of the afternoon whizzed by and around 6pm we decamped to chez Walker for the traditional fish suppers… pre-ordered because if you just rock up and ask for 18 fish and chips they can look a bit panicked! Peter’s Pan was up to its usual standards and everyone had a great dinner…

Some of the visitors experimented a little with the special gins I’d laid in for them, with Tiger being the apparent favourite by the end of the weekend – that bottle had been flattened! 

There was a lot of puzzling in the cave and even more general chatter all around the house – a couple of times there were loud guffaws from the lounge – clear signs that people were enjoying themselves… definitely a worthwhile undertaking. 

Somewhere around 11pm the visitors began to fade so I ran them back down to the B&B…

Next morning just after 10am most of them arrived back again for a BBQ of note – there seemed to be a lot of merry banter, with the occasional puzzle thrown in… and a couple of times it was really brilliant to see a bunch of mates just enjoying being together again and chatting – often without a puzzle in sight… (I know, I know – 20 Hail Coffins as penance…) 

I managed to feed Frank and Jo before they needed to head back up the road to return the mini-bus they’d hired to ferry everyone around… and then set about grilling a metric-shed-load of cow (and a bit of chicken) for the assembled masses. An hour or two later we were ready to eat…!

Some more serious puzzling followed the braai and the ice cream and choccie sauce, with several people hauling out the things they’d been planning to solve from various cabinets in the cave… I got Neil and a couple of the guys to have a bash at the puzzle that Tracey had made for me – they made pretty short work of it, even knocking off the word-puzzle in short order … although they couldn’t place the quotation as being from Dr Seuss. :-)

We duly puzzled into the evening (again!) before Chris and I ran them all back down to the B&B.

…and the next morning we ferried everyone to the train station and made sure they caught their trains into London so they could skip across the channel, where I’m about to join them…

(Yes you can dash off a quick blog post and not miss your plane!)

Thanks to Ken, Neil and Brian for the puzzles you gave to me…I shall blog about them as soon as I’m allowed (in two cases) and when I get back from Paris in the other! – Cheers guys – that was a brilliant weekend for Gill and I!