Thursday, 4 February 2016

Wish Cube – Johan Heyns

I first came across Johan on the old Renegades forum a few years ago – he went by the handle “Ou Toppie” which picked him out in a crowd as a fellow-South African (with a good sense of humour!) so we traded the occasional message and I enjoyed the opportunity to exercise my dwindling Afrikaans.

Sometime over the last couple of years Johan began posting more and more pictures of the puzzles he was making for himself and several of us chorused approval and occasionally enquired about the possibility of perhaps buying a copy of something from him. Somewhere along the way he began entertaining the idea of perhaps making a couple of puzzles for sale and we piled in – and there’s a rather nice copy of Derek’s Really Bent Board Burr in my cabinet as a result…

Late last year Johan picked up an abandoned project and began work on improving his Wish Cube – a design he’d originally intended submitting for the Apothecary Chest project. A pic or two appeared online and a while later Jack Krijnen popped in to visit and between the two of them they improved the design a little – to the extent that Johan decided he’d be prepared to make some for sale – I threw my hat in the ring immediately.

It arrived early in the New Year and I’m rather glad I took a copy – this is a statement puzzle! It ain’t dainty! 
There is a lot of wood in there… all rather nicely treated and carefully finished – a serious labour of love!

OK – so what is it?

At its heart, it’s a box – sorry Kevin, it’s a box.
There’s a drawer in the centre that contains a puzzling set of pentominoes (and some extra space) but that drawer is well and truly locked in place in the surrounding frame. That frame houses a set of 14 burr pieces that all interact and keep the drawer locked in place… and that frame is made up of a huge number of pieces itself…

Your first task is to manipulate the various burr-y bits to release the drawer … finding the first move isn’t too hard, but the second move is quite nicely disguised… once you find your bearings there’s a lovely rhythm to working through the moves required to release the drawer … after twenty-something moves…!

Having removed the drawer, you’ll find a set of pentomino pieces under a cover in the corner – securely jammed in place by a handy spare stick – tip them out and then try and get them back in there under the cover… serious challenge.

OK, back to the outer piece: your next challenge is to remove the burr bits without dismantling the outer cage (doing it while dismantling the outer cage isn’t hugely challenging, so leave the cage alone for now…). Once you’ve removed all the burr-y bits, you can dismantle the cage itself and scramble the pieces… go off and make yourself a nice cup of coffee and then settle down for a few hours while you reassemble everything – that is a nice challenge – especially if you assemble the cage first and then introduce the burr-y bits.

Having taken it apart and reassembled it a few times you have to admire the design, and the attention to detail with all of the potentially vulnerable cubies having been securely pinned in place – thanks Johan!

…it’s a great big onion of a puzzle that just keeps on puzzling the puzzlist!

...and Kevin seems to be a pretty big fan as well...


Bonus Puzzle! Johan tossed a couple of deeply African handmade Buttonhole Puzzles into the box - one for me and one for a mate - Thanks Johan! :-) 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Compressed and Round Trip by Gregory Benedetti

Greg’s burr designs have never been accused of being similar to other designs – Greg’s designs stand out! In their solved states, some of them may look reasonably conventional, but that’s just a ruse to lull you into a false sense of security…

Back in Washington D.C. his Blind Burr kicked my backside very thoroughly when I tried to solve it in the Design Competition room… and I was delighted when I finally worked it out. The Ambigram Burr changed the rules quite a bit and his Glued and Welded burrs are just the thing to inflict on someone who reckons that a burr is a burr is a burr… 

At last year’s IPP Greg came up with another new take on burr design – he’d dubbed it New Old-School (or NOS) and the pieces had a rather distinctive look about them… with a few diagonal cuts it was clear these pieces were meant to slide along one another in pretty unusual ways. He’d had a few of his new designs 3D-printed and was handing them around for puzzlers to have a bash at… and one evening I spent a good hour or so trying to assemble what Greg assured me was the simplest of the ones he had there… I didn’t feel particularly bright as the others were all solving them far quicker than I was… 

One of the other people showing a fair amount of interest in those designs at IPP35 was Eric Fuller, so when he announced that he’d made up a few copies of two of Greg’s NOS designs I didn’t hang about… and they are every bit as good as I hoped they’d be!

NOS 1 is also known as Compressed – Eric’s made these in maple and done a great job of making them look like standard six-piece burrs… of course they don’t behave like standard six-piece burrs, but that’s half the fun of them! 

Start fiddling with this one and you can actually get one or two pieces to appear to move in a pretty standard manner… it doesn’t seem to help, but it is a little comforting! 

Experiment a little more and you’ll find pieces start interacting, and then things start getting really funky! Soon enough you’ll have pieces heading in all sorts of different directions and shortly after that you’ll find you have a hand-full of pieces! 

Well done… now all you have to do is reassemble them – Good luck!

[Actually, with only two types of pieces it’s not too difficult but seems a bit fiddly the first few times… but rest assured – there’s a reasonably simple strategy for putting them all back together again that doesn’t require an extra pair of hands and the skills of a circus contortionist!] 

…and I’m willing to bet that you’ll be rather surprised at the final move-count… after all the other interesting things you tried to do with those pieces earlier on in your journey… :-)

NOS 3 a.k.a. Round Trip is a lovely rich Padauk. Once again this is another wolf in sheep’s clothing – fiddle around and try to find the first move, and when you do, it is guaranteed to take you by surprise! Weird stuff happens – all by itself… this thing takes on a life of its own. 

…get past that first little surprise and then it sort of behaves itself – as long as you’re OK with multiple pieces moving all the time..

The first piece is released after a few moves, but the next takes quite a few more – and they’re quite interesting… until you manage to totally dismantle it and find the pieces are all unique – and if they don’t imbue you with great respect for Master Fuller’s craftsmanship, you aren’t paying attention. 

Putting this one back together again is a totally different challenge to NOS 1 … and provides a nifty exercise in logic. 

A couple of awesome Benedetti designs cleverly made by Fuller … hopefully there’ll be a lot more from that team – and you know it’ll be a wild ride if there is!

...and don't just take my word for it! Kevin really approves as well!!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Stickman Matchbox Puzzle (a.k.a. Stickman #29)

Robert Yarger announced the latest little Stickman masterpiece in an email in mid-November last year… Rob’s puzzles are SO popular that he’s forced to offer them on a lottery-basis (you can sign-up on his website) or he’d risk upsetting a number of collectors who consider his creations super-collectible! Having had the email with the offer to buy a copy of the latest Stickman puzzle, I spent a little while weighing up the pros and cons, debating things internally and then sent him the money approximately 12 milliseconds later…

Rob duly popped it in the post and it rocked up at Puzzling Times HQ a couple of weeks later (after a little detour to HMRC for the traditional ransom demand) … unfortunately for me, Gill has developed a bit of a Christmas tradition: any packages addressed to me arriving at chez Walker in December are automatically confiscated, wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree…

So I had to wait until Christmas morning before I was allowed to open the package and play with the newest toy in my Stickman collection…

I had a wonderful Christmas morning, let me tell you!

This little box is easily one of the cutest looking puzzles you’re going to come across – designed to resemble a matchbox, Rob’s gone to huge lengths make it look thoroughly matchbox-like – and simply gorgeous! The label on the box is picked out in yellowheart and detailed with the Stickman branded logo and there’s a bunch of beautiful inlaid maple veneer just to provide additional detailing and features on the box… and it wouldn’t be a proper matchbox without striking surfaces down the sides – in wenge … and they’re purposefully not flat with the sides of the box, they stick out just a bit like they would on a real matchbox… just so that it looks right – no other reason! Push the drawer open a bit and there are a bunch of large matches inside – purple-headed, white-tipped matches … all handmade by Rob…

Right, so it looks great – what about the puzzle?

Well, Rob described it as “somewhat simple in operation” … “when compared to past Stickman designs” – and the clue is on the comparator – given just how complex some of the previous designs have been, that’s a fair comment, but the first part on its own would certainly not be a fair description of the puzzle at all!

Push the drawer and it will come out a little bit – more than enough to admire the lovely matches inside there, but clearly there’s more to this than just a drawer that opens about a quarter of an inch… spend some time exploring things a little and soon enough you’ll find some other bits move a bit – and you might even find yourself being able to do something you hadn’t previously been able to do – progress!

Find how to combine those discoveries together and you’ll be able to work through the roughly 10-steps needed to open the box fully and find the secret compartment…

Amazing skills in a beautiful little puzzle…