Thursday, 19 May 2011

Opening Bat

Brian Young, aka Mr Puzzle has been creating special Limited Edition puzzles around the end of the each year since 1993. Back in December he announced this year’s Limited Edition would include a new sequential discovery puzzle of his own design. The description promised something special based on a cricketing theme that Brian’s been working on since the issue of a Donald Bradman commemorative 20 cent coin in 2001. It also promised “a lot of steps including three major locks and more different puzzles, locking mechanisms and tools than Brian has ever incorporated into a single puzzle before”. Thinking about this puzzle quickly deteriorated into an internal conversation about ‘when’ rather than ‘whether’ I’d be buying one … it arrived just before the Easter weekend. 
First impressions
It’s not a small puzzle… an Opening Bat is never going to disappear in among a collection of puzzles – it is going to stand out, in a number of ways. For one thing, it’s a cricket bat and a set of stumps! It might not be made of willow (it’s Queensland Silver Ash) but it sure looks like a little cricket bat – the shape’s spot-on and the coin inlaid into the top of the handle looks excellent. The stumps and oval are made from lovely bits of really interesting Papua New Guinean Ebony. On the face of it, you get a wooden bat, with a few confusing looking joints in it – we’ll worry about those later – and an oval-shaped base with the stumps and bails on it – the only bits of metal you can see are the commemorative coin in the handle and a pin sticking out of the oval base that the bat stands on (so when it looks like its leaning up against the stumps, it’s actually resting on this crafty little pin in the base). 

Brian’s words of wisdom….
The Opening Bat comes with a couple of words of wisdom from Brian, reminding you of some of the stuff from the description on the website (there are lots of puzzles to solve, there’s plenty of metalwork, there are no gravity pins, no bashing is required) and gives some new words of wisdom (the stumps are glued to the base – don’t break them off - that won’t help you; and don’t try and prise the coin out the handle – that’s the wrong way to do it, you will hurt the bat) … err, great, but that doesn’t really point you in the right direction or anything, so…

Let the puzzling begin…
OK, the obvious thing to examine first is the bat – the web site says that the name of the puzzle is really what it’s all about – opening the bat, and a quick look at the bat will show you there are a couple of joints across the bat, neatly dividing it into three parts – and remembering that Brian said there are three major locks to be defeated, this might be a good place to start ... something is a bit weird about the joints though -  they both look like some variant of those impossible dovetail joints – there’s a dovetail on the back of the bat, but a straight joint along the front of the bat... which may disturb you for a little while if you haven’t seen one of them before... OK, there’s nothing to pull apart or unscrew on the bat, and the joints won’t budge, so let’s explore elsewhere...

Exploring some of the other bits leads to a couple of interesting discoveries where all is not quite as it seems – with some perfectly innocent-looking little items yielding some rather odd looking (and in fairness a couple of rather innocent-looking) tools – being the sort of puzzler who enjoys exploring, I tend to try and unearth everything I can in one area before moving on to the next – so this leaves me with a bunch of newly discovered tools (and I use the word loosely!) with no idea of what might be useful or indeed where to use them... but we’re making progress...

So we shift attention back to the main feature – the opening of the bat – and find one of the tools seems to be useful at one end of the bat, although working out exactly how to use said tool, and what order to take certain actions takes a little while ... but after a bit of playing around, something releases and the first of the three locks opens up – a bit of investigating the locking mechanism shows that Brian has not only built in a rather fiendish multi-stage locking mechanism, but also kindly placed a couple of red-herrings and a really nasty dead end in there...

Having removed the first section of bat, you’re greeted by an interesting array of metalwork in the next section – helpfully at this stage I have a couple of unused tools from earlier, so working out what to do here doesn’t take too long – with some of the progress yielding even more interesting tools – several of which ‘interact’ with the previous round of tools – all of which is interesting, but releasing tools is one thing, this isn’t getting us past the next lock – having explored all that you seem to be able to do, the second weird dovetail is still solidly locked together. 

At this point, we exercise the little grey cells a bit more and the little fingers a bit less – and then start experimenting seriously with the tools and find all manner of ways to assemble new and interesting devices from them, and eventually a penny drops, along with something magnetic (Brian did warn there were quite a few of those!) – which then lets you exercise your new creations in a different way, unlocking the second dovetail...which effectively leaves the handle and the shoulder of the bat – and I’m probably not giving anything away by saying this – there’s a small hole at the one end and that’s it – no other way in – and blowing / sucking does nothing (sometimes it’s worth trying that with Brian’s creations, trust me!). 

At this stage I should point out that from the beginning, you will have heard something rolling around in the handle every now and then – now that you’ve removed two thirds of the bat, that noise is still there, hasn’t changed and is rather confusing...

Right, so I have a pile of tools, some of which I know I’ve found a use for already, some of which I haven’t. Some of them will fit into the hole in the bottom of the handle, some won’t – all appear pretty useless ... remembering there are some magnets, we explore those a bit and quickly establish that there are magnetic things in the handle – yay – playing around with the magnets doesn’t seem to do much use or really teach you much about the innards either, to be honest. So I prod and poke and screw and unscrew things, all to no avail... and at this point in the story, I takes a bit of a break to spend time with family and friends and don’t do an awful lot of puzzling – so I make zero progress for a couple of weeks... in the meantime I read on the inter-web that a couple of the leading lights in the puzzling community are finding it tough cracking this one as well (I take a little comfort!) – although Brian Pletcher manages to crack it reasonably efficiently (3 hours!!) – but I reckon he’s really a puzzle-cracking robot in disguise!

Roll forward a couple of weeks and I find myself with a bit of time on my hands and decide to attack the bat-who-must-not-be-named-that’s-been-staring-at-me-on-my-desk-for-jolly-weeks-now. After a couple of false starts on that first lock – I’d reassembled the bat for my break - (which I then examine in a lot more detail this time and take a few mental notes), I get back to my nemesis, the final major lock – with all my tools laid out, configured how I think they might be useful I start eliminating possibilities. Turns out that doesn’t take too long, unfortunately the last lock is still resolutely, err, locked. So I cast my mind back to something Brian mentioned in his blog about being able to work out what’s going on in the last bit, making some deductions about what might be going on in there and then logically being able to deduce how to defeat it, and I take some hope...and some caffeine and then sit down and listen to what this puzzle is telling me – I’d built a possible theory of where I was trying to get to some time back, but I couldn’t see how I could get there with what I had. So I listened to the puzzle some more. (Yes, it was just coffee I was drinking! Nothing alcoholic... I’m just strange.) After about another hour or so, it started to make sense – I thought I knew what the noise was, and why it behaved the way it did – and if I was right, then this last lock was incredibly mean – at least in the sense that there is literally no way you could ever fluke it – you would have to solve it properly, or not at all...

So back to the pile of tools this puzzle has delivered, combine a couple of the stranger ones and set about testing the theory ... and at first, there’s nothing different, but then something changes and from there on out this puzzle puts a huge smile on your face – because the last lock opens with such a flourish that it’s like holding a little piece of theatre in your hands as it plays out the final act – glorious stuff!

OK, so final check: Brian says inside the puzzle you’ll find an extra set of wickets, check! A Ball, check! A floppy hat, check! ... and even a stylised Ashes Urn...  (I can imagine a puzzler in a hurry might easily miss one of those little items :-) )

All up, I reckon I must have spent about 6 hours solving this one – if it’s not already clear, I think it’s an epic puzzle. The sequential discovery elements keep you finding new stuff and giving you new alleyways to explore – there are plenty of surprising little puzzles to solve along the way, including a number that are disguised and easy to overlook – however, unless you not only find them all, but also solve them all, you don’t progress and you find your path barred. And that final solve is choreographed beautifully – it tells you that you’ve arrived and rewards you all at the same time. 

Brian Young, you ought to be proud of this, very proud!


  1. Oooh! I really really want one of these. Unfortunately the price is out of my league. Thanks for the vicarious experience.


  2. Are you trying to bankrupt us?? Good thing I'm not into sequential discovery puzzles but it sure sounds like fun. :-(

  3. Sounds like a great puzzle. Whether I can convince my other half to let me have one is another story though. Great review. Thanks for sharing!