Friday 4 November 2011

DCD preamble – meeting Wil Strijbos

Blogging on the high seas*

Earlier this year I joined the Nederlandse Kubus Club – which might strike you as a rather odd thing to do, as I live in the UK and I’m not particularly into twisty puzzles. There were two main reasons for joining though – [1] they publish an excellent newsletter several times a year called Cubism For Fun and [2] they organise an annual Dutch Cube Day (DCD to its mates), which while it hosts the Dutch National Speed-cubing Championships, also hosts a brilliant puzzle get-together for puzzlers from across Europe. This year’s meeting was going to be held in Eindhoven – where my good puzzling mate Louis lives – the stars had indeed aligned and it would be rude not to join up and wander along...

Having decided that I was going to attend the DCD, and that it made sense to travel across on the Friday, Louis set about lining up an itinerary for me (and Nigel when he arrived the next morning). 

I was due to get into Eindhoven at lunch time after a flight out of Birmingham at sparrows’ and a couple of hours on a train from Amsterdam – so Louis managed to arrange a visit to Wil Strijbos about an hour up the road from Eindhoven for Friday afternoon and evening. 

When we got to Wil’s he was waiting at the front door for us – eager to meet a new puzzler and show him around. As soon as you walk in the front door, you know this is a serious puzzler’s home –in fact you’re left with the impression that the puzzles have taken over, and they allow Wil to stay just to look after them. There are puzzles everywhere – literally! Every horizontal surface is covered in puzzles and a good number of the vertical surfaces are as well. Mental note: I forgot to check the ceilings for puzzles! It wouldn’t surprise me.

Wil shows us into the lounge to start – and there are puzzles on shelves, puzzles in cabinets, puzzles on the hi-fi and Wil’s chosen a selection of puzzles to make sure we try them, laid them out on the coffee table... pretty soon after we get there Wil’s offering us coffee and cake (this kind gent has gone out and bought a selection of cakes and an entire cherry cake for just the three of us, and he’s taking us out to dinner later on as well!).

There are rows and rows of Karakuri boxes on shelf after shelf – I find myself recognising the odd, more unusual ones and wondering if I’m ever likely to see this many of them all together in one place without visiting the Karakuri guys themselves in Japan. At some point Wil and Louis suggest I should have a go at his Pentagon box – knowing I haven’t seen one before –and it’s delightful – the sound and the feel when the mechanism unlocks itself is tactile – I love it when a puzzle lets you know that you’ve beaten it. 

I pick up a Ribbon Box #2 and manage to find a couple of sliders but apart from that, it keeps me resolutely out. I’ll have to come back to that one in the future some time.  At some point in the afternoon, Wil disappears briefly and returns with a Kamei barrel – beautifully repaired by the master himself after Wil had acquired it in slightly less than perfect condition. The wood is rich and gorgeous and you get the idea that this puzzle’s been through the hands of a number of notable puzzlers. 

Wil starts talking about his IPP experiences and brings out the Rubik’s cube that served as his first IPP invitation – back in the days when the IPP was held at Jerry Slocum’s house – it’s grown a little since then... back then each invitation was in the form of a puzzle to be solved to tell you where and when the next IPP was – a lovely way of earning your right to attend and proving your puzzling credentials. 

A bit later in the afternoon we’ve moved upstairs and Louis and I spot a Stickman Lock Box up on a shelf, so the conversation turns to Stickmen (Wil already knows I’m a big fan) – and a couple of minute later he reappears with a Stickman #3 Box still in a cardboard sleeve, I fiddle with it a little, and don’t stand a hope in heck of working out the relationship between the levers and cogs and sliders before Wil reappears with a Stickman #2 box, so my attention shifts to this one that seems to be a bit more ‘accessible’, after all I manage to identify some sliders and expand the box a bit, but then Wil truly blows my mind – he wanders in with a Stickman Chess Box ... which stops me in my tracks. 

I feel the need to explain to Wil that this was the one, single box that I spotted on Cubic Dissection that literally caught my imagination when I started looking into high quality puzzle boxes. Rob’s Chess Box literally took my breath away not just because of its beauty (if anything it’s even better looking in the flesh than on Eric’s website) but the description of the process for opening the various drawers was simply staggering ... there and then I decided that “one day when I grow up”, that’s the one box I have to have in my collection. Given that only 26 of them were ever made, and they sold for $1 085 back in 2007, I think it’s fair to say they’re pretty sought-after ... I’ve only seen one on auction recently and it went for well north of a few grand, if memory serves – and here’s Wil nonchalantly dragging one out to play with... it’s all a bit mind-blowing. I don’t even try and start it – I just stare at it and fondle it for a while... (sorry). I just take photographs of the Stickmen – and while I’m doing that Wil wanders in with a Beast Box (!) – later on I spot a Snowball Box on the shelf that isn’t even mentioned ...

While we’re upstairs Wil presents me with one of his Perrier bottles – it has a one inch piece of rod trapped inside with a piece of stainless steel tube glued into the lip projecting downward to just above the height of the trapped rod. He even gives me an envelope with the solution, but suggests that most people will need it at some point. He and Louis then attempt the free-hand solution of lining up the rod with the tube and quickly lowering the bottle to allow the rod to fly out ... it doesn’t work – Wil smiles and says he’d like to know that my collection now included one of his Perrier bottles. [I solve it the next day while Louis and I are waiting to meet the others for dinner – what an excellent puzzle – I solved it myself, and yet, I used the solution that Wil supplied – work that one out!]  

We ask Wil about his bottles and bolts and he invites us into his basement – at which point Louis’ jaw drops – he’s been to Wil’s place a few times in the past and had no idea there was a third floor! We follow Wil down to the basement and into his workshop where he’s currently turning lots (!) of long red rods into a combination of shorter red rods with holes in them in strategic places and bits of red swarf – there’s quite a collection on the bench, but he’s also collected an entire bin of the stuff – he’s been doing a lot of work on those rods getting ready for the upcoming German Christmas markets – Wil reckons he’s made up stacks and stacks of bottles over the years – mainly for the Christmas markets. I’m also pleased to say that there were piles of sundry Strijbos bolts in various stages of assembly, so I’m sure that some more will be released on a grateful public in due course. 

At dinner time we head into town to Wil’s favourite restaurant where he treats us to dinner and more entertaining stories. (If Wil ever wrote a blog, there’d have to be a series of stories in there about his time with Harry Eng – including one entitled “The day I almost killed Harry Eng” – you’ll need to ask him to tell you the story... ) 

At one stage during dinner Wil hands me a gift of a stone in a pretty little bag – and he challenges me to work out what’s special about it and where it comes from. At first I think it’s got some reddish rock painting on it, but that’s not it. He tells me to hold it to my ear and shake, and it rattles – but it’s a stone and he assures me that it’s a naturally occurring stone, not something that’s been manufactured. Shake it and there is definitely something inside the stone rattling around. My challenge is then to find out about it and where it comes from – and since then Google has taught me about the process of concretion and discoveries of these sorts of stones both in the Netherlands and in Australia – but I think there’s still more to uncover about these enigmatic little stones. 

Dinner is great and we’re soon back at Wil’s trawling through yet more puzzles. Louis and I spend some time on a “lock” by Gary Foshe that looks so simple, yet totally dumbfounds both of us. It’s an open frame with a shackle going through it and an interfering threaded rod down the bottom and a rod toward the top – which combine to keep the shackle totally trapped – no amount of tugging and prodding and screwing, with and without the accompanying hex tool, brought us anywhere near a solution ... next time...

A Frank Chambers’ matchbox appears at some point and Louis has a go on it, quickly finding a single match, only to realise that he really needs another ... J Once it’s solved Wil says he has a spare, would I like one? [Yes, one has now joined my little collection for a very reasonable price – and it’s an excellent combination of humour and puzzle, in just the right combination. ]

Wil gives us a bit of a tour around one of his cabinets of precious little things – including a massive (!) collection of tiny Alan Boardman micro-burrs – the precision required at the size is phenomenal – and there are piles of them in this cabinet – all different – all exquisite. 

I’m not even going to mention the shelf-full of aluminium puzzles, including the complete collection of Roger D puzzles ... mind-blowing still doesn’t really cover it properly. half past midnight we called it a night, I’m glad that Louis is driving us back to Eindhoven, not just because they drive on the wrong side of the road over there, but I’m absolutely knackered, having spent an absolutely delightful 10 hours at a puzzle palace with a wonderful gentleman – getting the opportunity to play with some puzzles that I’ve only read about, and listen to puzzling tales about the legends in the business. 

You can’t buy that sort of experience, and yet Wil seems happy to share it with anyone who’s interested enough to ask – what a wonderful gent.

Thanks for an unforgettable day, Wil. Louis, thanks for making it all happen. I really hope I can repay the hospitality you both showed me last Friday. Cheers guys.
Bonus points if you recognise this little guy...
*Cruising the north Atlantic between Malaga and Tenerife – where there’s plenty of pitching and rolling and most of the family is looking a bit green trying to stay horizontal.


  1. Wow! Sure sounds like you had a fun time! I don't think I'd ever get any work done if I had a collection like that, it sounds like puzzler's dream. Oh, and the Kumiki dog looks suspiciously like the one on the front of Jerry Slocum's "Puzzles Old and New".

  2. Great write-up by Allard. It is so true, every word of it. And he did not even mention the non-puzzle-related fun we had with the pen collection, the hidden 'art' collection, the fridge-opener, and the moment we saw Roger.
    I enjoyed the visit as much as Allard and Wil did, it was great to spend time with these two fellow (although slightly more successful) puzzle collectors.
    Allard I was happy to repay a bit of the hospitality you have shown me over the last year at all of the MPPs, see you at the next one.

    But I completely missed that dog, must have been while I was working on a few puzzles from Berlin...

  3. Who is the woman in the background in that one photo? In the same photo is also a cat with laser eyes about to zap you!

  4. @Chris: Spot on mate - noticed it staring at me from a shelf late on Friday night and thought to myself, I'm sure I recognise that little puppy... cute little puzzle - hadn't realised the head swivels.
    @Louis: Cheers mate - yeah I didn't mention any of the other collections because I'd already got to four pages with just the puzzle-related stuff ... got to leave some surprises for folks visiting Wil too!
    @George: I forget her name, she stood in the corner most of the time we were there and didn't say very much, but she and Wil go back a VERY LONG WAY. :-) - Sorry about the laser eyes on Sammy, didn't have a chance to tidy them up in Photoshop before we came away...