Saturday 14 April 2012

Easter Saturday Mini Puzzle Party

James Dalgety invited me along to one of his customary Mini Puzzle Parties over the past Easter weekend, and as luck would have it, we didn’t have a house full of guests so I was allowed to make the trip down to deepest darkest Devon. 

[James’ directions include warnings against following your sat-nav slavishly and advise drivers of low-slung racing cars not to try driving down to the house]

I ended up going down on my own and made the best of an uneventful drive (those are the best type!) by listening to some CDs I haven’t heard in a while ... I paid careful attention to where I parked as James had warned me that there’d be quite a few folks coming and it often ended up in a game of Tokyo Parking Lot to get everyone back out again...

I arrived to find Lily and Percy (the pups) entertaining Lindsey outdoors with one of their tennis balls. I dropped off some of Gill’s puzzle cake in the kitchen on my way through to the puzzle suite (the puzzle is to work out what the flavour in the cake is ... and it took the ladies quite a while, several samples and even some Googling to eventually find the right answer!) where I found Oli and James already puzzling away. I gave my homework back to James (some unusual burrs needed assembling – and I managed all bar one of them ... and I still reckon there are too many pieces there, although I wasn’t convinced when James suggested it was probably a couple of puzzles!) and unpacked my offerings for the day. 

If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that it’s customary to take along something for the others to take away and puzzle on – and a couple of folks had a go at them during the course of the day, but the Easter eggs I’d taken along as a prize for the first person to find the two boxers, remained unclaimed... Sam dished out a puzzle about retrieving things from behind a radiator (that I still haven’t worked out!), John gave us all a twist on a Sam Loyd puzzle courtesy of his brother Angus, Simon Nightingale gave us a copy of his latest contribution to the Gathering for Gardner. James’ contribution was a Lewis Carroll-ish Snark riddle and Duncan (I think) gave us a copy of an old Bovril puzzle requiring you to make up a bull from a number of bull-ish-shaped pieces that don’t quite work the way you expect them to... and then Tim gave us each one of his little Gathering for Gardner goodie bags – that contained a neat little copy of Angus Lavery’s Elusive ‘E’ puzzle – it definitely seems to be a very firm favourite among puzzlers everywhere... 

Most folks had been along to James’ place a few times already and pretty much settled in with a cup of tea or coffee and picked up a puzzle to start playing with. James had asked me to bring along my Judges Gavel and a few folks had a bash at it – literally! Although some were a bit hesitant and needed some encouragement and I needed to point out that it was a gavel after all, and using it as such isn’t likely to do any harm – every now and then you’d hear a familiar “THWACK!” and you’d know that someone was having a go on it – and every time I heard that I was reminded of Brian Pletcher’s description of the competition puzzle room at IPP31 where the usual silence would be shattered every now and then as someone picked up Mike’s gavel ... it always puts a smile on my face. 

I’d also taken one of Jane Kostick’s wooden & magnetic sculptures along and a couple of folks experimented with taking them apart and reassembling them, although I found it hard to convince people that it really was easy to reassemble – I guess it just looks a bit too much like one of Stewart Coffin’s diabolical puzzles for them to believe that it’s actually quite simple to put back together and even fun to play with. 

I managed to spend some time with John Lavery – chief organiser of the monthly Camden Puzzle meetings - and he’d brought along a book containing some examples of brother Angus’ incredible card-folding ... I’d only ever seen a couple of pictures of impossible playing card folding on the web, but seeing Angus’ designs close-up and personal was pretty mind-blowing – they ranged from designs that looked fairly straight-forward through to one that was literally staggering – five interlinked Olympic rings on a standard playing card – when John showed us that one he smiled and said Angus says this one takes quite a while and doesn’t always work out properly on the first attempt – no kidding!
He also had a couple of pictures on his iPad of linked rolls of sticky tape – they look like they’re fresh off the shelf at WH Smith, except they’re inter-linked ... there’s just something wrong with seeing that, but then the same can be said of Angus’ card-folding – quite simply it all defies belief!
Mr Baker, the butcher, supplied yet another fabulous lunch – with several of us going back for seconds before hitting the wonderful desserts...

During the afternoon Tim Rowett gave us a short talk on his recent trip to Gathering for Gardner in Atlanta and shared some of the little gems he’d picked up there, before the Simons (Bexfield and Nightingale) chipped in with more stories and recollections of what sounded like a fabulous time – which may have included some alcohol according to one or two of the allegations being bandied about. 

Over the course of the day several folks had a bash at one of Geoff Wyvill’s Nova Plexus that James had left on the table hoping it would be assembled – many tried only to see it collapse in a jangly heap of steel rods to the collective groans of all who’d been looking on willing them to succeed – until Oli eventually had a go at it and succeeded where no-one else had managed – and there was much rejoicing and even some posing for a victory photograph!

I’d spent quite a while trying to put a little Japanese burr house structure back together and managed to come reasonably close before I put it to one side with several strategically placed rubber bands holding things together – only to realise on my way home that evening that my approach was flawed and it couldn’t work the way I was trying it and that transposing two pieces would literally have had it together in a matter of minutes ... hopefully James’ll have better luck at it than I did. 

Several Roger’s did the rounds and proved extremely popular with all comers – with everyone seeming to enjoy working out Schleussel (the lock) and then spending ages analysing it and trying to guess exactly what the innards looked like. Oli had a storming day on the Rogers, solving both Eis and Geburt in quick succession before taking over the Stickman #4 Box that I’d totally failed to open – and between him and James they made short-shrift of it. 

I met few more relatively local puzzlers (Yeah, I travelled down to Devon to meet some guys who live less than an hour from me :-)  ) who’ll definitely find themselves being invited along to our little puzzle parties in the Midlands in future – it was nice to meet yet more legendary puzzle designers and see them playing with puzzles they haven’t seen before and seeing the same glint in their eyes when they have that little A-Ha! moment. 

Before I left that evening, I rummaged through a few of James’ box of swaps / spares and managed to lighten my wallet a little and come away with a few really neat little IPP puzzles (including one that he gave me as I arrived; just for coming along, apparently) – I was very chuffed to be able to get a couple of books in wonderful condition to add to the pile to be read at some point – and a large pile of Cubism For Fun back issues ... they’re going to keep me occupied and amused for ages... 

The two and a half hour drive home flew by as I recalled little snatches of conversations and jokes about puzzles while I listened to Robert Miles and U2 – another absolutely wonderful day, thanks to James and Lindsey’s legendary hospitality and generosity. 

Thank you James – you are a scholar and a gentleman! (and I’ll keep buying my lottery tickets!) 


  1. Ooh!!! Jealousy is a terrible thing! Unfortunately I had to work - maybe next time.


  2. Hey Allard, fellow puzzler :)

    I have created an iPhone/iPad game which takes the concept of Rush Hour a bit further. I hope you can test it and let me know what you think. Is it too hard? Is it too simple?

    Here it is:

    Please drop me a line

    Cheers for you and all puzzle lovers :)

  3. Hi Baruch -thanks for that. Neat game and great design work - nice to see some unusual sliding block puzzles ... allard