Thursday, 5 July 2012

Some random bits and bobs

The last time I visited James Dalgety, he was having a bit of a clear-out and had put aside a bunch of puzzles in some plastic crates for swap or sale, including a special crate of interesting items to be offered on a future puzzle auction – those were well beyond my financial reach on the day! (I hadn’t ever seen a new-in-box Panex Gold Puzzle before … didn’t think they still existed …)
After I’d done a sweep of the duplicate books shelf and picked up some interesting titles and half of a set of Cubism For Fun magazines*, I turned my attention to the swaps boxes and picked through a veritable treasure trove. I seemed to keep stumbling across things I recognised as being rather special, from my puzzle-reading and it would have been very easy to spend a whole lot more.
I picked up three rather interesting little puzzles that afternoon.
Peppermint Twist was John Ergatoudis’ IPP17 Exchange Puzzle. Reminiscent of a twisted sugar cane, this is a sweet little puzzle. (Sorry, I’ll behave.) It consists of four twisted steel strands that fit together to make a stable, neat structure … as long as the pieces are in the right place.
Starting from the solved position, it soon becomes totally clear that the only way to get these pieces apart is to slide one of them out the end by twisting it out of the bundle, and once the first one is out, sliding the next one out is easier, and soon enough you’ll have four twisted bits of metal that all look rather similar.
Reassembly isn’t totally straight-forward as there are a number of ways of putting three strands together that look pretty good only to find that the last one won’t engage… and there are some almost-solutions that leave the last piece so tight that you may well damage something in the process of trying to slot it back in … but when you find just the right combination, the last piece slides in ever-so-gently, just like it was meant to.
A fun puzzle to fiddle absent-mindedly with…

I first spotted a copy of the Perplexity puzzle on Rob Stegmann’s mammoth web-site and thought it looked neat, so when I found a copy in the swaps-bin I put it on one side.
According to Edward Hordern’s Sliding Piece Puzzles book (acquired from James on an earlier visit) these puzzles were the subject of a 1900 patent and have been produced in several forms over the years.  Rob’s collection includes several variations on the theme in his section on Sliding Block Puzzles.
The one I got is a pretty tidy example of the main variant that was first produced in 1919 – I’m not sure exactly when this copy dates back to – but it’s almost certainly just become the oldest puzzle in my little collection, by a very long way!
The letters slide up and down the main track, with a couple of branch lines permitting a bit of storage and shuffling space and the aim of the puzzle is to spell out PERPLEXITY along the main track – first backwards, then forwards. 
My first thoughts were that it wasn’t tremendously difficult as a puzzle because there’s a fair amount of space on the sidelines and there are a couple of pairs of letters that are interchangeable – however I’d totally missed a couple of subtleties about the buttons and totally failed to understand why sometimes there seemed to be a lot more space to work with than other times ... and I only discovered those after reading Edward Hordern’s notes on this little puzzle...
It’s a cute little historical artefact that’s survived many years so far – I’ll try and keep it going for a bit longer… 
[Jerry wrote about his copy over here if you're interested in some more thoughts...] 

My third interesting little find in the swap-boxes was a copy of Allan Boardman’s IPP13 exchange puzzle – a Circular Tangram. At about two inches across it’s a dinky little puzzle, as you might expect from the chap whose burrs are usually measured in single-digit millimetres across. It’s a maple tray with a set of tangram pieces resting in it –and when I first had a look at the pieces I assumed they were some sort of thin acrylic sheet – they’re only about 1.64 mm thick and are black as night. 
I was somewhat embarrassed when a bit more research on t’internet informed me that the pieces were in fact finely cut ebony – wow – of course I then added to the embarrassment by admitting this to one or two more experienced puzzlers who had a good laugh at the fact that I could have thought mister Boardman would have used acrylic – I mean, really! <Blush>

* … and since then I’ve been in touch with Rik van Grol at the Nederlandse Kubus Club and managed to purchase copies of all of the other Cubism For Fun back issues that I was missing, so I now also have a complete set of (the English editions of) those magazines as well – plenty reading lies ahead.


  1. Whoa! A full set of CFF, that's quite a find (or purchase)!!

  2. I wonder how that Peppermint Twist was made? It would seem the bending would have to be done very precisely to reproduce the puzzle. You can't just twist four pieces randomly and come up with anything good.

    1. Hmm I wonder if someone who knows the answer to that might wander by at some point...?

  3. Allard, thanks for the review and photos of the peppermint twist. I have been struggling with this one for a while. Mine is still stuck!