Sunday 2 September 2012

Saturday – THE ULTIMATE Puzzle Party

Happy shoppers
OK, so I was mentally prepared for this one. I knew what to expect:  there would be lots of tables with puzzles for sale, and I’d probably want most of them – but there was definitely a budget constraint, so I needed a strategy ... and I decided that the best way to ensure that I paced myself was not to take all the cash I was expecting blow, at once, so I went down with a little over half of what I was planning to spend... and walked in wonderland. 

The entire ballroom was laid out with rows of tables with smiling puzzlers behind each one wanting to sell you stuff ... or encouraging you to play with their puzzles ... or just have a chat!

OK, focus! 


First stop was the Sandfield Brothers tables right next to each other (they’re helpfully laid out alphabetically) to stock up on this year’s exchange puzzle and a couple of the previous year’s puzzles that I hadn’t been able to acquire yet ... and there are plenty of them, in piles, waiting for all comers – which came as a bit of a surprise considering the only time I’d seen them previously was every now and then on the auctions or the occasional one privately from collectors who had a spare copy – I took a Rebanded Dovetails, Locked Drawer Puzzle, this year’s briefcase puzzle and a copy of Four Triangles and a Ball (I loved the look of that one!).  The bonus for me was getting to chat to the Sandfields and being introduced to Kathleen Malcolmson, the extraordinarily talented craftsman who makes Robert Sandfield’s exchange puzzles these days.  Later on that afternoon I made another visit to the Sandfields’ tables to chat to Norman about taking some Salt and Pepper Shakers back to the UK for a few friends ... I think they’re going to be very happy chaps!

From the Sandfields’ tables I wandered down the row to Perry McDaniel's table and picked up a set of the four original Petit Fours and a Hobbit Cake (this year’s puzzle) for my mate Chris back in the UK, and a Hobbit Cake for myself... as usual Perry was dressed in his chef’s whites embroidered with “Puzzled Guy Bakery” on the front. He really enters into the spirit of things and seemed to be doing an excellent trade in his wee cakes. Unfortunately he didn’t have any of last year’s cakes (Hawaiian High Jinks) available, but he hoped to have some available next year ... I’ll need to keep an eye out for one of those then.

So having exhausted my first allowance for the day, I went back up to the hotel room to offload the puzzles and restock the wallet ... twenty minutes after I first left the room – which took Gill a bit by surprise as she wasn’t expecting to see me for quite some time as I’d be downstairs in puzzle shop heaven – she looked a bit concerned when I told her I was back for more money, until I told her that it was a deliberate ploy!

Suitably restocked I headed back downstairs for some more mayhem, although I did manage to slow down the purchasing a little bit after that.

My mate Neil was sharing a table with Derek Bosch. Neil had brought a couple of copies of Derek’s Hex Stairs design and his last remaining copy of Coffin’s Unhappy Childhood along for sale, and Derek had a couple of examples of his new Rhombic Maze Burr and was taking notes of folks who might be interested in them – there seemed to be a reasonably steady stream of folks through the table and Neil sold pretty much all he had brought along and Derek seemed to get more than enough interest to require him to actually make up some copies at some point in the future.

Zandraa Tumen-Ulzii had a table selling his exchange puzzles from the day before (a lovely looking hand-carved and painted burr) and displaying an incredible Chess Table where the entire table was one big burr puzzle and every single piece was a burr as well – I talked to his son about it and he reckoned it had taken his dad literally months to complete it – and frankly, that’s not in the slightest bit surprising – there is a staggering amount of work in there. [I’d had a bit of a smile to myself earlier when the table had been coming down in the lift and when the doors opened there were just a couple of folks crammed around the edges and this huge chess table taking up the rest of the lift with someone announcing “Chess table coming through” – only at an IPP would that not seem the slightest bit out of place!] 

I had a short chat to Sue Young who was having a really good-natured whinge about the fact that Brian was off buying puzzles again when he was supposed to be here selling them instead! I took a copy of Brian’s Washington Memorial Exchange Puzzle off her hands as I’d guessed it would be a cracker of a puzzle – and I’m sticking to that as I haven’t managed to open my copy yet! I picked up a spare for my mate Nigel as well – and he’s already opened his – he’s a far better puzzler than I am!

Every time I wandered past Chinny’s table he seemed to have different things out on offer – I took a Mouse House from him and saw several tippee tops and even some of George’s exploding Icosa’s at various times during the day.

Eric Fuller had brought a bunch of spare copies of various past runs and a number of Stewart Coffin’s Rattle Boxes that he’d made for IPP – I had to take one of those and saw a few folks picking up his previous Cigar Boxes, Tom Jolly’s Rattle Box and a few Six Board Burrs. It took a lot of self-control not to take his last copy of the Tornado Burr from him – I’ve always loved the movement on that one but I was needing to ration my pennies at that point... 
Robert Yarger was sharing a table with Eric and had brought quite a few copies of his Puzzle Book for sale for folks who didn’t manage to get one of his Milestone boxes – autographing each one for the buyers.

The sheer variety of folks and puzzles available really did my head in – where else in the world could you find Rocky Chiaro sitting almost next to Allan Boardman – each of them with virtually all of their puzzles available to look at and play with and virtually every one available for sale?

I spent a short while chatting to Rocky and couldn’t leave without picking up one of his puzzle bolts (ONE-Wa-sure) as a memento of meeting him – what a gentleman!

Later on I was chatting to Allan Boardman about a couple of his designs and felt the need to purchase one of his creations just so that I’d have one in my collection ... I chose a relatively large tray packing puzzle – it’s about an inch square inside the beautifully crafted box, there’s a 5*5 packing puzzle designed by Nob called “The Fifth Avenue”– the object is to pack the pieces into the tray so that each of five exotic woods only appears in every row and column once. The work on this little wonder is phenomenal – the tray is less than 5mm tall, and the corners are feathered! Astonishing!
While I was at Allan Boardman’s table Marcel Gillen was chatting to him about his lifetime guarantee on his puzzles – it seems that Marcel had managed to lose a piece on one of his and Allan was insisting on replacing it!

Allan’s burrs are serious feats of micro engineering  - millimetres across, they are fully functioning burrs – not for the faint-hearted though.

Tom Lensch seemed to be doing a good trade in Dave Rosetti’s exchange puzzle from the day before that he’d made – I took a copy of it – it’s called Lean 2 and so far I’ve managed to solve half of it – it’s a four-piece packing puzzle with a double-sided tray, and the one solution I’ve managed to find is thoroughly mean – vintage Stewart Coffin design! Tom was also taking orders for a bunch of Ken Irvine’s designs – Ken had been wandering around IPP with a rucksack full of puzzles and brought them out for anyone who wanted to play with them – the only downside was that he didn’t have any available for sale, although Tom and Eric Fuller seem pretty keen to put that right and both will be offering some of Ken’s great designs in the near future, we hope.

Richard Gain had a huge array of his printed puzzles and seemed to be doing well whenever I wandered past, although I did managed to meet his lovely wife on one of my circuits around the hall.

I had a lovely chat with Lixy Yamada who showed me some really trippy pictures using moiré effects – moving transparent sheet printed with a moiré pattern across a specially printed page in a newspaper produced some great effects, and then he’d printed a bunch of his own base pages that produced even stranger patterns and colours – very trippy ... and then he gave me a set to play with and to show others ... Thanks Lixy!

I got a huge kick when I was wandering slowly past Kohfuh Satoh’s table and he pointed at my name badge and says “Ah! Allard’s Puzzling Times” with a huge grin across his face. I’ve been a fan of his puzzles for a while and really enjoyed his Bowler Hat puzzle in this year’s Design Competition, turns out he likes reading my blog! :-) He ended up giving me a copy of his Folding Scissors paper puzzle and I gave him one of Louis’ amazing folded cards.

Every time I walked past Wil’s table there was a throng of people going through his wares and relieving him of something. He always seems to have something that everyone wants – whether it’s one of his own aluminium creations, something by Iwahiro, a Karakuri box or the latest Siebenstein puzzles.

Pavel Curtis had an array of his puzzles laid out and a pair of Dali-esque flattened beer bottle sculpture puzzles that he was auctioning. Everyone who walked past had to pick up at least one of the bottles and simply ask “How?” – and generally get the same response as everyone else: “It’s really hot where I live, we just leave them lying around outside for a bit!”

Bill Cutler had a bunch of his designs, including quite a few older, larger puzzles out for folks to buy or play with and he was more than happy to shoot the breeze with everyone about his designs and what he liked about particular puzzles.

Rob Hegge, (who doesn’t write a puzzle blog! Yet?), had a selection of his tray packing puzzles available for sale. Scott Elliott seemed to be doing a roaring trade in his printed puzzles – especially his rather nutty bolts  that Jerry had used as his exchange puzzle this year. Rik van Grol was signing up new members and taking subscriptions from old ones on the NKC stand

I had a long chat with Thomas Linden, the man behind Oy Sloyd Ab, the Finnish puzzle shop about his rather unconventional puzzles – and in particular the fact that on his exchange puzzle this year (two shapes where the puzzle is to make a symmetrical shape) he’d felt the need to specify that the pieces needed to be flat on the table! While we were chatting, Louis Toorenburg came over and Thomas showed Louis his Raketti and told him to remove the rocket without touching anything. Classic kiwi logic intervened and he placed the puzzle on the table and then proceeded to feign kicking the bottom of the table ... several further specifications of the rules ensued with Louis finding more and more exotic ways of displacing the rocket, each of which was countered by another more specific rule – interspersed with several highly entertaining demonstrations from Thomas who eventually relented and showed a delighted Louis the real solution – and the look on his face was pretty good when he saw it soar out – I think he bought a few to take back to Kiwi-land.

I met David Litwin and was very chuffed to be able to pick up a copy of his Breadbox packing puzzle as I thought they’d all been sold out a while ago...unfortunately when I found George Hart, he was all sold out of his playing card sculptures so I’ll need to get in touch with him, methinks.

Jerry McFarland had a few Piston Burrs for sale, sadly the ebony ones were all gone by the time I rocked up, but I did manage to get a lovely Cocobolo copy. He had a few of his older pieces out on display (loved the Burrlephant!) as well as a current project he’s considering: a puzzle box with a set of 42 burr pieces inside it ... I really hope that enough folks expressed an interest over the course of the day to convince Jerry to go ahead with that project, I think it’ll make a wonderful burr set and I’d love to get my paws on one of them!
Somewhere in the middle of all that, I had my lunch of a ham sandwich, sat on the floor – by choice – I didn’t want to leave this wondrous place for fear of missing something or someone.

What was interesting was everyone stopping me and asking me what I’d bought and what I’d liked so far – but the very best question of all was posed to me by Matt (I think someone had asked him the same thing earlier): “Out of all the puzzles you bought today, what one puzzle would you save if you could only keep one?”  - I couldn’t answer it then...

After the puzzle party, the ballroom was transformed back into a lecture room and we had talks from Markus Götz on solving his IPP Host Puzzle from last year, Brett Rothstein on the history of puzzles in art, an awesome father and son double-act (the Demaines from MIT) on solvability in puzzles (Fantastically entertaining talk about some rather heavy mathematics and serious research!)  and a really impressive presentation from first-time IPP-er Carl Hoff on the design of twisty puzzles.

After the lectures the Renegades mostly decamped to the bar area for a group photo, which was difficult enough, except that afterwards we all realised we were missing a couple of crucial Renegades, so we’d have to try that again the next day. 

Gill and I snuck out for a quiet dinner at Johnny Rocket’s – a smashing Philly steak sandwich and chocolate milkshake – see, I’m still a kid!

The Design Room sucked me in for some play time on the way back, but for the first time since arriving, I actually managed to get to bed before midnight – I think that the jet lag finally got to me...


  1. Wow! What a fantastic haul! I hope to have a play at the next MPP!

    Following your link back to the review of the Sandfield salt and pepper shaker, I see that my comment was the first and I expressed remorse that I would never have a set! Thanks to Chris for organising and you for collecting, I expect to obtain these as my first Sandfield puzzles next weekend at the 7th Midlands Puzzle Party! Really looking forward to it for many reasons now!

    If only I'd known you would be meeting Rocky! I really want all the bolts and keys!


  2. Still not enough time to write, barely enough time to read all these super blogs when I have to work myself through all the new and very nice exchange and other puzzles!

    1. Good to see you're still out there Rob! ;-) We should talk about DCD...? allard

    2. I'll email you as soon as I find your card again...

  3. Thanks for reporting this--you gave me the tour I didn't get to take! Jerry Slocum persuaded me to attend as a contributor, and Chris Morgan juggled me in for a table at the last minute. (What a champ!) I'm still disappointed I didn't have an opportunity to browse, but being a contributor was undoubtedly the better least for me.

    It was so busy I didn't get my core puzzles on display for over an hour, and there was an entire box of props I never put out at all! (It was an accessory for the bolt--it'll wait for another occasion.)

  4. one minor correction - my new puzzle is the Rhombic Maze Burr, which hopefully will be ready later this year...