Wednesday, 27 June 2012

That’s impossible!!

I give you the first impossible object that I’ve added to my collection – a pair of playing cards from Angus Lavery ... and a little story behind them. 

Back at Easter, down in Devon, at James Dalgety’s Easter Puzzle Party, I met an interesting fellow by the name of John Lavery. John is the current organiser of the monthly gatherings of puzzlers and magicians at Camden Lock (2nd Tuesday of the month – shout if you want the details!) since Ray Bathke stepped down after organising them for several years. I’d seen his name on the regular emails, but since I haven’t managed to get down to one of the Camden Lock do’s yet, I hadn’t actually met him. 

My introduction to John came as he was showing a couple of us an album he’d put together to showcase brother Angus’ incredible card-folding skills ... he was flicking through the album and taking the odd card out and passing them around for closer inspection while he was telling stories about the designs: Angus came up with this one in about fifteen minutes after Christmas dinner one year – he disappeared into the kitchen and came out with this – as he held up a complicated set of about five interconnected cards, each with its own impossible fold, yet somehow appearing rather solidly interlinked with the others.  
Some would be dismissed with a comment about the particular design losing quite a lot of material, so they don’t look as impressive – and others would have something rather subtle about them that needed pointing out – at least to the largely uninitiated, like myself. I’d come across impossible card-folding a couple of times on my trawling around the internet – seen some pictures (mainly trapdoor cards) and had to look at some of them a couple of times before I realised what the impossible bit was (told you I was a philistine!). 

I’d also come across a chapter in one of my puzzle books [Puzzlers Tribute – A Feast for the Mind] on impossible card-folding by Luc de Smet – and it showed how to create one class of impossible card, but apart from that, my research (read: surfing!) has turned up very little else. From what I can gather, the basic rules of impossible card-folding are: cutting and folding is allowed – rejoining anything isn’t, so if it looks like it’s joined, it always has been...

Anyway, back to John’s tour through Angus’ body of work – and there’s one card in there that is totally mind-blowing: a standard sized playing card with the Olympic Rings cut and folded so that each ring is half cut-out and half folded-over card – except that all five rings are interlinked wherever they overlap! Remember the rules? No rejoining, ever ... John told us that this is one of Angus' harder designs and it has a non-trivial failure rate – and looking at just how little material is left to keep the two halves of the rings together, and trying to imagine the amount of folding and turning inside out that these cards have to go through to get those rings interlinked – that’s hardly surprising! 
A couple of days later I got in touch with Angus and asked if there was any chance he’d be prepared to make up a couple for me as “Thank-you”s for a pair of puzzlers who’ve been rather kind to me, and who already have every-puzzling-thing that I could imagine trying to give them – and I was very chuffed (and quite a bit surprised – after all he didn’t know me from Adam and I was expecting a reaction more along the lines of “I’d rather stick pins in my eye than go through that again”) when he agreed ... and a few weeks later I received a well-packaged set of little picture frames from Angus: three of his incredible Olympic Ring cards and a copy of his very first impossible card design.

I’ve sat and stared at these cards for ages, and I reckon I’m no closer to understanding how the heck they work than when I first saw one in John’s album at Easter – truly impossible objects – courtesy of Angus Lavery’s incredible card-folding wizardry!

[Oh, and in case you’re wondering – they loved them! Thanks Angus!  :-) ] 

Postscript: my mate Oli has had a go at playing around with creating some of his own - have a look over here! Nice one Oli!!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

IPP31 Berlin puzzle

I spotted this puzzle in one of Wil Strijbos’ emails a couple of weeks ago and asked about it because it looked quite unusual and really stood out. Turns out it was made as a gift for the organisers of IPP31 in Berlin from Markus Götz and hadn't been offered for sale. However, there had been so many requests for the puzzle from folks who'd seen them or heard about them in the interim that Wil had managed to talk Jean-Claude Constantin into running off a few more copies for him ... and a couple of weeks ago, one was headed in my direction and several more accompanied Wil across to MPP6 – and didn’t quite make it home with him…
From the pictures I’d seen, it looked like a variation of the Kugellager puzzles with a lot of extra attention being paid to the presentation with a large “IPP31” overlaid on “Berlin” cut into the slider, along with the extra detailing on the edge of the slider – it really looks nice and J-CC has clearly thought a lot about how to integrate these aspects into the puzzle itself. Frankly, if that had been the end of it, and this was effectively just a prettier version of a Kugellager, I’d have been quite happy … but that’s not the end of it at all. Not by a long shot!
When you start playing with this puzzle, you have five balls at the top of the letters and a set of corresponding holes to get the balls out of – presumably the goal. It’s pretty obvious that there’s going to be an element of a Gray-code-ish sequence required to move the balls around as the tracks in the slider interfere with tracks in the base plate – and the latter only get revealed as you progress, so it’s not immediately obvious which way you should be heading to achieve some of your interim goals.
A few moves in you realise the first of the little twists in this puzzle: you cannot rely on tipping it one way sliding in or out, and then tipping it the other way, as you can with the Kugellagers - because they’re well-behaved sequence puzzles – and this one isn’t! There are quite a few areas in the puzzle where you won’t immediately notice that you have a couple of balls moving at the same time and it’s not that helpful if both of them move in the same direction.

Introduce the first twist: DEXTERITY. You’re going to have to pay careful attention and find a way to get the balls to go into the right channels and you’ll need a bit of dexterity to do that every now and then … now before you hold that against this puzzle, I’m not a fan of dexterity puzzles at all, and I don’ think this angle gets in the way of enjoying this puzzle at all – it adds just the right level of extra care to keep you on your toes and slow you down from time to time.
Progress a bit further and you come across the next big difference from the Kugellagers: CHAOS!

Okay, not quite chaos, but certainly far less predictability than the Kugellagers which have a neatly laid out set of paths that interact in a predictable manner – this puzzle, because of the letters on one half of the tracks, totally removes that predictability – so there is no chance of getting into a groove and executing a predictable set of moves to progress – which makes it very easy to go back on yourself quite a bit without really realising it.
The other little bit of chaos comes from not knowing which ball you’re trying to release first – and it isn’t obvious – I got caught out when at one point all of a sudden I noticed I was quite close to releasing one of the balls.
As you release each ball you give yourself a little more freedom to work on the others and it becomes easier and easier to release the balls as you work your way through, until the final ball pops out and you’re able to slide the BERLIN piece all the way out.  Victory!
Well not really…
At this point you probably realise something rather important – getting them out is relatively easy – getting back to the start is the tricky part! You’ve started from a known “good” position, but going back, you can pop those little balls back in almost any order at virtually any time in the process (there’s usually a track available on most of the holes) – however not all of those combinations will actually allow you to get back to the starting position, which gives us the final twist on this puzzle: GETTING BACK IS HARD!
You’ll probably have a vague recollection of which ones came out more or less when - and that’ll help you – but you’re going to need to work hard to get back to the start – and it won’t be a simple pattern that you can get into the groove with – and there’ll be times when you’ll need a bit of that dexterity as well. In short – it’s a sod!
I like this puzzle because it sucked me in with a false sense of security that I’d seen something similar before and I thought I had it sussed, only to realise that it had a lot more in stall for me – if you like puzzles like that, get in touch with Wil – last time I checked he still had a few of these kicking around.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Chen’s Six Board Burr #2

Designed by Chi-Ren Chen, this innocuous-looking board burr has a couple of interesting little twists to it. 

A few months ago Eric posted some early pics of his prototypes on his Facebook page and there was a chorus of approval from the peanut gallery – while all the approval was going on he wondered aloud whether he should make the pieces with splined ends for some added strength, and a whole lot of extra good looks. Several of us piled in and encouraged him to add splines, even though they’d invariably add a little to the cost – and probably quite a bit of extra work! :-)

A couple of days later a splined version appeared and it was indeed rather a good-looking piece of work ... in the interests of science, Eric then went and slung a 45 lbs weight on the one end of it and posted a picture of this poor little innocent puzzle piece with a massive lump of iron trying to rip it apart – and the piece held its own – so the point was made, the splined version of the burr is pretty darn strong! 

My copy arrived with the other recent batch from Cubic Dissection neatly disassembled in a little plastic baggy – gee thanks! The pieces are made of walnut, ash and African mahogany, with the splines each on a contrasting wood. 

Eric’s description notes that it’s a level 2.14.12 burr that is “more approachable than the level may seem” – the level is rather odd really, with the assembled puzzle shedding its first pieces after a mere two moves, while the next piece takes 14 moves to release, and a further 12 are required to get the next one off before it becomes a trivial matter. 

Eric’s encouragement is well-placed – if you were to bash the pieces into BurrTools and look for a solution, you might be disappointed – because, as notes, rotations are required... so you have no choice really! 

I had a look at the pieces, decided that the colours needed to be together in pairs (huge logical leap me? – Nah, that’s what Eric’s pics show!) – Handily, there are two identical pairs of pieces which makes placement in the solution a lot simpler ... and there’s a piece that would work quite nicely at the end to give that first two-move piece-removal, while actually locking everything else together, so I’d more or less decided where the pieces needed to go with that little thought process alone – in fact, if you add one further constraint: don’t waste space as you go, you can pretty much find a unique target assembly – the tricky bit is then just to work out how to get there.  

I started fiddling around fairly aimlessly and found that the tolerances between the pieces were pretty incredible – when you’re assembling board burrs you’re invariably sliding one piece over a set of other pieces – and if you don’t have all the pieces properly aligned and absolutely square, you’re not going to get anything to move ... so much for the comment on that if the edges are rounded, short-cuts are possible. No short-cuts are possible on Eric’s version!

I started with one pair of pieces and pretty much used those as a frame of reference all the way through – while trying to work out how to get the other three pieces into their places in order to allow the last piece to be inserted the way I’m guessing it has to ... that process took a fair amount of trial and error as well as experimentation to work out what order they needed to go in and how you could manipulate them in order to free up the space to do what you need to do next. 

If you’re more used to playing with well-behaved orthogonal burrs, that process can all seem rather unstructured and chaotic, but combined with Eric’s fine tolerances, you always know when something is supposed to work (it fits, just) and when it shouldn’t... 

In the end, it probably took me the best part of an hour to suss out the order, orientation and then the manoeuvres required to construct it – and I was actually rather chuffed with myself for managing that given that it’s way outside of my usual comfort zone. 

It’s a fun little burr that looks like it should be really simple, but it’ll definitely provide plenty of amusement for almost every puzzler. 

Eric has produced a gorgeous version to fantastic tolerances – and the splines really make this one stand out

Monday, 18 June 2012

Stellated Improved Square Face puzzle

Back in March this year Scott Peterson caused a fair amount of excitement on the Renegade Puzzlers Forum when he posted a video of a modification he’d come up with to Stewart Coffin’s Improved Square Face puzzle. The video explains that Scott had been toying with Coffin’s Improved Square face and changed the shapes of the ends of the sticks and come up with a totally different looking puzzle, dubbed the Stellated Improved Square Face (SISF). 

The video demonstrates how the Improved Square Face (ISF) is a development of the standard Diagonal Burr (“Coffinising” it and making it a far more interesting puzzle than the standard Diagonal Burr) , and SISF is in turn a stellation of the ISF – hence SISF.  

Quite a few of us expressed an interest in the SISF if Scott got around to making a few for sale, so I was delighted a few months later when I had an email from Scott to say that in spite of his hectic travel schedule he’d managed to put a few of these SISFs together and asked if I was still interested. The email included some absolutely gorgeous pictures of the puzzle in a variety of different combinations of exotic woods and it didn’t take long to settle on a bocote and African blackwood copy – which luckily was still available – in fact Scott had made two copies in those woods and the second one has ended up ten minutes down the road at Chris’ place! Small world, eh?

The puzzle arrived pretty soon after the usual PayPal exchange and if anything, it is even more gorgeous in the flesh. The woods Scott has used are tremendous and as usual, the fit between the pieces is simply astonishing – with the puzzle assembled, you cannot see any seams or joins!

Playing around with it you’ll find that it can slide apart on a few different axes – turning it into a pair of assemblies each made up of three dissimilar pieces ... and taking those apart in turn can either provide a serially interlocking assembly, or a co-ordinated motion assembly depending on how you separated the initial structure ... I think that’s right – or at least, that’s how it seems to me!

Assembly from six scrambled pieces is decidedly non-trivial!

When I took my copy along to our last Midlands Puzzle Party it drew plenty of admiring looks and more than a few highly favourable comments – and Chris commented on something that I hadn’t noticed – Scott has even thought to take off the sharp tips on the ends of the stick so that they don’t poke holes in things, like desks and unwary puzzlers! 

A beautiful modification to a classic design gives us a lovely new puzzle – courtesy of Scott Peterson’s fine mind and superb craftsmanship ... or as I put it to him on the forum: “Good mod that man!”.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Coolen Creations

When Louis spent the weekend at my place for MPP6 and the Puzzle Braai, he gave me a pair of puzzles he’d made himself. I was aware that he’d started making some puzzle of his own recently, and had begun spending his puzzle budget on puzzle-creation devices (aka power tools) rather than on buying puzzles themselves. And I know he’s taking this resolution seriously because in the run-up to MPP6 not a single package arrived on my doorstep addressed to Louis!

The Burr
The first puzzle he gave me was a little oak six-piece burr – thoughtfully disassembled (!) and in a little plastic baggy. I had a quick glance at it and noticed two things, and at least one of them scared me:
  • One of the pieces has a couple of blind corners on it, and
  • The pieces are lop-sided, so the legs are going to be different lengths.
Now one of those would have made it rather difficult to manufacture, and the other will make it rather hard to solve … I had a little bit of a fiddle around with it on the Friday evening and decided that the only way it was going together was with the help of BurrTools – but I wouldn’t resort to that yet, and certainly not in front of the man who’d made it and just given it to me – that could be seen as rude.
I took it along to MPP6 the next day and at one point Chris picked it up and asked about it, so I told him all I knew – it was a short interchange. Louis pricked up his ears and a little while after Chris had started fiddling around with it, he asked which burr it was and Louis answered that he was sure he’d recognise it – Chris protested a little and then Louis announced that he knew that Chris had one … which was just the clue he needed and it was assembled pretty quickly after that.
Turns out that Chris had deduced that for Louis to have been able to make that statement quite as categorically as he did, it would have to be a fairly well-known burr that everyone knew he had … and that possibly narrows it down to a reasonable number including a pair of aluminium burrs that Wil had been selling – and this was indeed one of them – Peter Marineau’s Piston Burr.
…so for his first ever attempt at making a burr, Louis has fabricated an oak Piston burr with offset arms… the latter a result of having made the sticks a bit too long to actually assemble them (one of the moves requires a piece to go around an end) so he added a feature in the form of a short arm and a long arm on each piece, giving the resultant burr a jaunty offset – and confusing and intimidating unwary puzzlers, like this one. 

The Box
On a previous visit Louis had brought along a puzzle box that he’d made with only the most basic of tools – and it was a pretty good idea. A few folks had a bash at it and they were all complimentary and helpfully suggested some ideas for improvements when Louis began talking about his own ideas for developing the box further – some of those relied on some additional hardware (he’d already rationalised the need for a router without any help from us!) and ideas were thrown around and played with…
This time Louis arrived with his A-MAZING Box #3. The name is a play on one of his forum handles and the mechanism inside, and came courtesy of Wil, who named it after receiving #2 from Louis. On the outside it looks like a fairly nondescript box – on the inside, there lies evil.
I first started playing with it on the Friday evening before MPP6 – and got virtually nowhere, so I hatched a sneaky plan and took it along to MPP6 in the hopes that someone might open it and I might get a clue to it’s mechanism … it was a great plan, and at various times during the day I got my hopes up when I spotted Wil and Chris playing around with it, however, the box remained locked tight. Uh oh!
The following weekend I sat down and had a serious bash at opening it, and it must have taken me about an hour – and I think it’s excellent! It gives a little feedback, and even having seen its predecessors, I’d totally over complicated things in my mind. While I was working on it I noticed that the bottom panel would move from time to time, so I developed a fixation on that for a while … and yes, I even tried spinning it and blowing into it – but I did not attempt to drown it! There are limits…
This puzzle has clearly been designed by someone who knows how puzzlers think – and he has used this against you all the way through – building in quite a few dead ends along the path to eternal happiness, or at least an open puzzle box, as the case may be … gosh I’m really glad (NOT!) that I mentioned that to him when he was here last time. He’s been more than a little cruel on some of those branches and forces you to eventually do what you really don’t want to do – it’s a really clever design – one of the things I put to him in an email after I’d opened it was “Heaven help us if you ever decide to take this seriously!”.
Louis has definitely put his new power tools to very good use and come up with a great little puzzle box.
Thanks Louis – there’s a special spot on my puzzle box shelf for this one now.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Stickman Checkmate Puzzlebox

Back in November last year I wrote about my visit to Wil Strijbos’ place just before the Dutch Cube Day in Eindhoven, and I mentioned that Wil had blown my mind when he waltzed into the kitchen with a copy of a Stickman Checkmate Box – blown my mind because this was the puzzle that I’d most lusted after. Ever. Bar none. 

But that was actually only half of the story – and now I can tell you the other half, but let me take a small step back first…
The first time I can remember seeing Stickman boxes was when I was trawling through the puzzle gallery on Cubic Dissection a few years ago. They all pretty much grabbed my imagination, but the one that really stood out, so much so that I actually dragged Gill over to show her some pictures of it, was the Checkmate Box. The description of a hidden mechanism moving the pieces to unlock a box sounded almost like the Mechanical Turk of yore – and seeing one made entirely of wood – including all the gears and internal mechanisms just totally fried my brain. Sadly however, Rob had only made 26 of them back in 2007 and they were all long gone! When they were first put on the market, their price was reasonable given the amount of work that must have gone into making them, and since then they’ve changed hands for increasingly larger and larger amounts on the usual puzzle auctions.
I’d watched a couple of them drift past the price I thought I could afford to pay for them only to resolve to keep an eye out for the next one each time…
Flash forward to Wil’s kitchen where I’m standing playing with the Stickman #2 Box and he walks in with a Checkmate Box – and it’s absolutely gorgeous. When I regain the power of speech, I tell him some of this background and the fact that this is the absolute pinnacle of puzzle boxes as far as I’m concerned … and in that earlier post I said he’d blown my mind, but I didn’t quite get to the really mind-blowing part: Wil looks at me and says he has a spare copy – disappears for a minute and returns with a large cardboard box, still sealed, addressed to William Strijbos from one Robert Yarger … it seems he’d decided to buy two of them in case a collector wanted one.
He asks me if I’d like it, and the only thing that stops me from saying “Absolutely!! Yes, please!!” is the thought that he could get thousands for this if he put it on the right auction – so I give it a cautious “Sure I’d love it but how much would you like for it” – he wants what he paid for it … which leaves me totally conflicted! I don’t have that much lying around to spend on a single puzzle – and won’t until my bonus gets paid - in six months time and I know he can get several times that on an auction (I might have mentioned that a few times to him as well!). So I explain my situation to him and he says in that case “You take it now, and pay me later”(!). But I can’t do that to him, so we agree that he’ll hang onto it until I have the cash spare, and then he’ll ship it over to me.
Six months later I send Wil some money and he ships the box over – in the interim I’ve watched Rob Yarger facilitate an auction of a complete collection of Stickmen and the Checkmate box goes for a very pretty penny! So before I send Wil the money, I check that he’s still happy with the price and tell him that I think he’s undercharging me for this work of art – but he won’t hear of it – the original price stands.
Sadly at this point the Post Office gets in the way a bit and the tracking shows the parcel in the UK, but not being delivered, for a couple of weeks – during which time the Dutch post office tells Wil there’s a problem with the address. There isn’t.
I worry a little bit that after all this time the Post Office is going to do something silly and the little treasure chest is going to disappear into a black hole somewhere… but about 4 weeks later it turns up back at Wil’s place, seemingly none the worse for wear, with a note saying there was no-one home – which is odd because there wasn’t ever a note through the door… but the parcel is safe.
Wil posts it back a couple of weeks later, when he’s in town and I’m not on holiday – and this time it gets to my house in a couple of days. At this stage I’m pretty excited and cut open the packaging with my trusty Swann-Morton #4, only to find that the trips back and forwards have taken a toll on the box, which is now in more pieces than it really ought to be – nothing’s broken, just come apart at the glue seams – and I’m hovering somewhere between agony and ecstasy and not sure where to settle – I finally have the box I’ve wanted for years, except it’s in bits in my hands (OK, just 5 bits).
I jot off a quick email to Wil to let him know what’s happened and he immediately offers to bring his copy along when he comes over, we’ll swap, and he’ll get the other one repaired … what a gentleman! I decline, because I’d already been in touch with Robert Yarger and described what had happened and how it looked to the untrained eye – and he’d responded right away with three long emails containing detailed photographs and instructions on exactly what to do to put it all back together again – another absolute gent!
From the email exchange with Rob, it transpired he’d hedged his bets a bit on the final assembly of these boxes, thinking that the complexity of the innards might mean he’d need to get back in there at some point in the future if anything went wrong, so he’d deliberately made the final assembly joint a fairly weak glue joint – and that was what had given way while my box was in transit … and exactly the same thing had happened to another one – ironically, the only thing he’s ever had to think about putting back together on these mechanical marvels has been the weak joint he introduced in case he had to get back inside. They can take quite a beating, but it seems the Post Office is far more ‘enthusiastic’ than most puzzlers!
Sod’s Law then dictates that I don’t have enough spare time to get it all back together again before Wil’s visit / MPP6 – but the extra two days over the past long weekend gave me enough time to work through Rob’s emails methodically, test that I had everything working properly, commit to glueing (commitment is always the hardest part, I find) and then tie it all up while the glue dries.
The grin was pretty broad when I untied it the next evening and it all held, and the drawers all move the way they should – and it looks absolutely stunning once more.
Given the process I’ve been through, I didn’t really get to solve the puzzle – but the mechanics are every bit as impressive as I’d imagined they were. Playing with twisting the box backwards and forwards and seeing the pieces move, properly, is quite something! Coming up with a pair of Checkmate positions, one for either side, from the same starting position, using those internal wooden(!) mechanics, is staggering – quite literally.
This one has a very special place in my collection, not just because it is a mechanical marvel that shows off some incredible engineering and craftsmanship, but because of the story of how it came to be in my collection.
Thanks Rob for the advice, instructions and encouragement,
…and Thank you Wil – I think I will be in your debt for quite some time. 

Thursday, 7 June 2012

2nd Annual(!) Barnt Green Puzzle Braai

Fast forward half an hour or so while we all head west to Barnt Green – I manage to get home before the boy-racers with their competing diesel (!) motors – three of us in the old 1400 Golf – with plenty of puzzles weighing down the boot, which isn’t useful ‘cos it’s a front-wheel drive  – so maybe they stopped for tea somewhere. 

Virtually everyone from the Warwick meeting managed to make it back to my place for the braai – which was lekker! [Good Afrikaans word for you – probably the best English equivalent to “Great!”, or “Tasty!”, or “Cool!” – it’s a versatile and efficient language is Afrikaans ...]

I managed to get the car unpacked before the first tranche of puzzlers arrived and settled them down with drinks and reminded them where the puzzles were, at which point they promptly disappeared upstairs into the study ... guess where the puzzles are!

Once everyone had pitched up, I set about getting the Weber fired up and started burning the meat – I like to set expectations low, so I’d warned them all I’d be burning the meat – that way if I got distracted at any stage, I wouldn’t disappoint! Gill and Chris(tine) had done a great job on getting the house looking somewhat patriotic with Union Jack bunting everywhere and the table nicely set with a fantastic cake in pride of place...

While the meat was burning, I managed to sneak away every now and then (the secret of a good braai is to let the fire – or gas barby – do the work for you) to do a little puzzling or chatting with the assembled puzzlers. At one stage I noticed that there were only one or two folks outside (it wasn’t raining at the time!) so I wandered back up to the study and found eight or nine folks crammed into my study playing with the puzzles – which is great – but had I known, I could have got the Guinness World Record folks along and gone for a record on the largest number of puzzlers willingly in the smallest space!

When I mentioned that to Gill the next day, she told me that at one point she’d wandered past the study and asked them why they didn’t want to spread out to the lounge or outside, at which point Chris (without the ‘tine) had given her a plaintive look and said “But there aren’t any puzzles out there”.  I suspect that she may have made a suggestion as, a few minutes later, several puzzlers appeared downstairs on the deck with a number of puzzles each – cue quite a lot of banter and puzzling on the deck.

Grub's up!
The Sandfield Salt and Pepper Shakers kept Kevin and Chris (sans ‘tine) amused for a while, and every now and then they’d ask someone a pointed question, and sometimes they got something useful in return ... although in the end they had to be opened by Ali after some serious head-scratching had failed to provide a suitable degree of assistance – I’d totally forgotten about a rather unusual technique near the end of the solution... thankfully Ali hadn’t.

Several people got conned into playing with  Peter Hajek's Matchbox puzzle, with an increasing chorus of people expressing their “horror” at “that point” in the solution – puzzlers can be cruel sometimes.

Wil had brought a couple of prototypes along to gauge interest and to test their puzzle-ness – the pair of new dovetail puzzles were a resounding hit with most folks expressing interest (and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to offer to buy them before I realised they were only his prototypes!). Wil’s Lotus puzzle will be an absolute brute of a puzzle once he’s finished with it – he’s been working on it for a while and he keeps adding things to it so by the time he gets it into production it will be a multi-layered monster of a puzzle... he’d complicated it since the last time Louis had seen it and the extra bits did a fine job of keeping everyone out all weekend... so it might be almost good enough for Wil by now...

Abad’s Level 9 Burr entertained a few folks and Louis seemed to enjoy working through it – while Simon spent a fair amount of time on Constantin’s Nifty Fifty – although I don’t think anyone actually demonstrated a solution to that one while I was around. Brandenburg Gate seemed to amuse people with the way it seems totally impassable until you find just the right combination of positions and angles at which point it slides open in your hands...
One of the unlikeliest of puzzles that had people quiet for ages was a little Lego creation of Wil’s – three chequered oddly shaped flat bits of Lego whose object is to build a symmetrical shape with a valid pattern. Louis had managed to find a solution or two, but Wil kept goading him on by telling him there were three solutions ... and I don’t think we ever found the third one, although Wil rather kindly left a set of the pieces behind for me to play with. [Don’t ask, the answer’s “No”.] 

Amusingly, one of the puzzles that seemed to garner quite a lot of interest was the Periscope puzzle – a little wood, rope and ring entanglement puzzle that I got a couple of years ago – a couple of interlocked (really!) bits of wood allow some movement, a half-loop of rope embedded into one of the pieces of wood restricts some of the movement, and then there’s a ring that you need to extract. Quite a few folks ended up having a bash at it (successfully!) – including Wil, who had some complimentary things to say about it in Dutch to Louis (so he may well have been discussing the arrangements for travelling home the next day for all I know!) . 

A little while later I decided I'd burned the meat enough and we started feeding the massing metagrobologists. Everyone good naturedly had a go at the boerewors – even those who’d had it the year before, which I took as a good sign ... there was an even better sign later on when most folks came back for seconds! 

We cleared away the evidence and let things settle over a little more puzzling before insisting that everyone have ice cream and chocolate sauce – although there didn’t seem to be much protest at that point – I suspect they’d all come to the conclusion that resistance was futile by that point. 

Yet more puzzling  ensued after dessert, and some time after coffee, the guys who had hours of travel ahead of them began to drift off homewards – eventually leaving Chris (just Chris), Louis, Wil and I puzzling until rather late that evening before we all agreed to call it a night. 

Not surprisingly the entire household slept rather later than usual the next morning – even the hounds slept late! [That is unheard of!] Louis had done his usual of lining up the puzzles he’d solved after I’d gone to bed, on the desk for me to find in the morning (I swear that guy never sleeps!). 

Sunday turned into a fairly relaxed day lounging around the house with the visiting puzzlers, talking puzzles, trying to open Wil’s Lotus puzzle (and failing) and talking about his exchange puzzle for IPP. The five of us including Chris(tine) went down t’pub for lunch and had a really great English Sunday roast for lunch – during which Wil entertained us with some rubber band magic and an interesting take on the buttonhole puzzle, interspersed with stories of famous puzzlers from around the world and some of the crazy things he’d got up to...

When I dropped them off at the airport, they calculated that Wil had ‘lost’ about 7 kilo’s worth of puzzles over the weekend – I have absolutely no idea where they went to, m’lord...

Monday, 4 June 2012

Midlands Puzzle Party 6

Wow! – What a weekend... 

Nigel started planning the sixth Midlands Puzzle Party quite a while back – set the date for the 2nd of June, sent out the usual announcements / invitations, crossed his fingers and then sat back and waited ... actually that’s not quite the whole story – he’d cunningly set the date on a weekend that Wil Strijbos was free (no mean feat, let me tell you – that boy gets around!) – so the announcements included mention of a special guest by the name of Strijbos.
Then he sat back and waited. 

Now, to be fair, Wil was competing with the Queen – this weekend saw the celebration of her Diamond Jubilee and a few folks had other celebrations planned so they couldn’t make it ... pity – we had a cracking time!

I collected Louis and Wil from the airport on Friday afternoon and took them back to my place for some gentle puzzling, a lot of banter, some Teriyaki Chicken for dinner and then some more chatting and a lot more puzzling. In between I got to have a sneak peek into the puzzles that Wil had brought along for us to drool over, play with, and even purchase if the mood took you.
Wil had brought a Japanese “Top Spin” Top as a gift for Gill (her first puzzling thing, if you don’t count me!) and a lovely little burr from Mine called a “Little Twister” for me. Gill loves the top and I found the “Little Twister” a really cute little burr – as the name suggests, not all moves are orthogonal and it’s remarkably interesting for “just” a collar and two pieces! Those two pieces are rather oddly-shaped and more than a bit confusing – everyone who had a bash at it on Saturday seemed to enjoy it as well judging by the number of times Wil was asked if he had any more of them.  (He didn’t ... and they don’t seem to be listed on Mine’s web shop either...) 

Louis then presented me with a Coolen original puzzle box (#3) – dubbed the A-Mazing box by Wil and the first ever burr he’d made – using 1cm oak sticks – in pieces – nice bloke, eh? [I won’t say much more about those in this post, they deserve another to themselves ... and I still need to work out how to open the box!] 

While Wil and Louis amused themselves in the study with some of my toys, I trawled through Wil’s boxes for sale and found several rather appealing little numbers – including two that weren’t for sale! He’d brought a couple of new little aluminium dovetail designs to ask what we thought of them (I think 'wild enthusiasm' would sum that up rather neatly!) as well as another aluminium sequential discovery puzzle that he’s still working on – that one stumped all comers, but he’s not quite happy with it yet... keep an eye out for a Lotus Puzzle at some point – it will be good. Having found a use for all the left-over Euros from my last holiday, and added some Paypal on top of it, I had a nice little haul of new puzzles to add to the still-modest, but steadily growing hoard in the study. 

We got up reasonably early the next morning so that we could get to Warwick for 9am – although some of the others who had further to travel left considerably earlier than we did: Ali, Oli and Simon Bexfield had come across from London, Kevin had trekked down from Sheffield and Joe had joined us from deepest, darkest Wales. Add to that a few from the Midlands (Chris, Nigel, Dale Overy and I) and we were set for a good day’s puzzling... [Sam and his mate Rani – along with his partner and two children joined us a bit later.] 

We set up the tables in the centre of the room this time and that made it easier to work on a puzzle and still chat with virtually everyone else in the room. Strijbos commandeered a table and set out a bunch of plastic crates filled to the brim with puzzles for sale and that soon became the most popular end of the room, with folks combing through the crates in search of treasure – with several finding things in there they’d been looking for for a while ... 
Eis anyone? 

Cerradura 3D? 

A Gillen Nut and Bolt perhaps? 

All found a good home, you’ll be pleased to hear! Even I ended up salvaging a Bowling Alley in a Brief- case that I’d sort of passed up on the night before. 

I think Wil ended up doing a decent trade throughout the day, with several people acquiring a cola bottle or two to torment themselves with; several exchange puzzles and a number of special IPP31 Berlin Kugellager-ish finding enthusiastic new owners. Kevin couldn’t stop himself acquiring a sack of new Overy (?) entanglement puzzles. 
After the initial feeding frenzy calmed down, things settled back into our usual relaxed style of puzzle a bit, chat a lot, wind up Kevin, grab some coffee and cake (including some yummy Jubilee chocolate chocolate chip cupcakes that Gill sent along) and wind up Kevin some more ... although in fairness it wasn’t just Kevin that was getting wound up! The banter was up to its usual standards and there was plenty of laughter throughout the day (and it wasn’t all at Kevin’s expense, promise!).

One of the little things I’d picked out to buy myself the evening before was a Karakuri Fake Box as I didn’t have one yet and hadn’t actually ever seen one before ... Wil duly decided it was time for some fun and asked me if I’d really not opened one before – when I said I hadn’t, he suggested I try ... and the obvious happened: try as I might, I couldn’t open it – so I hypothesised out loud that it might not be a box, perhaps it was really just a block of wood made to look like a box, and the movement on the lid was just that, a little movement to confuse someone like me ... so Wil takes the box, puts it behind his back and gives it back to me with a Japanese coin duly inserted into it ... so much for the lump of wood theory ... and it then took me several minutes more before I finally found my way in... 
Flash forward half a day or so and Wil’s established that Kevin hasn’t seen one either, so he takes one out of the packaging and hands it to him, and I can see Kevin going through all the same motions that I’d gone through the night before, until he eventually declares it an alleged box as well – cue Strijbos putting the box behind his back, inserting a coin and handing it back to much mirth from the assembled masses who decided that the 10p coin inside the box now represented Kevin’s pride – so he had to retrieve it! It was his coin after all ... it turned out to be the encouragement he needed and soon enough he had the 10p out again, but not before a rather loud (sadly unprintable) “A-Ha"-ish phrase followed shortly after by loud laughter from everyone in the room, including Kevin...  if you don’t have one of these little numbers, you need one. 
Ali’s collection of Rocky's Bolts was another popular stop on virtually everyone’s tour around the tables and I was delighted to solve the last one in the set that had evaded me last time around – they really are superb little puzzles and miraculous unassuming little miracles of engineering and craftsmanship – I am going to have to get some to add to the little hoard at some point.

Chris and I had identical copies of Scott Peterson’s Stellated Improved Square Face for folks to play with – although I think that Ali was the only one brave enough to take one apart entirely – although the look on his face when both Chris and I looked up at the same time and commented on the fact that he’d been braver than either of us so far, was priceless – needless to say he put it all back together perfectly.  I also had a copy of Coffin’s Involution made by Scott, and the tolerances on it are that good that it took folks who know the puzzle quite a while to find the right place to start and to get some of the pieces moving during the course of the disassembly.  (I reckon they’re that beautiful that they deserve a post of their own though, so that will be along in the near future...) 

A few folks fiddled around with my three Mine’s Cubes and Ali avoided them entirely having just acquired a set of them from Wil that morning. They really put a smile on peoples’ faces. I’d taken a couple of the Rogers along at someone’s request and I was sitting absent-mindedly fiddling with Geburt when all-of-a-sardine the ball bearing dropped out and rolled across the floor – totally befuddling me! Not one to miss an opportunity, I decided I needed a photo of the puzzle in the open position, but unfortunately I didn’t have my special £2 coin with me, and realising this might confuse my regular reader, I felt the need to improvise ... when I do eventually solve it I’ll take a better picture with the correct coin, promise. 

One of the interesting little things that Wil had in his crates were a bunch of little golden balls wrapped up in tiny leather pouches  - I recognised them as Snail Balls (they have big snails in Venlo!) and invariably they were being demonstrated much to everyone’s amusement – none more so than Kevin – who’s puzzlement was unfortunately being broadcast rather widely by his facial expression of utter amazement as this little golden ball steadfastly refused to make any more than the slowest – snail’s pace – progress down an inclined ramp. I don’t think I was the only one to notice this and soon enough there were several helpful suggestions of how it was being achieved – I suggested watching Wil’s hands closely for the almost invisible thread he was using to control it, Chris suggested it was probably pixies or magic, but it might be hard to work out which – but Kevin was having none of it – amazement remained and he just kept asking how it worked... apparently pixies weren’t to blame. 

Somewhere around lunchtime about half the group wandered across to the chippy to grab some food and the rest of us carried on puzzling – prepared to fuel up on crisps, Coke, coffee and cup-cakes – safe in the knowledge that there was plenty of grub at the braai back at my place afterwards. 

After lunch Wil had some fun entertaining folks with some rather unusual pens he’d brought along – apart from puzzles, Wil also collects pens with an unusual mechanism... his favourite game on the day was giving folks a fairly innocuous looking Rotring pen and asking people to work out how it works. After a little while of them getting absolutely nowhere (pushing, twisting and all the other usual things have no effect whatsoever!) Wil then tells them rather sternly not to break it ... cue a few more minutes of sheer puzzlement, at which stage I would rather pointedly tell them to ignore what Wil had just said, and miraculously the pen would be usable in seconds – generally to loud chuckles from all looking on. 

During the course of the afternoon Sam set up a table-full of his designs and a few folks enjoyed fiddling around with them – some of those designs really are crying out to be produced in some fine woods ... Eric, are you listening? 
Nigel had brought his King-Cubi along - all 1500-odd moves of it and Louis couldn't stop himself ... once or twice someone would chat to him and he'd lose his way, but he managed to blast through the opening pretty darn quickly, at which point several folks crowded around to photograph the innards of this work of art - very impressive puzzle!

Things began winding down at about 3:30pm and most of us (some people had weak excuses like having to go to a 60th birthday party!) decamped back to my place for a puzzle braai at 4pm – the second of what will hopefully become an annual event ...

Handmade and Gold Revomazes
One of our bunch probably deserves a special mention for coming up with a novel reason for not coming to MPP6 – Congrats on your nuptials Russ!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Can you tell...

...that Wil Strijbos just spent the weekend at my place?

... some stories from the weekend ["Have you tried spinning it?"], including the Midlands Puzzle Party #6 should be along tomorrow  ... I need an early night after too good a weekend! :-)