Friday, 31 August 2012

Friday evening - IPP Banquet

The Friday evening banquet was a slightly more formal affair than the Founder’s Reception the night before ... instead of milling around and chatting to one another with buffet tables around the corners of the room, we now had a couple of tables of Renegades and their partners. We were a bit late in getting in, so we ended up at a couple of tables next to the door – which ended up working out quite well when they announced the buffet tables outside were ready for us – we were near the front of what ended up being a really long queue for the grub.

We had a great bunch of folks at our table – we wound up sitting next to Kellian and Brian and had a great time getting to know them and hearing about the dancing scenes in various cities as Kellian and Lesley swapped stories about their dance endeavours.

The organising committee had left some puzzles scattered around the tables and I ended up spending a lot longer than I should have solving Markus GoetzRhombus Flexing puzzle – in spite of having done it at home a while back!

Lennart Green performed some amazing close-up magic with the help of a couple of huge video screens on each side of the stage. Wil was telling me a bit about Lennart Green a couple of days later – it turns out he’s totally self-taught so all of his sleights are unique and aren’t what you’re expecting, making him very much a magician’s magician. Some of his work was absolutely incredible (in both senses of the word!) and I really enjoyed his show. 

Unfortunately the magician who followed him wasn’t quite in the same league (technically or presentationally), but afterwards Peter’s mini bar key came out again as Kellian & Gill hadn’t seen it yet (and he was much better than the last bloke on stage). Having totally fooled her with the magical roaming chain, Kellian asked if she could inspect the key chain and without missing a beat Peter pointed out she was a married lady and that wouldn’t be proper! Superb!

After the formal entertainment was over, folks began milling around and a couple of tables of magic appeared – Todd Reis brought out his bananas again and Lennart Green sat down with a more intimate setting – about forty people crowded around a single table craning for a good view of the action – he didn’t disappoint!
At one point I wandered over to a table piled with twisty puzzles where a bunch of the twisty cognoscenti were deep in discussion – only to have my way barred by Rox telling me I couldn’t hang out here as I “wasn’t twisty enough!” – before dragging me over to show me something interesting on the table! While I was there James came over to demonstrate something that Oskar had showed him earlier: a cube where the opposite sides are connected by a gear train – except that depending on where in their phase the gear train is positioned, the effect on the opposite side is different ... e.g. moving the top layer half a twist moves the bottom layer a half a twist – so far so good – moving the top layer another half a twist moves the bottom layer a quarter twist – HANG ON! The next half twist inspired a full twist on the opposite side... now before you ask, no I hadn’t been drinking – that freaked me out more than a little!

After a while I wandered back down to the puzzle room where the hard core puzzlers remained. I had a serious attempt at Mike Toulouzas’ Vault and managed to solve it – it is a serious piece of art – a beautifully crafted wooden puzzle box that looks and behaves like the real thing it’s imitating. At first I was a bit confused when I’d discovered more tools than I thought I had a use for, until I tried closing the box ... turns out they weren’t red herrings after all and closing the box is a seriously non-trivial exercise! Superb work Mike – I love it.

I managed to solve the Double G puzzle – I really hope that someone picks up the rights to produce these, it’s a great puzzle. It looks really simple but those little tabs manage to find all sorts of ways to block everything that you’re trying to do... a masterpiece of simple, subtle design.

I had a play around with Jane Kostick’s Double Duals and enjoyed playing with this one as much as all her other puzzles – if not a little more. This one comes disassembled with very little clue to the eventual shape and once you’ve worked out which sets of pieces work together you can assemble one set and then add the other set – although it doesn’t matter which order you do it in ... hence the name – either set of pieces can be on the inside or on the outside ... she’s pretty clever with her geometry is Jane.

While I was playing away with a variety of things Robert Yarger was thoroughly investigating Jerry McFarland’s BurrBlock – he spent ages playing with it and examining all the bits as it came apart, and then the next day he and Jerry had a long chat about it .... he seemed pretty impressed and definitely seemed to be enjoying the challenge that night.

Chinny sidled up to me at some point and asked if I had one of his wobbly tops yet. When I said I didn’t he promptly gave me the last one he had, and when I offered to pay for it he refused any offers of cash and insisted that I buy a lathe and make three wobbly tops and give them away. Now anyone who’s seen these little marvels (mine’s about two inches tall) and understands the mechanics of using a lathe, will know that Chinny is both a master lathe-crafter and a little nuts! Having seen some clips of off-centred lathe-work with a chunk of wood spinning around trying to throw itself across the room at the craftsman, I’m pretty sure I won’t be trying that any time soon! Yet here’s Chinny giving me a beautifully made wobbly top, complete with decorative chattering and his trademark whistle in the top...

When we asked him about his off-centre lathe-work he replied “It doesn’t terrify me any more!” – I’m not sure I should believe him!

He hauled out a bunch of other little treasures that he carried around, including introducing me to La Boomba! Looking like a classic cherry bomb, this one is turned from coloured pencils and once opened it begins to tick loudly before letting off an explosion, all the while a menacing-looking Lego mini-fig glares at you ... that’s the sort of thing to expect from Chinny – he’s an absolute scream and it was wonderful to get to spend some time with him that night. Cheers mate!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Friday – the Edward Hordern Puzzle Exchange

Will & Brian
A little history lesson for you: the puzzle exchange that is pretty central to IPPs these days was first introduced by Edward Hordern at the London IPP in 1989 – the story goes that he gave folks the alternative of bringing along a bunch of new puzzles (40) to exchange with everyone else, or pay a hefty entrance fee (£30!). Most folks chose the former and the rest is history.

Apprentices for the day...
These days first timers aren’t allowed to participate as exchangers, however they are allowed to assist someone who is, so I was absolutely delighted to have been invited to be Wil Strijbos’ assistant for the exchange. Not only would I get to see the puzzle exchange from the inside at the hands of a veteran, but Wil being Wil, I was also pretty much guaranteed a good time as well.

Chinny, Rob & Thomas
I got myself into the ballroom in plenty of time and managed to find Wil’s home base where I recognised  boxes full of his exchange puzzle from the sneak peak I’d been given a couple of weeks earlier. The only snag was the distinct lack of Wil. I wandered around the room in the hopes of tracking him down chatting to someone, but he was nowhere to be found. When the introductory speeches began, I started having visions of trying to pass myself off as Wil for the day (although anyone who’s met either one of us was unlikely to be fooled!). Just as the speeches ended, Wil sauntered in – ready for action.

Brian, Chris & Wil
Each exchanger has a list of everyone’s names and as the assistant (or bag man as someone put it!) it’s my job to make sure that Wil gets around to everyone and exchanges puzzles with them, hanging onto the puzzles received and keeping a handy supply of his puzzles ready to pass out.
We’d alternate between bouts of sitting at the table and letting folks come over to us and then wandering around and meeting folks at their tables.

Wil had strung together quite a story about his exchange puzzle which he presented firstly as the Solution Sheet(!) - a little card with the words “Solution” and “Exchange” on it and a picture of a bottle with a red rod sticking out of it, a ball bearing next to the bottle and a padlock securing the rod inside the bottle ... and yes, a pair of keys was provided, one helpfully already inserted into the padlock, the other attached to the top of the rod.

A yellow card with three challenges went along with the Solution Sheet and this explained the challenges as:
  • First you need to understand the solution sheet – and he’d even helpfully explain this as follows: “Exchange” is Wil’s IPP32 Exchange puzzle, it is also the name of the puzzle as well as being the solution to the puzzle ... by now most folks were looking more puzzled than when they started – and I suspect that was the general intention!
  • Second – Wil hands over a real little bottle except the ball bearing is in the bottom of the bottle this time and your challenge is to remove the ball bearing and put things into the state in the Solution Sheet. (See he wasn’t kidding! It was the solution, or at least the final state of the solution, just no clue as to how you might get there!)
  • Third there was an extra challenge outside of the puzzle exchange, it was a gift from the assistant – at which point I handed over a single chain link to the exchangers as a gift from the assistant. (Remember that first-timers aren’t allowed to take part in the exchange, so this was a gift outside of the exchange from the apprentice.) The ceremonial hand over was generally accompanied by a suitable phrase (“No expense spared”, “It took me ages to make this”, “I’m new to this so I hope this is appropriate” or something suitably corny!) Wil would pause here and ask pointedly if they wanted the gift ... and some folks thought about refusing it, but most people decided not to hurt my feelings and keep the gift ... and then Wil would turn over the Solution Sheet to reveal the final challenge – the ball bearing is back inside the bottle and the chain link is secured around the shackle of the lock.
After the description of the puzzle, Wil would hand over a copy to the exchanger in the box that the bottles originally came in, showing them to be specimen bottles – which generally triggered another round of classic Strijbos remarks tailored to the particular audience (“Only been used once”, “It’s OK I shook it out” and “If you don’t like the puzzle it might be useful anyway!”).

I’m probably biased, but I think that Wil’s Exchange puzzle was an absolute cracker! It’s a classic Strijbos bottle puzzle, with a twist ... and all the additional obfuscation around the Solution Sheet at the beginning is terrific, especially when you realise what all that was really about once you’ve solved the puzzle.

Wil & Iwahiro
Wil has a real knack for entertaining folks and after the first couple of exchanges I got used to where the laughs were likely to come and made sure I had my camera ready –and managed to get some cracking pics of puzzlers having some serious belly-laughs at Wil’s presentation. A few folks made a meal of the chain link and insisted on posing for pics with the chain link as well – puzzlers are a good bunch.  A few of the exchangers even ended up giving me a copy of their exchange puzzles for no good reason – thanks!

Munkh-Itgelt, Laurie & Ethel
On the day there were 79 puzzle exchangers in the room, and we had to repeat that process about 60-odd times (allowing for a number of occasions when a mob would arrive more or less at the same time and they’d all watch one another’s explanations together) – the exchange was scheduled for 6 hours and that might sound like a really long time, but it literally flew by. Wil and I scarcely had time to wolf down our sandwiches at lunch time between visits from wandering puzzle exchangers and we were one of the last to complete the final puzzle exchanges as the organisers were trying to get the room set up for the lectures that were up next.

James & Wil
Jerry Slocum gave a talk on the history and development of IPPs over the years. From the first IPP that Jerry and Margot Slocum hosted in their own home, attracting 10 puzzlers from around the world, the International Puzzle Party has grown beyond recognition in some respects (this year there were about 400 delegates from around the world, with organised tours of the city and beyond for both puzzlers and their long-suffering partners, huge banquets, and a puzzle competition featuring 80 new designs) yet in other respects it’s still exactly the same – it’s about puzzlers from around the world getting together to share and talk about puzzles with old friends and new ones ... even though the numbers are so much higher, it still manages to be a personal event where you can spend time with people who share your passions – no mean feat!
Some pics don't need a caption

Wil & Nick
Jillian Hinchcliffe gave us an interesting insight into the work they have been doing at the Lilly Library on housing the Slocum Collection and some background on the library itself. The presentation included some photos from the pre-IPP trip that a number of folks had taken to visit the library, showing several well known puzzlers lying around on the floor trying to solve one of the puzzle desks commissioned for the collection. It was really wonderful to see how much effort has gone into ensuring that the collection is available to folks interested in the puzzles – with everything available for viewing either immediately or at a couple of hours notice for items stored in the archive. It looks like all  the effort that Jerry put into finding a suitable home for his collection has been worthwhile – the Lilly Library folks really seem to have embraced the collection and making it available wonderfully. Jillian also thanked everyone who'd already suggested improvements to some of the cataloguing data on the web site and asked everyone to keep submitting any corrections required.

Frans de Vreugd and Gary Foshee gave a brief canter through the development of the IPP souvenir books and the IPP Host gifts respectively – giving some of us newcomers a great insight into some of the finer details of IPPs that are seldom seen outside of the actual IPP. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Thursday Evening – Founder’s Reception

During the first of the three evening functions, Jerry and the committee formally welcomed us all to the 32nd Annual International Puzzle Party. During the speeches all of the first-timers were asked to raise their hands and it was a bit surprising when Wil Strijbos raised his hand next to us – just so that we didn’t feel singled out! Fat chance of that happening as there were piles of first-timers spread around the ballroom.

At that point there were yells of “Greenhorn, Greenhorn!” from somewhere behind us and Chinny arrived dishing out green Chinese finger traps to everyone with their hands up within striking distance ... and when he got to Wil he made a point of changing the chant to “NOT Greenhorn” and presented him with a purple finger trap.

We hung out with the Boschs and Neil and Jen for a while as various people came over to introduce themselves, chat for a bit and welcome us to our first IPP ... James was right!

Peter slipped into entertainer mode when he realised that Michelle hadn't seen his magical mini-bar key and he soon had her thoroughly flummoxed and highly entertained - much to everyone's amusement! 

I found myself chatting to Marcel Gillen about whether or not we’d be seeing him at the Dutch Cube Day again this year (“Of Course!”) and ended up talking about how one might be able to get hold of one of his original chess pieces – at which point he remarked that he happened to know someone in the room (remember that this is about 400 of the world’s best designers, manufacturers and collectors of mechanical puzzles – and me – so this probably isn’t quite as strange as it might first appear!) had a spare copy of one of them, at which point he marched me over and introduced me to a collector who’d recently acquired one of them only to find that he already had one, so Marcel suggested that the two of us should talk ... (we did, and hopefully at some future point some cash and a puzzle will change hands – at which point it will no doubt feature in this blog). 

Goetz Schwandtner came over with Rob Stegmann in tow – knowing that Goetz was a bit of a Kugellager-junkie, Rob had brought an old version of the puzzle in a round format with four tracks along for Goetz to play with, and knowing I was also interested, Goetz had brought it over to show me as well. The two sheet metal parts (the crown and the spider) are rotated while the rivet shaped pins are allowed to move in and out along the tracks – very Kugellager-ish and significantly older! Goetz gave it to me with 1 pin out and the other 3 in at the start and said it had taken him quite a while to get it there and then encouraged me to have a go ... which I duly did, but I couldn’t tell you whether I was going forwards or backwards and I fear I gave it back to him in a far more jumbled state. Later that evening I ran into the two of them in the design competition room where Goetz managed to finish the puzzle and I got some neat pics of the puzzle fully disassembled.

A short while later Goetz grabbed me and said that Jerry McFarland wanted to meet me and took me across the room and introduced me to Jerry – I’d been planning to seek Jerry out at some point as I’d left the UK with strict instructions from Bruce to pass on his best regards – so I did just that.
It was lovely to meet Jerry face-to-face after all the emails we've traded over the past year or two on a couple of his recent projects, including one that turned into his design competition entry this year. Jerry had an iPad with him and showed us a really impressive video of his home-brewed CNC rig for cutting burr pieces – it’s pretty amazing to watch it in action and Jerry admitted that he got almost as much pleasure from putting the rig together than he does from using it to make new puzzles.

Next thing Jerry called Bill Cutler over to introduce me to him and I ended up chatting with Bill about his designs and how I’d been at James’ place when he decided he needed to take out all of his Cutlers to make sure they were all properly identified and catalogued ... and it made a pretty big pile of burrs!

I realised I’d left Gill alone for quite a while so wandered back in her direction (turned out she was in fact quite happily chatting to Jen & Michelle and hadn't actually noticed how long I'd been gone!). We ended up chatting with Simon Bexfield for a while before the entire Dalgety-clan came over to make sure that we were having fun.

A bit later Brian Young strode purposefully over and presented me with a bunch of little puzzles, including an Aussie version of the historic leprechaun puzzle, a Puzzleman Australia bead puzzle and a set of what looks a bit like Stewart Coffin’s Logs and Sticks, except there are too few logs and too few sticks - so it's probably something else entirely!

When things began winding down a bit Wil invited me up to his room to show me a couple of puzzles and asked me to show him my solution to his First Box – he demonstrated his solution and after a bit of a hitch I showed him how I was solving mine. We decided that they were both equally effective on the current version of the box, although I’d already found that my approach wasn’t all that successful on James’ copy of the original First Box – advantage Strijbos! While we were chatting about the First Boxes, Wil gave me a new cylinder for my First Box with a smiley face on one end and a sad face on the other ... so you start out with the sad face peeking out through the hole in the bottom of the box and have to release the smiley face – cute! He also gave me replacements for all the other MPP crowd that I’d be seeing in a couple of weeks time as well...

Wil had brought a copy of Flemin’ across for me to have a look at along with a 2-Drawer Karakuri box (Yes, I took them both) – didn’t get Flemin’ open, but opening the 2-Drawer box put a huge smile on my face – that one has a huge dose of humour in it!

While I was in Wil’s room I noticed a familiar-looking ribbed blue cylinder that looked remarkably like AlCyl on the table and asked about it – Wil pointed down to one of his trademark plastic crates that was literally half-full of them ... life’s weird, I’d seen pics of them years ago and spotted one listed on Eureka but it was sold before I got anywhere near it, and literally haven’t seen one since then, until my mate Chris managed to buy one privately quite recently and I was allowed to have a go on it – loved it and decided I ought to try and find one for myself... and here’s Wil with a crate of them! So I got one for myself and another for Nigel since he’d asked me to keep an eye out for anything that I thought he might like.

Somewhere past midnight I crawled back into bed again... at sometime the jet lag is going to get me!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

IPP Thursday afternoon

Gill and I spent the morning wandering around some of the monuments in DC on our own, having navigated the Metro into the centre of town (not an especially tough puzzle, to be fair) – we watched aircraft wheeling into Reagan and banking across the Jefferson Memorial while tourists pedalled boats on the river. Weaved our way between sprinklers dodging the spray through the parking lot, thinking more than once that it might be rather pleasant to wander into the spray for just a bit, then noticed a young girl doing exactly that. A few minutes later a large white van drove past us and stopped at the corner for two huge guys to get out and go and stand in the middle of the spray, arms outstretched cooling down – perhaps it wasn’t just us tourists from England who were feeling the heat that morning.

We sat on the lawn at the Washington memorial (in the shade!) and took some pics before heading up toward the White House for yet more touristy pics. From there we wandered across to a cafe for an iced coffee and some a/c – not sure which one went down better! After a short wander through the shops, we took the Metro back to Pentagon City where we found a Johnny Rockets (long story, but we like the milkshakes and burgers) so decided we’d have to come back there again...

Back at the hotel I got distracted by Pavel Curtis introducing some of his word games to Bram Cohen and a small group of puzzlers so I stopped and joined the puzzling – really enjoyed the multi-layer combination of a physical puzzle and several layers of word-puzzles and some serious lateral thinking – all of them gave some really good A-HA moments a few times through the solution process.  Not sure how far we’d have got without Pavel’s expert gentle guidance from the sidelines when we got stuck though.

During the afternoon I met the amazing force of nature called Stephen Chin (or more commonly Chinny or Chinnomoto) and Matt Dawson who gave me a lovely box of chocolates (the state’s finest!) as a thank you for connecting him to some folks back in the UK who were interested in getting hold of a copy of his exchange puzzle – heck that was easy – and I got a box of chocolates for my “trouble”.  I met Derek and Michelle Bosch and got introduced to little Ann who was doing her impression of the best behaved toddler in the world at the time! I congratulated Derek on opening his Revomaze Gold during the past week and we chatted a bit about it as a puzzle, or not... and "recent developments".

I met Ken Irvine, another first-time IPP-er who was generally around with his rucksack full of new designs – always happy to take them out for folks to play with. They turned out to be a huge hit and I’m sure that Ken got sick and tired of telling folks that he didn’t have any for sale, he’d just brought one of each of his designs for folks to play with ... although as I write this, Tom Lensch and Eric Fuller have already committed to producing some of Ken’s designs and Bernhard Schweitzer has also been making promising noises along the same lines, so hopefully they’ll be available in due course – the designs I had a crack at were all excellent ... one of them has all the feel and play of one of Mine’s cubes, except it doesn’t have the little tricky bit to it ... making it more of an honest puzzle, but just as much fun to play with!

The puzzle design room sucked me back in again and I had a wonderful time playing with some of the designs, again. This time with a little more success!
Peter Wiltshire’s Ferris’ Box is a truly excellent puzzle box – it looks like a 3*3*3 cube inside a maple frame and none of the usual tricks seems to do anything, but when things do start to move, boy are they interesting! It was a really fun box to solve and a real treat to play with – Peter’s crafting skills are superb and it’s not hard to see why it won the Jury First Prize ... Peter made a limited number of them and most of them will be in the Apothecary Chest project ... a few of which might be sold off once the project is complete. I suspect he must have gotten sick and tired of the repeated requests for one of his boxes because he’s subsequently decided to make a further four copies, in different woods to set them apart from the first limited edition run and sell them via one of the puzzle auctions ... keep an eye out for that one, it’s a cracker!

I made absolutely no progress on the Packman puzzle (again!) but did manage to solve Double Symmetry (the three orange triangle puzzle) which sort of surprised me as I am usually rubbish at that sort of puzzle (making symmetrical shapes from weird pieces). This puzzle gives you three odd triangles and asks you to make a pair of symmetrical shapes...

At one point I found myself puzzling next to Brian Young so introduced myself and we ended up chatting about life, the universe and puzzle blogs. 

Neither of us was convinced that his linking to my blog posts had actually done much for his sales, but at least I was able to name a couple of folks who’d bought an Opening Bat after seeing mine and hearing about it. While we were talking about his Opening Bat he told me about one of his serious collectors who’d sent him an email just after he’d received his copy saying “Is that it?”. Brian suggested he reserve judgement until he’d at least tried playing with it first, and several days later there was another email along saying “Ah, now I understand...” – Brian wouldn’t say how long it subsequently took him to get through all three locks properly.  It was great chatting to Brian and really felt that we came at life from a similar perspective – perhaps it’s a Southern-Hemisphere-approach-to-life-thing?

Eric Fuller and Robert Yarger whirled through the design room and the registration desk in a bit of a flurry – one had mailed his gear for the evening do along with his puzzles and the other had been delayed, and they were sharing a room ... all ended well, with the two of them making the do in the evening with plenty of time to spare ...more on which in the next post ...