Friday, 30 November 2012


Tomas Lindén’s IPP32 exchange was a devilish little puzzle designed by Vesa Timonen. Consisting of only two flat pieces of wood, the goal is to make a single, symmetric shape... Tomas kindly gave me a copy of his exchange puzzle and it has taunted me for the last few months – it is evil! Be warned!!
I had a quick bash at it while I was at IPP, and got nowhere...

Then I tried it while I was on holiday in NYC, and got nowhere...

Back at home, I put it on the vast shelf-of-puzzles-to-be-solved, and every now and then I’d take it down and fiddle around with it, and get nowhere...

During MPP7 several folks played around with it, and solved it, and I gave it another bash, and got nowhere... 

(Let me know if you aren’t sure where this one’s heading!)

OK, how hard can it be? You have two flat pieces that are virtually identical, and you’re told that they both need to be flat on the table and you have to make a symmetric shape.

At one point on my journey with this puzzle I found myself trading emails with Tomas, and making sure that he really meant both pieces literally flat on the table (yip!) and that it wasn’t some sneaky answer that relied on negative space (nope!) – this time (!) it really was a straight forward solution (hard to picture given this was the same guy that bought us the Black or White!)

Straight-forward it might be – simple it is not!

At one point I resorted to a feeble attempt at using some arithmetic, and measured the edges and played around with various sums and differences, trying to work out which bits needed to be combined or aligned to result in symmetric remainders ... and failed miserably. 

Some helpful soul mentioned that he’d eventually found the solution and then realised that he’d seen that shape a few times before, and not recognised the symmetry in the shape – GREAT! Now I know I’m going to kick myself when I eventually find the solution!

Months later, I found myself out and about having dinner with a bunch of puzzlers in The Hague, and this puzzle’s been doing the rounds and I’m literally the only one left who hasn’t solved it yet, so they give it to me and I try (yet) again! 


...and eventually one of them takes pity on me and shows me the answer, and my first reaction is “That’s NOT symmetrical!” – only it IS ... but until you ‘see’ it, you’ll be convinced it isn’t, and merrily move on to the next experiment.

For me, this has to be one of the best little bits of puzzling value for money (even if I HAD paid for it!) around at the moment ... I’ve heard stories of one or two gifted puzzlers finding the solution in mere seconds, but most folks take a decent amount of time to work it out ... and some of us took forever! 

Be warned – it is evil. But if you really do want one, I'm sure Tomas will sell you one over here...

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Thanks Wil!

When I saw Wil Strijbos at the Dutch Cube Day, he gave me a couple of rather nice goodies to add to my little puzzle collection...

The first was a wooden copy of a Four Axis Folding Star that David Bruce brought along to the 14th Annual Puzzle Collector’s Party (now IPP) in Seattle in 1994.  David had come across some of John Kostick’s bronze stars at a craft market in Portland in 1991 and then done some research to find John’s 1970 patent on the construction of “Symmetrical Non-Cartesian Multiple Axis Joining of Beams”. (U.S. Patent # 3546049 in case you’re interested.)

He presented his wooden version constructed of bamboo meat skewers with wooden beads on their tips along with the challenge to come up with a simple jig for manufacturing them...

The wooden star functions exactly like its bigger bronze brethren... and still looks great after almost 20 years ... thanks Wil – it looks good next to the rest of the family. 


The other little item he gave me was my first ever puzzle jug ... a Strijbos take on a puzzle jug, or should that be puzzle jugs? (or should I have left the reader to make that little joke themselves? We’ll never know!) 

Hand-blown in glass, Wil assures me they were originally available in both Adam and Eve models ... and I’m secretly pleased that I got an Eve...

There are strategically placed holes around the edge that will ensure that just drinking from it normally will produce an embarrassing dribble, and the handle is hollow enabling it to be used as a straw of sorts ... although it’s not quite that simple as there are a couple of holes in it and not pinching one of them closed will produce a neat little fountain of whatever-it-is that you’re trying to sip... 

Thanks Wil – it’s really cute, and it’ll always be the first puzzle jug(s) in my collection!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Quintet in ‘F’ by Stewart Coffin

Quintet in ‘F’ is number Stewart Coffin’s design #253 ... two hundred and fifty three! 

And some of them didn’t get numbers! 

And he’s still going!

OK, back to the puzzle in hand - Coffin #253 served as Rosemary Howbrigg’s Exchange Puzzle at IPP31 in Berlin and as you might expect from the name it employs five ‘f’-shaped pentominoes in the tray packing puzzle. 

Mercifully this time (unlike Lean 2) the tray is symmetrical, in fact it’s a rhombus so it’s very symmetrical ... however the pieces aren’t – and there are five of them, which makes building a shape that’s symmetrical a little tricky... 

My copy came from Puzzle Paradise where John Devost has recently picked up his woodworking tools after a couple of successful restorations. I tend to keep an eye on Paradise just in case anything interesting turns up... John’s pretty good about warning folks when he’s put a bunch of new things up for sale on Paradise, but every now and then one or two new things will sneak on before he’s had a chance to wing an email around to warn anyone... 

So  one day I happened to spot this particular puzzle appear out of the blue – just a single copy available with a zebrawood tray and spalted myrtle pieces and I thought it looked terrific so I snagged it. It arrived less than a week later in perfect condition having made the journey across from Canada in a padded envelope.

John’s done a super job on this puzzle – the tray has a floating zebrawood base , the corners are finished off with wenge slipfeathers (one of his trademark features) and he’s signed and dated the back of the tray. 

It’s an excellent little puzzle and the combination of an odd number of non-symmetrical pieces being fitted into a perfectly symmetrical tray provides plenty of blind allies to be explored. I got fairly lucky and managed to stumble upon a solution quite quickly, but I’ve heard of some pretty mean puzzlers being stumped for quite a while ... but then it IS a Stewart Coffin design, and you wouldn’t expect any less ... would you?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


I first spotted Tan-Talizing at the IPP32 Puzzle Exchange as Wil’s assistant. It was exchanged by Yee-Dian Lee and I remember thinking to myself that it looked interesting at the time. (Little did I know!) For some or other reason I didn’t end up picking up a copy at IPP and then when one of Wil Strijbos’ latest emails mentioned that he had them available I was reminded of this puzzle. 

On our visit to The Hague for DCD 2012 we spent the Saturday afternoon at Rob Hegge’s place and I hauled out his copy of Tan-Talizing and played around with it ... and got nowhere ... then Louis solved it in a few minutes so I decided that I needed to get a copy from Wil the next day, which I duly did. 

Tan-Talizing is billed on the box as “A 3D Tangram Puzzle with a twist!”. It consists of eight acrylic pieces made up of a combination of tangram pieces across two or three layers. The pieces alternate black and white across the layers and your task is to form a square block four layers high. The pieces are laid out as a black one-quarter square with some combination of white pieces stuck to it. Several of the pieces have white bits overlapping outside the black pieces forcing you to think outside the box a little bit. 

Emptying the pieces out of the box it’s pretty easy to see how some of them will naturally fit together, and your brain (puzzling or otherwise) will naturally start down that route and you’ll end up with a fairly neat half-solution and a set of pieces that simply refuse to go together...

Hmm, this isn’t quite so simple after all. 

OK, so experiment with a different configuration on the first half so that you use up different pieces there, leaving different pieces to make up the second half ... it’s worth a try, but I couldn’t make that work... so maybe you need to build it as a whole rather than in a couple of halves – that might make better use of the shapes you have ... then a new brainwave struck: the instructions didn’t say that the colours in the layers have to match! 

Or not...

No matter what I did, I always found that I ended up with a couple of unruly pieces that wouldn’t cooperate – even starting with them and trying to get creative with how the pieces might go together – perhaps they weren’t all neatly arranged around the perimeter, perhaps there’s a piece floating in the middle somewhere, or miscoloured?

Hopefully you’ll explore as many blind alleys as I did before you find the solution.
I’d been playing with it every now and then and not really getting anywhere, then woke up one morning having deduced what the answer had to be, walked through to the study and solved it, just like that. 

It is a delightful puzzle – my mate Louis described it as a puzzler’s puzzle and I reckon he’s right!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Jack Krijnen’s Level 5 Burr Set

A little over a year ago Jack published some pics of a burr set that he’d made for himself on one of the puzzle forums I follow. The pics looked pretty incredible, and then when I got the chance to see it in person at DCD last year I was totally bowled over. Outside the box was decorated with a stunning inlaid burr shape and a frame and inside there were 42 burr pieces and a set of cards with a heap of level 5 burr definitions laid out on them. Oh, and the one thing I haven’t mentioned yet are the dimensions – the box was about 12*9*4.5 cm. It was a masterpiece in compact design and craftsmanship. 

Earlier this year Jack mentioned that he might be making a few more copies of his burr set and I piled in almost immediately and asked if I could be put on a waiting list, if there was such a thing – and happily there was!

A little while later Jack began teasing us all on-line as he drip-fed out pictures of his manufacturing process without actually saying what it was that he was producing ... 

It started with an enormous pile of sticks, which then turned into burr pieces, and then the panels for the boxes appeared and eventually there were pics of the gorgeous inlay work – and he announced that he had eight boxes available and that they’d be ready in time for DCD 2012. 

I was over the moon when I got the email from Jack asking me which type of wood I wanted the box to be in (he had made them in walnut and mahogany) and then confirming that I’d be able to collect a walnut box from him at DCD. <Fat Grin!>

...and so on the DCD Sunday I met Jack again and was handed my little masterpiece... 

The pics should give you an idea of the size of this burr set ... it’s dinky!

The burr pieces themselves are made from 1cm*1cm stock(!) and have been really accurately cut so they fit together perfectly when assembled. Each piece has been stamped with its identifier on one end and laid out in numerical order in the box and when they’re not being played with, the pieces are all housed in their own little pigeon holes inside the box. In a separate compartment to the left of the burr pieces is a set of neatly laminated (so you won’t smudge them!) cards with 162 unique Level 5 burr problems for puzzlers to get their teeth into ... as well as a number of Level 8 and 9 problems to tax the little grey cells with. And the piece de resistance – a little pair of wooden tweezers to remove the individual burr pieces from their resting places because you couldn’t fit your fingers between them! Jack’s thought of everything!

I’ve had a go at a few of the constructions so far and realised that I still have an awful lot to learn when it comes to assembling burrs ... I’d thought I was doing OK working through my Creative Crafthouse set of lower level burrs – but this one definitely steps it up a gear in terms of difficulty. 

I’ve managed to do about half of the ones that I’ve tried but I’m determined not to let them beat me so I’ve printed off a list of them so that I can mark up the ones I’ve done and come back to the others at a later stage... I suspect this little box is going to provide many, many hours of pleasurable puzzling. 

Thanks Jack – it is beautiful – the first Krijnen-creation in my collection is going to take a lot of beating! turns out that my fellow Midlands Puzzlers had also spotted Jack's handiwork and in the end, four out of the six of us who travelled over to DCD this year came away with one of these sets ... and another of our number who hadn't made it over also managed to snag one, so in the end five out of the eight sets that Jack made ended up in MPP-hands - you can't say we aren't keen and recognise great quality craftsmanship! 

[Rox also managed to snag a copy of this set and you can read her thoughts over here.]

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

DCD 2012 aka MPP8

Just over a year ago Nigel and I flew across to The Netherlands to attend the 2011 Dutch Cube Day in Eindhoven. Luckily our fellow MPP-er Louis lives in Eindhoven and he took care of us while we were over there ... afterwards I blogged about it a bit and we talked about it to all and sundry at subsequent MPPs ... and it seems that folks liked what they heard. This time Nigel and I were joined for an early Saturday morning flight from Birmingham by Chris, and Ali and Oli flew across to Amsterdam from Luton. We all met up with Louis who’d caught the train from Eindhoven to Schipol and then the six of us made our way across to The Hague, scene of this year’s DCD. 

We all managed to check-in when we got there, although there were a couple of fraught minutes until the hotel found Ali’s booking in the name of Mr Alistair instead of the more orthodox use of his surname. When the hotel restaurant opened at 11:30 we all piled in for some lunch as most of us had been at the airport from 4:30 that morning. While we were happily munching away Wil Strijbos pulled up in his red van and hopped out with Christiaan Eggermont. They joined us for a bite to eat after they’d checked in and then headed off to the venue to unpack Wil’s wares for the Sunday. 

We walked round there after lunch and notionally helped Wil unpack his crates in order to justify our presence. Bernhard Schweitzer had obviously been there for a while already as most of his stuff was already unpacked. It was great to see Bernhard again after a bit more than a year at the previous DCD. I spotted Joop doing his rounds as one of the organisers and reminding the prospective sellers that they were supposed to be saving their trading for the next day – although I did notice a couple of my mates coming out of there with little parcels or treasure in spite of Joop’s best endeavours. 

Rob's well-laid dining table
Mid-afternoon we all headed off toward Rob Hegge’s place for a bit of a puzzle party. We’d spoken about DCD in Washington and I’d mentioned there would be a bunch of us MPP-ers coming over so he’d offered to organise a bit of a get-together. We arrived with Wil and Christiaan in tow to Rob, Frans de Vreugd and Simon Nightingale all furiously puzzling away, and a little while later Rik van Grol and the rest of the gang arrived. (Only half of us could fit in the red van so the others took a cab from the hotel.) 

Rob had laid his dining room table with all of his IPP puzzles and about half of us promptly sat down (after we’d said hello to everyone, promise!) and began confusing ourselves. The rest scattered themselves around his lounge peering into the many cabinets jam-packed with puzzles. Rob was a great host keeping us plied with caffeine and fruit juice and the odd round of snacks. He happily sought out some of the less well known puzzles in his collection and hauled them out for folks to have a go on ... Nigel for one was glad to be able to give one of Brian Young’s big Telephone Boxes a bit of a once over. Not sure anyone opened the (Karakuri) Grand Piano though...

I spent a while trying my hand at Tan-Talizing and failed miserably, only to see Louis solve it in a matter of minutes, take his customary photo of the solved puzzle and then break it up while I tried not to watch... although I have to say that he did a very good job of obscuring anything useful in the process. 

At one point Rob brought out his Roger Shaker and Ali had a pretty good go at it, actually solving it! Locking it up again proved a bit tougher and we had to drag Wil in to try and salvage the position... and even though Wil was seen prancing around the room performing all manner of strange callisthenics, the puzzle remained resolutely open ... sorry Rob.

We had to drag ourselves away from Rob’s treasure trove to meet Bernhard back at the hotel for some Italian and just managed to get back in time to find him, and after dumping our gear, we all (11 of us!) set off following Bernhard to an Italian joint he remembered from previous visits ... after a couple of false starts and wrong turns we found it and they pushed a few tables together for us. I knew the food was going to be superb when Bernhard didn’t hesitate and ordered his standard Carpaccio and a main course (read last year’s story if that doesn’t make sense!). Several courses of superb food duly followed, liberally interspersed with some (apparently) very fine wine ... with several puzzles floating around the table among the courses. As always the banter was highly entertaining and when Louis noticed that the wall tiles looked a bit like the panels on a puzzle box, he proceeded to try and solve the wall! (And he was stone cold sober at the time, promise!) It was an outstanding meal with fantastic company ... and if you’re ever in Voorburg, you could do a lot worse than look up Fratelli's for a bite to eat! (You’re on your own on the company though...) 

Back at the hotel, we found ourselves drawn to the bar area for yet more puzzling and I eventually stumbled up to my bed just before midnight...
Next morning Louis and I headed back to the venue a little after the opening time and the rest of the gang followed along at a more leisurely pace having sussed out Wil and Bernhard’s tables the previous afternoon. 

Anyone seen Vinco?
This year DCD was held in Sint Maartenscollege in the school hall, with tables set up for the speed-cubers down one side and puzzle tables taking up pretty much the rest of the hall... and clearly a lot of new folks had arrived between us leaving there on Saturday and getting back on Sunday – there were stacks of new puzzle tables piled high with interesting puzzles, optical illusions and games. 

We signed in and each received a micro three-piece cube puzzle courtesy of Richard Gain (the microcubologist) and the organisers – a really nice touch!

Inside the room it was wonderful recognising puzzlers from DCD last year and from Washington earlier this year – every one of them stopped to say hi and ask how we’d been in the interim – good people... 

Wil had brought a couple of things along for me, including a Five Nails puzzle from Jan Sturm for my Shropshire puzzle mate Dale, and a couple of Cola Bottles (#5 and #7B) to add to my collection – but I’ll be writing about those in due course...

Jack Krijnen had a table selling some of his designs (you’re not likely to come across Burrly Sane available for sale like that...) and had a few placed out for folks to play around with ... including a very simple looking 2D puzzle consisting of about 5 pieces and the object is to make the classic outline of a house... WAY tougher than it looks and I’m still kicking myself for not taking a copy...

Ceremonial handover
My main reason to looking out for Jack was linked to our meeting at DCD last year. Just before that he’d published a couple of pics on a forum of a tiny burr set he’d crafted for himself, and in the interim he’d decided to make a few more copies for sale, and I’d managed to get in early enough to secure a copy and I was going to be picking it up at DCD ... it really deserves an entire post on it’s own, and that’s what it’ll get – but for now I’ll just say that it is even better in the flesh than it looks in the pics and it is an awesome piece of woodwork! [Thanks Jack!] 

We spent pretty much the whole day wandering between the tables and noticing new things each time we went past a table ... the lunch that the organisers laid on was great and the Midlands Mob spent a while munching and talking puzzles with Simon and Frans while giving our legs a bit of a break...

After lunch we had a couple of lectures – firstly from Frans de Vreugd on his puzzle-hunting trip to Sri Lanka with Peter Hajek. Frans entertained us with some great stories and interesting insights, all illustrated with a terrific set of photos from the trip and a bunch of carved objects all of which had secret compartments hidden inside them. As most of us hadn’t been exposed to any puzzle boxes from Sri Lanka, it made for a really interesting talk. He was followed by Edo Timmermans who gave an inspiring talk on modelling mathematical constructions using simple little magnetic balls – the sort we’ve all played around with at some point... except that his creations were on an EPIC scale – take a look at his YouTube channel and I guarantee that you’ll be thoroughly amazed at what can be done with these simple little ‘toys’ in the right hands.

Fidgety Rabbits (the white things they're holding!)
After that I spent a while chatting with Goetz Schwandtner who’d brought along a couple of really fascinating derivatives of the standard Chinese rings ... the first was a copy of the Fidgety Rabbits puzzle from this year’s Design Competition – it’s a binary implementation with 7 sliders, each of which can be in one of two states... then he brought out a special version by the same creator (Namick Salakhov) which had a ternary implementation, with just 6 sliders! He passed it around and everyone had a fiddle around with it and we all went a little way into the sequence and then allowed discretion to take over and reversed back to the start position... the binary one was opened a few times but nobody really tried to go all the way through the ternary example. Goetz spent a while talking us through the design which is rather ingenious as it will generalise to any higher order implementation desired – clever design that! [There’s a much better pic of the two next to each other on Goetz’ web page.] 

One of the other things Goetz had brought along was a Lego (genius!) implementation of a Bob Hearn design that had never been made before – even though it theoretically only has three rings, the number of moves involved was simply astronomical! In fact Goetz hadn’t even determined the number of moves required to fully solve it – jolly creative that Goetz bloke! :-) 

The Dutch Cube Day really is a tremendous opportunity to meet some amazing puzzlers, manufacturers, sellers and designers... 

Where else could you get one of Oskar’s designs autographed by the man himself (yip, I did!), or where could you tell Robrecht Louage how much you enjoyed 4 Steps Visible Lock, or chat to Vinco, or talk to Marcel Gillen about his old puzzles and his more recent designs, play with some really exotic twisty puzzles and rake through crate after crate after crate of wonderful goodies from Wil Strijbos. It’s a wonderful opportunity for all of the above, and you get to make some excellent new friends ... all for the princely sum of ten Euros for the day! You cannot beat that for puzzling value for money! If you haven’t already joined NKC, drop Rik a line and sign up and then join us in Holland next year ... if you love puzzles you won’t regret it!

Obligatory loot shot.