Friday 14 February 2014

The Circle

Shane Hales and I had swapped a few emails some time back after I’d had the pleasure of having a go on a friend’s copy of his first puzzle design “The Block”. It consisted of a block of wood split through the middle with some sort of mechanism holding them together… after a little playing you got to a blind maze which had a really interesting twist to it – and once you opened it, everyone was amazed at how complicated such a simple mechanism could appear when you couldn’t see it… 

Fast forward several months and I happened to swap a few more emails with Shane as he was after a copy of my IPP exchange puzzle. I’d offered to swap him a copy of mine for whatever he came up with next, knowing that he was already working on his next design. He thoroughly downplayed his puzzle and said it wasn’t good enough to be sold or exchanged, but he’d like to have my thoughts on it, so I told him I was going to give him a copy of my exchange puzzle, but wouldn’t ask him for a copy of his in return because that would just have been a sneaky way of conning him into an exchange, and he’d said he wasn’t comfortable with that… 

Anyhow, totally unrelated to all that, a neat box arrived from London last Friday with a copy of “The Circle”, Shane’s second puzzle design. There was a great welcoming letter accompanying the puzzle giving a bit of the story behind the development and some warnings about this being a prototype and that it won’t tolerate rough behaviour – all very sensible stuff – even a warning about not using your fingers directly on the mechanism (“That would be considered cheating!”) when you get the puzzle to start opening. I really appreciated the bit about making the dovetails too well initially so there wasn’t any give - and realising that that would make the puzzle virtually impossible to solve, so (in spite of all of his training) he made it a bit sloppier to give the poor puzzler a bit of a chance. (Thanks Shane! That helped – a lot!)

Coming home from work on a Friday evening and finding an unexpected puzzle waiting for you is a wonderful way to start a weekend … and after saying hello to wife and hounds I settled down to some puzzling – read Shane’s introductory letter and then started playing…

Now to be honest, I wasn’t expecting to get very far as my fellow blogger Kevin had received his copy a little while ago and from his posts on FaceBook and his blog, he was finding it very tough indeed … ah well, might as well just have a little play with it then.

The round block has a clear dovetail going through the centre of it and the two halves have a tiny bit of wiggle to them, which makes you think they’re going to slide apart at some point. The top has a dark wooden rectangle stuck to it and there’s some lettering on the top (“The Circle”) and the bottom (Shane’s signature and the puzzle’s serial number – 002) and on the sides of the top piece are a pair of arrows pointing toward the front of the box. 

There aren’t any obvious things to try at first, but one thing strikes you as soon as you start playing with The Circle – the clanging noise coming from inside when you tap or shake the box from side to side. During the course of my solving, I became more and more convinced that when I finally opened it I was going to find the parts of a child’s rattle inside there – just to confuse me!

After a little experimenting I managed to stumble across something interesting and that led me to the first “move”, which gave me a little more movement between the pieces, but only a tiny fraction more … clearly there was still a lot to be done. 

After a fair amount of pretty random attempts I resorted to some very careful exploration and spotted a few tell-tale clues to what might need to be done next – and after I’d experimented this way and that a little, managed to unlock the next little barrier, allowing another tiny lit bit of extra movement. Knowing that I’d be able to repeat the first few steps, I got a bit braver and began experimenting along a few different potential paths until I found one that gave me a huge amount of progress – letting the two pieces slide half apart – and letting me see the internal mechanism for the first time – and also releasing a couple of bits from the earlier lock onto the counter and thence onto the kitchen floor, where I managed to save them before the hounds got too interested in them. 

Having the puzzle half open was a real revelation – all of a sudden that weird noise made sense – and no, there wasn’t a kid’s rattle in there at all! I remembered Shane’s warning to avoid using my fingers on the mechanism and set to work on opening it fully – not too tricky once you’ve seen the mechanism and even easier when you can see one half of what’s going on in there … and with that, half an hour after starting it, I had it open and in bits on the kitchen counter – with a tremendous sense of achievement – it is a CRACKER of a puzzle!

Straight after dinner I dashed off an email to Shane to tell him how much I’d enjoyed it and describe how I’d solved it – it’s been a little while since I’ve have that sort of a reaction to a puzzle… :-) and the only thing stumping me at that stage was the two pieces of clear acrylic in the letter … with “The Block” Shane had included a little clear gadget for you to play around with and see what you were doing, but I couldn’t work out how these bits could be used for anything like that on “The Circle”…

…until about 5 minutes after I’d sent the first email, which enabled me to send another saying “...just worked out the final bit of the puzzle - stand now assembled!   I'm an eedjit!“ It makes up a neat little stand for displaying the puzzle at an angle – a great touch! 

Shane, this is a seriously great puzzle! It looks good, the workmanship is spot on (including the sloppiness you put there deliberately!) and the mechanism is clever and confounding! Thanks for giving me a copy – I’m proud to add it to my little collection and I'll be taking to along to MPP to make sure a bunch of others can have a go on it too - because I'm pretty sure they'll like it too!


  1. Sob!!!!
    My puzzling career is shattered!!!! It took me more than a week to solve mine... And I needed loads of clues!!


    1. Kevin - having seen your copy on Saturday - it's a LOT tighter than mine! Mine gave a lot more of a clue to what was going on than yours... :-)

  2. Hi Allard,

    Thank you so much for a very positive review ! Even though I still don't know what I'm doing I will take all these comments on with me to another design, Kevin you are being far far to hard on yourself. Sorry to say you got the tougher copy ! But I can't take anything from you Allard. Well done !

  3. Gorgeous puzzle! I'm curious about the name. Wouldn't "The Disc" or "The Puck" be a fitting sequel to "The Block"??

  4. I start my ideas for puzzle designs on paper first (people that know me know and see these) so with paper and pencil in hand drawing some shapes, I got out a compass and did some circles. I decided this was going to be my shape. And once opened this makes more sense. Ergo 'The Circle'.

    1. Thanks for the info, Shane! They look beautiful!