Saturday, 22 April 2017

Normal Service Interrupted

I’ve been dreading this day for years…

I knew that I couldn’t keep ignoring it and that one of these days it would need sorting…

It needs sorting now, apparently…

So, at the moment I have this, instead of this…

…and this downstairs… 

and then hopefully in a couple of weeks’ time I’ll have new carpets in the puzzle-cave a couple more puzzle cabinets in there, and all the boxes of puzzles will migrate back upstairs again in time for the next puzzlers’ visitation… but it’s soaking up most of my spare time at the moment, and the puzzles are in boxes which makes them a little harder to write about, so normal service is going to be a bit interrupted for a while, sorry…

…one or two haven’t quite been packed away yet,  and to be honest, the new ones keep arriving at a reasonable (although Gill might say alarming) rate anyway. So I’ll try and keep up the pretence of puzzle blogging for a little while longer.

Kagen’s Loop Box

Kagen Sound updated his website a while back announcing the imminent arrival of a new puzzle box. The Loop Box was to be a slightly scaled-down version of an earlier puzzle with a sliding tile locking mechanism – yes I know that doesn’t narrow it down an awful lot! The original Block Box had serious pedigree, winning both the Puzzlers’ award and the Jury’s First prize at the IPP22 Puzzle Design Competition… with the improved version (the Walnut Block box) having a more refined implementation of the mechanism that crammed twice the complexity into a similar sized puzzle. Loop Box simplifies those ideas down to their core and presents a lovely little puzzle with an added twist…

The similarities are pretty clear from a cursory glance: the top of the boxes all have a field of small sliding pieces arranged in a non-symmetric pattern, with the earlier versions all having a piece of two extending into (and beyond?) their respective frames… Loop Box on the other hand has all of the sliders trapped inside a frame around the edges… with no apparent gaps between the pieces to allow any form of sliding… :-)  Spot the first little challenge of the puzzle yet?

I loved that little complication – and it confused me for a while – I knew what I needed to be able to do, just couldn’t see how to get there… and there’s a lovely little “A-Ha!” when you do…

Find the first couple of moves and you’re into exercising the Loop mechanism that Kagen’s used in this and the predecessors: a set of sliding tiles where the start and end positions look the same, but they aren’t and the crucial difference between them has unlocked the mechanism… so pay careful attention or you might not realise that you’ve unlocked this box… although the final few moves required to actually open it ensure that you can’t stop part way through the solution – I liked that bit of the design a lot!

Once you’ve conquered the sliders, there’s a little more to do before you can finally open the box – I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to suss the final move… elegant simplicity doesn’t quite describe it well enough… I had tried quite successfully to over complicate things!

It’s a lovely little puzzle box, beautifully made as you’d expect from Kagen… and according to his website, some might still be available for sale! … if you don’t get one of your own, have a bash at a friend’s copy, you’ll like it.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Stand By Cubes 1,2 & 3

Gregory Benedetti is a lovely French chap that I’ve had the jolly good fortune of bumping into a couple of times – he is also a somewhat prolific puzzle designer who manages to catch puzzlers out quite regularly – think Blind Burr and the whole NOS series of burrs… 

Around a month ago I spotted that he’d put a couple of puzzles up for sale on Puzzle Paradise – part of the description said that the puzzles had been produced in his new 9 square metre workshop and he hoped it would be the first set of many to be produced there… as I’m keen to support the arts, as it were, I piled in and ordered one of each… not because I’m addicted to collecting puzzles, to support the arts, you know… 

And yes, there are three different puzzles – there’s a clue in the digit in the name! (You know who you are…) 

They duly arrived in short order and in fact happened to arrive on a day when I’d be puppy-sitting while Gill was out… now at the time the pup was a lot littler than she is now and needed a watchful eye most of the time, although in fairness she spent most of that evening asleep on the chaise with her big sister – leaving me to puzzle! :-)

Right, a little background about these puzzles: they started out life as “Greg’s Cube 765432” and they came in three flavours – each flavour had pieces increasing in size from 2 up to 7 cubies (handily summing to 27) to make up a 3*3*3 cube… and each of the three sets has 2 solutions. Now let me start by suggesting that those made a pretty decent puzzle on their own, but Greg had even better things in mind… so he glued the biggest piece to a tray with a partial lip around it and produced a whole new set of challenges: Stand By Cubes 1, 2 & 3. 

...So now you have to introduce the 5 loose pieces into the tray / frame to build a cube…

Cubes 1 & 2 share a common set of pieces, bar the longest piece that’s glued to the tray, while number 3 uses different pieces (albeit the three smallest pieces are the same across all sets). 

Those three puzzles provided a wonderful hour or so’s diversion while idly keeping an eye on the hounds – the rims around the bases are just high enough to discourage you from trying anything you shouldn’t and Greg’s tolerances are good enough that you aren’t going to be tempted into any adventurous rotations… and those rims remove one of the solutions ensuring that each puzzle now has a unique solution… isn’t that nice of him!

Greg’s descriptions refer to the bases as being “a little bit rustic” but I think he’s being a bit unkind to his work – they’re nicely finished in pine and do their job perfectly! 

…Oh, and since I bought my set, Greg’s relisted them at a lower price on Puzzle Paradise, and there are still plenty of copies left… go on and spoil yourself – for the arts!

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Molnar's masterpieces

Several of my mates told me how great they were.

I’d played with one of them a while back and it had me stumped.

….so when Brian Menold made a few more copies of Laszlo Molnar's original L-I-Vator, L-I-Vator II and BDSM recently, I put in a little order from Wood Wonders.

…and I was duly delighted. 

Let’s start at the beginning – the original L-I-Vator Cube: Laszlo Molnar entered this design in the 2015 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition. I had a bash at it in the Design Competition room in Ottawa and from memory it kicked my backside. 

The premise is fairly simple: pack the pieces of a 3*3*3 cube into a box where the only potential issue is that a pair of opposite corners are blocked… the pieces are interesting in that there are an increasing number of cubies on each piece – from 2 up to 7 cubies – start from the largest piece, remove one cubie to form the next in the series – repeat until you’re left with a simple 2-cubie piece. 

So, what’s it like as a puzzle – pretty damn good! Those two blocked corners in the box turn out to be really well-chosen! In theory there are three ways to assemble those pieces into a cube… and then each face could be uppermost, and oriented one of two ways, so I reckon there are 36 possible permutations for those pieces inside the box… and while I’ve no way of telling whether I’m right or not, I suspect that Laszlo has reduced that to a single possible solution (allowing for reflections). 

I’m just happy to have found a solution!

Next up is L-I-Vator II that uses the same shaped box and introduces a different set of six pieces – these pieces only go together to assemble a cube in one way… ! … so while it might be a little harder to find a potential solution outside of the box, you know that’s how it must look inside of the box (allowing for arbitrary orientation of the cube) when you do find an assembly. 

That’s got to make it easier than the original, surely?

Actually, no, it doesn’t… :-)

There is a lot of tricksiness involved here too… more tricksiness than the original, IMHO. 

At this point I need to interrupt myself and talk a little about Brian’s work on these puzzles – terrific! I’m a sucker for good-looking hardwoods – and the canarywood – particularly the bits with the spalting on them are just lovely… they look the business… and the fit is exactly what you want for a packing puzzle: the solution rattles, but nowhere along the way will you be tempted into doing something that you shouldn’t be allowed to – it’s obvious what you can and can’t do in terms of any tricksiness… :-) Nice work, Brian!

OK, back to the solve – this one took me a while longer than the first one… spread over a couple of evenings – ending with a wonderful moment of triumph at the end of a series of deductions – yes, dear reader – this one rewards Think©ing and deducting. 

The third in my little Wood Wonders set is BDSM – and I’m sure there’s a PG-rated explanation for the name out there somewhere, although I suspect that the less PC version is a lot more descriptive! 

Once again there’s a set of pieces to build a size 3 cube but this time the “box” is more of a diagonal cubic bandage – picture a box with two of its opposite corners sliced off on the diagonal… or just look at the photo!

My friendly well-worn copy of BurrTools tells me that the pieces will assemble into a cube in 11 different ways… which makes finding assemblies a bit like shooting fish in a barrel… however, and it’s a big HOWEVER, finding one that will assemble inside the confines of that blocky wooden ring is tough! 

If L-I-Vator II kept me busy for a bit longer than the original, this one kept me thoroughly amused for several evenings! I’d been working on some puzzle hunt problems with some mates via t’internet and been making very little progress on those puzzles so found myself fiddling with BDSM while trying to work out some phonetic anagrams (it’s harder than it sounds!) when I finally managed to find a useful way of getting the bits inside the bondage… YAY! 

(Sadly my success on BDSM didn’t translate into great encouragement and breakthroughs on the puzzle hunt… that was not a spectacular success! Fun, but not a spectacular success!) 

Thoughts on solving – I found it easiest to attack these head-on – play with the pieces directly inside their boxes from the get-go… establish if there are any real constraints on where some of the pieces can go and work around those… and then experiment, invariably coming up with assemblies that almost worked and then bashing through all of the possible variations on ordering, orientation and tricksiness before discarding and trying another assembly… fun puzzles to play with and even more fun to solve! 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Ninomiya Crates (2&3)

Ages ago I had the good fortune of playing with some of the original series of Ninomiya crate puzzles… the master had produced some innocuous-looking crates that hid some wonderful secrets, most of which I’d managed to discover over a couple of visits to James’ emporium of wonders

More recently the master has created some smaller crates as part of the Karakuri Christmas presents. Given Ninomiya’s incredible reputation for precisely-made, wonderfully original puzzle boxes, they tend to be pretty darn popular and as he’s been doing this for a very long time now, his production capacities are limited – so if you want one of his presents, you go into a lottery – I always try – I never win them!

…so when I recently managed to acquire a couple of them, I dived on in – and I was duly delighted with them! 

They literally resemble a couple of little packing crates, complete with reinforcing strips around and across the ends, and at their waists – with a neat little maker’s mark subtly in a corner. 

When I first got them I had no idea what to expect – other than the unexpected… a little fiddling around on the first one and I found a couple of little movements before something rather unexpected happened and the box opened up in a most unusual manner! 

Closer examination of the mechanism, and a little back-tracking and you discover that some of the steps along the way are total red herrings – lovely little piece of humour from the master – I, for one, was caught for a sucker!

The second one took me several evenings of playing before I even got close – the moves were a little tight and I was hesitant to increase the pressure until I was thoroughly convinced I was on the right track… that continued for a couple of evenings until I was pretty sure that I was almost there, but I couldn’t get it to open up…

… next time I was chatting to James I asked about the solutions and he pointed me to a pic of the two crates next to one another in their open positions (well-hidden behind a spoiler tag in case you’re worried!) – one looked instantly familiar and the other confirmed that I was indeed only one step from the solution – so we introduced progressively more and more pressure until it finally opened – also in an unusual manner. 

I left it open for a couple of day and that helped a bit to reduce the pressure required, but eventually when Louis came around to visit we decided to apply a little sandpaper to a particularly shiny spot in the mechanism and things are a lot smoother now – to the extent that it can safely be given to puzzlers who don’t know it without fear that they’ll need to force things…

A cracking coupla crates! (even if they are a bit smaller than I thought they were...)