Saturday, 1 December 2018

Two Brass Monkeys Stuff

Two of my mates – Big Steve and Ali (who’s also quite big, but we don’t have a wee-Ali problem) have recently begun selling some rather nicely made brass puzzles. Some of them have been sold through Puzzle Paradise, and then more recently, they’ve opened an Etsy shop for their wares.
Shortly after IPP, Big-Steve gave me a prototype of a standard design burr made of some rather weighty brass rods, and asked me what I thought of it… as it turned out, I thought some really good things, and duly gushed a little – and told him he owed it to puzzlers everywhere to get them made, in quantities – and he has.
It turns out that Steve and Ali have some ideas for a series of these little guys that all look identical, but aren’t at all…
The first one in the series – Brass Monkey One - that prototype I mentioned – has a key piece with a sprung ball bearing that helps lock the last piece in place, assuming you build it right and put the corresponding little dent in the right place. Remove the key piece and it sort-of auto-dismantles unless you’re holding the remaining bits carefully.
Reassembly is a trifle tricky but once you work out the best way to grip the pieces as you build it all up, and put that dent in the right spot, it becomes fairly straight-forward. So much for Brass Monkey One – how about Brass Monkey Two?
Number two in the series arrived at the last MPP… I forked over some cash and received what looked like a carbon-copy (brass, actually!) of the one I already had… same size, weight, same finishing on the ends – everything looks the same. It does not however work the same. I tried for quite a while to find the key piece – I did not have much success.
It took me quite a long time of playing and trying various little strategies before I chanced upon something that was actually of any use at all – and that discovery put a large grin on my face: if this is the second in the series, then I can’t wait to see where they are going to be taking it.
Brass Monkey Two looks identical to its older brother – which, by the way, is an achievement. The machining on these puzzles is really first class and there are no clues to be found to the solution at all.
The lads have also been busy creating a stunning brass version of the six baseball bats puzzle which they've dubbed the Heavy Hitter. They’ve come up with their own notching for the pieces and made it in six inch baseball bats – once again the machining is excellent and the sprung ball bearing secures the whole thing  in spite of the length of the pieces. 

It’s a nice big statement of a puzzle that makes one almighty racket when it collapses on the desk – which it will do rather neatly if you twist the key piece and allow gravity to take over – please don’t try that on a glass table!
If you like your puzzles heavy and gorgeous, take a look at the lads’ Etsy store

Saturday, 17 November 2018


Nick flew in from the west coast and managed to navigate his way successfully to outer Birmingham on Thursday afternoon where Gill collected him and promptly forced him to walk in the damp woods with a couple of crazy hounds – so I was quite surprised when Nick was still awake when I got home from work. Actually, he was not just awake, he was actually buzzing – I’d left out some puzzles for him to solve – including a copy of Juno’s Spade Case (which he hadn’t seen yet) with a note of the Wi-Fi password safely stored inside. I knew he’d opened it as he’d already posted a pic on FaceBook with the evidence.
After dinner we fiddled around with a few puzzles and I amazed myself once or twice at being able to actually find a specific wooden puzzle hidden amongst a number of similar looking puzzles (Darrah’s New Kumiki Cube in case you were wondering).
Nick presented me with a couple of gifts made by Tom Lensch – I could remember expressing an interest in Edi Nagata’s Plus puzzle, but somehow Nick had managed to not only intercept that request, but also took care of the payment. He also presented me with a copy of Osanori Yamamoto’s Long Box – whose solution duly eluded me the entire weekend, although I did manage to remember enough of the solution to Plus Puzzle to solve that one in a not unreasonable amount of time – for me. Thanks Nick!
While it was still grey and cold the next morning (in fairness, it actually turned into a bright, sunny, cold day!) we grabbed a train into central Brum where we met Rob fresh from his flight in from Schiphol. We had a quick round of coffees before heading into a couple of escape rooms. Now Nick’s done plenty of them, I’ve done a few and Gill had done twice as many as Rob at the start of Friday…and he calls himself a puzzler! :-) We blitzed through “Our finest hour”, leaving the pigeons relatively unscathed but practically destroying a number of sandbags along the way – special note of their code-machinery: it was super impressive and wonderfully realistic! Kudos Escape Hunt! We got out with 11 minutes to spare after solving some of the puzzles out of sequence, confounding our games mistress as we “shouldn’t” have been able to do that... ;-) 
We had a half hour break and then threw ourselves into “Blackbeard’s treasure”. That went fairly well in spite of finding one rather stubborn mechanism not quite working the way we thought it should – and in the process we killed the parrot. It refused to squawk, in or out of tune, so we got a pass on the thing that had been holding us up for ages. Sorry parrot. We did rather blitz that room and ended up getting out in just over half an hour, making it into second spot on their leader board – much chuffedness and several photos recorded “Where’s Chico?” up on the board. (We may have confused the lovely staff a little with that one…)
Nick bought us lunch at a wonderful Indian street food place called Mowgli before we grabbed a train back to Barnt Green for some more gentle puzzling. A round-trip to the airport collected Louis off his flight from Schiphol and by the time we got back, Ethel had joined the party – always lovely to see her! Gill rustled up a few excellent home-made pizzas for the evening’s sustenance and more banter and puzzling ensued… some of it rather late into the night – most of it without me as I retired somewhere around the witching hour.
Louis had once again managed to bring along several gifts to add to my little collection, none of which I already had: a copy of Cast Hourglass that I managed to coax into a less Hourglass-y shape, but nowhere near being solved and a set of Vladimir’s latest: Triangle+, a fearsome (to me!) looking multi-stage symmetry puzzle and his Clogs puzzle – thanks Louis!
Next morning, we managed to get everyone out of bed and breakfasted on time, and headed down to the hall to get things set up… with random puzzlers drifting in while we were getting the tables in place. When I headed out to get the drinks and the milk for the day, I ran into Stefan who greeted me like a long-lost friend – it’s nice getting visitors from foreign climes coming back for more!
About an hour later things had settled into their usual rhythm: Tim had set up a few tables-worth of vintage puzzles for sale; Ethel had a few crates-worth for folks to rummage through and haggle over; there was a gentle hum of background banter and there was plenty of heads-down puzzling going on.
Kevin had brought along a handful of Happiness Cubes from Alfons, for Nick to have a look at and they quickly became the focus of several puzzlers’ rapt attention. These little guys are really intricate and we soon discovered that disassembly was no simple matter. At one point there must have been three or four of us sitting around trying to dismember a few of them and every now and then we’d pass our muddled mess on to someone else to try and make progress when it seemed we couldn’t find a way through… this, unfortunately resulted in some of the pieces getting mixed up in a pile in the centre of the table – this rather alarmed Kevin when he glanced over and spotted it – so we tried harder to keep things separate while we completed the dismembering. Sadly, we failed and we ended up with a large pile of pieces, which someone may have mixed up a little further, just to be sure.
Large pile of Happiness
Kevin was not happy at this point – in spite of the large pile of Happiness on the table! We moved on to other puzzles because reassembly looked rather harder than assembly, especially now that the pieces had been somewhat jumbled.
I’ll jump around a little in time for the sake of keeping the storyline together here, and mention that MPP’s awesomest Burrista, Rich, was in residence, and, taking pity on Kevin, we convinced Rich to have a bash at reassembling all that Happiness… AND HE DID! We were mightily impressed – having taken some of those darn things apart, we knew how complicated they were, so seeing him assemble them, in about the same time it took a team of us to dismantle them, was pretty impressive.
Kevin breathed a large sigh of relief and returned to the puzzle he was playing with.
Unfortunately (for Kevin), Rich decided he wanted the full experience of these wonderful puzzles, which obviously required him to experience disassembly as well, so he calmly and quietly reduced them to single large pile of pieces once more… which is how they stayed until Kevin was packing up – but just to prove we aren’t total bastards, we gave him a Tesco bag to take the pieces home in.
OK, back to somewhere around the middle of the day and Big-Steve had brought in a rather large, heavy box of toys he’d recently imported from Japan. I’d been a little complicit in it and had an inkling of what was inside it – and I’d helped him lug it from his car into the hall – we left it in the middle of the hall for a couple of hours and tried to goad people into guessing how many puzzles were inside this huge heavy box – from Japan. 
Some suggested really silly answers, like “One” – it weighed north of 30 kilograms, after all. In the end we didn’t get any particularly sensible answers so Steve did a grand unboxing – or rather an aggressive attack on the rather sturdy packaging – well it would have to be, wouldn’t it? It weighed thirty kilograms! Having removed the outer layer of structurally supportive packaging, he went into the package and held aloft, carefully, a slightly more modest package representing one of the several puzzles we’d ordered… a simple little disentanglement puzzle – made in one-inch stainless steel bar – weighing in at 6 kilograms…. It is a monster!
We’d ordered a few of those and a couple of somewhat smaller, but still massively supersized(!), string entanglements – except it wasn’t string, it was full-on chains, around cast metal creations. Not dainty objects!
Loud clanging from time to time signalled another puzzler having a bash at the simple puzzle – only to find that even though it’s just a standard simple design, trying to manipulate 6 kilos of puzzle to get things neatly aligned and moving in the right manner on a coordinated fashion, can be rather challenging.
We called lunch somewhere around 1 o’clock and the gang formed an orderly queue at the local chippy (for those wanting the challenge of a man-sized kebab) and outside the deli (for those of us having pig rolls). Back at the hall there was plenty of happy munching and banter before the serious business of puzzling and banter was continued.
Nick seemed to be having a decent time and managed to dive into all the usual gentle ribbing and abuse that generally gets ladled out at an MPP – he even seemed to enjoy the bits that were aimed at him! And he gave as good as he got, so I guess he’ll probably fit in… ;-)
Steve had brought along a couple of printed kits of Derek’s latest put together – a cube made up of about 30 oddly-shaped pieces. He’d given Kevin and I a set each and while we were working on all that Happiness, someone wondered if it might be possible to build the cube assembly around another puzzle. Without much hesitation we selected one of Kevin’s puzzles and set about encasing it, rather snugly as it turned out, in his very own copy of Derek’s new cube – we thought it looked brilliant… Kevin didn’t immediately agree. In fact, a week or so later he was still grumbling… he’ll get over it. I’m sure he will. Eventually.
 Several folks who hadn’t yet solved Jigsaw 29 were encouraged to have a go at solving it by those of us who’ve managed to beat it. Most managed it, and thanked us for the “encouragement”.
Juno’s Spade Case was also a big hit among the folks who hadn’t already purchased their own copy.
My copy of Ton Delsing’s Cat & Dog (slightly restricted) sliding block puzzle had come out to play at some point on the Friday and it made its way to MPP on the Saturday – where several people tried, and failed, to make any progress on solving it – which made me feel slightly less stupid at not being able to solve it after about four years of trying. It seems that sliding block puzzles, and disentanglements are what I’m most rubbish at, followed shortly by any number of other genres you might care to name, come to think of it!
We packed up just before 6pm and headed back up the hill to Puzzling Times HQ for the traditional fish suppers and just a bit more puzzling. Despite ordering fewer and fewer portions of chips each time, we still seemed to have heaps of chips left over after everyone had had more than enough to eat.
The puzzlers in the cave ended up in some serious puzzling, with Stefan motoring his way through a number of my more challenging sequential discovery puzzles – a task he continued the next morning when he came back for more.
Sunday morning saw some even more leisurely puzzling after a grand spread for breakfast, before I dropped Nick and Stefan at the airport. Back in the puzzle cave, the two Dutch puzzlers and I set about doing a jigsaw on the floor – and it took us about an hour to finish the darn thing - one of the Nervous systems Geode range of puzzles – not a trivial challenge, and one helped by having three brains and three pairs of hands trying different alternatives in tandem. Shortly after finishing the jigsaw I dropped Louis and Rob at the airport for their flights to Schiphol and headed home to put the inevitable collection of puzzles left out half-solved away.
Another cracker of an MPP weekend.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Koa Bow Tie Box

A couple of months ago I was given a rather stunning Kagen Sound Koa Bow Tie Box – actually, that’s not quite true – Kagen sort of threw it at my feet in front of my friends  - or maybe dropped it might be more accurate, either way, he picked it up and gave it to me, and I was very chuffed!

[Fret not dear reader, it was well swaddled in bubble wrap at the time, and there wasn’t an ounce of maleficence in the actions!]

Developed in parallel with his larger runs of Circle Maze Boxes, this was a short run made as gifts so they look a little different, and possibly behave a little differently – but the latter is hard to confirm as they haven’t been released into the wild yet. 

The obvious feature is a large metal disk in the centre of the box with an interesting maze cut into it… through the maze you can see a wooden peg that’s attached to the lid of the box and it seems that you’re going to need to manoeuvre through the maze…

A little fiddling shows that the maze can move backwards and forwards along the lid (where that little peg allows) and it can also spin around… cool, so clearly all we’re going to need to do is to manoeuvre the maze around the peg until the lid of the box comes off.

Turns out that it’s not quite that simple, though. Quite quickly you might in fact find yourself running out of options in the maze – with no apparent way out… get past that one and you find yourself somewhere else in the maze – again, with no apparent way around things.

It’s not a horribly complex puzzle, but it’s an absolute delight to play with, and solve… and when you have, it’s hard not to admire the little details in there, from the book-matched grain all the way around the sides of the box, to the ebonised walnut peg and rails that keep the metal maze from scuffing the beautifully finished curly maple lid.

It’s a beautiful object and I consider myself hugely lucky to have one of a tiny number of them out there…