Friday, 14 September 2018

...the Boston bits...


Bloggin' at 30,000 feet.
…is a travel day – we’re scheduled to fly from SAN to BOS, via JFK, but it becomes a bit more adventurous: just after we wake up, Paulette calls to say that the first leg of our journey has been delayed due to bad weather somewhere – which puts the second leg in danger. This also rather puts our plan of a leisurely breakfast before heading across to the airport in jeopardy and we find ourselves meeting downstairs for a shuttle to the airport an hour earlier than originally planned. 

It turns out that American Airlines have a brilliant self-service system and we manage to rebook on an earlier flight via Dallas… which then gets delayed so we end up leaving after our first flight was due to leave… stay with me here. We encounter some of this weather en route and end up flying in circles for a while before we’re allowed to try and land in Dallas… about half an hour before our (already delayed) connecting flight is due to depart. Thankfully it gets delayed even further and we arrive at our DFW departure gate literally as they call our boarding group and we walk straight onto the plane. 

In spite of all said weather, the flight is reasonably calm and we arrive in BOS just after midnight, and then crash at the Bobroffs’ somewhere around 3am – feels like it’s been a long day. 


We have a late start in spite of the local jackhammer gang’s best attempts to wake us up at 7:30 – we surface about 2 hours later and grab breakfast before Saul and I head across town to see Jane and John Kostick. 

Saul’s sat-nav gets us close to Jane’s place, but he hasn’t got the house number so we find ourselves cruising gently up the road until I spot an instantly recognisable parabolic pergola in front of a house – that HAS to be it. 

While we’re sorting ourselves out in the car, Jane magically appears and we end up having a long conversation on the kerb-side before heading down into the basement to see how the Kostick Stars are made. Jane gives us a quick demo of the polishing process before showing us how they get welded together. 

From there we head upstairs where I’m shown how to thread the wires for a six-axis star… turns out I’m pretty slow and manage to make two errors on my first attempt, but Jane’s a very patient teacher and I manage to get one produced properly at least. 

Lunch is called and we head into the kitchen for some of John’s pea soup and pesto bruschetta. Jane shows me around upstairs where I get to admire her reclaimed cabinets containing all manner of little treasures that I recognise from their website. We chat about life, the universe and MOMATH while Jane gently reassembles a 3-foot Tetraxis Toy on the floor in proper colour symmetric form. 

Next on the grand tour is the wood shop out back – Saul’s excited to get in there again. Jane shows me a wonderfully enticing little magnetic sculpture that she and a friend are using to chat to young children about shapes and their interactions. 

She then proceeds to walk me through the entire process of creating one of these little assemblies from cutting the shapes through to drilling the holes for the magnets, bevelling the edges and inserting the magnets – I get to try my hand at some of the less lethal bits and she commandeers my camera so she can record the evidence of me actually creating a little sawdust in her workshop. I manage to mess up two of the pieces by getting the magnets’ polarity wrong and she effortlessly whips up a couple more pieces to take their place in less time than it’s taken me to ruin them. 

Seeing the process in action leaves me with even more respect for the amount of work entailed in producing some of the stunning wooden creations I have of hers that I’ve managed to acquire over the past few years… there’s a lot of thought and precision in every single step of the process – nothing is left to chance. 

We finish off the assemblies with a little gel to lift out the grain a little before heading back down into the basement to collect a couple of folding stars that I need to take home – one for Michel and the rest to serve as Christmas decorations in the Walker-household later this year. I collect a couple of puzzles that Jane’s specially made for me for my 50th birthday before we say our hurried goodbyes and head off to meet the girls at the Cheesecake Factory for dinner – my choice!

We manage to get to bed early for the first time in ages…


We arise a little earlier than yesterday and head out toward Lexington to Stewart Coffin’s place. After some quick hellos the girls leave us and head out in search of some fibre shops ,and the boys settle down in the lounge to chat about life, the universe and occasionally even about puzzles. 

Stewart tells us about his latest hobby – he’s decided that he hasn’t been contributing enough to his local community so he’s taken on responsibility for rehabilitating an acre of woodland, he’s bought a chainsaw and has been removing some pests that have been hampering some of the older trees in the little parcel of land. He proudly shows us the results of his handiwork and it looks great… he’s planning on adopting another acre in the near future.

At 86 it’s clear that this wonderful gent has tremendous love for life itself and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down – his bike parked in the corner of the lounge is clearly still in very regular use, whereas mine has been unused in the garage for the past 8 years – I do feel a little ashamed. 

There are a few new puzzle designs he’s been working on lined up on his table next to the PC and I’m invited to have a bash at one of them… I find a familiar sliding axis and slide two halves apart and return them again, afraid it’s all going to come apart in my paws and I’ll be left with bits I can’t reassemble. 

During the course of some further conversation I get a bit braver and end up with one of the halves disassembled in my lap thinking  to myself “I’ve got this covered…” only for mild panic to overtake that calm a few minutes later when I realise that the odd geometry is messing with my head rather well and I’m struggling to put just the three pieces back together in a way that will allow me to once again slide the two halves together again… massive sign of relief when I finally get it back together and gently replace it on the table. 

I admire the lovely black and white prints of stunning nature scenes dotted around the living room – all Stewart’s own photography, mostly from canoeing trips out in the wilderness… he’s lived a very full life – and written about some of it in the three books he’s already published on bits of his life. 

He tells us the story of a recent chance meeting with an old family friend, bringing a tear to his eye as he recounts the moment he realises the lady helping him replace a watch strap is a dear friend he hasn’t seen in twenty years.

He gives us a quick tour upstairs, showing us his neat boxes of a virtually complete collection of his designs as well as a few boxes of his designs that others have made, and the little photographic set-up to take the pictures he’s using in his latest version of Ap-Art – he gives Saul and I each a copy of his very latest draft – dated the day before. 

He shows me a copy of his Emperor Butterfly sliding tile puzzle and we find ourselves chatting about the plastic laminating that he’s used on the puzzle and how he’s finished off the various bits. 

Next we head down to the basement where he had a custom tarpaulin made up to cover the existing carpet down there, keen not to damage it with any of his woodworking activities down there. One corner has an area approximately 3m * 3m cordoned off with plastic sheeting and a clever self-sealing door flap to contain all his woodworking activities… “But the dust still gets out!” he complains. Inside there’s a wonderfully compact little workshop that Stewart has been using to produce his designs. He’s obviously got some ridiculously good jigs and fixtures that make it possible to produce these horribly unforgiving designs on a tiny table saw with a repurposed electric planer serving as a thicknesser using a cunning little self-fabricated attachment. He shows us a really clever little glueing jig made of four simple little pieces of square aluminium tubing – perfect for aligning bits of Triumph and Vega and others using that geometry.

I leave a copy of my exchange puzzle with Stewart safe in the knowledge that he’ll be giving it to someone who’ll enjoy it…

Stewart drives us to Wegmans to meet Gill & Paulette for lunch and we end up discussing Brexit and its likely impact on the value of European equities. We find the girls already there and have a wonderful lunch of fresh salads and cold meats – we’re eating light because we know we’re going out for a big dinner this evening. 

We get a pic of the boys together at Wegmans before we say goodbye to Stewart, who asks Gill “Are we on hugging terms yet?” – “Of course!” and she gets a big bear hug from the puzzling god. 

We grab some lovely ice creams (bit of a theme going on here with the Bobroffs!) before heading back toward town. We stop to browse at some stunning art at Mobilia – we’re just browsing! The bank balance doesn’t entertain thoughts of purchasing any of the high art on exhibition, but we’re with Saul and Paulette and we’re treated like returning friends. Saul and I puzzle on a bench in the sidewalk while the girls hit a yarn shop nearby – I’m still failing to solve the Cast Arrows Teddy’s given me.

From Cambridge we head to Brookline to visit David at Eureka. He has a super selection of games, jigsaws and puzzles and whenever there’s a lull in the conversation he’s enthusiastically showing us something he’s thinks is fun or cool… several of said items find their way into my shopping basket – his enthusiasm is infectious. 

Chris Morgan finds us at Eureka and David gives us a tour of the basement – LOTS of stock! And several sets of puzzle activity sets for parties – a new line in entertainment for Bar Mitzvahs and birthdays… 

We head into town (via another yarn shop) and meet David and Chris at Aquitaine for a lovely dinner, followed by a quick session of close-up magic from Chris and a long chat about Lennart Green and his magic. 

Gill and I manage to spend a little time with an old friend from Cape Town who’s now living in Boston, at a coffee shop across the road from Aquitaine before heading home via a seemingly endless array of road-works and road closures on the way home – well done Saul for actually getting us home that same night!


…is Saul’s birthday – Happy Birthday Saul! – and we’re having brunch with the Bobroffs’ neighbours and a visiting friend from New York at the local diner in town. I get some super pancakes for breakfast and on the walk back home I have nice chat with Bill about forensic accounting, due diligence and Paul Manafort – all totally unrelated of course! 

We wander the block and a half down to the beach and enjoy the breeze for a while because it is HOT! 

Saul and I puzzle for a while - I finally have an epiphany on the Cast Arrows when I think of the right question to ask myself (!) and solve it in a couple of minutes from there… I’m allowed a tour of Saul’s basement which is crammed with all manner of woodworking machinery and hand tools for crafting wood, electrical work and plumbing…  as well as the largest collection of bits of wood I have ever seen… “for the next couple of projects” – I reckon he could build a few houses with the wood he’s got stockpiled in there! 

I give him a wotsit and manage to get him to ponder it for a while.

Lunch is ice cream from Downriver Ice Cream – they’re good, although they do have some unusual names for their flavours: snail trails or kung fu grasshopper anyone?

After lunch there’s more puzzling and Saul lays down the gauntlet with a copy of Tado Muroi’s Threaded Dodecahedron… while I’m struggling with it Saul admits he’s only ever assembled it once and it was way too fiddly to ever try again… I get it 97% assembled, lacking a tiny bit of string for the last corner because I haven’t threaded the first few sections sufficiently tightly – we agree I’ve beaten it and I gleefully disassemble it again. 

We wander into town for some great burgers from A&B Burgers in Beverley.

Saturday, 8 September 2018

IPP38 Part 3 ...of 3, it turns out!

Saturday – EXCHANGE DAY!

When we get to the ballroom the tables are all set out and ready for us to lay out name cards before we allow a largely peaceful bunch of puzzlers into the room to get set up and ready for the big exchange… the table of exchange puzzles to be donated to the Lily Library gradually fills up until there are roughly 78 puzzles there, Nick does his usual introductory remarks to remind us all that this may be the only time we get to chat to some of our friends from around the world so we should make it count, and then the exchange is officially opened for business. 

Louis does a brilliant job of assisting me again this year, following me around with a bag-full of my puzzles, keeping an eye out for people I haven’t exchanged with yet, hanging onto the exchange puzzles I receive and taking some excellent pictures of the exchangers and their puzzles in between all that… truth be told I don’t realise just HOW GOOD a job he’s done until I get home a couple of weeks after IPP and download all the pictures he’s taken onto my PC… and they’re a brilliant set of memories of the day’s events – Thanks Louis!

There are a couple of highlights of the exchange, and oddly they both feature Big-Steve. The first is to do with Big-Steve’s exchange – the Hokey Cokey Lock. Now in his infinite wisdom (Yup, that’s definitely the word!)  Steve thought it would be fun to dance the Hokey Cokey with every exchanger as part of his exchange schpiel… and so he did…and I reckon that allowing for the occasional double exchange, he must have danced the Hokey Cokey about 70 times – that is pure dedication to your art…., or lunacy. 

The second involved a lonely looking table in the corner of the ball room with a list of exchangers on it and a name card for Chico Banan. 

Now I’m not sure if Big Steve had noticed this earlier in the day, but at some point he was called over to chat to Chica Banan, Chico’s wife, who was desperate to track down her husband, and having seen Big-Steve’s posting on Facebook a couple of days earlier, she was keen to ask Steve whether he knew where Chico was… 

Now all of this took Big-Steve a little by surprise and he seemed to keep asking Chica over and over again “Who are you really?” and occasionally interspersing “I hope you haven’t been listening to these two” – pointing at Nick and I before reverting back to “Who are you really?” – the pair posed for a couple of pictures before Steve proceeded to try and hide underneath the table for some reason. 

He failed. 

After the exchange I managed to meet up with Tom and acquire a couple of his latest creations – several of which will no doubt appear in this blog in the near future as they’re excellent puzzles… I was particularly delighted to get hold of a copy of Goh Pitt Khiam’s Ship in a Bottle from Tom after playing with James’ copy earlier in the year… brilliant puzzle!

I manage to attend most of the lectures in the afternoon and find Tyler’s talk on Puzzling Learnings really fascinating, and I really appreciate Dick's and Nick’s tributes to Markus. 

I spend a little time before dinner running around playing Father Christmas and giving away copies of my exchange puzzle, and am chuffed that so far I’ve managed not to sell any of them… and I’ve managed to keep my tradition of giving puzzles to as many of the newcomers as I can, alive too. 

At the banquet I get to spend some time chatting to John Partridge about his puzzle designs, and Neil and I end up chatting to him about his latest design, Model #360. We’d both managed to solve it reasonably quickly and this appears to make John resolve that he needs to make sure that his next puzzle will take us longer to crack open… we don’t really try to dissuade him much. We’re all royally entertained by some excellent magicians, including the brilliantly talented Nathan Phan from Glasgow,  and Scott Owen, whose sleight of hand was achingly good. 

After the formal entertainment, Ken brings out some toys for us to play with (tops and poppers!) and soon afterwards someone brings out a pile of tongue depressors and the lads begin making stick bombs around the table, much to everyone’s amusement.

At some point someone in the group wonders out loud whether it might be possible to make a stick bomb and insert it under a hotel door and leave it armed… a little experimentation convinces us that it should work and we speak no more of it.

There’s a little more puzzling for me in the Design Competition room – I totally fail to solve Turf in a Box. 

In unrelated news, long after I’ve retired to bed, apparently Big-Steve heads up to his room to collect something and returns a little ashen-faced and enquires whether anyone would like to tell him about what he’s just found in his hotel room... apparently there was some sort of stick bomb in his room that went off as soon as he opened the door – rather unexpectedly, wouldn’t ya’ know.  There weren’t any witnesses. He probably made all that up…

Sunday – Puzzle Party!

After a quick breakfast Nick spots that the ball room set-up isn’t quite right and we have way too many tables for the puzzle party – unfortunately the hotel folk have used the diagram from the Exchange instead of the Puzzle Party… a bit of quick thinking and we whip out a couple of rows of tables and magically have virtually the correct number of tables with minimal bother, allowing us to lay out the name cards and let the sellers in to set up. 

At the appointed hour we allow the orderly stampede of puzzlers into the main event and lots of commerce ensues. It’s fun to see the wide-eyed greenhorns seeing all manner of wondrous items freely available for sale and then being given puzzles by strangers just because they’re there…

I notice Steve asking random folks if they know anything about the things he found in his room the night before - surprisingly, no-one owns up to knowing anything.

Ethel has a table filled with wonders in need of a new, loving home from Laurie’s collection – and I find a couple of items to add to my little hoard. Pavel has his usual wonderful spread of things, including copies of his new Punana Split group table puzzle hunt that I’ve been meaning to pick up. 

There’s plenty of action in the puzzle party and unlike previous years, the action continues literally until the closing bell and I find myself needing to herd people out of the room in order to allow the hotel folks to get set up for the evening’s dinner. 

I give Gill a hand to get their room sorted for the inaugural SOAP Swap where 18 of our crafty partners are swapping handmade items with one another in more or less the same way that we’d swapped puzzles the day before… I’m allowed to hang around and take a few group pictures of them before I’m banished from the room on the grounds that I haven’t got the right icon on my badge. 

After the puzzle party room had been cleared, it seemed that pretty much everybody had simply decanted themselves into the Design Competition room for some final solving and voting for their favourite puzzles.

Once again I manage to attend some of the lectures between chores and really enjoy Jamy Ian Swiss’ talk on Monte Carlo cons. Bob Hearn’s talk on the unexpected appearance of a new form of fractals coming out of the States of 2D twisty puzzles is fascinating. 

Somehow we get the Design Competition room cleared – have you ever tried to get between a horde of keen puzzlers and this year’s best new puzzle designs- so we can turn the room into the shipping office for puzzlers needing to ship their latest acquisitions home rather than carry them.

I grab a quick shower and dress for dinner – it’s wooden tie night – before heading back down to the shipping office to move all the nicely packaged up boxes into the organisers’ office for the night. Nick and I sort out some of the logistics for the evenings’ festivities and we get to spread a little extra love around in the form of table puzzles donated by Allen Rolfs and Thinkfun. 

The Awards Dinner starts out on a great note with some magic from Todd Reis. One of Todd’s effects involves a number of volunteers up on the stage who get asked questions about their puzzling preferences and Brian Menold gets some loud, if slightly isolated, cheers for getting in an unexpected tongue depressor reference. Nick continues on the theme later with a mention of Chico Banan in his announcements for the evening – some awesome shout-outs in there to the little bits of silliness sprouting from the MPP… that have travelled around the world and even found a home in the centre of the IPP. That’s pretty cool…

I get to introduce the first ever non-male IPP host and the host of next year’s IPP,  and they both well and truly whet our appetites for upcoming IPPs. Nick rattles through the Design Competition winners and I’m delighted when Volker Latussek’s Casino ends up with both the Jury Grand Prize and the Puzzlers’ Choice Award. Frans takes over briefly to thank the hosts and asks Kagen up on stage to hand over the host gifts he’s been commissioned to make – there’s a lovely little comic moment when he drops mine on the floor just before he gets to me… it’s fine! I get to formally thank all the wonderful folks who’ve volunteered to help out across the last few days before Nick invites the committee and organising team up on stage for a small gift and a large round of appreciation from a room full of happy puzzlers and their families… Neil gets a bit of a surprise when he’s included because he’s put in a massive amount of help and literally always seemed to be around and eager to lend a hand – Nick may have referred to him as the apprentice’s apprentice, but I think he’s already way more important than that! Cheers mate. :-)

With the evening’s formalities winding down the sad job of saying goodbye to everyone begins – it seems to take longer and longer each year to get around everyone that we need to say goodbye to… but that’s probably a good sign. 

Back up in the room we spend several hours packing… knowing that first thing in the morning we’d be flying out to Boston for the second leg of our adventure.