Thursday, 19 July 2018

Coolen’s TrickLock 2018

Louis’ been at it again… well, it’s his own fault really – form the first time he put a year after the name TrickLock, every has assumed that there’ll be one every year, right?

Louis has delivered again in 2018… just in time to have the final design tested and declared fit for IPP38 – good timing that man!

Right, what have we this year?

A familiar little form factor, clearly in the shape of a little white padlock. As has become customary, the year is embossed on one side and there appears to be a key trapped in the hasp – trust it’ll be useful at some point, but for now it’s not going anywhere. 

There’s a pretty standard looking keyhole and an odd protruding thingamy at the bottom – no doubt that will get interesting too. 

A little exploration releases the key fairly early on, but it doesn’t seem to be quite as useful as you might prefer – this is after all a TrickLock.

From there on there are three or four very distinct stages, each of which needs a different approach, even though you seem to be reusing some of the same elements along the way – it seems that whenever you think you’re finally there, Louis has hidden another little trap for you to negotiate. 

I’m pretty much always amazed by just how much puzzling Louis manages to cram into his little TrickLocks – this one is no exception. If you liked any of the others, you’re bound to love this one.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Stickman no.33 Hexagram Puzzlebox

Unless this is the first blog post you’ve ever read on my blog, you know I’m probably going to say nice things about this puzzle… Spoiler alert: it’s my blog and I choose not to write about puzzles that I don’t like – simples!

So let’s get that bit over and done with: this is a neat little box that surprises(!) throughout its solution – there may only be four moves(!) to solve this puzzle, but they are all interesting and unexpected in their own way… it’s clever.

Now that we’ve dispensed with that, if you’re still reading, let’s go back to the start…

For a while now Rob has been randomly selecting names from his ever-growing mailing list to offer his new batches of puzzles to… that’s become a mounting headache and generally results in piles of emails from people who weren’t on the list this time. With the release of no.33, Rob’s headed in a different direction and added a shop to his website and let market forces / collectors’ eagerness take care of the rationing for him.

I got lucky this time as the email arrived pretty much as I was getting up for the day, so rather than head into the shower, I headed for the PC, hit up Rob’s shop and ordered a copy… others weren’t quite as lucky: many American collectors were blissfully in the Land of Nod as all this was unfolding and as a result when they headed for their PC’s rather their showers, quite a few found the batch had been sold out… I’m guessing that there’ll be swings and roundabouts on this one and things will even out over time…

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I have a lovely little puzzle in my hands and I find I cannot get it to do anything interesting… Rob tries to help by suggesting it might have jammed up a bit on the trip across the ocean – Yeah, right! I tell him it’s almost certainly down to operator error.

It took me several days to stumble upon the first move… it worked exactly as it should – it certainly wasn’t jammed, I just didn’t try the right thing… the first move is interesting… definitely not what I’d anticipated!

The next few moves rattled out reasonably soon after the first (albeit eventual!) discovery, resulting in a little open puzzlebox just begging to have something put inside it to annoy / confuse the next puzzler who has a bash at it… ‘cos I’m nice that way. :-)
This modestly sized little puzzle certainly packs a lot of surprises into a small form factor… I’m still trying to imagine how the mechanism works for one of those unexpected moves…

[If you don't just want to take my word for it, see what renowned-puzzlebox-collector-in-denial Kevin has to say about it over here.]

Wednesday, 11 July 2018


Eric Fuller’s latest batch of puzzling goodness contained a really eye-catching little number called X-Cage. This one comes from the fertile imagination of Frederic Boucher, the designer who brought us some other recent Fuller-creations like Artefacts and Marble Cake Plus – Boucher-san knows his packing puzzles!

This one gives you a set of 5 Yellowheart cross-shaped pieces and a Walnut frame with a captured acrylic plate serving as a lid. There’s a handy square hole cut in the acrylic, big enough to allow a single piece to be inserted into the frame… clearly the intention is to place all five Yellowheart pieces into the frame.

Start with the obvious closely packed array and you soon realise that the pieces are slightly too big for the cage – so either Eric’s got the cage’s dimensions wrong (Aye, right! – gorgeous Glasgow phrase where two positives make a negative!) or you need to try harder…

OK, engage puzzling brain – obviously the standard orthogonal packing isn’t the best use of space here, so let’s try a few of Stewart Coffin’s favourite tricks and try some different angles… some might seem promising, but ultimately, none of them seems quite good enough…

Sit back, smile, tip of the hat to Boucher-san, and then Think(c).

Think and experiment. Quite a lot. And then apply the old Holmesian logic of whatever remains after eliminating the alternatives must be the solution, no matter how strange it might appear… and if I’m honest, I went through a good few of those before I eventually struck puzzling gold – and a fat grin spreads across my ugly mug and I mutter something under my breath about the designer – he’s good, really good.

This is a great puzzler’s puzzle – definitely one to taunt other puzzlers with. 

Guaranteed to plant a huge sense of satisfaction on anyone solving it… oh, and Eric’s done his usual rather superb job, in spite of my initial doubts! ;-)

Friday, 6 July 2018

One Piece Packing Puzzle

Simon Nightingale likes to push boundaries… in all sorts of senses!

His One Piece Packing Puzzle certainly pushes a category of puzzles as far as it can possibly be pushed… surely!

Every now and then I engage in idle banter with puzzlists somewhere about what makes a good puzzle – invariably the second favourite response (after “A great A-Ha! moment”) is a low piece count… arguably this puzzle takes that to the absolute extreme: can you possibly make a packing puzzle with fewer pieces? It has a box/frame and a cube to be inserted… it’s hard to imagine dispensing with either of those two elements without ending up without an actual packing puzzle. [OK internet: there’s a challenge for you!]

Expertly crafted by Eric Fuller back in 2008, this little puzzle measures about an inch cubed. It consists of a simple-looking five-sided cubic box and a slightly smaller wooden cube designed to nestle neatly inside said box… sounds simple?

Trying said nestling action and you’re invariably going to be faced with a wooden cube that simply bounces out of the box… tap it down and it will bob up again – being supported as if on a little cloud of magic – or there are a pair of repelling magnets in there fighting for their own space – you choose whichever interpretation makes you happiest.

OK, take a step back and think(c) a little… the box seems pretty honest so there probably isn’t much going on in there… and the cube doesn’t appear to have any moving bits in it – certainly none that move around if you give it a good old shake… although there must be some magnets in there somewhere (unless of course my magic cloud theory still works for you).

Thankfully there’s a reasonably limited number of ways you can put said cube into said box, and if you had some way of demarcating which ones you’d tried, you could probably bash through them quite quickly… but where’s the fun in brute-forcing a solution on a lovely little puzzle like this?!

Step back further and think(c) a little more and you’ll work out a sensible strategy for divining exactly what to do… that’s a far more rewarding approach!

Rather chuffed to have finally stumbled across one of these little guys for sale – I think it’s a masterclass in paring back everything right back to the barest of bones without reducing the puzzle element to mere triviality.
[Sorry if this blog post feels a bit more whimsical than usual(?!) - I blame the weather: it’s been unseasonably warm in Blighty and it’s probably going to my head.]

Sunday, 1 July 2018


This one was always going to be a little busier than usual… it started with what sounded like a good joke: you have a Scot and an Irish woman at home, and a Bulgarian, an American and a chap from The Netherlands in an airport coffee shop – that’s how my MPP XXXiii started… having safely collected Dick from his train, and Louis and Stefan from their flights, we headed home to where Ethel was already keeping Gill company…

Quick introductions to make sure everyone knew one another, sort out the sleeping arrangements and then we were all huddled around the dining room table feeding our faces… or refuelling for the inevitable puzzling that would follow. 

After dinner we dragged out some puzzles and forced ourselves to pretend we were enjoying ourselves… OK, that bit wasn’t really all that hard!

Ethel had brought several crates of puzzles she wanted to re-home and we spent a while helping her sort them into the more valuable and less valuable buckets to ease selling them. In the process I couldn’t help myself and ended up adding another four or five to the one lovely puzzle she’d brought through especially for me. (An old Telephone Box in case you’re interested.) 

After a couple of hours of chatting, rearranging Ethel’s crates of puzzles and even playing with the odd puzzle, we each took ourselves off to bed… I say we did, but actually I have no idea whether Louis and Stefan actually went to sleep that night or not… I’m sure they did at some point.

Next morning after a goodly number of croissant et pain au chocolat we headed down to the hall to get things set up – only to find a rather strange delivery leaning up against the door to the hall: addressed to Big-Steve was the largest tongue depressor I’ve seen, so far! We took a couple of pics of it and then put it back where we’d found it waiting for it’s addressee to arrive. 

Puzzlers from around the UK began arriving and I headed out to collect a couple of Danes from their nearby hostelry and then a Persian bloke who was arriving by train – I told you it was going to be a busy one!

By then most people had arrived and our merry little band settled into a routine of raking through Ethel’s crates in search of treasure, rummaging through other puzzlers’ latest finds in search of a new challenge, and refuelling on various caffeinated beverages and cakes and biscuits – these things are tough, let me tell you!

Dick had arrived with commemorative gifts for all – the ominously named “Satan’s Spiral” was duly gifted to everyone who showed up. It’s definitely a new variant for me, with a slanted Finnish trapeze holding both a ring and little spiral devil that gives the puzzle its name… I’d remarked on the fact that the trapeze has been bent all skew and reliably informed that was required in order for the puzzle to be solvable at all – that’s me told! :-) A little idle fiddling with it over the course of the weekend had me confirming to myself that its name has probably been well earned… and the lack of anyone seeming to solve it at MPP makes me believe it’s going to be a real test!

Dick had been working on a maths puzzle from David Singmaster over the previous couple of weeks and I’d found it fascinating considering the various interesting permutations of the Battersea Power Station problem – I’m sure that will be its name! On the Saturday Michael and Dick spent a while poring over Dick’s notes and seeking more enlightenment – it’s great to see someone keeping up with Dick… lord knows I struggle to! 

Big-Steve had announced on the inter-web a couple of days earlier that he’d received a massive tongue depressor in the post (or as Nora put it: “Your friends are being silly again!”) but as he hadn’t had time to unwrap it, he would bring it along to MPP for the grand unveiling… which he did, only to find that it had been seriously surpassed by the monster waiting patiently for him next to the door outside the hall… and yes, he did spot it, probably as he drove into the parking lot! 

We shared the Steve's unbridled joy as he unwrapped his “massive tongue depressor” which was instantly only about half the size of the newest one… Steve was somewhat bemused by this but did good-naturedly pose for a few pictures to demonstrate the scale of the thing… I reckon it stands about six-foot tall – Big-Steve’s a really tall fella (clue’s in the name, folks!) and he was only just peering over it. 

I’d taken along a lovely little puzzle that I’d discovered consisting of four black dodecahedrons that sit in a bright green acrylic tray… turning the tray over you’re asked to created a truncated octahedron that fits in that side of the tray… it’s a bit tricky as the shapes you have don’t really combine easily to form said truncated octahedron… I’d been merrily showing it to everyone who was there all day with most people discovering its secrets and merrily building a truncated octahedron when Michael told me it had been designed by his friend Robert Reid and was called “Martingar” – hopefully I’ve spelt that right – in honour of the great man himself… probably manufactured by George Miller some time ago - brilliant to find out about the origins of my latest neat little find.

Speaking of Michael, he’d brought along a new design called “T’s, Q’s & P’s” that kept several people amused during the course of the day. It consists of three triangles which are used to created a long list of shapes including several types of triangles, quadrilaterals and pentagons… all from three little triangles! Lovely little puzzle to fiddle with when the mood takes… and I’m rather chuffed to say that I got given a copy for my collection – thanks Michael!

Oli had celebrated his birthday earlier in the week and arrived with Kirsty, Oscar and Jack in tow and bearing a large birthday cake – complete with a twisty cake topping… it was carved at an appropriated hour and everyone pronounced it a triumph for Kirsty – looked brilliant inside too! :-)

Stefan had asked me to bring along a copy of Stumbling Blocks as he’d missed out on getting a copy from Eric recently… let’s just say that he made remarkably short work of it – in fact I think he solved it faster than I did when I received this copy and I’d already solved a copy of the same puzzle made by Tom Lensch! He is a pretty impressive puzzle solver! He then proceeded to spend the rest of the day powering through a vast number of puzzles he’d never seen before…

Louis had brought along a couple of copies of his latest Tricklock design for 2018 to roadtest it on a bunch of unruly puzzlers - it survived with flying colours  and Louis was unable to elicit any improvements from the assembled masses... so it will be committed to production in time for the next major puzzle get-together... Thanks for my copy, Louis! :-)

Ed continued to power through pretty much all of the Karakuri boxes we managed to throw at him (figuratively!!!) – including a new copy of Cassiopeia and an old Kamei Parcel box that I’ve had on the shelf to be solved for a few months now… I’d been unable to open it – he solved it in a couple of minutes and then showed me how to open it… I’m beginning to think that most other puzzlers are better at solving these things than I am!

Somewhere in the middle we wandered into the village proper for pig rolls, kebabs and fish suppers – amusingly the local vendors have now learnt to spot the familiar blue polo shirts and stock up in time for the incoming hordes… they seem happy. 

Somewhere around five-thirty-ish we all decamp up to our place for some decidedly lower key puzzling and a serious fish supper. The weather has been gloriously un-British so a bunch of us end up chatting outside in the sunshine over some cold beverages…

At one point there’s some tongue depressor silliness and I risk being caught with the largest of Big-Steve’s tongue depressors hidden somewhere in my house… we manage to find them in time for Big-Steve not to have to leave them behind – he’d have been gutted, I’m sure!

Despite several puzzlers going home with a number of puzzles from Ethel’s crates, she reckons it’s hardly put a dent in them – I think she means that as a challenge, folks! Come prepared next time…

As I’d done the night before, I left Louis and Stefan puzzling furiously when I crashed – they seemed vaguely happy though so I didn’t feel too bad!

Next morning saw a feast of bacon rolls for breakfast before taking Louis and Stefan to the airport for their flight to Schiphol and putting Dick on a train back toward Wimbledon… another jolly fine MPP comes to an end – thank you all for a brilliant weekend!