Saturday, 13 July 2019


June MPPs are always a bit special – we time them so we can host Dick Hess en route to the queues at Wimbledon. He usually arrives on the Friday morning and I treat myself to a day off work – a long weekend with puzzlers! 

I collect him from the station and a couple of hours later we find Louis and Patrick at the airport… the weather is uncharacteristically sunny and Gill lays on a wonderful spread for us out on the deck. 

We get the puzzles out and spend a while in an out of the sun, amusing ourselves with puzzles. Louis has found me a Bits and Pieces Gillen Pawn knowing that I didn’t have one yet – thanks mate! Patrick has brought us some Belgian “chocolate” in the form of a classic pentomino tray packing puzzle as well as some fun little challenges based on a tessellating Escher-like fish design. 

Jacques has sent over a couple of boxes from the last auction via Coolen-mail and we all have a good time exploring the little Karakuri Creative Secret boxes…

We get Patrick checked in at the local B&B (“Oh yes we had some puzzlers staying here before” – “Yeah, sorry, those were my fault as well”) and head back up to the house for a BBQ where we’re joined by Bernhard and Kerstin. Bernhard brings out a big old box of puzzles he wants to sell (actually there’s a big box he’s brought over on the plane and an even bigger one that he posted to my place a couple of weeks earlier…I purchase a couple of Andrew Crowell designs that Bernhard has made up himself and let the rest of the gang have the first picking – In spite of that, I still mange to hoover up a few interesting things the following afternoon after the whole gang at MPP has had a go at the table full of goodies Bernhard has laid out. 

The BBQ is pretty successful (i.e. meat is suitably burnt and there’s plenty of ice cream and chocolate sauce! – My definition, other definitions may exist.) and we wind up puzzling until reasonably late – Juno’s Slammed Car is an instant hit and it takes us a while to get to the loaf of bread… doubtless there’ll be a blog post about it along in due course…

Next morning, we head down to the hall for the 10am start … at 09:30… and find that Holt and Schweitzer have already set out most of the tables and Angela and Peter have a pile of books out and ready to sell some surplus books and puzzles. Bernhard’s table has lots of interesting goodies on it and Dave has brought along a couple of boxes of his latest delivery – Issues 5 & 6 of his Metagrobologist Magazine – I pick up a copy of each – first impressions are highly favourable!

I get the refreshments all set up and lay out some puzzles for people to try their hands at before settling into the usual routine of sitting around, chatting, fiddling with and failing to solve the odd puzzle, engaging in a little banter and drinking a lot of coffee.

The rest of the gang (including a couple of Danes) wanders in over the next hour or so and pretty soon we’re up to our usual numbers. Patrick introduces himself to everyone and in no time at all it looks like he’s a regular: puzzling and chatting with the best of them. 

Dick always brings handmade puzzling gifts for everyone at MPP – this year it’s a pair of ostensibly identical puzzles perfectly entitled the Fraternal Twins. Remove the ring from each set of entanglements and you’re done. Dick helpfully suggests tackling the girl first (the one with the curves on the handle) before the boy (the ruggedly square handle seems appropriate). Each has a handle with a trapped trapeze and a dangling key – and a lonely ring trapped on the wrong side of this lot. To his credit, he was at least warning people that the solutions for the puzzling pair were different… he wasn’t kidding! I manage to extract the rings during the course of the weekend and the solutions are wonderfully different – as in worlds apart! I do my usual thing of not being able to reassemble the second puzzle and it ends up taking me longer to get the ring back in the wrong place (i.e. the start position) than taking it off! Thanks Dick!

Dale rather kindly gave everyone an edge-matching puzzle to work on – we managed to solve it the next day… and it’s a wonderfully tricky little sod! Thanks Dale!

John brings a small collection of lovely old cast puzzles and invites everyone to have a bash at them. I spend a while, recognising several of them that have gone on to become well known as Hanayama puzzles in recent years – that always makes me smile – and a few that I can’t recall having seen before, including a couple with interesting anchor shapes incorporated into them – those really give some interesting movements and restrictions. 

We miss Ed at lunchtime - he wasn’t able to join us – probably nothing to do with the fact that he’s recently got engaged – CONGRATS ED & EMILY! Ed had challenged someone to have a kebab in his stead, but sadly the chippie isn’t able to oblige so Ed’s challenge went unmet. I am pleased to confirm that there were several pitas, fish suppers and many, many pig buns devoured in the name of lunch. 

After lunch there is more of the same:  puzzling, banter, puzzling, banter and coffee.

The Creative Secret boxes go down well, as does Eric’s Multiball – several puzzlers are duly seen shaking the balls all around in the hope of getting the little guy open – everyone succeeds – some more elegantly, dare I say, nonchalantly, than others. 

Steve has treated us all by bringing along the Standard Puzzle Hamster, or SPH. A rare occasion given the importance of maintaining this important Reference Unit’s integrity – in spite of several intensive photographic shoots during the course of the day involving the hamster in ever stranger positions, the Reference Unit’s integrity is maintained – well that’s our story and we’re sticking to it. 

I drop Dick off at the station so he can get himself into the first of many queues later that evening after a traditional meal with his tennis buddies, before heading back to Barnt Green to begin winding things up for the day… people seem strangely loath to pack up and head up the road this time – must be the heat, it has been very warm, for England!

We decamp to chez Walker for the traditional fish supper – once again courtesy of Ali and Steve – THANKS GUYS! There is much more puzzling thereafter – much of it outdoors on the deck in the gloriously warm evening. Who needs light anyway!?

Somewhere between 10 and 11 the gang heads off and I drop Patrick back at the B&B before getting home and crashing! 

Next day Patrick, Louis and I spend most of the day puzzling – OK, I spend most of the day watching Louis solve the puzzles that I can’t solve. By the time I drop Patrick and Louis back at the airport for their evening flight home I am well and truly knackered – It’s been an absolutely fantastic puzzling long weekend… and Wimbledon starts the next day, what’s not to love about June MPPs?

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Burl Tile Puzzle aka Stickman Puzzlebox #30

This is a brute of a puzzle – another one that’s been on my shelf-of-shame for (a lot!) longer than a year now… and I finally sucked up enough courage to get it open a couple of weekends ago. 

Now in the past I’ve always maintained that there is no common theme or style among Robert’s designs, and it might seem like I’m about to contradict myself here, but give it a moment before you jump to any conclusions… the Stickman has NOT compromised any of his creative integrity by revisiting an old idea!

Right, so Puzzlebox #15 was a sliding tile pile that unlocked a box when you solved the 3D picture on the lid of the box… and Puzzlebox #4 had a funky mechanism for moving tiles between different faces of a puzzle where you needed to properly align a number of tiles to open a number of compartments… with me so far?

Burl Tile Puzzlebox asks you to solve two sliding tile puzzles on opposite sides simultaneously using a single  empty space – each side is a 3*5 matrix and the “pictures” on each side are made up of a couple of bits of sliced up burl – so you’re effectively playing an edge-matching puzzle where you aren’t sure which bits go together and where the edges are… sounds tricky?

Well remember there’s only a single hole across both sides – well one end of the box swivels, transporting burl tiles (and potentially your space) from one face to the opposite face… and if that’s not quite enough, there’s also a funky little feature that allows pieces to be spun around – so when you start trying to piece together the two lovely bits of burl, you don’t even know the pieces are properly oriented, let alone whether they belong to the same “picture” or not. 

Getting the picture of why it’s been on the shelf of shame for so long yet? 

As you begin to solve the two pictures you’ll find a number of locking key loosening up and eventually they can be removed… and you can sort of cheat by working on those keys individually… and I’m not saying I did, but I discovered that doing that actually doesn’t help at all when it comes to opening the hidden compartment – everything needs to be solved, and aligned rather jolly neatly before you open this guy up…

When it was finally opened, it needed more encouragement than usual having been allowed to “rest” for several years without being played with – it won’t have to do that again…

Oh, and if that wasn’t hard enough, Rob provides an alternative assembly that makes things even harder – to the extent that in some positions a number of tiles will actually be locked in place and cannot be moved, until you work out which other supposedly independent tiles need to get shifted around…

A proper hard puzzle that uses some really clever engineering and superb woodworking skills to bring to life a multi-layer puzzle that continues to push the boundaries of what you can expect from a modestly sized Puzzlebox.

Monday, 24 June 2019


Eric Fuller makes good boxes. 

So when he announces a new puzzle box, they don’t tend to stay in the shop for very long. Multiball wasn’t an exception and sold out pretty rapidly… I managed to sneak a copy and have enjoyed getting my tiny little head around it. It took a while, but it was worth it. 

The externals are all Ash and Wenge, with a little clear bit of acrylic offering a helpful(?) window – nice contrast, and the internals are walnut and some bits of stainless steel(!). 

It purports to be a fairly honest puzzle with the clear little window supposedly there to help you work out what’s going on inside and come up with a strategy for defeating it all… but it offers a little more “help” than it ideally should – sort of like another puzzle with a similar feature that confounded me for jolly months – I thought I could see everything I wanted to, only to realise after quite a while that some of what I knew I could see was in fact a reflection or a diffraction and things weren’t quite where I thought they were… so I was a little weary at this particular little gift horse of a window. 

You can work out where the main locking mechanism is fairly quickly, and you can see its and bobs moving around and interfering with one another, you can even work out a bit of a strategy for getting some things to happen and keeping others things from happening… sadly none of this seems to have any impact on your ability to open the box. 

Think (c). And then Think (c) some more. 

Experiment with a plan in mind. Deduce what is more successful and what is less successful, and open the box. Simples…

…and if you’re doing it right, you should be able to do it repeatedly in a few seconds each time, without any luck or dexterity required…