Saturday, 4 July 2020

Lock Out

A long time ago in a distant galaxy, at an actual MPP gathering, a young puzzle designer surreptitiously asked one or two people whether they thought his puzzle lock was any good. Each of them retreated to a distant part of the hall and tried their luck on it… I think they all succeeded and every single one of them pronounced the same verdict, albeit in slightly different flavours: “It is excellent!” “You must make them!” and ”Take my money now.”

Yes, we were quite encouraging… and then a few months of virus-y-lock-down later Andrew got back in touch having set up a website and having produced the first few locks, asking if I still wanted a copy – I suspect the PayPal landed in his account shortly before he saw the read-receipt from his email bounce back (I might have made that bit up, but you get the idea!) – a couple of days later the Royal Mail delivered a handsome embossed velvet bag with Andrews ‘ac’ logo on it in gold neatly cushioning a healthy sized ABUS padlock and a pair of keys. 

So what’s the first thing you do when you get a new puzzle lock with a pair of keys? Check they’re actually the same keys, or insert and turn hoping the lock will magically open? Either way, you won’t be disappointed… in fact at this point, he might as well have given you a stick of celery for all those keys are worth! You’d stand a better chance opening the lock with the latter…. Those keys do nothing… got it?!

OK, examine the lock carefully for signs of tampering – there’s a serial number, the ‘ac’ logo and that’s it – the usual lubrication holes – slightly too small to insert a digit into (don’t be tempted!). Nothing else interesting rears its head… 

And that is where I predict you will spend some time puzzling…

Take my word for it, this one is pretty darned unusual – I’ve played with quite a few puzzle locks and I’ve never seen one anything like this before – the “A-Ha!” is wonderful – very rewarding. 

Andrew, it is excellent. I’m very glad you made them so that more people can enjoy them, and I’m glad you took my money so that I have one in my humble collection… TOP JOB! 

Monday, 29 June 2020

X-Ray Cube

(Yet) Another slightly evil puzzle from Volker Latussek… and the lads at Pelikan

Eight wonky cuboids arrive neatly stacked inside this little box with a handy sliding lid (which has a hole in the centre) – slide the lid off and you’ll see that the wonky blocks more or less fill the space – and at this point it’s not all that obvious that they’re pretty wonky… so you tip them out and notice a couple of things at about the same time: they really are wonky blocks and there’s probably an immediate pang of regret at the foolishness of simply tipping them out and not paying an awful lot of attention to how they were arranged in there. Oh, and there’s a second hole in the bottom of the box…

It begins to dawn on you that your mission, for you must accept it now that the wonky blocks are spread out on your desk, is to replace the blocks inside the box so that when you close the lid, you have a clear sight line through the centre of the box and out the other side. 

Playing around with the blocks shows you just how funky they are – sure there are some square corners, but most of them seem rather inaccurately cut – I jest, of course! These darn things have been perfectly crafted so that they only allow you to do things properly…

I found it a really fun little ten-minute challenge – it relies on some thought – always a good thing for an interesting puzzle, and then, once you’ve decided on a strategy, it doesn’t take long to whittle down the possibilities and blast through the various arrangements to find a very neat arrangement that gives you a neat little shaft of nothingness right through the centre of the box.

Amusingly, it took me almost as long to replace the pieces pack in an unsolved state!

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

205 Minutes

Physical therapy of the highest order!

Aleksandr Leontev is rather fond of designing and making high order n-ary fidget toys – I’ve bought a couple from him in the past and his skills at 3D printing his designs are pretty impressive, and his patience at assembling them individually clearly knows no bounds!

A while back he showed an interesting cube design with a massively high number of moves required to remove a single piece – he’d 3D-printed a prototype but wasn’t happy enough with it to commit to making them… but the puzzling gods smiled favourably on him, Eric saw it and decided this was a challenge worthy of his skills and duly undertook to make them in wood(!).

The puzzling world held its breath a little, hoping he’d succeed, and a few months later the fruits of his labour arrived for all to see, and several to purchase. 

This handsome hunk of many woods is comfortable in the hands, which is important for a puzzle that requires 12,000 moves to release a single piece  - the move count gives the puzzle its name: 12,000 moves at a move a second, assuming you never get lost and backtrack will take you 205 minutes – yup, you’re going to be spending quite a while manipulating this one…

My first copy arrived with bit of a defect – one of the little maze plates inside had partially broken which meant that it would block certain moves unless you shook it in a particular direction, and then the other way when you needed to go back again… Louis spotted that little issue but didn’t let it deter him and he duly opened it up in the hopes that we’d be able to repair it… something that sadly wasn’t possible, so it needed to head back to Raleigh.

Eric insisted on sending out a new one even before it arrived home and the new one was in perfect condition… so even I was able to solve this one! 

It sat on my desk for several weeks and I’d pick it up every now and then and spend ten or twenty minutes fiddling semi-mindlessly with it and then put it down again. I’d thought about this beforehand, realising that if I did lose my way, I could find myself undoing several days’ worth of work, so I added a couple of little masking tape indicators that would get moved around at the end of each session so I knew where to pick up again… it must have worked as I ended up finally releasing the single block after many, many little sessions of physical therapy. 

Once the block is out, you can replace it with a second one that Eric supplies which has one less wiggle in the maze and requires a mere 8,000-odd moves to release… but the real genius of Eric’s implementation is a couple of ramps and sprung pins that allow you to reset the puzzle with a couple of clicks – MUCH BETTER than having to retrace your 8,000 or 12,000 steps all the way back to the beginning.

WELL DONE that man!