Each year Peter Hajek hosts a little gathering of puzzlists and hangers-on. Some years it’s just before New Year, some years it’s just after… this year was an after, so we started 2020 by getting together at Peter’s place and telling one another about our best puzzle finds of the previous year.
I rocked up pretty much at the appointed hour to find quite a few people had beaten me to it, including Peter’s customary visitors from the Netherlands, Wil and Joop. Louis it turned out was also there, just a little busy working his way through Jesse Born’s Secretum Cista chest upstairs in Peter’s main puzzle cave.
There was lots of hand-shaking and Happy New Year-wishing among the usual gang. We set out our picks from the past year on a table in the conservatory and duly piled in to the crates-of-plenty brought along by several collectors wishing to lighten their personal loads a little.
Ethel had brought along a copy of Tom Lensch’s Nested Cubes that she’d hooked out for me a little while back and I ended up finding several more little goodies among the crates she’d brought along: from a couple of old Pentangle puzzles (Tangleweed and Chinese Rings) still in their original packaging, through to a little package of folding puzzles from Noji-san that I’m still looking forward to trying.
Steve dishes out commemorative gifts to all – a circular engraved slate coaster and a neatly cut leather strap with a circle, triangle and square cut into it – challenging you to guess which of the holes the coaster will go through. [Steve’s clearly been playing with his new laser cutter and now I understand why he knows that cutting leather smells like burning flesh – actually, hang on…]
Wil had a couple of little wonders, including a challenge he’d cooked up for Peter that I somehow got roped into as well – a simple little three-piece burr that simply wouldn’t go together. Ali and I both convinced ourselves it wasn’t possible and Wil eventually let on that Peter had spent ages on it, and when he’d finally solved it he’d called Wil a b@st@rd – uncharacteristically strong language for Peter – so we smelt a rat, investigated and discovered that Wil may have switched a couple of pieces rendering both sets unsolvable. Thanks Wil! :-) All’s fair in war and puzzling!
Peter herds us all into the lounge where we take turns presenting our three best puzzle finds (plus a commercially available one) of 2019 to one another.
My choices this year:
Packing Puzzle 4P – Hajime Katsumoto
I stumbled across this puzzle in one of Wil’s crates at Peter’s place last year. I picked it up because of the designer - Hajime Katsumoto, having rather enjoyed a few of his other designs. There’s a two-sided frame, and a set of four P-pentominoes to place in each side – subject to some restrictions in the two frames. Both sides require very different approaches and each gives a great “A-HA!” moment. This puzzle deserves to be known far more widely!
I’ve been trying to complete my collection of the numbered Stickman Puzzleboxes for several years now and I finally bagged my last unicorn this year! This puzzlebox is a serious piece of art, even non-puzzlers fall in love with it! The beautifully detailed lighthouse sits atop a rocky outcrop and through the solve you find yourself dismantling things and watching a little synchronised ballet play out between various pieces moving in harmony.
Juno makes great puzzle boxes – and, IMHO, this one’s better than all the others he’s sold through Pluredro! Made to resemble a classic Australian hatchback, this sequential discovery puzzle starts out fairly simply and then gets harder as you go, until you finally reach the loaf of bread hidden inside, meaning it can properly be classed as a ‘box’ according to the Bell-Yananose-Sadler convention. Great use of some actual tools make this a fun themed-solve.
…and finally my choice of commercially available puzzle: Nova Plexus – Two Brass Monkeys
Steve and Ali have finally completed Geoff Wyvill’s edition of steel Nova Plexus enabling puzzlers around the world to add one of these lovely sculptures to their hoards.
We rattle through the presentations which somehow manage to incorporate a wonderful roasting of our good-natured host and his attempts at acquiring puzzle boxes in Japan, a small furry hamster, a book that’s older than the USA and some Kellogg’s branded puzzles that don’t exist.
We break for a wonderful spread for dinner before herding ourselves back into the lounge to be entertained by Clive, the eternal stand-in magician – Angelo’s ill apparently. Clive does a stonking job of amusing and bewildering us, before Peter absolutely slays us all with the simplest possible presentation of ACAAN – mind-blowing!
After the entertainment there’s plenty of time to catch up with friends and play with puzzles. Steve and I head upstairs to have a crack at the Secretum Cista and it amuses us for well over an hour – even with a large number of hints from our host and some serious downright help from Louis who’d locked it all up earlier that afternoon. At one point there’s a little consternation when Shane and Louis hoist the entire (
30 lbs! CORRECTION: 48 lbs!!!) thing up into the air and turn it on its side to encourage a little something
to move into the right spot… they’re successful and the whole thing is duly
unlocked and relocked – it IS a beautiful chest with a glass back giving you a
wonderful view of the mechanisms interacting behind the drawers and things
being manipulated – it was lovely to get a chance to play with this beauty -
Somewhere around 9pm Louis and I head back to Brum – another excellent day with our puzzling mates and memories of another great year’s puzzling acquisitions.