Saturday, 17 August 2019

IPP39 – The pre-IPP bits

Next morning we find Big Steve at breakfast and feast a little - the hotel has a goodly spread...we’ll definitely be ok here for a few days! After breakfast we head out on one of the loop buses in the direction of the gardens, stopping off at a few lovely little shops along the way, and a stunning gallery of local pottery with prices to match. The gardens are gorgeous, but it’s rather warm (low thirties with massive humidity!) so we find ourselves gravitating toward shady areas and open ornate sided structures. 

From the gardens we wander across to the castle grounds and take a few opportune photo stops with Erical- raising a few eyebrows from some passing tourists at one point, so I say “if you have to ask...” and they grin... and I suspect that they’ll be telling some amusing tales of weirdos at the castle with plush toys later in their hotel bar.

We head down into town and find a little noodle shop that rather helpfully has an English menu. Gill gets the daily special fish and Steve and I each had a cold soba noodle dish with grated radish - all quite delicious... had to smile at the wonderfully hi-tech ordering systems in use in Japan: mostly little tablets that automatically tell chef what to cook - this place was even more direct: our waitress repeated our orders at the top of her voice and chef just got on with cooking it from the kitchen about three meters away.

On the way back to the hotel we spotted a sign for Tokyo Hands and got off at the next stop, unable to miss any opportunity to wander round and wonder at the amazing things in there... we found a Snoopy cable charm for Gill and some dodgy hamster pics for our fellow fellows back home - somehow Steve managed to resist the urge to buy a battery-operated beer frother!

Back to the hotel via the underpass where Kofuh and his buddies were starting to set up their puzzle exhibition - a few quick hello’s before we felt the need to stop bothering them so they could get on with their set-up.

Back at the hotel we find Nick’s already got the Design Comp room set so we have to wander in... Nick and I catch up - it’s been a couple of months’ since we’ve seen each other! I spend a little time fiddling somewhat unsuccessfully with the puzzles on show - I fear my butt may be thoroughly kicked again this year!

Registration opens and I manage to be the second in the queue and get hooked up with the magic badge that gets me into the coolest party in town... and a bright yellow polo shirt to stand out in the crowd and 100 puzzles that have arrived safely from Germany. (Sadly, my customs fetish has followed me around the globe and I owe $120 in ransom fees.)

I lug the puzzles upstairs to the room and then settle back into letting the puzzles in the design comp kick my butt, while catching up with my mates from around the world... I’m definitely back among my tribe again!

A bunch of us gather downstairs in the lobby and head out to the mall across the way in search of some dinner. We settle on a Katsu-joint and the food is excellent - the company’s not too bad too!

After dinner there is a lot of puzzling in the Design Comp room - not a lot of solving in my case, but a lot of puzzling. Puzzlers from around the world keep rocking up: Brian and Kellian have had a stunning trip around Japan already, and Brian and Sue have had a wonderful cross-country road trip with the Obsivacs... although Brian was a bit miffed that there was a sign saying no animals and there were a bunch of Snow Monkeys running around wild at one of the parks they visited - there was no snow in sight, and the monkeys were moulting so they looked a bit mangy - still quite magical though! It was quite funny hearing Brian’s description of the scene though!

I crash at a semi-reasonable hour because I’m on assisting duty for the start of the SOAPs fabric and fibre tour in the morning.

IPP-folk seem to be dominating the breakfast area - it seems a bunch of folks have arrived overnight and we’re getting up to full strength days before the main event even kicks off!

We gather the SOAPs and their hangers-on, take their money and then Gill shepherds them all onto the bus that carries them from one craft store to another for the rest of the day... I lurk around in the lobby for a while in case any stragglers turn up late - that way I can point them to the first rendezvous spot and tell them to cab it there... turns out the rest don’t show up at all - hey ho. I do get the chance to chat to Jose about their trip over via Seoul, and their trip home on the Trans-Siberia express, which sounds like the stuff of dreams!

I head back up to the room intent on sorting out many exchange puzzles, only to be turfed out the room by housekeeping - actually, they’re just an excuse to head down to the puzzling lobby to chat to mates... I get to confuse Big-Brian with 4 Pfeile and we share amusing stories about the political similarities between the USA and the UK - we’re not particularly PC or complimentary about their current leaders or the likely future, but we do manage to amuse ourselves a fair amount. Andreas has a go at one of the Masyu puzzles in my Puzzle Ninja book and makes short work of it - I’m not surprised - the man has a brain the size of a planet!

I meet Gergo from Hungary - having seen him looking forward to his first IPP it’s great to be able to chat to him right at the start...turns out he’s keen to come over for an MPP - EXCELLENT!

After a goodly while of chatting and puzzling I head back upstairs and spend the next few hours putting stickers on my exchange puzzles and then tying them up in bags with labels on them... and then packing virtually all of them into one of our large suitcases ready to be taken down on Saturday morning for the fun that is the Edward Hordern Puzzle Exchange.

At some point the Jury makes up their minds and the Design Comp room is opened for the rest of us to get back in and puzzle on... so we do. After a while Nick feels the need to tap up the pancake place we’d seen the night before that we couldn’t do justice to after the Katsu meal, so Brian joins the two of us and we stroll over toward the mall, stopping off at the underpass to visit the public Puzzlefest once more. 

We feel the urge to build one of the giant cubes and we’re somewhat chuffed with ourselves when we put the final block in place to complete the cube so there’s a little whooping and some high fives - almost as much as you’d see later on Telly from Brian when he solved it and celebrated, only to find that he was being filmed for a slot on the local telly. Brian points me at a smaller cube assembly he’d been trying unsuccessfully earlier that day - I have a quick bash at it and manage to fluke it rather quickly so he hurls some torrents of abuse in my direction... definitely back among the tribe! We finally get over to the pancake joint and order a couple of happy pancakes with chocolate and ice cream - Brian can’t touch any of it so he’s reduced to sulking over a coffee... we tell him just how good it is quite often. Gill joins the three of us when her Fabric and Fibre (no Marc, not fruit and fibre) tour returns and she promptly orders one of the same and tells Brian what he’s missing too - it is a conspiracy!

Having polished off three huge fluffy pancakes each, we decide that it’s not a case of them spoiling dinner, it’s rather a case of them becoming dinner... so we head back to the Design Comp room and we puzzle and banter until I decide it’s time to crash... some of the others who shall remain nameless (or Big-Steve, Iwahiro and Dirk if you want to pick some random names) may have stayed in our lobby area until 4am - I’m too old for that sort of thing!

Monday, 12 August 2019

IPP39 - The Journey to Kanazawa

We began the journey to IPP39 the day after one of the hottest days of the year in the UK - good practice for our time in Japan you might think... problem was that the UK seems to grind to a halt when the weather gets good, and to be fair, when it gets cold, or snows, or we get the wrong kind of rain. Anyhow, turns out there were some thunderstorms that night, which play havoc with air traffic, so there’s a little pandemonium at Heathrow from the get-go. Then a lightning strike takes out a key radar station for a while and a bunch of flights get cancelled - we’re just delayed a bit... and BA duly flies us over the north pole to Narita. An hour on a bus and we’re safely at our Tokyo hotel where we allow ourselves a couple of hours sleep to make up in part for the lousy night’s sleep on the plane, and the fact that we’ve lost about half a day en route.

We find the Bobroffs checking in down in the lobby and make plans for some dinner. We eat at the hotel cos it’s convenient, not because it’s cheap... Nancy and Rosemary join us for dinner, having arrived from Boston just as we were heading for the restaurant. Some puzzles are duly exchanged - Saul gives me a copy of his Working Man puzzle - a fiendish little disentanglement that keeps me amused all through dinner... and for a while later upstairs in the room. When I do find the solution, I have to laugh at myself: my assumption about the solution path turns out to be totally wrong and when I finally get it, I realize it’s exactly like another puzzle I’ve been fiddling around with recently. In turn I taunt Saul with a copy of Siebenstein’s 4 Pfeile which eludes him at dinner, and for a few more meals over the next few days.

We agree that the next morning the puzzlers are heading to Torito- it’s da law after all! Gill takes the non-puzzlers off in search of fabric and crafting supplies around Shinjuku and we grab a metro in the general direction of Torito. We manage to navigate the underground successfully and don’t lose anyone on the long trek to puzzle heaven. We’re greeted like long lost friends from the other side of the world when Meiko sees us.

Saul, Rosemary and I are soon raking through puzzles and finding hidden treasures when a familiar face pops out from the room next door: Kofuh is setting up for a puzzle exhibition and he does the rounds saying hello to everyone and making sure we’re all well. He hands out his latest business cards which, true to form, have a new puzzle embedded in them - quite a cute little puzzle -very Kofuh!

A little later while we’re still browsing, a big booming voice announces Dor’s arrival, with his friend Zohar, an IPP newbie. Introductions duly made all around, everyone goes back into puzzle hunt mode. I find a couple of shelves packed with puzzles from Endo-San so I work my way through them fishing out all the puzzles I haven’t got... turns out there were quite a few in there that I didn’t have! At one point I stray across a closed cabinet and Meiko points out that those are pre-loved puzzles... I help myself to several from there as well. I find copies of all the Hanayamas I haven’t got yet: BramVesa’s Slider and the entire Ultraman set of puzzles. I’m somewhat chuffed with my haul as it includes a bunch of older Endo-sans that I’ve never even seen before - puzzle heaven is definitely worth a visit!

Rosemary heads back to the hotel via cab and Saul and I join Dor and Zohar in search of a toy shop which is sort of up near our metro station. We wander through the Ueno market en route - massive overload on the senses - the toy shop has a decent array of Hanayamas but not much else, so Zohar just ends up buying some toys for his kids. 

Saul and I head back to the hotel, via an ice cream vendor cos it’s hot and heavily humid - and I’ve gone soft from my time in Africa.

The fabric and fibre folks have had a decent shopping trip as well and I spend a couple of hours chilling and working my way through the new puzzles from Torito. Gill and I head out for a wander around the Shinjuku park behind the hotel, surprised to see a bunch of little turtles happily swimming around the pool at the top of their water feature - cute little guys! Several local folk are walking their hounds in the park and all is well in the land.

We head out for a meaty dinner and pronounce it good, if not entirely local... so good in fact that we decide we’ll probably head back there the next night too.

Next morning, we head off to east Shinjuku for a trip to Tokyo Hands and an excellent bookstore where Gill finds copies of one of her friend’s books for sale - quite chuffed she was. The walk through Tokyo Hands is always fascinating, the sheer variety of stuff available literally beggars belief -things you didn’t know existed but find fabulously useful are available in every size and colour ...

We totally fail at finding Paulette a local football strip for her grandson, but she forgives us eventually. Before dinner we head up to the 45th floor of the Metropolitan Government Building’s observatory for a brilliant view of the city... it is ma-hoo-sive.

We meet up with Marti and Frans - he fresh off an overnight flight with no sleep and a full day’s running around Torito (where I suspect he hoovered up all the Endo-sans that I didn’t) and Tokyo Hands (where he bought 3kg of exotic hardwoods from around the world... as you do. We all head back to the same restaurant for some supper - it had been deserted the night before, but this evening it was absolutely rammed - turns out it’s quite popular with the locals for a meal and some drinks. They find us a couple of tables for four next to each other and we settle in to another great meal... Frans isn’t too happy as the picture showed a much larger plate of meat than he gets, but he manages to put away Gill’s leftovers and half of Marti’s food - so I think he had enough in the end. Frans and Marti head back to the station to find their hotel and we head back to ours via the local 7-11 for an ice cream - something that seems to have become a bit of a tradition - blamed on the Bobroffs.

We grab breakfast the next morning and then get a minibus taxi to take the six of us to Tokyo station for our Shinkansen to Kanazawa. Gill and I are quite excited at the prospect of our first trip on a Japanese bullet train and we’re there in plenty of time, which lets us gape at the variety of fast trains pulling in and out of Tokyo - I’m definitely not a train spotter but even I can’t help myself from taking pics of the Hayabusa that pulls in and out just before our train is due.

The train ride to Kanazawa is wonderfully smooth and quiet - these guys do good train.

We glide into Kanazawa station perfectly on time and wrangle everyone’s baggage on to the platform before navigating the short walk to the hotel. The rooms are great - we decide they’re the best IPP hotel rooms we can remember and unpack our lives for the next week... some clean clothes and plenty of puzzles for him, crocheting and a bit more clothing for is good.

We head across to explore the station concourse and adjoining building in search of somewhere for dinner - the choice is staggering and by the time we get back to the hotel Big-Steve and the Udall’s have arrived and are waiting in the lobby - puzzling ensues, after warm greetings of course!

We head on over to a steak joint where Saul breaks his no-salt rule a little bit, but the steaks are really good and the company is excellent - I’m among my tribe again.

There’s fun and games after dinner when we try and find the fabric store that Steve’s spotted earlier... he knows exactly where it is, several times, and then we find it by accident in entirely the wrong place!

I get a luxurious ice cream cone and we wander back to the hotel... where we fade, having had a pretty rough night’s sleep the night before.