Sunday, 18 July 2021

Abraham’s Well

Short version: Classic puzzle from the master of sequential discovery, Brian Young.

Slightly longer version: When I saw the warning email from Sue about the upcoming release I made sure I’d left a note for myself to check the website on the right day – sure,  there would be 150 copies available on the first day (with another 350 along behind that at some point) but there are lots of puzzlers out there that know just how good Brian’s puzzles are. Add to that those two magical words: “sequential discovery” and you can be sure that there’s going to be a huge amount of interest…

In the end, the ordering process was pretty straight-forward and I even managed to add a couple of other things to the order that I’d been meaning to pick up for a while, as well as some of their discounted own-brand disentanglements (mainly because I’m rubbish at those and desperately need the practice!).[That first batch only lasted 12 hours...!]

EMS then teased me for over a week with my care package apparently sitting on the tarmac in Brisbane being “Processed by air carrier” daily, but seemingly making no headway whatsoever. Once or twice Nigel and I swapped messages as both of our packages seemed to be stuck in the same limbo… and then all of a sardine, that changed and AusPost let me know my parcel had landed in the UK… and a day or two later it duly arrived in Barnt Green… this past Friday…

Yesterday I took it out for a bit of a play and found myself getting somewhat hooked on it – it makes for a nice little hand-full. There’s some lovely silky wood for the base and some very neat brass and steel work on the upper half. It thoroughly looks the part – right down the etched brickwork on the sides of the well. There’s a little bit of rope hanging down into the brass-lined(!) well, but no apparent pail. As you’d expect, there’s the usual Mr Puzzle branded logo on the base… and ostensibly, that’s all!

A closer examination yields a hole in the brass well-lining, and the cross-bar at the head of the well seems to turn forever… those two little screws at the head of the well may well have knurled edges, but there’s no way that you’re going to undo those without a more appropriate tool than your hands.

And that dear reader, is it… nothing seems to move, nothing seems untoward – there is nowhere to go… so you might as well start puzzling a little more seriously now. Or decide that you’ve bought a well-made ornament for your puzzle cave.

Over the course of Saturday I found myself puzzling in spurts – using my normal attack of puzzle until I get frustrated with a lack of progress – put the puzzle aside and then spending some time Think(c)ing – and return to said puzzle with a new line of attack…

That approach served me quite well over the course of Saturday and by the early evening I had a growing pile of pieces, some of which had been pretty handy as tools and I was more or less running out of places to go on this little puzzle – which concerned me a little as I knew I wasn’t finished yet: Brian is clear that when you’re finished, you’ll know it and you'll have a pewter object that links the well and Australia (which is all rather intriguing).

I knew I wasn’t finished as I hadn’t found anything made of pewter yet…

So I left it on the desk in bits and returned to it again this morning… and managed to spot something I’d overlooked the night before and a couple of minutes later I had my little pewter prize in my sweaty little paws… with a huge grin on my face.

Abraham’s Well shows that Brian’s not only a great designer of puzzlers’ puzzles, but he also has a wicked sense of humour… early on I thought I really wanted something, and Brian delivered – exactly the wrong thing! I’m pretty certain that he knew exactly what he was doing – I can see him sitting there saying to himself “Let’s get their hopes up and then crush them – it’ll be fun!”.

Brian’s description of the puzzle talks about having twenty odd bits and pieces by the time you’ve taken it all apart, with quite a few of them being quite useful little tools – only, working out which of them are tools and which aren’t is at least half the fun. [I imagined some wonderfully complicated tools during the course of my solve!]

Having got to the end of the solve, and then reassembling it for the requisite photographs, I knew which puzzle I was going to be writing about this week – in fact I’m probably not going to shut up about how good this one is for a while!

If you missed out on the first batch, there’s another 350 of them along in due course… Brian’s hoping to have them in his shop for a while… I’m not sure how successful he’s going to be at that – it is an excellent puzzle – you (and all of your puzzling friends) will want one.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

More Karakuri Experiments

A couple more boxes from the designs for the Karakuri Experiments exhibition, this time from Kamei and Kawashima-san. These two are probably a bit more mainstream and traditional than the ones in the previous Karakuri post, but most definitely worth playing with.

Twin 5 is Kawashima-san’s fifth Twin box and takes inspiration from Kamei’s 1983 Top Box. The family resemblance to the other Twins is clear to see and the reference to one of Kamei’s classics might help the intrepid solver… I guess.

Start fiddling around with this one and it shouldn’t take you long to find one or two interesting things to do… but then, if you’re anything like me, you hit an absolute brick wall and can’t find any way to proceed.

I spent quite a while here, going back over the few moves I’d discovered and trying to find anything at all interesting to do along the way… and failing miserably.

I began exploring some seriously whacky theories, all to no avail. I tried some of the older tricks from this terrific craftsman’s previous puzzles – nada!

This one literally had me thinking for days until a chance discovery opened up the final move and had me gently cursing and smiling broadly at the same time…

Kawashima-san says this box “requires very few steps, so even beginners can enjoy it” – and he ain’t kidding… and part of me wonders if beginners might even solve this one quicker that well-seasoned puzzlers.

Kamei’s contribution to the exhibition was Maze Box – almost certainly a clue to the mechanism, right? (Sort of - it turns out it's a refence to another of his 1983 creations...)

The top of the box has a distinctive inlaid daisy, or Margaret / Marguerite flower that really sets this box apart – someone’s gone to a lot of trouble on this one.

Strangely the box come with three little dowels, which seem to match up with the six holes in the bottom of the box… although exactly how useful either of those two discoveries is, remains to be seen.

Once again, I spent a while exploring several fruitless avenues before thinking something along the lines of “It couldn’t really be that elegant, could it?”

This one will definitely leave you scratching your head over the mechanism that locks this puzzle up. I’m sure that there’s a relatively straight-forward approach that I just haven’t thought of yet, but I’m probably going to carry on believing that there are little fairies inside the box that release the locks when they sense that you’ve done all of the things you’re supposed to do – it really seems magical.

Sunday, 4 July 2021

L Burr

I recently managed to pick up a copy of Juno’s L Burr. For some stupid reason I’d missed out on getting Brian’s Limited Edition puzzles in 2012 and I’ve been keeping an eye out for them recently… two down, three to go, I think.

This is another rather whacky puzzle from Juno where the numbers really don’t tell you anything about this puzzle! It’s “just” a 6-piece level 4 burr – but that doesn’t tell you anything about the real puzzle here.

Juno began playing around with board burr designs around 1990 and soon enough he began to explore variations on the theme, where the boards were perhaps a little morphed. L Burr resulted from that rather fruitful search. Each “board” has an L-shaped profile when viewed from the ends and that enforces some interesting restrictions when things begin to go together. Now remember that back in 1990 we didn’t have the wonder that is BurrTools handily installed on each PC in the house, so Juno designed this one in his head… over the course of a week, and it’s really unusual.

Usually once you’ve extracted the first piece from a six-piece burr, things get a whole lot simpler – after all, you’ve removed a source of several of the limitations, so the bits that are left must be easier to manipulate… right?

Wrong!

L Burr lets you proceed in a fairly traditional manner to remove the first piece after four moves… and indeed from there there are a number of routes open to the intrepid puzzler, but apparently none of them are any use whatsoever… time to Think(c).

Of course, there is a way forward, but it’s fair to describe it as pretty non-traditional and if you aren’t exactly a burrista (and I sure as heck aint!) this will invariably put the fear of all things holey into you.

Reassembly is best described as an “interesting” challenge… one I’m rather proud of being able to achieve – it took a bit of out-of-the-box thinking and was rather satisfying.

If you like board burrs, this is definitely one worth playing with – it will mess with quite a lot of your preconceptions of how these puzzles should work… definitely a puzzler’s puzzle!

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Whimsical fun!

That’s the only way to describe the first one: Sword from Hiroshi Iwahara!

It’s clear the Karakuri craftsmen were allowed to give absolute free rein to their designing muses when coming up with their entries for an exhibition entitled “Karakuri Experiments” – Iwahara-san has imagined something that wouldn’t go amiss in a Zelda adventure – right down to the subtly pixelated look of the sword.

The (wooden) sword arrives safely secured inside it’s decorated wooden scabbard – it wiggles around a fair bit and teases you quite a lot. Your goal is to safely remove the sword and not give yourself a nasty nick in the process… OK the latter might be simpler than the former.

It’s not super-hard as a puzzle, but it is a delightfully whimsical creation that will put a smile on every single solver’s face, guaranteed… and it really stands out in the puzzle cabinet!

Flaskolation was Yasuaki Kikuchi’s contribution to the exhibition – his reaction to the pandemic that’s gripped the world for the past year and a half… and a contribution to puzzlers around the world to help raise a smile in these difficult times.

He gives us a box with an outline of a flask on the top and an apparent drawer on one side. The flask has a bunch of strange markings on it that don’t make an awful lot of sense at first… and then there’s the wooden syringe – well, why not?!

Some closer inspection shows a shiny little ball trapped inside the outline of the flask – that must be interesting, surely? Some medical experimentation will probably help and soon enough you’ll have the little drawer hanging open… once you’ve worked out what all those little markings really mean of course – you definitely aren’t going to fluke this one!

Last up in this post, from the same exhibition, is Conditioned Reflex – a little Pavlovian plaything from Yoh Kakuda.

I’m a dog person, so getting a puzzle that looks like a cute little puppy was always a no-brainer for me…  and then discovering along the way that it even behaves like a dog was the cherry on the top for me. Sitting still it looks cute, but during the solve it gets even cuter.

…definitely a whimsical bunch of boxes from the superb craftsmen at the Karakuri Creation Group.

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Bolted

I’ve been quietly buying copies of Phil Wigfield’s puzzles for a little while now – with the arrival of Bolted, I feel the need to share my thoughts and encourage others to support this man – because he makes damn good puzzles!

Phil has a shop on Etsy called MetalPuzzlesUK where he sells the metal puzzles that he designs and makes by hand. I bought a Sticky Barrel on Ali’s recommendation (the Monkeys are never wrong!) and thought it was quite cute… I enjoyed Spinning Tumblers and I was impressed by Phil’s work in Nuts – he clearly has skillz!

With the arrival of Bolted, Phil has seriously upped the ante and properly shown his puzzle-chops!

I’ll happily admit that I’ve been spoilt by being able to play with (and sometimes even solve!) some pretty awesome metal puzzles from the likes of said-Monkeys and folks like Marcel Gillen and Rocky Chiaro over the past few years – so I’ve probably seen more than my fair-share of puzzle mechanisms and I might even be a little jaded sometimes. (I know, hard to believe, eh?!) 

…but I think Bolted stands out rather nicely in the crowd – this is a damn fine piece of puzzling engineering. There were some lovely new puzzling elements to this one that made me put on my proper puzzling hat to solve it, and when I did I had some serious respect for Mister Wigfield’s craftsmanship – the design is clever and the implementation is superb.

OK -enough of the fan-boy-ing…tell us about the puzzle!

Bolted looks just like a pair of bolts that intersect at ninety degrees with a few nuts on the smaller one which seems to go through not just the larger bolt, but also through the nut that is threaded onto it. Which is interesting… and clearly impossible… :-)

The two little nuts on the outside of the smaller bolt do indeed just spin off… but that’s the only gimme on this puzzle. Now the puzzling starts – and everything seems annoyingly legit at this point – those bolts do behave like they should, as do the remaining nuts … except that the one clearly goes right through the other one, and it won’t come out…

Find the secret and I defy you not to marvel at the bloke’s strong engineering skills, and his sense of humour at catching you a second time.

This is definitely going to be a puzzle I encourage visiting puzzlers to have a bash at because I think they’ll really get a kick out of it… it’s definitely worth picking up a copy of this one!

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Gob Stopper

…or to give it it’s proper Sunday name: “Never Mind the Ball Locks, Here’s the Gob Stopper*” is the latest creation from the Two Brass Monkeys - a couple of slightly irreverent nutters who’ve been bringing their own brand of humour to the puzzle designs they’ve been producing over the last few years for an increasing band of loyal followers. Anyone thinking there’s the slightest hint of hyperbole in there should immediately refer to The Joy of Hex.

A few weeks ago one of my regular care packages from Big-Steve was somewhat heavier than I’d been expecting it to be and the cause of said heaviness turned out to be rather handsome brass ball, of sorts. I mean it’s clearly a ball, but it’s also clearly one of their hex thingies. (It’s a technical term, très scientifique!)

Fiddling around with it you’ll find a few bits that you can encourage out and if you’ve been doing your homework properly, you should have a strong sense of déjà vu at this point… proceed with the disassembly and head on over to piece identification and you’ll be able to convince yourself that at its heart, this is the Missionary Position from The Joy of Hex – albeit a Missionary of a somewhat different shape… this one positively rolls with goodness.

Assembly provides a slightly different challenge to the full Missionary given its curves – the full Missionary sits nicely in the stand that the lads thoughtfully provide, but the curves on this little beast make those stands utterly useless – so you are very much on your own with this one. As long as you’re at least a little handy (and some practice does help! As if you needed encouragement…) you should find that you can keep things in more or less the right places until they start to hold together themselves…

When the lads were describing the manufacturing process it sounded like there was a heck of a lot more work involved in making these little guys than their traditional hex puzzles – so much so that there was a time when they were seriously wondering whether it would be worthwhile making these suckers! All of the steps required for the traditional hex puzzles are there, but then they need to be assembled, turned into a ball on a lathe – without the pieces flying apart and killing anyone in the process (that part is important!) – then the pieces each need to be tumbled to knock off the sharp edges that result from the ball-turning-part-of-the-process before they’re finally ready for puzzlers to play with – without shredding their hands to bits.

All of the extra steps add significantly to the production time and effort so they do cost a bit more than their more traditional cousins, but they look excellent and play really nicely – and I’m a big fan of the antique-y pre-patinated finish that results from all of the extra work involved - I reckon it looks great!

Thank chaps!!

 

* If you’re wondering where the name comes from: the lads clearly had learnt absolutely nothing from the whole “Boaty McBoatface” debacle and decided to crowdsource a name for their latest creation using a Facebook group known to be frequented by absolute reprobates (and some puzzlers). The resulting poll, which even allowed for user-additions to the poll (what the heck are these lads thinking?!) duly settled on Ball Locks… one of said user-additions, with Ali's own “Never mind the ball hex” coming in at a respectable third place. The sheer genius was to combine those two and come up with the iconic punk reference that is “Never Mind the Ball Locks, Here’s the Gob Stopper”! There were a number of other excellent suggestions and personally I can’t wait to see what they come up with for “Jane Fondler”.

Monday, 31 May 2021

Jack’s Tippenary Mystery Tour

A few years ago Jack Krijnen created a truly awesome sequential discovery puzzle in the shape of Jack-in-the-Box - I was a huge fan, so the when I picked up on the merest suggestion that he might just be working on another puzzle box, I made sure my he knew I was dead keen!

A few weeks ago I got the email to let me know that it was ready and a few days later I was opening the packaging and looking forward to another puzzling journey into the unknown. It’s a really handsome maple box with some very neat mahogany trim – name proudly laser-etched in the centre and some inviting-looking rods teasing you on the top of the box… and they seem to be repeated around the base of the box, but those ones seems even less keen to move than the ones on the top.

I spent quite a while trying to get into the box at first… I outed myself at our last VMPP for the fact that I’d made virtually no progress whatsoever in the first couple of weeks – some sympathised and told me the first set of locks was quite tricky… Jack just smiled and looked like the proud puzzle-maker he ought to be.  A few days after that Nigel got in touch and I shared what I’d ben doing and he seemed puzzled at my lack of progress as he reckoned another possibility should be “available” at that stage – only it wasn’t – and I’d been exploring some seriously wild and whacky ideas of what I might need to do next: I’d heard something occasionally moving around inside and I’d convinced myself that that sound, and the name were a suggestion that there was a hidden n-ary mechanism inside that needed blind manipulation, so I was trying to make that work… (Yup, that’s how far down the rabbit hole I’d gone…)

Nigel kindly encouraged me to try something that I’d tried may times before with no success, and so I kept going until I finally found the merest trace of a hint of the tiniest bit of movement – so I doubled down and even though my hands hurt, I executed that move… and it was lovely – but I hadn’t expected what came next at all…

The next puzzle took me ages of proper pen-and-paper puzzling to try and come up with a strategy for solving it… and then the penny dropped and I found the link I’d been missing, and I had to smile at Jack’s lovely sense of whimsy – I really LOVE that second puzzle!

Passing that brings up an old friend and I had a lovely time wandering through a familiar path knowing that there’d be another challenge still waiting for me…

…and of course there was – finally finding what I’d been expecting to make an appearance since the very beginning of my long journey – like seeing an old friend after being in lock-down – it was nestled there waiting for me… only it wasn’t – it was an imposter – well disguised, but an imposter nevertheless – yet far from feeling cheated, this actually provided another new adventure…

This one really keeps on giving – when you think you’re finished, this one keeps on giving and giving until you finally find Jack’s Extra Challenge – complete that one and you can call this puzzle properly solved.

Once again, I find myself writing about a puzzling journey where I can’t talk about the steps along the way as each one is such a wonderful surprise that I’d hate to rob anyone of the sheer joy of discovering each new layer beneath as you gently unwrap this puzzling onion… this one really surprises you a number of times as you work through to the final challenge – I can’t think of another puzzle that does it as beautifully and as plentifully.

Jack – it’s a masterpiece.

[After I’d finished wending my way through it the first time, I contacted Jack about the stiffness that we discovered had resulted from some super-unseasonal low humidity in the UK – definitely not the sort of thing I’d ever expected or experienced in the past – lack of humidity or precipitation is not something we’re known for in the UK! Jack insisted on fettling it for free and the first lock is now silky smooth and ready for visiting puzzlers to enjoy to the full – thank you, Jack!]