Saturday, 21 January 2023

Keep Locked

I counted myself exceptionally lucky to be able to purchase a copy of Robert Yarger’s thirty sixth numbered puzzlebox – The Keep Locked. Truth be told it arrived several months ago, but I haven’t been able to blog about it until just now…

It arrived a couple of days before Gill and headed off to Boston for a couple of weeks so I managed only a little bit of playtime on a few of the evenings before we flew out. In that time managed to make a little progress but I could see that I was nowhere near completing this E.P.I.C. solve, so I reset it all back to the start position and went off on holiday… and then a few jet-lag-riddled days after we got home, I was heading up to the Northern Puzzle Party, so I made sure that I took the little fortress along with me for others to play with.

Shane ended up supervising several solvers as they wended their way through the solve and I managed to avoid spotting too many spoilers as I really wanted to have a good go at it myself, safe in the knowledge that I was going to really enjoy it.

I deliberately left it alone for a while on my desk and then ended up taking it to an MPP where a few more folks managed to solve it… and then it sat on my desk, sort of in pride of place while I furiously avoided playing with it until I knew I had enough time to really enjoy it… and that time came this afternoon – I had literally an afternoon free, and I wanted to be puzzled – kismet.

This isn’t a small puzzle – it’s more of a statement puzzle – it defies you to have a go – a bit like the 1998 hit from The Mekons. The Keep has four turrets – each colour-coded to the padlocks hanging down from them – I’m guessing that’s not a coincidence. On the front there’s a handsome lion above the heavy doors and portcullis. Around the back there’s a round Stickman logo dancing in the dawn…

I’d seen Rob’s wooden padlocks in the past but these raise the game even further – four locks in different woods – all looking a little different – waiting to be challenged. A few months ago my experience had been limited to fiddling with the locks, so I dived in there again…

Each lock literally has a personality of it’s own, some are polite and formal and others shout and kick… and once they’ve all been dealt with, there are lots of bits and pieces to keep track of.

From there on it was all new territory, and I can definitely say that things get a bit extreme from there on in… there are some seriously funky things that happen along the way, there are times when you’re up a creek without a paddle and you need to pay close attention to find the paddle that Rob’s carefully stashed for you behind some rocks.

As always, there’s a generous sprinkling of tools around and if you’re paying (very!) close attention, it’ll be clear what you need to do – a few times I found myself wondering where to head to next and only when I took stock, did I realise that the answer was right there in front of me all along…

This solve is an EPIC journey – another classic Stickman.

Friday, 13 January 2023

Ziggy

With the success of Radek’s recent collaboration on Amulet comes a fresh collaboration with New Zeelander Douglas Menzies to produce Ziggy – a goofy-looking little guy who seems to have misplaced his smile.

Your mission, for surely you must accept it, is to help him find his smile…

Ziggy starts out looking more than a little lopsided – with a couple of bolts for eyes not exactly well-matched… and a confused looking half-grin. He appears to be machined from aluminium with a healthy gold coat of anodising, a handsome logo on the base and a wonderfully creative use of the dovetail on the side to provide the “Z” in Ziggy – nice touch!

There’s probably an obvious place to start fiddling and that leads to the discovery of a really handy tool which in turn provides more progress…

..and then you may well find yourself up against a bit of a brick wall… with nary a smile in sight.

Time to think (c) :-)

The next bit is rather clever and something not seen in many puzzles – it will reward careful observation and a little thinking outside the box, and once you’ve got that bit cracked, you’re rewarded with a wonderfully happy Ziggy.

An excellent little puzzle guaranteed to make puzzlers smile, first at the major “A-ha!!” moment, and then at the sight that greets you at the end of the solve.

A(nother) excellent collaboration from Radek!

Friday, 6 January 2023

Dia-BALL-ical

…that was George’s comment on my blog post about Nine Balls a couple of weeks back... and at the time I happened to be printing some of George’s recent designs, that he calls Octaballs, so it was only fair that that became the blog title.

George has designed some really interesting interlocking puzzles and spent a while a few years back doing an exhaustive analysis of possible Pennyhedrons with Chinny. More recently he’s switched gears and changed geometries a bit, and then wrapped them in a shape that’s a cross between a ball and an octahedron – which is why George christened them Octaballs.

I spotted them on my favourite 3D Printing site (George has made the designs available for free for anyone to print their own copies! Top man!!) and thought they looked interesting so threw some G-code and a pile of filament at the puzzle-making-machine and a short while later I had four identical pieces that assembled into an Octaball… and I was hooked.

Assembly isn’t trivial, but it’s pretty clear what you need to do and it’s reasonably straightforward to get everything properly aligned and Octaball one is assembled.

Octaball two was available in two flavours – the first uses two pairs of pieces and, while it’s a bit trickier than number one, it isn’t that bad an assembly challenge. (It also has a neat expand-and-contract action when you push on opposite triangles.) The alternative assembly swaps out one of each of the pairs for another piece and I like that one even more – it really steps up the “interest” factor.

Octaballs three and four are both made up of four unique pieces, although they do share some pieces with one another and indeed with some of the other designs. These guys are sods to assemble – in fact George’s maker’s notes warn that they might seem to be impossible and not to give up.

Those last two provide a serious assembly challenge as the shapes of pretty much every single piece requires the other three pieces to be virtually completely disassembled in order to introduce the final piece… George’s warning is not there for nothing – I reckon these things will reduce seasoned puzzlers to quivering wrecks… you’ve been warned – they are indeed dia-BALL-ical!

Nice one George!!

 

Sunday, 1 January 2023

Allard’s Christmas Puzzle 2022 – the answers…

Happy New Year Puzzlers!

Traditionally I give everyone until the end of the year to submit their answers before I publish what I think the answers are, so I reckon it's about time...

First of all a massive thank you to everyone who had a bash at my puzzle this year – it hadn’t been play-tested and I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to get through it… but a few hours after it got published, I had my first correct entry, so I guess I needn’t have worried too much…

As I write this, I’ve had 7 correct entries, most of which came in on, or fairly soon after, Christmas Day – haven’t you folks got anything better to do!?

Here's what I thought the answers were:

First off you were presented with some rogue underlining in the opening text – if you noted all the underlined letters, you were rewarded with the wonderfully witty “this is not a secret message”… it goes downhill from here…

There were some random encoded phrases floating around the page which ended up saying silly things like “hamsters rule”, “ where is Chico” and “he’s behind you” – I was bored and figured I’d trot out some of the old MPP memes… none of that helped you solve the puzzle.  The “lorem ipsum dolor” in pseudo-plaintext was also my idea of a laugh… I told you it was going downhill.

There were three puzzles numbered [a], [B] and [c] and then some crossword style clues that I’d wittily referred to as Angry-word(s) – did I mention it went downhill?

[a] was a simple set of semaphore letters that decoded to “habe yiu triet llowiny on it? – which is either really sloppy semaphore, or the spelling mistakes are what’s really interesting… hopefully you spotted the similarity to that oft-quoted really helpful phrase to throw at fellow puzzlers “have you tried blowing on it?” – and the spelling mistakes give you “bitly”… which is useful.

[c] is a simple optical trick – stand well back and it clearly says “2022” – look at it closely and it’s a table with bad formatting…

[B] was the puzzle I liked most of all this year – you have some partly coloured-in wreaths (Yay, Christmas activities!) in a three by two arrangement where the [B] is clearly lying on it’s side… so if you had the “B” upright, you’d have a two by three arrangement, and the colours might give you some indication of what was on and what was off … sort of like a Braille letter? Now if only there was some way of knowing what order to read off the Braille letters, this would be simple – and it is when you realise that everybody universally knows the order of the colours on the rainbow – so the Braille decodes to “allard”, e.g. in ROYGBIV, red is used only in top left-hand corner, which gives you an “a”... and so on.

Okay, so you have answers for [a], [B] & [c], now what – in case you hadn’t already figured that out, the Angry-words tell you what to do… the answers in order are: CON, Ca, TEN, eight, ABC – notice the full stop after line 5 – that indicated a break – 6 clued to PUNCTUATE – another full stop, and the final clue was Go For IT! … which then collapses into CONCATENATE ABC. Punctuate. Go For It!

Following those instructions you derive bit.ly/allard2022 which linked you to the familiar assortment of pictures and some instructions “I want a designer… (not the inspirer).” and “time and titles (at least initially!) are crucial, eh blogger boy?”

You had seven pictures from various blog posts over the years and if you identified the pictures, noted the publication date (clued by time – sorry I went with the slightly misleading “time” for alliteration rather than “date”) and the title of the blog post – and then considered just the first letters of the blog posts, ordered by date, you got “WINENOT” – or with the usual spacing: Wine Not – which if you read the blog post, or Brian’s web page on the puzzle you’d know Brian Young designed it after being inspired by EM Wyatt’s original two dimensional puzzle.(Hopefully that bit confirmed your answer!)

Final answer: Brian Young.

….and the first correct entry arrive in my inbox a little over 4 hours(!) after the puzzle was first published – massive congratulations to Brendan Perez for being the first across the line again this year!!

Not long after him came St Nick, Stefan and The Rammer and after a respectable break we also had correct entries from Mike Q, Chris P and Mike W – well done all of you – you’ve earned bragging rights!

I'll be reaching out to Brendan (our WINNA!) and Mike W (my random draw) very shortly.

Saturday, 24 December 2022

Allard’s Christmas Puzzle 2022

I didn’t want this to be the first year without a Christmas puzzle on the blog – so here you go.

To be honest, I don’t expect anyone to solve it, it hasn’t been checked and there might well be gremlins in there. Sorry if there are any snafus – I’m sure you’ll work it out, you are a metagrobologist after all… hope you have fun!



 

<Link to a hi-res version of that doc

 

Usual arrangements: email me your answer to allard *DOT* walker ~AT~ gmail &DOT& com -  if anyone gets it right, there'll be bragging rights - puzzles for the first one past the post and a random draw from all participants. 

... and I'll publish what I thought the answer was at the end of the year.

Saturday, 17 December 2022

VMPP IIX

Having promised we wouldn’t just stop our Virtual MPP get-togethers once we managed to start getting back together in the hall for actual in-person MPPs, we organised VMPP IIX (Yes, I butcher Roman Numerals for fun, I’m a bad person!) for about a week ago.

We stuck to the established schedule of a morning, afternoon and evening session so we could include folks from all around the world, and this time we had a major drawcard for the afternoon session, well, almost as big as Frank’s legendary Pu(b)zzle Quizzes.

The morning session was billed as literally just some puzzle chat and a scavenger hunt because those have gone down pretty well in the past and they give people an opportunity to show us their puzzles, something that seems vaguely appropriate for a puzzle party.

Dor showed us a copy of Boaz’s new Loophole lock – one that got several thumbs-up from around the virtual room – I’ve already told both of the folks who read my blog that I’m a big fan. Louis admitted to be somewhat puzzled by JCC’s Sun Box – one that I’ve had partially opened on my desk for months now – at least I’m not the only one making heavy weather of it – I’m in good company if Louis isn’t just bashing through the solution.

Goetz recommended the Pocket Change set of trapped coin puzzles from Puzzled by Piker and Dan showed us his copy of Mikael Simo’s Pooplock which was being readied for solving. Nigel gave a big shoutout to Bruns’ Bomb Destroyer Puzzle and Frank told us how much he was enjoying his Exit The Game Advent Calendar – we’ve been comparing notes and both been really enjoying the mini challenges presented daily – the team who create these games are really inventive.

Ken was happy to share his copy of the Craighill Wavelinks Kickstarter and we all agreed that “Rod dun good” on that one! Brian admitted to being somewhat puzzled by the copy of Pennypincher that he picked up at MPP earlier in the year. Peter showed us a new Window Lock from Dick Hensel that sounds like it’s definitely going to be worth keeping an eye out for when Dick’s decided that it’s ready for public release – he’s still tuning and tweaking a couple of things at the moment to incorporate some of the guys’ feedback.

From there Ali and Steve took over and ran a bunch of lightning rounds of scavenger hunts, starting with an Eric Fuller puzzle, then a pair of puzzles starting with “E” & “F” respectively, before heading off into some wonderfully esoteric territory including “A puzzle that Steve knows the name of” and then the obvious corollary “A puzzle that Steve doesn’t know the name of”… each round included special rules, some of which were announced up front and some of which may have been made up on the spur of the moment. In one round you scored double if others had the same selection as you and in another round that meant you scored nil… there was a fair amount of fun, some actual scoring and even an announcement of a winner and some losers. Dan came in first place, Nigel came in second last and I managed to take the wooden spoon – which probably served me right given my selection for the “Puzzle Steve knows the name of” round – you’ll need to watch the video for that one (about 1:42 and a bit in…) – this is a PG blog… I may have been crying with laughter at that point so coming last didn’t seem like the worst thing in the world.

We combined our afternoon session with Nick’s announcement of the winners of the 2023 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition, lending a massive amount of credibility to our normal gathering of the rabble. Nick was up bright and early West Coast time and ran the traditional slideshow showing all of the entries, revealing the designers’ names for the first time while folks joined the call. The lure of the announcements was indeed great, and it was great to see a whole bunch of the designers and makers themselves joining to congratulate the winners.

Before launching into the announcement of the winners, Nick paused to pay tribute to Eric Fuller, noting that his IRMO Box had won a Jury First Prize Award in the 2008 Puzzle Design Competition.

Between Nick and I we managed to tee up most of the designers and got them to say a few words by way of an acceptance speech. We worked our way through the Top Ten Vote Getters before singling out the three Jury Honourable mentions and then the three Jury First prize winners. Mittan was a popular Jury Grand Prize Winner for Juno and Brian took the Puzzlers’ Award for Abraham’s Well.

Once all of the winners had been announced, we took the opportunity to talk to the designers about their puzzles and their design process. Theo surprised us by telling us that his unusual packing designs in conjunction with Symen all relied on old-fashioned manual design and didn’t use any fancy software they’d cooked up between themselves. Peter Canham talked about how he started out designing his puzzles to stump his kids and how he’d managed to find the wood that went into making his Ripple box. Brian told us where the idea for the main mechanism in Abraham’s Well had come from and then went on to talk a little about his next sequential discovery puzzle.  

There was a great question from Stefan on prototype failure rates and how to get through to a successful puzzle in the end, and another from Gary on the ideal size of the finished puzzle – which resulted in some interesting thoughts on the various constraints and the importance of playability. It was a great opportunity to learn from the mass of design experience in the virtual room.

From there we went on to remembering Eric Fuller, sharing stories about him and talking about some of his epic puzzles over the years. Gary recalled always being next to Eric at the puzzle exchange given the proximity of their surnames and surprised a few of us when he told us how much Eric enjoyed opera – if you ever needed proof that Eric was one-of-a-kind…

A couple of the gang were coaxed into talking about the time that Eric hauled out his one-wheel in the hotel lobby in San Diego and managed to convince a few people to have a go on it after telling them it was as easy to ride as a Segway… while there were no broken bones that evening (I suspect alcohol may have relaxed the fallers!) there were some bruises and strains that lasted quite a while.

There was a common theme about just how thoroughly unselfish Eric always was in a few of the stories – from setting up Cubic Dissection as a platform where others would be able to sell their puzzles to encouraging new designers and makers. It was great to be reminded of the gentle goading Eric got to encourage him into having a go at making Greg Benedetti’s NOS burrs late one night in the design competition room – and then recalling the utter perfection that he produced that series with.

Eric was truly wonderful, unique individual. His skills were legendary and his prices were always lower than they should have been. He cared deeply about making sure that all of his customers were happy with his work – aggressively fixing anything – even things that weren’t his fault. The puzzle community has lost a wonderful soul.

The evening session was a pretty select affair, coinciding as it did with England meeting France in the semi-finals of the footie world cup. There was very little chat about said football, especially after Yaccine told us the French were 1-0 up…

There was chat about puzzles currently on the to-be-solved pile – I admitted to having Fermat meets Fuller in that place for several months now and Marc confessed to being similarly confused by Roger’s Bolt.

There was some invaluable shopping advice from Steve hidden among all the puzzle chatter but frankly it’s not worth hunting out...

Frank’s latest Pu(b)zzle Quiz did not disappoint! There was plenty of Christmas trivia (where I discovered I know very little about Christmas, and trivia), the obligatory dad jokes seamlessly(!) woven in, some words that Frank made up and lots of questions about the Puzzle Design Competition over the years after he discovered there was a search function on the Competition website… along the way there was plenty of banter and even a joke or two.

At the end of the quiz, one Harry Kane was triumphant (although sadly his namesake wasn’t later on that evening), with Michel and Sam coming in second and third. I think I managed tenth spot… a decidedly sub-par performance, but I had a good laugh along the way!  

After the quiz, things went downhill a little, especially when “some people” (Steve!) realised that Nick’s search engine would let you find naughty words in the design competition entries… so we were regaled with the number of male chickens and letters before “S” among the competition entries. Nick immediately turned safe-search functionality on…

Bizarrely at one point there was a semi-mass-waving-of-hamsters for no apparent reason… before Tomas told us all about the planned Finnish Puzzle Party in Vaasa on the second weekend in June next year… mark your calendars and reach out to Tomas for details.

All in all, another fun day with puzzling friends from around the world… thanks for joining us and contributing to the fun/mayhem.

Thanks to Wil who lurked in the background all day long and supplied all of the screenshots for the blog post!

Morning Video

Afternoon video

Evening video

[Oh and we promised we wouldn’t mention that Tamsin fell asleep in the afternoon session… ]

Sunday, 11 December 2022

Loophole

Boaz has serious pedigree when it comes to puzzle locks, so when he announces he has a new puzzle I always pay attention… I also usually pay up and end up getting puzzled.

When Boaz announced the launch of LoopholeI did what I always do and soon after I had a neat little black bag with the usual logo sitting on my desk begging me to play…

Inside there’s a somewhat doctored NABOB padlock with a key attached to the shackle for safe-keeping. Removing the key from the shackle (that part isn’t meant to be a puzzle – whatever you do, don’t ever admit you found that bit challenging! ;-) ) enables you to insert it into the locking barrel and simply turn the key to open the padlock… YEAH RIGHT!

OK, you CAN insert the key – but for the life of you, you won’t get that key to turn….

Time for some closer observation – there’s one rather obvious modification on the face of the padlock: there is a hole going right through the darn thing! The first “O” in Loophole is fresh air(!) … which is interesting, as Laurie was always minded to say.

Next up there’s another dirty great hole in the side of the thing… and when you shake it, it rattles. It’s all rather confusing.

When you do approach it properly and with some deference, it will begin to give up its secrets – you’ll find some even more interesting things, and then possibly even begin to postulate on interplay. There are a couple of things to think on and a really interesting challenge to befuddle.

Find a suitable strategy and you’re laughing – laughing, and unlocking the padlock.

Once you’ve solved this little guy you really do have to marvel at not only the ingenuity, but also just how well all that “stuff” has been disguised and camouflaged.

Bravo Boaz!

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Amulet

I first noticed Amulet when Radek posted some stunning pictures on Facebook – I liked the look of the minty green puck inside the steel cage with vibes very reminiscent of the Cooksey Maze – even if this one was inside out and appeared to have twice as many interfering bits… oh, and the maze is twisted forty-five degrees, but apart from that, it’s just like the Cooksey Maze! 

(OK, it isn’t…)

Amulet is the result of a collaboration between Radek and James Stanley. They’ve taken a maze and wrapped it around a cylinder and given you a puck with two (almost! - thanks Michel!) perpendicular rods that engage with the maze. Each rod will move back and forth and at each extreme, will disengage from one of the sides of the maze, giving you an extra degree of freedom.

Using that technique will allow you to manipulate the little green puck up and down and roundabout while the little rods go backwards and forwards… simples!

…only it isn’t – it’s more than a little disorientating having the maze offset at forty-five degrees – it took me a while to get comfortable with which way I wanted things to go on the front and on the back – I kept finding myself trying to push against the steel walls – that doesn’t go well…

Once you get your bearings, there are some obvious paths to follow, and some of them do indeed seem to take you almost all the way to where you want to be, only you’ll find you aren’t near a usable exit…

Ah well, maybe it’s time for that old left-hand-rule … except you’ve got four hands and two of them are reversed because they’re on the back of the maze… there’s nothing for it but to just keep your wits about you… and maze on.

Find your way through it all and you’ll release the little green puck and meet your final challenge – which is really cute and the less said about it in here, the better!

Amulet is really well made – the steel cage looks like it’s been tumbled to within an inch of its life to get rid of any sharp edges, and the puck is a beautiful object all on its own – it’s a cool fidget toy and a great little puzzle.

Nice one, Radek!

Sunday, 27 November 2022

Nine Balls

Another superb puzzle from the mind of Koichi Miura, brought to life by Mine.

You’re presented with (there’s a clue in the name!) nine balls joined into three pieces and invited to simply place them into the supplied frame, which is clearly large enough for the nine balls in a three-by-three layer. One of the pieces has a red dot on one side and a blue dot on the other and you’re politely asked to insert the pieces into the tray with the blue dot showing and then the red dot showing.

The only slight wrinkle is the placement of the two holes that allow the pieces entry into the frame – one on the centre of a side, and one in the middle of an edge on the top of the frame. There are also a few little holes around the corners allowing some scope for manipulating the pieces inside the frame – and no, that’s not a spoiler – you’ll work that one out for yourself in around three seconds flat – and if you didn’t, you might want to consider another hobby.

Once you start experimenting with the pieces you’ll find ways to get them all inside individually, but it’ll take a little A-Ha! moment to get them all in with the blue dot showing…

Getting them all in with the red dot showing is a little more challenging and definitely requires some outside-of-the-box-thinking.

I really loved the solution to this great little puzzle – it’s not one you’re going to spend hours and hours mulling over, but it will definitely put a smile on your face and give you a nice sense of achievement when you slot the pieces into the frame with the red dot uppermost.

For me this is definitely another puzzle that deserves to be called “delightful”!

(…and I managed to get through that without a single double entendre!) 

 

STOP PRESS

This just off the interweb: some bloke called Nick has discovered an alternate solution for the blue challenge that makes things more interesting... go on, get your copy out and find the other assembly - you know you want to... and yes, I did! :-)

 

Saturday, 19 November 2022

MPP XLiiii

I’ve just about lost track of my butchered roman numerals, but I reckon this was somewhere around the 44th in-person MPP – it seems they’ll never learn so we’ll need to carry on having these things…

This one started on the Friday for me – I’d taken the day off work to get some organising for the weekend done and get some puzzling in myself – generally the weekends can involve a fair amount of running around and getting stuff organised, so some personal puzzling time is a bonus.

Stefan arrived late afternoon and Louis arrived early evening and once we had both of them back at the house, we polished off a couple of pizzas before heading for the puzzles. Stefan gifted me a (superbly) 3D-printed copy of Rick’s Keyhole Cube with a beautifully designed stand which I got rather a kick out of assembling – I’ve probably solved it once or twice in the past, but it’s still nice to come up with a strategy and get it assembled.

Louis made short work of a tray-packing puzzle that Stefan had brought along – and in spite of that, I failed spectacularly to get anywhere near a solution. I called time somewhere around midnight and left the lads still puzzling…

Next morning we had a bit of breakfast before packing up some puzzles and heading down to the village hall to get things set up… Louis and Stefan did pretty much all of the heavy labour while I sorted out the drinks and treats and by the time I’d made my normal trip to the shops to pick up the milk and some sodas, the rest of the gang had already begun arriving.

Louis had brought along a selection of the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition entries and laid them all out along the back wall for anyone to have a bash at… a brilliant initiative that saw not just the IPP members who’d be voting in the Design Competition being able to fiddle and play with at least a selection of the entries, but also meant a heap of non-IPP-ers got to experience some of the designs as well – Nice one, Louis!

It didn’t take long for a decent gang to appear and the puzzling and banter kicked into full swing. I collected Ed from the station and got him set up with some puzzles and puzzlers to amuse him – I’m still not sure whether the former or the latter were the main source of amusement. John managed to wend his way from Boston, via London with a little Uber assistance on the last leg and duly joined the fray – settling into things as though he been to every other MPP in spite of this being his very first one.

Steve had brought along a bunch of wooden copies of Mrs Butler that Vinco had made up for him and he duly showered them on all and sundry – and I’m happy to report that it is just as fun in wood as it is in 3D printed form. Ed seemed to really enjoy playing with Mrs Butler(!) and particularly enjoyed the final part of the tricky assembly process. (Great job, Ed!)
Sometime around midday we headed off for the de rigueur pig rolls and kebabs, with only one or two folks opting for the healthier alternative of a packed lunch from home. Simon arrived while a bunch of us were having lunch and a couple of helpers duly unloaded several crates-worth of puzzles that Simon had brought along for sale – he was doing his usual generous charity donation to Oxfam for any puzzles that anyone wanted to take off his hands – a great initiative that saw several folks acquiring some pretty unusual, often rare puzzles, all for a great cause!

I headed back to the station to collect Peter fresh off a train from London and managed to swing by the house to collect a puzzle that Brian had left at my place for Simon a couple of month’s ago. Back down at the Hall there was a reasonably orderly throng around Simon’s crates as folks trawled through the crates piled with commercial puzzles, new and old, and too many IPP exchange puzzles to count. I managed to pick out a few interesting disentanglements, including a pair of nice Rick Irbys - definitely worth raking through!

Steve had brought along a copy of one of the Lazels laser-cut micro jigsaw puzzles in many, many pieces… we all took one look at the tiny, tiny pieces and the tweezers required to manipulate said pieces and told him he was nuts – Rich on the other hand is always up for a challenge and duly sat down and completed the puzzle for Steve, who then very carefully packed it up assembled before any of us reprobates had a chance to disassemble it for him so it would fit better in the tube.

Come to think of it there wasn’t an awful lot of mischief this time around – there was some reminiscing of happiness-based mischief-past, but no new mischief was visited upon anyone - including Kevin- despite what he tells anyone! ;-)

Somewhere around five-thirty we packed everything up and I got a call from Rob to say that he was waiting outside the estate so we all headed up the road to chez Walker for the obligatory fish supper. We found Rob at the gate – it’s a long story that involves mixing up dates but he made it in time for the fish supper, and of course for most of a day’s puzzling at my place.

While we were getting dinner organised we discovered that Ed’s train, and indeed Peter and John’s, had been cancelled due to the delights of Avanti’s inability to make pea soup in a brewery. As a result a fair amount of reorganisation ensued and shortly after said fish supper, Gill took the three intrepid travellers off to Birmingham International in order to catch an earlier train – which from the sounds of Ed’s IMs, including the unforgettable “Train is stopped. There is now discussion of postmen delivering dildos. V v loud discussion.” – which I can only assume had been spiced up considerably by autocorrect. They did get home safely that evening.
There was a fair amount of puzzling fairly late into the night, but before all of that, there was also cake – birthday cake for Ali who’d celebrated his birthday the day before – Happy Birthday Ali!

With most of the folks safely en route home, Gill and I set about turning puzzle cave number two into a bedroom for Rob for the night – the sound of which seemed to entice the final knot of puzzlers to leave, presumably so they wouldn’t have to take a turn on blowing up Rob’s aerobed!

Sunday was a lovely relaxed day of puzzling with Stefan, Louis and Rob, before the shuttle service to the airport kicked in to get the lads off to their respective flights…

 

…another damn fine weekend’s puzzling with good friends… thanks folks!

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Bomb Destroyer Puzzle

I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a pacifist, but somehow I just instinctively don’t like to be around guns or other sorts of weapons… and yet recently I found myself wanting to buy a little bomb-shaped puzzle to show my support for Engineer Bruns – a peace-loving, puzzle-making guy from Ukraine. Bruns’ videos of making his puzzles always made me smile, he has a great sense of humour and it really comes through in his videos…

…but then his country got invaded and his videos were absolutely gut-wrenching, his pain was clear and visceral, and I wanted to show some support for him, because, quite incredibly, he’s continued to make puzzles and even cranked out a new design with a nod to the invasion – Bomb Destroyer Puzzle.

I ordered a copy, happy to wait for as long as it took – but it really didn’t take long to arrive at all.

It’s a neat little cartoonish bomb – with a brass nose and an aluminium body… some bits spin around, but nothing seems to do anything useful at all.

Your mission is to find the Skynet coin from the future… and it is a great mission, with several very distinct steps to be traversed. The first is well hidden, the second confusing, the third is my favourite: a clever mechanism that is perfectly executed with some excellent workmanship, and the last is a wonderfully tactile experience…

…and the Skynet coin from the future is always a great reward – I love this puzzle, even if it looks like a bomb, because it speaks of defiance against tyranny and the hope of a little puzzle bringing joy against the grim misery of encroaching war.

My wish is that the puzzles will always win.

In Bruns’ own words: “I wish peaceful skies to all of you, and I want that you can see war only in fantastic movies or virtual games.”

Sunday, 30 October 2022

DCD 2022

I didn’t make it to last year’s DCD, but I was damned if I was going to miss this year’s event… and it turned out to be one heck of a weekend!

It started on Friday afternoon when Ali, Steve, Rich and I met up in London for a couple of escape rooms to get us in the mood for a puzzling weekend. We’d congregated at the hotel we were all staying at before heading up toward Camden for a quick bite to eat (fab burgers!) before our first escape room: Codebreakers at Mission Breakout. Housed in the basement of a tube station, it is very atmospheric. We ended up spending quite a long time on the first section, and then managed to somehow rush through the second bit, albeit we made a bit of a meal of the transfer between the two sections… Steve took a while to recover from that. The puzzles were really well-implemented and fitted the theming very well, and if there was a complaint to be had, it would be that things were very linear, but without a lot of signposting of what came next, so we often found ourselves wondering where to go next. We were happy to complete it and our gamemaster told us that we were one of the fastest teams she’d ever seen at rifling through the desk drawers – so there’s that…

Fresh from our victory we headed up to Cluequest where Steve had thoughtfully booked us into their hardest room, cQ Origenes. We made a quick pit stop at a convenience store for some chocolate and soft drinks and then plunged into our next adventure, having agreed that when our gamesmaster asked us if we’d done any escape rooms before, the honest answer would be “Not in the last 45 minutes.” This room was excellent – our only possible slight grumble was a difficulty reading some markings under a blacklight where they’d been rubbed off by previous players – nothing a little magic marker won’t fix… there was a lot to do in that room and the theming was really excellent – definitely recommended!

After we’d finished the second room we wandered back to the hotel and took up station at the bar for a couple of libations before I headed off to bed - leaving the lads at the bar, until that closed and they headed off to a nearby night club… I got a good night's sleep.

Next morning bright and (very) early we walked down to St Pancras to grab the Eurostar across to Amsterdam – with the monkeys lugging some incredibly heavy looking suitcases filled with brassware. Sod’s law dictated that my luggage was pulled for examination – it turns out that big shiny antique locks from Morocco look quite suspicious. (You’re welcome, Frans!) If that wasn’t sufficiently ironic, Steve’s big case of brass went through fine but his hand luggage needed searching as he had a single brass Gobstopper in there – presumably it resembles a nuclear detonator or something.

Once we were on the train, the puzzles came out and we played pass-the-puzzle. Steve gave each of us a copy of a new design he doesn’t plan on making again, having christened it something that cannot possibly appear in a family friendly blog. When Rich took his apart and then tried to reassemble it, it was very clear where the name came from – it’s another 6-piece co-ordinate motion puzzle with extra protuberances inside that make alignment absolutely critical – the name is a direct quote from every single person who ever has the misfortune of having to assemble one. (Yes, when I was reassembling mine this afternoon, I said exactly that…)

During the course of the journey I had a little play with Ali’s copy of Bruns’ Bomb Destroyer Puzzle – which went through security without so much as a second glance – and got absolutely nowhere – and I made a mental note to give it some respect when my copy arrived.

At some point we had a chat about the fact that if we got off the train in Rotterdam, we’d get to The Hague about an hour earlier, and much as we were enjoying the train ride, we decided that would be sensible, so we got off at Rotterdam and navigated our way more or less successfully to the right station in The Hague – close to our hotel for the weekend.

Louis met us at the station and took Ali, Steve and a couple of metric tons of brass over to the DCD venue so they could set up their stall while Rich and I headed to the hotel to check-in. The lovely folks at NH Den Haag let us both check in early so we got to sort out our shirt(s) and freshen up a bit before meeting the others and heading off to Rob’s place for the traditional pre-DCD-bash.

For someone who’s just about to move out of his flat, Rob still has a shed-load of puzzles in cabinets, although in fairness, there were many piles of puzzles neatly packed in banana boxes and his main puzzle cabinets had already been dismantled. We spread ourselves out around the dining room table and duly brought out the puzzles for everyone’s amusement (or torture, depending on the puzzles in question). I’d taken along a few of the tray packing puzzles I’d been unable to solve (it’s a strategy of mine to get my tougher puzzles solved – don’t knock it!). There were also a few of the new Kickstarter Clueboxes. Rich spent a while working through Box of Celts and Yaccine manfully attacked Rob’s Cricket Bat. As usual there was a LOT of laughter, interspersed with the occasional triumph over a puzzle or two… and there was a lot of food, thanks to Rob’s most excellent of catering.

Somewhere around a vaguely reasonable hour we headed back to the hotel in the snug Coolen-mobile – Rich, Ali and I got to know one another quite well while Steve stretched out in the front seat.

Next morning after breakfast the Coolen-mobile dropped us off at the school for DCD-proper which was reassuringly familiar, in spite of the fact that we didn’t have the speed-cubers in tow this year as they were holding their competition on a different weekend to allow for some social distancing… their space was instead taken up by a couple of tables running the length of the hall with copies of all the 2022 Nob Yoshigahara Design Competition entries… available for all to play with – I mean we’ll miss the speed-cubers, but give me design competition entries any day!

The first order of duty was to say hello to my friends I haven’t seen in person for a few years – and then on to browsing through the various stall already set up and ready for business… the lads had mentioned that Marcel had a bunch of good stuff worth raking through and he was keen to show me a few special things at remarkably reasonable prices – I did end up picking up a few small items from him. 

Jan Willem had several lovely things on his table, and truth be told I could probably have blown all of my allowance on his table in the first ten minutes, but I summoned some restraint, from where, I know not. Wil had a stupendous selection of goodies and I came and went several times during the course of the day, finding new treasures each time… I managed to pick up a copy of CUBI from around 1985 and a copy of the Anchor puzzle box that I’d played with at Frank’s place – purely to stop anyone else from having to buy and solve it… I’m nice that way.

It was great to see Michel had been able to make it even though he wasn’t on top form. George and Roxanne were their usual whirlwind-selves. Given the pictures of their fully-loaded car afterwards, I suspect they took the prize for largest DCD-spree. 

Tony Fisher's table was sublime as always - showcasing his twisty puzzle chess set where each piece is a unique individual twisty puzzle - if you haven't seen his Youtube videos on them yet, go here!

The afternoon saw a lecture on Uwe Meffert and then Rox and George did a double act showing us their Puzzle Castle and adjoining hotel in Panicale and telling us about their wonderfully ambitious plans for the complex.

After the lecture I spent a while playing with a few of the Design Competition entries and generally hurling encouragement / abuse at the others trying to do the same… I’m nice that way.

When things began to wind down, we pitched in and helped pack up the hall and return it to canteen style for the kids on their return. Louis carted all the luggage (brass remains and puzzle purchases) back to the hotel and we navigated our way reasonably successfully back to the hotel – although Steve and I failed miserably in our attempt to get the others to do a 540 around one of the roundabouts on the way.

By the time we got back to the hotel we realised that we’d acquired quite a few folks joining us for dinner, and the restaurant we’d planned to head off to was closed… so we gathered everyone at our hotel and headed up the hotel restaurant where they were looking forward to a quiet evening until 16 of us rocked up unannounced… they did well in the end, even if they needed to ask us to please restrict our menu choices to something that the single chef on duty might be able to bash out in a sensible time. The grub was good and the chat was better… with Nick showing up Amy and solving the puzzle that had eluded everyone but Ali up to that point (he’s a machine is Ali!).

After dinner a few of us spent a while in the bar with something cold with the US Grand Prix on the telly in the background – thankfully given the number of Dutch fans in the bar, Max took it in the end.

Next day I dragged the lads into The Hague city centre in search of a Longchamps bag for Gill – only to find it wasn’t in stock, so we headed off to a toy shop and bought some puzzles before doing a lightning tour of the Escher Museum…

We collected our bags from the hotel and headed back into town for a train to Amsterdam (we didn’t fancy our chances of being allowed onto the train at the wrong station on the way back). Some rail disruptions gave us a leisurely trip up to Amsterdam where we had plenty of time for a burger before grabbing the Eurostar back to London…

…which brought more puzzling, both on our respective purchases from the day before and on an envelope full of challenges <The Corporation from Puzzaroo, if you're interested> that I’d bought a while back and hadn’t found an excuse to bring out yet - that passed a couple of hours quite well – and we managed to solve it with very few hints… definitely a good hive-mind in operation – I shouted encouragement from the side lines.

When we hit London we said our goodbyes and I sprinted to Euston to grab a train on the ever-decreasing West-Coast service back to Brum where Gill was waiting to take me home… what a weekend. 

Thanks a stack to all who made it such a grand puzzling weekend!