Sunday 29 May 2011

Wunder Puzzle:

I was a little late getting to Eric Fuller’s latest round of new sales on CubicDissection – I missed the email alert by going to bed 10 minutes too early, and by the time I logged on first thing the next morning, all the new burrs had been snapped up by earlier birds or folks in a more suitable time zone. Casting an eye around the items still available, I spotted the Wunder Puzzle – available in three flavours all made by Eric’s fair hand. 

Reading Eric’s blurb, he’d copied the original design from an old puzzle that a mate had bought off EBay, but while he’d been working on the copy, he thought of a couple of improvements, and turned those into two additional variations. The joints looked rather interesting so I decided to take a punt on Mechanism#2 because it sounded like the most complicated ... and then promptly ordered a 3E, a Lattice and Remove the Yolk – just to make shipping it to the UK worthwhile, you understand – not because I’m addicted to buying puzzles! [Really, Gill, I promise!]

Wunder PuzzleMechanism #2 (the Paduak one on the right) duly arrived and I really liked it. It’s a modest looking little puzzle about 9cm tall – the contrasting woods make it clear that there’s a special sort of joint between the two main pieces. [For ‘special’ here, read ‘impossible-looking’!] Prodding and poking and tugging various bits gives you some ideas worth trying, while thinking a bit about the weight and the materials will suggest there’s likely to something a bit denser on the inside – and indeed a little wave of the old handy compass (why do puzzlers always have a compass handy at their desks!?) suggest this little item may well be interfering with the earth’s magnetic north pole. 
About half an hour of fiddling and experimenting, applying a bit of Rule 11, and yet more fiddling, I found the two halves sliding apart in a most unusual way – or at least, not in the way that I was expecting! The insides are beautifully made and the fit is really great – resulting in that impossible-joint-y-look from the outside.  I really enjoyed that ... so much so, that I decided pretty much right away that I needed to get hold of the other two in the series – so hopped in the inter-web and ordered them ...

A bit more than a week later another small box arrived from Cubic-land with the Original and Mechanism#1. Having already hurled myself in the deep end with #2, I reverted back to the Original (the Bubinga one on the left) and laid into that one first ... and to be honest, it didn’t take very long to open – but still a satisfying little puzzle to open. 

From there I moved on to Mechanism#1 (the Walnut one in the centre) – which given the unconventional order of my attack turned out to be the most interesting of the lot – it seemed a lot lighter than the other puzzles, and no amount of Rule 11-ing would yield any internal noises, which got me thinking that this one must be different ... and indeed it is totally different! Eric has created a totally new puzzle here that just happens to look like the other two quite similar puzzles in the series ... when I first spotted something odd happening, I was confused – then it hit me what he was doing and it’s brilliant! Releasing the puzzle is a wee bit fiddly but quite straight-forward once you’ve worked out what to do – guaranteed to put a smile on your face after the Original or Mechanism#2.  

  • The Original is a good little puzzle – if you’ve done a few, you’re likely to guess at the mechanism, but that joint is a great feature.
  • Mechanism#1 is a breath of fresh air – totally different!
  • Mechanism#2 builds on the Original and adds a mean twist. 

I reckon they make a great little set – and if like me, you only bought Mechanism#2, you’re missing out! 

[At time of writing there were still a few Original and Mechanism#1 available here. UPDATE: Sorry folks - they're all gone now...]

Thursday 26 May 2011

Midlands Puzzle Party - take 3

...if there's anyone out in puzzle-dom who'd like to join us on the 3rd of July at my place in Birmingham for the next in our (extremely) casual series of puzzle parties, drop me a line...

We'll be meeting from about 10:30 until 17:30 and I'm supplying a good old South African BBQ for lunch...

Friday 20 May 2011

Rosebud and Super Nova

Some of my previous posts have already mentioned that I haven’t been a Coffin-collector (Big C, not small c- I don’t have the space!) for very long, and I should probably be ashamed to admit that until a couple of months ago I hadn’t ever seen a Rosebud, aka #39, let alone stared at one with a silly look on my face as it opened and closed, repeatedly.

I was first alerted to their existence when Oli started asking on the puzzle forums if anyone knew where he could find one – now I know that Oli has a good eye for great puzzles, so I thought it might be worth tagging along for the ride. I did a bit of Googling and found that Brian Pletcher had some incredibly good things to say about this puzzle and had particularly enjoyed playing with one while visiting Saul Bobroff in this blog post. The description in Stewart Coffin’s book makes the Rosebud sound like quite an enigma – it consists of ‘just’ 6 pieces (three pairs of identical, handed pieces) that assemble in a co-ordinated motion into one of two possible assemblies. Once it’s assembled in the main configuration, it can be expanded and contracted in "a most fascinating manner, rather like the petals of a blooming flower"– to quote the designer himself. Said designer also gives a pretty plain warning that this puzzle is not for the faint-hearted: “A few of these puzzles were produced some years ago and sold unassembled. After sufficient time had elapsed and almost none had been solved, the customers were given the opportunity to purchase (for an outrageous price!) an assembly jig and directions. With these, it is easy. Without the jig, it can be done with patience, using tape and rubber bands. Without such aids, it has been done but borders on the impossible.”
So getting back to our story, Oli’s pleas for help were duly answered by several voices out in the ether-web suggesting that he ask Scott Peterson to make him one, and a short while later, said gent duly appeared on the forum and confirmed that he’d gladly oblige – at which point I did the predictable “Me too, please sir” routine and next thing, Scott was lining up the orders. What happened next took me a bit by surprise – I got an email from Scott saying that he was about to start making my Rosebud, which woods would I like? Now I’m used to buying puzzles from e-shops or on auctions, where they’re already made – sometimes you might get a choice between a couple of models, but someone asking me what woods to use in a puzzle being made especially for me, was a new experience. A couple of email exchanges later I’d not only settled on a combination of Wenge and Flamewood for the Rosebud, but also established that Scott had a couple of spare Super Novas and ordered one of those as well.

A few days later Scott let me know that the puzzles were finished and sent me a couple of photos of the finished product – smitten, I sent him some cash and started stalking my postman. The puzzles arrived about a week later, along with the Assembly Jig (I’m not superhuman like that Pletcher chap!) – and they looked even better in the flesh!

Scott makes puzzles in his spare time and says he enjoys the idea of making puzzles for people who enjoy them – from what he charged me for the Rosebud and Super Nova, I can only assume that he gets a lot of pleasure out of making these puzzles, because he certainly isn’t making much money out of them! And they are phenomenally well made! The hardwood edges are really sharp and the pointy ends are very pointy! (I’ve subsequently knocked at least one of them off in my ham-fisted playing with it…) The fit between the six pieces is incredibly good – even spotting a seam is difficult. 

Opening and closing the Rosebud is really mesmerising – all six pieces slide in and out in perfect symmetry – so much so that all six pieces have to be perfectly aligned to start the assembly process, and all pieces will remain solidly locked together with less than a millimetre of overlap at the very tips of the pieces. Of course, moving them apart that millimetre results in six pieces falling apart at the same time.

Assembling the Rosebud with a jig is reasonably fiddly – I don’t want to imagine what it’s like without one – I’m going to leave that to the Pletchers of this world.

The Rosebud has an alternative assembly that is WAY simpler – even this old ham-fisted hoarder managed to work it out – it results in a nice, interesting looking lump, but it doesn’t have any of the magic of the main Rosebud configuration.

I also took the opportunity to get a Super Nova from Scott – this is another Coffin design also known endearingly as #14. It consists of six different pieces that combine to form a symmetric assembly - that interestingly can be taken apart in several different axes – clever!

It’s a handsome looking puzzle that’s also fairly accessible – by which I mean that even Muggins was able to solve this one unassisted! Even though the six pieces are dissimilar in the mathematical sense, they’re similar in the usual sense – which means you can separate them into two piles and build a pair of symmetrical halves to slide together without too much bother. Scott’s craftsmanship is evident in this puzzle as well as it’s totally unforgiving of any misalignment during assembly – you need to get the pair of sub-assemblies properly aligned and absolutely together, or you’ll find something somewhere will stop any progress.

Thanks Scott – beautiful work, mate!

Thursday 19 May 2011

Opening Bat

Brian Young, aka Mr Puzzle has been creating special Limited Edition puzzles around the end of the each year since 1993. Back in December he announced this year’s Limited Edition would include a new sequential discovery puzzle of his own design. The description promised something special based on a cricketing theme that Brian’s been working on since the issue of a Donald Bradman commemorative 20 cent coin in 2001. It also promised “a lot of steps including three major locks and more different puzzles, locking mechanisms and tools than Brian has ever incorporated into a single puzzle before”. Thinking about this puzzle quickly deteriorated into an internal conversation about ‘when’ rather than ‘whether’ I’d be buying one … it arrived just before the Easter weekend. 
First impressions
It’s not a small puzzle… an Opening Bat is never going to disappear in among a collection of puzzles – it is going to stand out, in a number of ways. For one thing, it’s a cricket bat and a set of stumps! It might not be made of willow (it’s Queensland Silver Ash) but it sure looks like a little cricket bat – the shape’s spot-on and the coin inlaid into the top of the handle looks excellent. The stumps and oval are made from lovely bits of really interesting Papua New Guinean Ebony. On the face of it, you get a wooden bat, with a few confusing looking joints in it – we’ll worry about those later – and an oval-shaped base with the stumps and bails on it – the only bits of metal you can see are the commemorative coin in the handle and a pin sticking out of the oval base that the bat stands on (so when it looks like its leaning up against the stumps, it’s actually resting on this crafty little pin in the base). 

Brian’s words of wisdom….
The Opening Bat comes with a couple of words of wisdom from Brian, reminding you of some of the stuff from the description on the website (there are lots of puzzles to solve, there’s plenty of metalwork, there are no gravity pins, no bashing is required) and gives some new words of wisdom (the stumps are glued to the base – don’t break them off - that won’t help you; and don’t try and prise the coin out the handle – that’s the wrong way to do it, you will hurt the bat) … err, great, but that doesn’t really point you in the right direction or anything, so…

Let the puzzling begin…
OK, the obvious thing to examine first is the bat – the web site says that the name of the puzzle is really what it’s all about – opening the bat, and a quick look at the bat will show you there are a couple of joints across the bat, neatly dividing it into three parts – and remembering that Brian said there are three major locks to be defeated, this might be a good place to start ... something is a bit weird about the joints though -  they both look like some variant of those impossible dovetail joints – there’s a dovetail on the back of the bat, but a straight joint along the front of the bat... which may disturb you for a little while if you haven’t seen one of them before... OK, there’s nothing to pull apart or unscrew on the bat, and the joints won’t budge, so let’s explore elsewhere...

Exploring some of the other bits leads to a couple of interesting discoveries where all is not quite as it seems – with some perfectly innocent-looking little items yielding some rather odd looking (and in fairness a couple of rather innocent-looking) tools – being the sort of puzzler who enjoys exploring, I tend to try and unearth everything I can in one area before moving on to the next – so this leaves me with a bunch of newly discovered tools (and I use the word loosely!) with no idea of what might be useful or indeed where to use them... but we’re making progress...

So we shift attention back to the main feature – the opening of the bat – and find one of the tools seems to be useful at one end of the bat, although working out exactly how to use said tool, and what order to take certain actions takes a little while ... but after a bit of playing around, something releases and the first of the three locks opens up – a bit of investigating the locking mechanism shows that Brian has not only built in a rather fiendish multi-stage locking mechanism, but also kindly placed a couple of red-herrings and a really nasty dead end in there...

Having removed the first section of bat, you’re greeted by an interesting array of metalwork in the next section – helpfully at this stage I have a couple of unused tools from earlier, so working out what to do here doesn’t take too long – with some of the progress yielding even more interesting tools – several of which ‘interact’ with the previous round of tools – all of which is interesting, but releasing tools is one thing, this isn’t getting us past the next lock – having explored all that you seem to be able to do, the second weird dovetail is still solidly locked together. 

At this point, we exercise the little grey cells a bit more and the little fingers a bit less – and then start experimenting seriously with the tools and find all manner of ways to assemble new and interesting devices from them, and eventually a penny drops, along with something magnetic (Brian did warn there were quite a few of those!) – which then lets you exercise your new creations in a different way, unlocking the second dovetail...which effectively leaves the handle and the shoulder of the bat – and I’m probably not giving anything away by saying this – there’s a small hole at the one end and that’s it – no other way in – and blowing / sucking does nothing (sometimes it’s worth trying that with Brian’s creations, trust me!). 

At this stage I should point out that from the beginning, you will have heard something rolling around in the handle every now and then – now that you’ve removed two thirds of the bat, that noise is still there, hasn’t changed and is rather confusing...

Right, so I have a pile of tools, some of which I know I’ve found a use for already, some of which I haven’t. Some of them will fit into the hole in the bottom of the handle, some won’t – all appear pretty useless ... remembering there are some magnets, we explore those a bit and quickly establish that there are magnetic things in the handle – yay – playing around with the magnets doesn’t seem to do much use or really teach you much about the innards either, to be honest. So I prod and poke and screw and unscrew things, all to no avail... and at this point in the story, I takes a bit of a break to spend time with family and friends and don’t do an awful lot of puzzling – so I make zero progress for a couple of weeks... in the meantime I read on the inter-web that a couple of the leading lights in the puzzling community are finding it tough cracking this one as well (I take a little comfort!) – although Brian Pletcher manages to crack it reasonably efficiently (3 hours!!) – but I reckon he’s really a puzzle-cracking robot in disguise!

Roll forward a couple of weeks and I find myself with a bit of time on my hands and decide to attack the bat-who-must-not-be-named-that’s-been-staring-at-me-on-my-desk-for-jolly-weeks-now. After a couple of false starts on that first lock – I’d reassembled the bat for my break - (which I then examine in a lot more detail this time and take a few mental notes), I get back to my nemesis, the final major lock – with all my tools laid out, configured how I think they might be useful I start eliminating possibilities. Turns out that doesn’t take too long, unfortunately the last lock is still resolutely, err, locked. So I cast my mind back to something Brian mentioned in his blog about being able to work out what’s going on in the last bit, making some deductions about what might be going on in there and then logically being able to deduce how to defeat it, and I take some hope...and some caffeine and then sit down and listen to what this puzzle is telling me – I’d built a possible theory of where I was trying to get to some time back, but I couldn’t see how I could get there with what I had. So I listened to the puzzle some more. (Yes, it was just coffee I was drinking! Nothing alcoholic... I’m just strange.) After about another hour or so, it started to make sense – I thought I knew what the noise was, and why it behaved the way it did – and if I was right, then this last lock was incredibly mean – at least in the sense that there is literally no way you could ever fluke it – you would have to solve it properly, or not at all...

So back to the pile of tools this puzzle has delivered, combine a couple of the stranger ones and set about testing the theory ... and at first, there’s nothing different, but then something changes and from there on out this puzzle puts a huge smile on your face – because the last lock opens with such a flourish that it’s like holding a little piece of theatre in your hands as it plays out the final act – glorious stuff!

OK, so final check: Brian says inside the puzzle you’ll find an extra set of wickets, check! A Ball, check! A floppy hat, check! ... and even a stylised Ashes Urn...  (I can imagine a puzzler in a hurry might easily miss one of those little items :-) )

All up, I reckon I must have spent about 6 hours solving this one – if it’s not already clear, I think it’s an epic puzzle. The sequential discovery elements keep you finding new stuff and giving you new alleyways to explore – there are plenty of surprising little puzzles to solve along the way, including a number that are disguised and easy to overlook – however, unless you not only find them all, but also solve them all, you don’t progress and you find your path barred. And that final solve is choreographed beautifully – it tells you that you’ve arrived and rewards you all at the same time. 

Brian Young, you ought to be proud of this, very proud!

Sunday 15 May 2011

Boxed LUV

I got a copy of Boxed LUV, a.k.a  Four Blocks in a Box or simply Coffin #189 from Tom Lensch after I dropped him a random email asking him if he, by any chance, had any stock of a few things listed as out of stock on his web-site – I know it’s a bit rude, but sometimes web-sites can be out of date, or folks might just have a couple of spare puzzles lying around for sale, you never know! 

He came back and let me know that he had a couple of Coffin puzzles available – one of which was Boxed LUV – I’d vaguely remembered having seen a packing puzzle by that name somewhere in the dim and distant past, so I took one (and a Four Fit and a 4-piece serially interlocking cube, but that’s another blog post altogether!). 

I received this package o’ puzzles a couple of weeks before MPP2  and set about trying to solve them – but this one, evaded all attempts at solution. It seems so simple – it’s what I call an ‘honest’ puzzle: there’s nothing sneakily hidden or disguised, it’s all out there in plain view all the time. It’s a simple walnut box with a slide-on lid which helpfully has a hole cut out of it the same size as the standard cross-section of the pieces – that should be handy... inside the box are four maple pieces that make up the letters LUV (actually there’s a 3*1 cube stick, a pair of “L”-shaped 3*1*2 pieces and a “V”-shape made up of 3 joined cubes). I said this was an honest puzzle and you can quickly confirm (I sense you’re the sceptical sort, since you’re reading this!) that the cubes making up the pieces are identical and square – no funny business here!

OK, so it’s easy – put the pieces in the box, so that you can (easily!) close the lid – they’ve even left a window in the lid so you can have stuff peaking out if you like – this should be simple...

...and yet, in two weeks, I got nowhere! Actually that’s not quite true. In two weeks I did manage to find an awful lot of ways to not solve this puzzle ... in my defence, several came close, some would even ‘allow’ you to force the lid closed (while scoring lines in the inside of the lid!), some would have things sticking out of the window at strange angles, but none of them could really be called a solution. The size of the box is positively fiendish - effectively stopping all sensible ideas from working!

So when I had a puzzler-of-note staying over for the weekend, Gill and I hatched a plan – we would threaten not to feed Louis until he solved the Boxed LUV and put me out of my misery. In the end we forgot to issue the threat, but he did take up the challenge and managed to solve it in way less time than I’d wasted on it ... to be fair, it did take the puzzle-meister-of-note a good couple of hours, but he had succeeded where I had failed, somewhat dismally! 

The solution is very elegant and makes a mockery of all the rules your brain tries to impose in order to pack these oddly shaped pieces efficiently into the box – and don’t get me started on the biggest red-herring of all!

This puzzle quite quickly became one of my favourite “Give it to the non-puzzlers”-puzzles, not only because it’s pretty hardy and can withstand even an angry teenager, but also because once folks have played with it for a while, they are usually absolutely convinced that it's physically impossible to get those four simple blocks inside that box ... until you show them ...


I think I first saw the Family puzzle boxes on Puzzlemaster a few years ago and remember thinking at the time that they looked great, but I couldn’t really justify the price. They’ve haunted me for a few years now, popping up in different shops when I’ve been surfing randomly, but then finally one of Wil Strijbos’ emails said he had some in stock and I couldn’t put it off any longer...

I suppose I had always liked the look of Family because they just looked so unique – I confessed to a love of Japanese puzzle boxes very early on in this blog, and I have to say that I really like the unusual ones – so seeing a pair of puzzle boxes that look like a roll-top desk (a well-known weakness in the Walker-household ... one day ...) and a sort of filing cabinet, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before I relented – Wil just provided the excuse at the right time. 

Family is a Karakuri Group creation from 2007 designed by Tatsuo Miyamoto.  It is intended to represent a family in the form of a mother, father and child (although the link to the roll-top desk and filing cabinet still escapes this South African-cum-Englishman!) and the description of the puzzle suggests that the relationships between the three in the family should help you solve the puzzle – the objective being to open the two secret compartments ... again, I may well be missing some of the symbolism, but it’s a lovely little set of puzzle boxes anyway. 

Placing the boxes near one another produces some interesting interaction, and effectively produces the child fairly simply – so at least you now have the full family of three and the first secret compartment opens – actually, you’ve unlocked the roll-top desk, and it turns out that it really is a beautifully made little roll-top that slides open to reveal the first compartment. [Don’t worry, there isn’t really much of a hint in there – that bit’s very straight-forward ... the next bit, is less so, and I’ll leave you on your own for that one!] 

So, having unrolled the desktop you have a child, an open box and one very closed box [and no, I am not going to speculate on their respective genders] – a little exploration will pinpoint where the next opening is probably going to be, but getting it to unlock is another thing entirely! I knew this bit would be a bit tricky, because Wil had said in one of his emails that he wanted to know how long it took me to find the second compartment. You’ll need to be quite creative to get it open, and as usual with these boxes, if you need to apply force, you’re doing it wrong. (Stop, you’ll hurt it!!) 

The final solution is not only elegant, but there’s a lovely little satisfying ‘click’ that let’s you know you’ve found it, before you open the final compartment.

It’s been worth the wait – it’s a lovely little set of puzzle boxes.

[Oh, and in answer to Wil's question: More hours than I'd care to let on!] 

Trigo cube [Chain-Loop Edition]

I first came across Michael Toulouzas’ puzzles when I spotted a beautiful puzzle called Cross Windows on Cubic Dissection earlier this year. It was billed as Mike’s signature puzzle and didn’t take long to sell out all 17 copies. 

Roll forward a couple of months and I was loitering around Puzzle Paradise during one of their auctions (always dangerous according to Gill!) when I noticed a new addition to the listings, showing 5 Chain-Loop Edition Trigo cubes from the self-same Mike Toulouzas available on a Buy-Out basis for a rather reasonable price. A couple of quick emails between a few of my puzzling buddies established that these were indeed quite a find, when someone asked if Mike intended making any more of them in the future, the response was along the lines of “No way!, They’re far too difficult to make!”  (... my words - not his ...) “ there will only ever be 17 of them” – that was about all the encouragement I needed, so I ordered one straight-away. 

This puzzle is based on Mike’s 2004 entry in the IPP 24 puzzle competition where the sides of the cube had 8 arrows picked out in different types of wood – hence 8 Arrows Trigo Cube. He’d been working on the idea of having a set of interlocking loops running around the faces of the cube and had worked out a scheme for doing this, and then turned his paper model into this puzzle. That on its own would make quite a nice puzzle ... but Mike decided that to do things properly, the loop patterns would actually be made up by laminating each of the pieces out of solid pieces of wood ... so when you see a Maple strip on one piece – it actually goes all the way through that piece ... which means that each of the bits of the cube is made up of a huge array of cubes, pyramids, prisms and the like, all perfectly cut and joined to make up the final cube with a pair of linked loops running around the faces. Oh, and if you’re thinking to yourself that the wood looks a bit weathered (or well-loved), that’s intentional – Mike specifically wanted that look and spent ages applying a beautifully ‘aged’ patina. 

Being  a bit of a perfectionist, Mike wasn’t entirely happy with the final results, saying: “I am not so satisfied of the result due to technical difficulties, but overall as a lover for how attractive a puzzle looks, I think it’s OK.” – personally, I reckon that’s a huge understatement!

OK, so you can tell from the pictures that this is an 8-piece cube assembly puzzle with a bit of a difference – not least of which, because of the whacky shapes of each of the unique pieces. Effectively the cube is roughly divided into 8 smaller cubes, each of which is further divided into a 3*3*3 cube – except that all the internal joins are on diagonals, and not necessarily within the 8 major cubes (some pieces straddle major cubes and others project into multiple neighbours). Getting three layers of diagonals to join up is one thing, but as you progress through the puzzle, you’ll invariably find that some of your careful work has blocked subsequent pieces from being added ... back up a few steps, lay the pieces down carefully ... add the offending bit and resume ...

It’s a nice, satisfying puzzle to play with – the interlinking of the cubes has been nicely thought through and the shapes of the pieces as they come out are often surprising. The chain loop pattern definitely helps in assembling the puzzle as you can eliminate some assemblies based on matching the colours of the loops in the outside faces... 

It’s in the details... 
When I first received the puzzle, there was a little yellow note, sealed with red sealing wax stuck to the top of the box the puzzle arrived in. Thinking it was the solution (sealed to prevent someone stumbling across it), I dispatched it to the solutions file in the desk and left it there. A couple of weeks later I was scanning solutions onto my PC when I opened the ‘solution’ only to realise that it was Mike’s handwritten certificate for the puzzle, listing all the puzzle’s details ... a personal touch from a craftsman who’s clearly proud of his work –nice one Mike!

Monday 2 May 2011

The kindness of strangers

... or puzzlers are a great bunch!

I have a theory – one that I’ve shared with a number of people, and so far, it’s largely been proved correct ... 

Walker’s Posit: Puzzlers are all a great bunch of people. 

When I started testing my theory on a few of my fellow puzzlers, I was interested in their reactions – most of them stopped in their tracks and thought about it for a while and then generally agreed with the theory – although there were a couple of notable exceptions, but we managed to easily explain them away by noting that they weren’t what any of us would call puzzlers, they were merely shopkeepers who happened to sell widgets, some of which were puzzles – it was all about the shop-keeping for them and not about puzzling at all, so if we make that distinction, then I put it to you that all puzzlers are nice people ... but puzzlers who’re also shop-keepers run the risk of being dangerously nice people.
OK, so what made me say that in the first place? Well, selfishly, I suppose I want that to be true of myself and it’s certainly been true of the puzzling friends I’ve made over the last couple of years either on the internet forums or in person – you know who you are! Without fail, they’ve been helpful, encouraging and friendly – often to people they’ve never met or even heard of before. They’ll go out of their way to help others enjoy the things they find interesting – without spoiling their joy of discovery, of finding their solution. 

Let me give you an example, we won’t use his real name because I don’t want to embarrass him, so I’ll call him Stick-guy. I’d recently bought a lump of Stick-guy paraphernalia off a well-know auction site raising money for a puzzler caught up in the Australian natural disasters – all the lots on the auction had been donated by puzzlers and craftsmen around the world to raise money for their Australian mate (I could probably stop this story right there and my point would be well made, but I won’t...) – not only did they donate some really precious puzzles, but they also chipped in to pay for the international shipping on all of the lots they sold (again, if this isn’t making the point, you aren’t listening!). 

OK, so this pile of paraphernalia includes a set of pieces to make up a particular puzzle box – but I’m thick as two short planks when it comes to making puzzles, so in a couple of email exchanges with Stick-guy I ask him a number of stupid questions about this box and how it works and every time he’s patient, polite and really helpful – at one point explaining to me that that really thin light wood used between the pieces on the sides of the box is called maple veneer – not once does he call me a numpty although I give him plenty of reason to do so... now in case I didn’t make this clear at the outset, Stick-guy is really one of the top-class puzzle craftsmen out there (I realise you won’t be able to work out his real identity thanks to the cunningly disguised pseudonym!)  and yet he’s happy to shoot the breeze with an unknown chap from across the pond – and not only that, when I get the next package from Stick-guy, there are two sheets of maple veneer in there to let me finish off the box I got in bits ... nice bloke, this Stick-guy, wish I could tell you who he was, you’d like him. 

That auction really showed me a lot about the puzzling community and seriously cemented my theory about puzzlers... 

...and when puzzlers become purveyors who peddle puzzles to an unsuspecting public, it gets worse... they can’t help themselves – just take a look at the pics in this post – all of these puzzles have been thrown in with various recent purchases by the puzzlers who’ve sold them to me... I know that some cynics out there will point out that even drug dealers will give you the first hit free, but these are being thrown in after a purchase decision is made and they know I’ll be back whether they give me freebies or not... 

So, thanks to Robert Yarger for throwing in the two Karakuri small boxes with my last package, thanks to Wil Strijbos for the Three Card Burr and the modified Raketti [Wil’s modification makes for an excellent laugh with people ‘who know the secret’ of the Raketti], thanks to Sloyd of the Black and White and the Tappi puzzles and most recently, thanks to Georges at Kayleb’s Corner for the Broken Heart and Caesar’s knot.

Sunday 1 May 2011

Puzzling Repairs

It happens to the best of us, sometime ... you give someone a puzzle to play with and something happens and the next thing you know you have too many pieces and a far easier puzzle to solve! 

Someone was playing with my copy of FourFit a couple of days ago and after playing with it for a while (but not quite long enough, IMHO) they announced that they had solved it, across the room, so I wandered across and looked at the solution proposed and what struck me immediately was that there was a piece, squarely in the corner (and yes, that’s partly a give-away!) that I didn’t recognise. 

Now FourFit, for those of you who haven’t been introduced to this little Coffin-gem is a simple little tray packing puzzle that consists of, wait for it, Four pieces – hence the name... what I was looking at had five pieces neatly arranged inside the confines of the tray – see, solved – sort of ... anyway, then I had to explain that there were only supposed to be four pieces and that one of them seemed to have been re-kitted into two bits – although, in fairness, that did make the puzzle a lot more “accessible”.
All of which is a rather long story to get to the real point ... fixing puzzle pieces ... I get to do this from time to time (and sometimes I might even be able to blame others!) ... so how does a puzzler go about repairing broken bits ... mainly, a bit of wood glue and a lot patience – but most importantly you need a way of keeping the bits (that should be) straight – so most recently that involves a couple of plastic clamps and an aluminium channel from my model-building days – and that was doing quite well at holding these two parts of a FourFit bit, until I realised I needed something small and heavy to lay on top of the bits while they dried to keep them flat – so I cast an eye around the room and find just the thing – I’m sure every one of you would have done the same thing – I used the Popplock T2 to weight it down – no way is that thing not going to be flat now... :-) 


Stickman Moving Tile Puzzlebox

I recently managed to acquire another Stickman box across at Puzzle Paradise. This one is number 15 in the series of Stickmen so far and was produced back in 2007. Robert made a series of 35 of these boxes - this is number 34 and came from his own collection (so I knew it had been nicely looked after!).

It’s a beautiful box to look at and is made from Padauk, Monterillo and Honduran Rosewood. The whole of the top of the box is taken up by a framed 24-piece sliding tile puzzle. Instead of having just a picture on the tiles, they’re carved in a three dimensional pattern that you need to line up properly before the locking mechanism on the box will release. 

When you first get the box, the tiles are pretty haphazardly arranged (Thanks Robert!) and turning it upside down and giving it a bit of a tap will do two things – one, it will dislodge the single loose tile that gives you a hole to manipulate around the frame in your quest to restore the picture, and two, it shows you that there’s a replica of the solution to the puzzle on the bottom, so that you know what you’re aiming for ...

I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to these sort of puzzles and I tend to start at one end and work my way up to the other – and this had a bit of an unintended consequence when I realised that once you’ve completed the bottom half of the picture properly, you can open the box ... 

Once the lock is released, the top of the box slides down revealing a compartment about one third of the size of the box – which is a bit tantalising because you’re told there’s a second compartment to discover – but it’s not immediately apparent how you’d get to that, so I close it up again and continue to solve the rest of the picture, and a short while later, that done, I slide open the box again – to be greeted by the same thing again – one compartment, about one third of the size of the box ... OK, so solving the rest of the picture hasn’t unlocked the rest of the box, but it has given me a sense of achievement, albeit a brief one ... until I realised there was more to find to get to the second compartment. 

Unlocking the second compartment makes use of a couple of neat little tricks that tie into some of the apparently less useful features of the box – and this one takes up pretty much the rest of the box – big grin time ...

As with the other Stickmen in my little (but growing!) collection, this puzzle has a real sense of charm – the locking mechanism is quite ingenious and almost totally hidden from view – the workmanship is tremendous ... with Stickman boxes you really do get a work of art that happens to be a really nice puzzle as well – thanks for letting this one go, Robert.  I promise I’ll look after it ...