Tuesday 29 November 2011

A Puzzling Cruise

Our last cruise came literally a couple of days after I got back from the Dutch Cube Day, and as you’d expect, I came back laden with unsolved puzzles ... so along with the usual pile of books (neatly loaded onto my Kindle!) I snuck in a couple of puzzles as well... small puzzles, flat puzzles, puzzles that wouldn’t break in the hold luggage – I took a few tray packing puzzles and my copy of Wil’s Magic Domino puzzle. 

Now I had several reasons for taking a few packing puzzles – firstly there’s all that stuff above about them being flat, quite sturdy, easy to pack and the like – but I remember reading in Brian P’s blog about his visit to Stewart Coffin that the master himself always goes cruising with a particular tray puzzle (Coffin #167 if you’re interested) that has subsequently been dubbed “Cruiser”. If someone like that, with access to heaven only knows what variety of puzzles chooses to take tray puzzles on a cruise, then there must be something in it! 

And then there’s another reason why I chose to take a few packing puzzles: I’m RUBBISH at them – so by taking a couple I would ensure that I had several happy(!) hours of puzzling ahead of me (and no doubt several unhappy ones as well! See previous point!). 

First up were a pair of IPP exchange puzzles from Rob Hegge (who doesn’t write a blog!). Crafty Crates was his exchange puzzle in Berlin this year and Annoyingly Squary Puzzle was his exchange puzzle from IPP 27 in Australia.  When I bought them from him he made sure to warn me that the Crafty Crates had a solution that was quite irregular – he didn’t say anything about the other one, but I suspected that it would require a piece or two at a squiffy angle as well and that he was just trying to lull me into a false sense of security. 

Each puzzle has a main tray area and a hole on the side for storing the ‘extra’ piece – and thoughtfully the main tray area includes the scrap piece to keep all the bits from flying around. Both tray areas are square (sometimes it’s worth checking!) and pretty much what you see is what you get – they’re pretty honest puzzles!

Crafty Crates was up first – it has lots more pieces, so it should be easier, right? (Because by my reasoning, there are fewer constraints...) Effectively you have 13 unit sized beer crates and 2 double unit sized beer crates to fit into a square tray a bit over 4 units square – plenty space ... just not where you’re going to want it! It doesn’t take very long to convince yourself that any square packing won’t work – the edges aren’t long enough – so something will be at an angle ... and that opens up a whole world of pain and experimentation as you trudge through all the things that don’t work. 

After a while I figure that there will need to be a pretty efficient combination of some stuff that’s square-ish and some stuff that isn’t – and it takes a bit more experimentation to narrow down a line of enquiry before stumbling onto a construction that works ... so I took a picture of my solution, packed it back up again and left it on the coffee table for the next victim to wander in and have a bash. All up, it probably took me about an hour – in 10-15 minute chunks over the course of a day or so... damn fine value per puzzling Euro!

Annoyingly Squary Puzzle turned into significantly better value for money than that, and in case you’re wondering, they cost about the same! ASP has seven pieces to be placed in the tray, including a single unit square – that should help, right?

This one kept me going on and off for days! Having solved the Crates, I thought I had a strategy that would help. My strategy combined some things in corners for “efficiency”, and then some bits at weird angles to fit in between them - of course all that “strategy” taught me was that the eventual answer is nothing like what your brain keeps telling you is the most efficient way of doing things – and that’s probably the central design tenet behind all of these sorts of packing puzzles: if it looks ‘efficient’, it will not work!

I must have taken several hours spread over a couple of days before I finally managed to settle on just the right combination of square and not-so-square aligned pieces to get them all jammed into that damn square tray.  This puzzle is very well named, Rob. 

The last packing puzzle I want to chat about here is a delightful version of Stewart Coffin’s Few Tiles that I acquired from Bernhard Schweitzer. It’s made by a Hungarian gentleman named Peter Gal – who's hobby is bookmaking (and not the bet-taking variety! so perhaps bookbinding would be more appropriate, but that would kill any betting jokes, so he's a bookmaker!) – not typically the sort of craftsman you might associate with puzzle-making – but take a look at this little book – because it really does look exactly like a book! From the outside it looks like a tiny notebook, complete with elastic strap to keep it closed ... open it up and you’re presented with a set of printed instructions (complete with a highly misleading picture!) on the left and a laser-cut tray and pieces on the right. 

Being perfectly laser-cut, the puzzle is absolutely true to Coffin’s design and provides a great challenge – and as these designs from Stewart Coffin go, this one’s a killer! He uses all of your assumptions and even your ‘knowledge’ of his other designs against you – sneaky sod! 

For me, the presentation of this puzzle is simply terrific – I hope Peter continues to make many more of these variants – I’m sure I’ll be wanting to add to my collection of little notebook puzzles.


  1. You should check the Quadratum Cubicum puzzle :)


  2. Thanks for your encouraging words. I have more than 15 types of puzzle booklets. Have a look at my blog:




    Actually, I am a hobby book binder only, I work as a software engineer.

    Peter Gal

  3. Thanks Peter - I'll edit the post so that I don't accuse you of being a professional book-maker err-binder any longer. Thanks for the links to your blog - the pictures look very interesting (are any still for sale?) - I just wish I could work out how to get Google to translate it without getting confused by the redirection... THANKS for dropping in to say hello!

  4. Thanks.
    Yes, there are still some booklets available. If you need more info, please send me an email to:

    You may try to copy/paste some text from my blog to google translate window, but Hungarian language is not an easy job for it anyway.

    Peter Gal