Tuesday 10 January 2012

Peter Hajek’s End-of-Year Puzzle Party (EPP)

The first time I heard about Peter’s EPPs was when I picked up a copy of a colour booklet called “The Best Puzzle Finds of the Year 2009 / 2010” from Wil Strijbos back in October. It’s a soft cover 60-odd page booklet documenting a collection of puzzlists presenting their best three puzzle finds of the year – with quite of few of them attending the EPP at Peter’s house at the end of 2009 and 2010 to share their finds with others.  I was delighted to have come across the booklet as it contained several puzzles I recognised, some that I already have, and a number on a wish list for “one day when I grow up!”- all of them described by people who were enthusiastic about them and considered them one of their three best puzzle finds of the year. What better recommendation could you wish for? 

Wil in action
A little while later, Peter sent out an invitation on Nobnet for contributions to this year’s selection, and also invited anyone who’d be in London at the end of December to come along – I decided this was way too good an offer to refuse, so set about choosing my 3 three puzzle finds of the year to email off to Peter – and made some enquiries about going along on the day ... Peter was really encouraging and as it turned out, Gill and I were going to be in London that day to see some friends from South Africa who were over on holiday, so I made arrangements to attend. 

I was one of the first to arrive on the day – not counting Wil and Joop who were staying there – but pretty soon the place was filled with puzzlists wandering around peering at the crates of puzzles for trade / sale, chatting about our nominated puzzles and picking up and playing with the odd puzzle dotted around the Hajek house. 

David Singmaster with his prized find
Peter played the perfect host and made sure that everyone had been introduced and given something to drink before allowing us to mingle and get to know one another for a while ... given that Wil was the only person there that I’d already met, I ended up meeting a bunch of new puzzle-fiends, and a couple of magicians (Peter doesn’t discriminate!). One of the gents I met comes from just down the road from me – and it turns out is a rather accomplished designer of puzzles – although to my shame I only discovered that afterwards – hopefully I’ll be able to convince Sam Cornwell to come along to one or two of our MPPs in the near future – I know there are a few people who’d like to meet him!

Peter always manages to arrange for a lecture or a performance of some sort during the afternoon – in 2009 and 2010 there were a couple of magic performances and lectures from Laurie Brokenshire, William Houston and Angelo Carbone. This year Peter had lined up artist Patrick Hughes to talk about his mind-blowing perspective-mangling art. I hadn’t come across Patrick’s work before so did a little Googling beforehand and read up a little but it didn’t really prepare me for what I was about to experience – Patrick had brought along one of his works (“Volumes” 6/7 from memory) and had it displayed up at the front of the room – he gave a wonderfully self-effacing talk for someone who was clearly a very gifted artist from where I was sitting and talked about how he found art that challenged your perception or your assumptions really interesting, mentioning a couple of pieces of others’ art in his own collection to illustrate his points – then he turned his attention to the piece he’d brought along and started describing some aspects that,  to be honest, didn’t make a lot of sense to me given where I’d been sitting (toward the back of the room). He’d been talking about how the piece seems to move in unusual ways when you moved across it and that this was partly the result of your brain trying to make sense of something that didn’t really make sense because of how it had been painted – he’d illustrated the concepts earlier by talking about the Ames Window but I was having difficulty linking those ideas with the painting I was looking at, or rather from where I was looking at it. 
Patrick Hughes

At the end of his talk, Patrick encouraged us all to experiment with his painting and when I wandered up close it made sense all of a sudden! What I was looking at wasn’t a flat painting, it was a painting on a series of projections where the painting had been given a forced perspective – some of which were right (i.e. exaggerated) and some of which were wrong – so as you looked at the painting your brain tried (unsuccessfully in my case!) to make sense of what it was seeing, forcing one interpretation on it – which was fine, until you moved – up or down or left or right – then the combination of forced perspective and actual projections caused things to move in a way that your brain wasn’t expecting, helpfully (!) your brain then tries to compensate and tells you that the things in the picture must actually be moving around in a rather strange way ... a very spooky effect indeed! Several times later that afternoon there’d be three or four of us standing in front of that piece swaying sideways or bobbing up and down and remarking about how weird it was. Patrick is clearly a master of perception and knows just how to toy with it to create some really disturbing effects – and I’m glad that I’ve been introduced to his work – not sure I’m ever going to be able to add any of it to my collection, but privileged to have been exposed to it by the man himself. 

After Patrick’s talk and a brief break, we each took turns to present our three best puzzle (or magic!) finds of the year ... we took turns alphabetically and managed to tie ourselves in knots once or twice and promptly rearranged the alphabet but managed to get all of our turns taken in the end. 

I’d nominated Brian Young’s Opening Bat, Robert Yarger’s Little Game Hunter and Coffin’s Rosebud made by Scott Peterson as my three puzzle finds for the year: 
  • Opening Bat because it is an epic puzzle that keeps you going for ages and then rewards you superbly at the end when you solve the final part of the puzzle,
  • Little Game Hunter because I managed to get one straight from Rob after starting a small collection of Stickmen earlier in the year and getting yards and yards of advice and encouragement from Rob while I was finishing off my DIY Chopstick box and the Grandfather Clock – I love his puzzles because they’re all so entirely different and each presents a unique challenge,
  • Rosebud because it’s an iconic Coffin design and it was both my first puzzle from Scott Peterson and my first taste of Coffin’s unusual geometry – both of which will hopefully stay with me for quite some time!
It turns out that someone else at the EPP (Steve Nicholls) had also nominated the Opening Bat, and in fact, so had 6 other people who’d provided email submissions – making it the runaway best pick of the year with a total of 8 nominations! The previous record for multiple nominations (shared by the Stickman Gordian Knot Box and Oskar’s Gear Cube) was four nominations, back in 2010. Peter reckons the record is likely to stand for a while – I reckon it reflects what an incredible creation Brian came up with...

After the presentations Peter and Katja provided a tremendous spread for dinner that kept us going for ages before we inevitably lapsed into more puzzle chat, bartering and outright buying. 

At one point Peter called me to join a couple of others who wanted to see his puzzle room upstairs – there were a couple of us who hadn’t see the puzzle room before and the first puzzle turned out to be how to get into the puzzle room! The door appeared to be locked, with a keyhole on the side where you’d normally expect it, and a handle not quite where you’d expect it – helpfully there was a key supplied, unfortunately it was rather well attached to a chain on a hook in the middle of the door, and wouldn’t you know it, the chain was too short to allow it into the keyhole ... and it kept us out until Peter helped us out and showed us in ... WOW! The puzzle room houses an absolutely stunning collection, most of it beautifully displayed in glass-fronted cabinets ... from a number of early Stickmen, through the genesis of the Karakuri Group, via an exceptional collection of Kamei’s and onto an impressive set of Coffins, key-chain puzzles a-plenty (even though most of them are in the cabinets of drawers) and best of all (for me at any rate) a collection of Trevor Wood boxes, including Takashima’s Tantalizing Temple in pride of place ... lovely.

Back downstairs Tim Rowett did the rounds dishing out Christmas presents to everyone and telling stories about each of the little goodies he was handing out and somehow didn’t seem to tire of telling them – everyone got the same treatment whether you were first in line or last...

Slowly the numbers dwindled and we were hit by a sudden realisation that we’d missed the opportunity to take a group photo before folks started leaving, so we ended up with a slightly depleted group photo – maybe next year we’ll be more vigilant... 

While things wound down, we naturally found ourselves gravitating toward the study where everyone managed to find something interesting to play with or discuss – me, I found a recent little Mike Toulouzas creation that I hadn’t seen in the flesh before and enjoyed solving it for the first time – and I managed to do it quietly, unlike the majority of the folks at the last IPP who seemed to make quite a racket playing with it judging by Brian P’s account.  I can see why it won a Jury First Prize award though...

In the intervening weeks Peter has been beavering away and has already sent us all  (including those who emailed their selections) a soft copy of the booklet – complete with write-ups and photos – he is incredibly efficient ... as well as a tremendous host!

Thanks to Peter and Katja for opening up your home to a bunch of puzzlists, including a number of unknown quantities like myself who came along for the first time, for making us all feel at home and giving us a great day (and night’s) entertainment – your hospitality was supreme! 

And finally thanks to Patrick for introducing me to your work and opening my eyes to seeing perspective differently – I’m not sure I’m ever going to get over that... :-)


  1. Thanks for sharing the experience, Allard. I enjoyed reading about it.

  2. Excellent write-up as always, Allard! It's a shame I couldn't make it into London for it. :(

  3. Cheers for that folks! [Oli, it's definitely worth trying to make a plan to attend that one!]