Sunday 24 June 2012

IPP31 Berlin puzzle

I spotted this puzzle in one of Wil Strijbos’ emails a couple of weeks ago and asked about it because it looked quite unusual and really stood out. Turns out it was made as a gift for the organisers of IPP31 in Berlin from Markus Götz and hadn't been offered for sale. However, there had been so many requests for the puzzle from folks who'd seen them or heard about them in the interim that Wil had managed to talk Jean-Claude Constantin into running off a few more copies for him ... and a couple of weeks ago, one was headed in my direction and several more accompanied Wil across to MPP6 – and didn’t quite make it home with him…
From the pictures I’d seen, it looked like a variation of the Kugellager puzzles with a lot of extra attention being paid to the presentation with a large “IPP31” overlaid on “Berlin” cut into the slider, along with the extra detailing on the edge of the slider – it really looks nice and J-CC has clearly thought a lot about how to integrate these aspects into the puzzle itself. Frankly, if that had been the end of it, and this was effectively just a prettier version of a Kugellager, I’d have been quite happy … but that’s not the end of it at all. Not by a long shot!
When you start playing with this puzzle, you have five balls at the top of the letters and a set of corresponding holes to get the balls out of – presumably the goal. It’s pretty obvious that there’s going to be an element of a Gray-code-ish sequence required to move the balls around as the tracks in the slider interfere with tracks in the base plate – and the latter only get revealed as you progress, so it’s not immediately obvious which way you should be heading to achieve some of your interim goals.
A few moves in you realise the first of the little twists in this puzzle: you cannot rely on tipping it one way sliding in or out, and then tipping it the other way, as you can with the Kugellagers - because they’re well-behaved sequence puzzles – and this one isn’t! There are quite a few areas in the puzzle where you won’t immediately notice that you have a couple of balls moving at the same time and it’s not that helpful if both of them move in the same direction.

Introduce the first twist: DEXTERITY. You’re going to have to pay careful attention and find a way to get the balls to go into the right channels and you’ll need a bit of dexterity to do that every now and then … now before you hold that against this puzzle, I’m not a fan of dexterity puzzles at all, and I don’ think this angle gets in the way of enjoying this puzzle at all – it adds just the right level of extra care to keep you on your toes and slow you down from time to time.
Progress a bit further and you come across the next big difference from the Kugellagers: CHAOS!

Okay, not quite chaos, but certainly far less predictability than the Kugellagers which have a neatly laid out set of paths that interact in a predictable manner – this puzzle, because of the letters on one half of the tracks, totally removes that predictability – so there is no chance of getting into a groove and executing a predictable set of moves to progress – which makes it very easy to go back on yourself quite a bit without really realising it.
The other little bit of chaos comes from not knowing which ball you’re trying to release first – and it isn’t obvious – I got caught out when at one point all of a sudden I noticed I was quite close to releasing one of the balls.
As you release each ball you give yourself a little more freedom to work on the others and it becomes easier and easier to release the balls as you work your way through, until the final ball pops out and you’re able to slide the BERLIN piece all the way out.  Victory!
Well not really…
At this point you probably realise something rather important – getting them out is relatively easy – getting back to the start is the tricky part! You’ve started from a known “good” position, but going back, you can pop those little balls back in almost any order at virtually any time in the process (there’s usually a track available on most of the holes) – however not all of those combinations will actually allow you to get back to the starting position, which gives us the final twist on this puzzle: GETTING BACK IS HARD!
You’ll probably have a vague recollection of which ones came out more or less when - and that’ll help you – but you’re going to need to work hard to get back to the start – and it won’t be a simple pattern that you can get into the groove with – and there’ll be times when you’ll need a bit of that dexterity as well. In short – it’s a sod!
I like this puzzle because it sucked me in with a false sense of security that I’d seen something similar before and I thought I had it sussed, only to realise that it had a lot more in stall for me – if you like puzzles like that, get in touch with Wil – last time I checked he still had a few of these kicking around.


  1. No! No! I MUST resist! I've spent enough already.

    Allard! You have to stop showing me new toys that I need!!


    1. ...don't forget - we're all blaming Oli!