Monday 4 June 2012

Midlands Puzzle Party 6

Wow! – What a weekend... 

Nigel started planning the sixth Midlands Puzzle Party quite a while back – set the date for the 2nd of June, sent out the usual announcements / invitations, crossed his fingers and then sat back and waited ... actually that’s not quite the whole story – he’d cunningly set the date on a weekend that Wil Strijbos was free (no mean feat, let me tell you – that boy gets around!) – so the announcements included mention of a special guest by the name of Strijbos.
Then he sat back and waited. 

Now, to be fair, Wil was competing with the Queen – this weekend saw the celebration of her Diamond Jubilee and a few folks had other celebrations planned so they couldn’t make it ... pity – we had a cracking time!

I collected Louis and Wil from the airport on Friday afternoon and took them back to my place for some gentle puzzling, a lot of banter, some Teriyaki Chicken for dinner and then some more chatting and a lot more puzzling. In between I got to have a sneak peek into the puzzles that Wil had brought along for us to drool over, play with, and even purchase if the mood took you.
Wil had brought a Japanese “Top Spin” Top as a gift for Gill (her first puzzling thing, if you don’t count me!) and a lovely little burr from Mine called a “Little Twister” for me. Gill loves the top and I found the “Little Twister” a really cute little burr – as the name suggests, not all moves are orthogonal and it’s remarkably interesting for “just” a collar and two pieces! Those two pieces are rather oddly-shaped and more than a bit confusing – everyone who had a bash at it on Saturday seemed to enjoy it as well judging by the number of times Wil was asked if he had any more of them.  (He didn’t ... and they don’t seem to be listed on Mine’s web shop either...) 

Louis then presented me with a Coolen original puzzle box (#3) – dubbed the A-Mazing box by Wil and the first ever burr he’d made – using 1cm oak sticks – in pieces – nice bloke, eh? [I won’t say much more about those in this post, they deserve another to themselves ... and I still need to work out how to open the box!] 

While Wil and Louis amused themselves in the study with some of my toys, I trawled through Wil’s boxes for sale and found several rather appealing little numbers – including two that weren’t for sale! He’d brought a couple of new little aluminium dovetail designs to ask what we thought of them (I think 'wild enthusiasm' would sum that up rather neatly!) as well as another aluminium sequential discovery puzzle that he’s still working on – that one stumped all comers, but he’s not quite happy with it yet... keep an eye out for a Lotus Puzzle at some point – it will be good. Having found a use for all the left-over Euros from my last holiday, and added some Paypal on top of it, I had a nice little haul of new puzzles to add to the still-modest, but steadily growing hoard in the study. 

We got up reasonably early the next morning so that we could get to Warwick for 9am – although some of the others who had further to travel left considerably earlier than we did: Ali, Oli and Simon Bexfield had come across from London, Kevin had trekked down from Sheffield and Joe had joined us from deepest, darkest Wales. Add to that a few from the Midlands (Chris, Nigel, Dale Overy and I) and we were set for a good day’s puzzling... [Sam and his mate Rani – along with his partner and two children joined us a bit later.] 

We set up the tables in the centre of the room this time and that made it easier to work on a puzzle and still chat with virtually everyone else in the room. Strijbos commandeered a table and set out a bunch of plastic crates filled to the brim with puzzles for sale and that soon became the most popular end of the room, with folks combing through the crates in search of treasure – with several finding things in there they’d been looking for for a while ... 
Eis anyone? 

Cerradura 3D? 

A Gillen Nut and Bolt perhaps? 

All found a good home, you’ll be pleased to hear! Even I ended up salvaging a Bowling Alley in a Brief- case that I’d sort of passed up on the night before. 

I think Wil ended up doing a decent trade throughout the day, with several people acquiring a cola bottle or two to torment themselves with; several exchange puzzles and a number of special IPP31 Berlin Kugellager-ish finding enthusiastic new owners. Kevin couldn’t stop himself acquiring a sack of new Overy (?) entanglement puzzles. 
After the initial feeding frenzy calmed down, things settled back into our usual relaxed style of puzzle a bit, chat a lot, wind up Kevin, grab some coffee and cake (including some yummy Jubilee chocolate chocolate chip cupcakes that Gill sent along) and wind up Kevin some more ... although in fairness it wasn’t just Kevin that was getting wound up! The banter was up to its usual standards and there was plenty of laughter throughout the day (and it wasn’t all at Kevin’s expense, promise!).

One of the little things I’d picked out to buy myself the evening before was a Karakuri Fake Box as I didn’t have one yet and hadn’t actually ever seen one before ... Wil duly decided it was time for some fun and asked me if I’d really not opened one before – when I said I hadn’t, he suggested I try ... and the obvious happened: try as I might, I couldn’t open it – so I hypothesised out loud that it might not be a box, perhaps it was really just a block of wood made to look like a box, and the movement on the lid was just that, a little movement to confuse someone like me ... so Wil takes the box, puts it behind his back and gives it back to me with a Japanese coin duly inserted into it ... so much for the lump of wood theory ... and it then took me several minutes more before I finally found my way in... 
Flash forward half a day or so and Wil’s established that Kevin hasn’t seen one either, so he takes one out of the packaging and hands it to him, and I can see Kevin going through all the same motions that I’d gone through the night before, until he eventually declares it an alleged box as well – cue Strijbos putting the box behind his back, inserting a coin and handing it back to much mirth from the assembled masses who decided that the 10p coin inside the box now represented Kevin’s pride – so he had to retrieve it! It was his coin after all ... it turned out to be the encouragement he needed and soon enough he had the 10p out again, but not before a rather loud (sadly unprintable) “A-Ha"-ish phrase followed shortly after by loud laughter from everyone in the room, including Kevin...  if you don’t have one of these little numbers, you need one. 
Ali’s collection of Rocky's Bolts was another popular stop on virtually everyone’s tour around the tables and I was delighted to solve the last one in the set that had evaded me last time around – they really are superb little puzzles and miraculous unassuming little miracles of engineering and craftsmanship – I am going to have to get some to add to the little hoard at some point.

Chris and I had identical copies of Scott Peterson’s Stellated Improved Square Face for folks to play with – although I think that Ali was the only one brave enough to take one apart entirely – although the look on his face when both Chris and I looked up at the same time and commented on the fact that he’d been braver than either of us so far, was priceless – needless to say he put it all back together perfectly.  I also had a copy of Coffin’s Involution made by Scott, and the tolerances on it are that good that it took folks who know the puzzle quite a while to find the right place to start and to get some of the pieces moving during the course of the disassembly.  (I reckon they’re that beautiful that they deserve a post of their own though, so that will be along in the near future...) 

A few folks fiddled around with my three Mine’s Cubes and Ali avoided them entirely having just acquired a set of them from Wil that morning. They really put a smile on peoples’ faces. I’d taken a couple of the Rogers along at someone’s request and I was sitting absent-mindedly fiddling with Geburt when all-of-a-sardine the ball bearing dropped out and rolled across the floor – totally befuddling me! Not one to miss an opportunity, I decided I needed a photo of the puzzle in the open position, but unfortunately I didn’t have my special £2 coin with me, and realising this might confuse my regular reader, I felt the need to improvise ... when I do eventually solve it I’ll take a better picture with the correct coin, promise. 

One of the interesting little things that Wil had in his crates were a bunch of little golden balls wrapped up in tiny leather pouches  - I recognised them as Snail Balls (they have big snails in Venlo!) and invariably they were being demonstrated much to everyone’s amusement – none more so than Kevin – who’s puzzlement was unfortunately being broadcast rather widely by his facial expression of utter amazement as this little golden ball steadfastly refused to make any more than the slowest – snail’s pace – progress down an inclined ramp. I don’t think I was the only one to notice this and soon enough there were several helpful suggestions of how it was being achieved – I suggested watching Wil’s hands closely for the almost invisible thread he was using to control it, Chris suggested it was probably pixies or magic, but it might be hard to work out which – but Kevin was having none of it – amazement remained and he just kept asking how it worked... apparently pixies weren’t to blame. 

Somewhere around lunchtime about half the group wandered across to the chippy to grab some food and the rest of us carried on puzzling – prepared to fuel up on crisps, Coke, coffee and cup-cakes – safe in the knowledge that there was plenty of grub at the braai back at my place afterwards. 

After lunch Wil had some fun entertaining folks with some rather unusual pens he’d brought along – apart from puzzles, Wil also collects pens with an unusual mechanism... his favourite game on the day was giving folks a fairly innocuous looking Rotring pen and asking people to work out how it works. After a little while of them getting absolutely nowhere (pushing, twisting and all the other usual things have no effect whatsoever!) Wil then tells them rather sternly not to break it ... cue a few more minutes of sheer puzzlement, at which stage I would rather pointedly tell them to ignore what Wil had just said, and miraculously the pen would be usable in seconds – generally to loud chuckles from all looking on. 

During the course of the afternoon Sam set up a table-full of his designs and a few folks enjoyed fiddling around with them – some of those designs really are crying out to be produced in some fine woods ... Eric, are you listening? 
Nigel had brought his King-Cubi along - all 1500-odd moves of it and Louis couldn't stop himself ... once or twice someone would chat to him and he'd lose his way, but he managed to blast through the opening pretty darn quickly, at which point several folks crowded around to photograph the innards of this work of art - very impressive puzzle!

Things began winding down at about 3:30pm and most of us (some people had weak excuses like having to go to a 60th birthday party!) decamped back to my place for a puzzle braai at 4pm – the second of what will hopefully become an annual event ...

Handmade and Gold Revomazes
One of our bunch probably deserves a special mention for coming up with a novel reason for not coming to MPP6 – Congrats on your nuptials Russ!


  1. Thanks Allard & Gill and of course Nigel for organising a great day!

    May I please point out that the laughter wasn't all at my expense (I am an amateur puzzler, after all!) Nigel also took his fair share of being "got at"!

    More toys bought and more fun to be had. Looking forward to the next one!


  2. Yes, it was a great day.
    The science behind the "Snail Ball" is here:

  3. Great write up of another successful day! Remember though, I get much better value for money out of my puzzles due to taking SO LONG to solve them :)

  4. Looks like another fantastic day. Thanks for the writeup Allard!