Friday 30 November 2012


Tomas Lindén’s IPP32 exchange was a devilish little puzzle designed by Vesa Timonen. Consisting of only two flat pieces of wood, the goal is to make a single, symmetric shape... Tomas kindly gave me a copy of his exchange puzzle and it has taunted me for the last few months – it is evil! Be warned!!
I had a quick bash at it while I was at IPP, and got nowhere...

Then I tried it while I was on holiday in NYC, and got nowhere...

Back at home, I put it on the vast shelf-of-puzzles-to-be-solved, and every now and then I’d take it down and fiddle around with it, and get nowhere...

During MPP7 several folks played around with it, and solved it, and I gave it another bash, and got nowhere... 

(Let me know if you aren’t sure where this one’s heading!)

OK, how hard can it be? You have two flat pieces that are virtually identical, and you’re told that they both need to be flat on the table and you have to make a symmetric shape.

At one point on my journey with this puzzle I found myself trading emails with Tomas, and making sure that he really meant both pieces literally flat on the table (yip!) and that it wasn’t some sneaky answer that relied on negative space (nope!) – this time (!) it really was a straight forward solution (hard to picture given this was the same guy that bought us the Black or White!)

Straight-forward it might be – simple it is not!

At one point I resorted to a feeble attempt at using some arithmetic, and measured the edges and played around with various sums and differences, trying to work out which bits needed to be combined or aligned to result in symmetric remainders ... and failed miserably. 

Some helpful soul mentioned that he’d eventually found the solution and then realised that he’d seen that shape a few times before, and not recognised the symmetry in the shape – GREAT! Now I know I’m going to kick myself when I eventually find the solution!

Months later, I found myself out and about having dinner with a bunch of puzzlers in The Hague, and this puzzle’s been doing the rounds and I’m literally the only one left who hasn’t solved it yet, so they give it to me and I try (yet) again! 


...and eventually one of them takes pity on me and shows me the answer, and my first reaction is “That’s NOT symmetrical!” – only it IS ... but until you ‘see’ it, you’ll be convinced it isn’t, and merrily move on to the next experiment.

For me, this has to be one of the best little bits of puzzling value for money (even if I HAD paid for it!) around at the moment ... I’ve heard stories of one or two gifted puzzlers finding the solution in mere seconds, but most folks take a decent amount of time to work it out ... and some of us took forever! 

Be warned – it is evil. But if you really do want one, I'm sure Tomas will sell you one over here...

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Thanks Wil!

When I saw Wil Strijbos at the Dutch Cube Day, he gave me a couple of rather nice goodies to add to my little puzzle collection...

The first was a wooden copy of a Four Axis Folding Star that David Bruce brought along to the 14th Annual Puzzle Collector’s Party (now IPP) in Seattle in 1994.  David had come across some of John Kostick’s bronze stars at a craft market in Portland in 1991 and then done some research to find John’s 1970 patent on the construction of “Symmetrical Non-Cartesian Multiple Axis Joining of Beams”. (U.S. Patent # 3546049 in case you’re interested.)

He presented his wooden version constructed of bamboo meat skewers with wooden beads on their tips along with the challenge to come up with a simple jig for manufacturing them...

The wooden star functions exactly like its bigger bronze brethren... and still looks great after almost 20 years ... thanks Wil – it looks good next to the rest of the family. 


The other little item he gave me was my first ever puzzle jug ... a Strijbos take on a puzzle jug, or should that be puzzle jugs? (or should I have left the reader to make that little joke themselves? We’ll never know!) 

Hand-blown in glass, Wil assures me they were originally available in both Adam and Eve models ... and I’m secretly pleased that I got an Eve...

There are strategically placed holes around the edge that will ensure that just drinking from it normally will produce an embarrassing dribble, and the handle is hollow enabling it to be used as a straw of sorts ... although it’s not quite that simple as there are a couple of holes in it and not pinching one of them closed will produce a neat little fountain of whatever-it-is that you’re trying to sip... 

Thanks Wil – it’s really cute, and it’ll always be the first puzzle jug(s) in my collection!

Saturday 24 November 2012

Quintet in ‘F’ by Stewart Coffin

Quintet in ‘F’ is number Stewart Coffin’s design #253 ... two hundred and fifty three! 

And some of them didn’t get numbers! 

And he’s still going!

OK, back to the puzzle in hand - Coffin #253 served as Rosemary Howbrigg’s Exchange Puzzle at IPP31 in Berlin and as you might expect from the name it employs five ‘f’-shaped pentominoes in the tray packing puzzle. 

Mercifully this time (unlike Lean 2) the tray is symmetrical, in fact it’s a rhombus so it’s very symmetrical ... however the pieces aren’t – and there are five of them, which makes building a shape that’s symmetrical a little tricky... 

My copy came from Puzzle Paradise where John Devost has recently picked up his woodworking tools after a couple of successful restorations. I tend to keep an eye on Paradise just in case anything interesting turns up... John’s pretty good about warning folks when he’s put a bunch of new things up for sale on Paradise, but every now and then one or two new things will sneak on before he’s had a chance to wing an email around to warn anyone... 

So  one day I happened to spot this particular puzzle appear out of the blue – just a single copy available with a zebrawood tray and spalted myrtle pieces and I thought it looked terrific so I snagged it. It arrived less than a week later in perfect condition having made the journey across from Canada in a padded envelope.

John’s done a super job on this puzzle – the tray has a floating zebrawood base , the corners are finished off with wenge slipfeathers (one of his trademark features) and he’s signed and dated the back of the tray. 

It’s an excellent little puzzle and the combination of an odd number of non-symmetrical pieces being fitted into a perfectly symmetrical tray provides plenty of blind allies to be explored. I got fairly lucky and managed to stumble upon a solution quite quickly, but I’ve heard of some pretty mean puzzlers being stumped for quite a while ... but then it IS a Stewart Coffin design, and you wouldn’t expect any less ... would you?

Tuesday 20 November 2012


I first spotted Tan-Talizing at the IPP32 Puzzle Exchange as Wil’s assistant. It was exchanged by Yee-Dian Lee and I remember thinking to myself that it looked interesting at the time. (Little did I know!) For some or other reason I didn’t end up picking up a copy at IPP and then when one of Wil Strijbos’ latest emails mentioned that he had them available I was reminded of this puzzle. 

On our visit to The Hague for DCD 2012 we spent the Saturday afternoon at Rob Hegge’s place and I hauled out his copy of Tan-Talizing and played around with it ... and got nowhere ... then Louis solved it in a few minutes so I decided that I needed to get a copy from Wil the next day, which I duly did. 

Tan-Talizing is billed on the box as “A 3D Tangram Puzzle with a twist!”. It consists of eight acrylic pieces made up of a combination of tangram pieces across two or three layers. The pieces alternate black and white across the layers and your task is to form a square block four layers high. The pieces are laid out as a black one-quarter square with some combination of white pieces stuck to it. Several of the pieces have white bits overlapping outside the black pieces forcing you to think outside the box a little bit. 

Emptying the pieces out of the box it’s pretty easy to see how some of them will naturally fit together, and your brain (puzzling or otherwise) will naturally start down that route and you’ll end up with a fairly neat half-solution and a set of pieces that simply refuse to go together...

Hmm, this isn’t quite so simple after all. 

OK, so experiment with a different configuration on the first half so that you use up different pieces there, leaving different pieces to make up the second half ... it’s worth a try, but I couldn’t make that work... so maybe you need to build it as a whole rather than in a couple of halves – that might make better use of the shapes you have ... then a new brainwave struck: the instructions didn’t say that the colours in the layers have to match! 

Or not...

No matter what I did, I always found that I ended up with a couple of unruly pieces that wouldn’t cooperate – even starting with them and trying to get creative with how the pieces might go together – perhaps they weren’t all neatly arranged around the perimeter, perhaps there’s a piece floating in the middle somewhere, or miscoloured?

Hopefully you’ll explore as many blind alleys as I did before you find the solution.
I’d been playing with it every now and then and not really getting anywhere, then woke up one morning having deduced what the answer had to be, walked through to the study and solved it, just like that. 

It is a delightful puzzle – my mate Louis described it as a puzzler’s puzzle and I reckon he’s right!

Saturday 17 November 2012

Jack Krijnen’s Level 5 Burr Set

A little over a year ago Jack published some pics of a burr set that he’d made for himself on one of the puzzle forums I follow. The pics looked pretty incredible, and then when I got the chance to see it in person at DCD last year I was totally bowled over. Outside the box was decorated with a stunning inlaid burr shape and a frame and inside there were 42 burr pieces and a set of cards with a heap of level 5 burr definitions laid out on them. Oh, and the one thing I haven’t mentioned yet are the dimensions – the box was about 12*9*4.5 cm. It was a masterpiece in compact design and craftsmanship. 

Earlier this year Jack mentioned that he might be making a few more copies of his burr set and I piled in almost immediately and asked if I could be put on a waiting list, if there was such a thing – and happily there was!

A little while later Jack began teasing us all on-line as he drip-fed out pictures of his manufacturing process without actually saying what it was that he was producing ... 

It started with an enormous pile of sticks, which then turned into burr pieces, and then the panels for the boxes appeared and eventually there were pics of the gorgeous inlay work – and he announced that he had eight boxes available and that they’d be ready in time for DCD 2012. 

I was over the moon when I got the email from Jack asking me which type of wood I wanted the box to be in (he had made them in walnut and mahogany) and then confirming that I’d be able to collect a walnut box from him at DCD. <Fat Grin!>

...and so on the DCD Sunday I met Jack again and was handed my little masterpiece... 

The pics should give you an idea of the size of this burr set ... it’s dinky!

The burr pieces themselves are made from 1cm*1cm stock(!) and have been really accurately cut so they fit together perfectly when assembled. Each piece has been stamped with its identifier on one end and laid out in numerical order in the box and when they’re not being played with, the pieces are all housed in their own little pigeon holes inside the box. In a separate compartment to the left of the burr pieces is a set of neatly laminated (so you won’t smudge them!) cards with 162 unique Level 5 burr problems for puzzlers to get their teeth into ... as well as a number of Level 8 and 9 problems to tax the little grey cells with. And the piece de resistance – a little pair of wooden tweezers to remove the individual burr pieces from their resting places because you couldn’t fit your fingers between them! Jack’s thought of everything!

I’ve had a go at a few of the constructions so far and realised that I still have an awful lot to learn when it comes to assembling burrs ... I’d thought I was doing OK working through my Creative Crafthouse set of lower level burrs – but this one definitely steps it up a gear in terms of difficulty. 

I’ve managed to do about half of the ones that I’ve tried but I’m determined not to let them beat me so I’ve printed off a list of them so that I can mark up the ones I’ve done and come back to the others at a later stage... I suspect this little box is going to provide many, many hours of pleasurable puzzling. 

Thanks Jack – it is beautiful – the first Krijnen-creation in my collection is going to take a lot of beating! turns out that my fellow Midlands Puzzlers had also spotted Jack's handiwork and in the end, four out of the six of us who travelled over to DCD this year came away with one of these sets ... and another of our number who hadn't made it over also managed to snag one, so in the end five out of the eight sets that Jack made ended up in MPP-hands - you can't say we aren't keen and recognise great quality craftsmanship! 

[Rox also managed to snag a copy of this set and you can read her thoughts over here.]