Thursday 30 May 2013

Karakuri binge

[This blog post comes to you from somewhere off the Swedish coast in the Baltic Sea ... if this works...]

...recently I’ve been on a bit of a Karakuri box binge...  it started out reasonably cheaply when I picked up a New Secret Box III (among a number of other nice little puzzles from Japan) for a smashing price.

On the outside it’s a reasonably handsome looking box with three stripes on it (for III – the other versions have one and two stripes respectively). It’s a fairly simple box conceptually – each panel needs to be moved, in the right order, all around the box ... and you need to work your way around the box three times (hence III, again) – there are no particular tricks to it as each panel successively unlocks the next, and so on, until the final move releases the lid which then slides open.

Inside the box is a little thing of beauty! Wonderfully made and a terrific introduction to Japanese puzzle boxes for anyone who hasn’t seen one yet – the complexity of the pieces and their accuracy is a lovely thing to behold...

I also picked up a Kamei Dice Box from Satomi – the price was simply too good to resist adding one to the collection. I know there’s a clue in the name but this one looks like a giant dice (die? Any pedants out there?) except that the numbers haven’t quite been lined up properly – you know – opposite sides don’t add to 7 ... how sad am I that that’s the first thing I spot about this box?!

Turns out that’s vaguely useful ... he said, dropping in a little clue ... I like the way this box opens –totally unique opening mechanism.

Next up is a few boxes resulting from a recent Karakuri Club email announcing some new puzzles... I opted for two of the new ones and a copy of an older design that I hadn’t added to my collection yet.

Byway Secret 2 by Hiroshi Iwahara is not a new puzzle by any measure but it is a classic! I’d had the pleasure of playing with a couple of them in the past, but I thought I needed to have one in my own collection, so given that I was going to be getting a couple of things from the Karakuri folks, I added a copy to my order...

It starts out like a really simple puzzle box with the top sliding open in a couple of moves ... except it’s a lot shallower than you’re expecting it to be and there’s a raised plate on the bottom with some Japanese writing on it... not sure if there’s a clue to the next move in that writing or not, but some closer examination leads to the interesting twist that makes Byway Secret a rather interesting little puzzle box ... and another 10 moves sees the main compartment come open.
Ring Box by Hideaki Kawashima is a little gem – one of the new boxes on offer, it’s made of ancient keyaki wood with a lovely green colour to it and it literally looks exactly like a classic little ring box. There’s a little card in the box that helpfully tells you that your goal is to remove the ring ... and that actually is important as you might be tempted into thinking that you’ve finished before you actually have... I was!

While this one looks like a ring box and all the visual clues tell your brain that it should open like a normal ring box – it won’t. (Yip, first thing I tried!) Hunting around you’ll find that in a couple of moves you can open the top and see a ring nestling inside. (Yip, it looks like a traditional ring box in there!) I was tempted to think that I’d finished – until Neil pointed out that the ring was held firmly in place and it wasn’t budging!

Cool ... I like that – little bit of a teaser ... set back to work again and a few more moves and the ring is now released...

I really like this little box – especially the fact that it teases you in the middle like that ... gives you a sniff of victory and then makes you try harder...

The other new puzzle is a fresh design from Akio Kamei called Three Sticks. The web-site’s description explains that the craftsman’s intention was to create a puzzle that looks just like three sticks... and he’s succeeded (!).

These matching sticks in walnut, oak and magnolia have markings branded on one face and they do literally look like three nicely finished sticks ... in fact if it weren’t for the fact that some of them feel a little lighter than you might expect, you’d be tempted to actually believe that they were just a set of sticks.

Going to work on them you soon realise that one is a fairly traditional puzzle box mechanism except for the fact that the seams are wonderfully well disguised ... another is a pretty unusual mechanism – not that tricky but a little surprising and again, you’d be hard-pressed to spot any tell-tale signs of what’s going to happen – even when you’re looking in the right spot! ... and the third one achieves exactly what the craftsman has set out to do – perfectly!

...the third chapter in my latest Karakuri binge is all Wil’s fault! I picked up a Kamei Money Box and a couple of String Boxes by Fumio Tsuburai as I didn’t yet have any of them in my collection and Wil had some spares available for sale.
The Money Box is another little gem of a box ... it looks like a rosewood money box with a slot in the top and some experimentation will lead you to believe that the bottom might just be a sliding panel... but nothing you do at this point will get that box open! You will need to make use of it, properly, and completely – and at that point the base will magically slide open – I love the fact that the only way into the box is to use it ... and it will open when it’s good and ready – but not until then.

The Christmas 2011 String Box has a single piece of string with a pair of wooden beads on its ends running through the base of the box – some sort of a locking mechanism steadfastly stops the top from being released until you work out the combination of tugs and moves required to release the latch ...locking it up again is a simple matter of replacing the lid. Neat!

The Christmas 2012 String Box has a pair of brightly coloured cords coming out of the four sides of the base – tugging them in various combinations and orders sometimes gives a different feel ... and learning how to string (sorry!) a series of useful moves together in a combination is the secret to opening this box ... and it’s a lot trickier than the previous year’s String Box ... in fact I happen to know that it kept some real puzzlers at bay for several weeks... so it can’t be that easy! Oh, and locking it back up again requires most of the same moves, in reverse...

OK ... that’s probably enough to confess to at this point, so I won’t mention the latest round of offers from the Karakuri Club ... :-)

Thursday 23 May 2013

MPP10 promises about this blog post as I'm now writing it more than a month after it took place - having spent a week in bed with flu in between - this post may bear no resemblance to actual events whatsoever! [But if you weren't there, you probably won't mind as long as there are pics of puzzles, puzzlers and some plausible stories - and if you were, feel free to supplement the post by means of the comment section below! :-) ]

The best-travelled MPP member joined us from Eindhoven for MPP10 and I collected him from the airport on the Friday evening, and we did the usual catch-up and general chatter about what we've been up to and how things were going on the exchange puzzle before I left him in the study with a row of puzzles to play with while I went to grab some sleep. 

Next morning we drove through to Warwick a bit before the official start to help set up our usual room for the day... and soon enough we realised we were going to be in for a pretty busy day! Ever since we started using Facebook to publicise our meetings they seem to be getting bigger and bigger - and not just because new people are joining us... Nigel was expecting a larger than usual crowd and there was a bit of a concern that the room might not quite be large enough and we might need to spill over into the open area next to the room where we normally have lunch... in the end we just squashed into the usual room!

After we'd got the room laid out properly and unpacked our offerings for the day I laid into the coffee for the first time of many that day - in fact I generally find myself snacking and drinking coffee most of the day at these gatherings... in between puzzling, of course!

Before the meeting Louis had told all the Revo-guys to bring along a Revomaze that they could solve (not in one of Neil's nice clear sleeves!) so at some point he began asking them to take out their Revo's and open them, at which point he took a pin and sleeve from them, turned his back for a minute or so and then handed them their sleeves back with a new white core inserted and duly locked in place ... he'd caught me with one of those the night before so I knew what was coming but it was awesome to see the looks on folks' faces when they realised what he'd just done... 
He'd designed his own maze core and had a bunch of them 3D printed by Shapeways and rocked up on the Saturday and basically dished out a copy to everyone who'd give him a sleeve and pin - nice bloke, eh?  [I had a go at solving my copy a while later and it was great fun having a real, honest new maze to play around with - using a pencil on the core I could map out some of the things I thought I might want to avoid and that showed me that Louis has a bit of a mean streak when it comes to designing puzzles... Thanks Louis - I really enjoyed that!] 
MPP10 did see a notable first with a presentation and someone actually making a speech - as it was Oli's final MPP as a bachelor, some of the guys had colluded to design and print a three-piece burr (Frank's design and Steve's 3D printing) where one of the pieces was in the shape of a heart and Frank wished him well on the next exciting phase of his life on our behalf while several (nameless!) hecklers suggested that was the end of his carefree days spending all his spare cash on puzzles and toys... 

Satomi and Scott set up a table heaving with some lovely Japanese goodies for sale and I managed to snag quite a few little things that I'd been hoping to get at some point at some very reasonable prices ... and it was great to see the pair of them wandering around and playing with some of the puzzles they hadn't seen - we may well turn them into puzzlers yet!

Steve had brought a copy of Whilemina Wombat by Brian Young and Kevin and I decided that would be an opportunity we couldn't pass up ... Kevin did most of the work and every now and then when he thought he'd hit a dead end I'd fiddle around a bit and stumble across something potentially useful. Between us we managed to work out the main mechanics of the little beastie, having discovered a couple of tools and found places to poke them, usefully - and before long we'd managed to dismantle her - ultimately finding the mini-wombat inside. 

Putting Whilemina back together was another story entirely... we found ourselves somewhat snookered when the leaves (a pair of little silver leaves held together by a ring) had to be put in place and then a few moves later we discovered that they'd moved, courtesy of a little magnet, and they were now effectively stopping any progress - either forwards or backwards ... there was a little cursing, some sweating and plenty of imaginative prodding and tapping before we finally managed to get things going again. We reversed our steps and put the leaves where they should go, only to find ourselves in exactly the same dead end again... cue more sweating, cursing, prodding and tapping before we managed to get them out again - at which point we decided they would be given back to Steve separately rather than risk going through that again! Leaves omitted, she went back together fairly quickly... Of course all the while that we were struggling through that, Frank was helpfully pointing out that one of his Whilemina's has been lying in a box in bits for years because he can't get it back together again - thanks Frank - real encouraging! Great fun puzzle to work through and really glad to have been given the chance at one - thanks guys!

Rich amazed us yet again - having demonstrated his mastery of several extremely high level burrs previously, this time he grabbed an 11*11*11 twisty cube from one of the cubers, scrambled it and then sat himself down at a table and proceeded to solve it - from scratch - while enduring all sorts of taunts , mainly from the non-twisties among us - and it didn't seem to take him that long - so we've decided he must be in league with the devil - it was pretty clear. 

Later in the day in spite of what had happened to Whilemina, Steve goaded Kevin into having a bash at his copy of Cutler's Crooked Box #2 which in spite of its name looks more like a ball made up of notched planks - Kevin had no trouble taking it apart, but putting it back together was a little more troublesome ... 

Several times he had the two main bits assembled and just had to place them together to complete the assembly and then something would go slightly awry and he'd start again ... of course at this point Steve letting on to everyone else that with an extra hand or two it's really quite simple, but strangely nobody volunteered the extra hand as we didn't want to rob Kevin of his sense of achievement (!) and he did manage it all on his own, and he was chuffed!

 ... a short while later when Steve was packing up he realised he didn't have enough space so he just dismantled all of Kevin's hard work ... and I'm hoping Kevin didn't see that bit after all his hard work!

Another excellent MPP - sterling job Nigel!! Thank you sir!

Saturday 18 May 2013

Wil's Queen's Day Puzzle Party

Two weeks ago today I found myself on a plane across to Schiphol and after retrieving my luggage (yes I was only going for a couple of days but I'd taken some puzzley-things I'd rather not have had in my hand luggage) and heading toward the train station I discovered that some planned engineering works and some not-so-planned signal failures were playing a little havoc with the usually great Dutch rail service. I worked out more or less what I thought I should do and texted a friend, just to be sure... and he ended up giving me a running commentary on which trains to look for where, as my normally simple journey to Eindhoven became more and more complicated...

When I got off the train in Eindhoven my personal rail-re-router met me at the platform and after checking into the hotel and ditching the stuff I didn't need we headed off to Louis' place for a little light puzzling, some chat, a little playing with the kids (in fairness, Louis and Mieke picked up all of the required football training) and some really delicious dinner!

Louis and I spent a while looking over the latest prototypes for my Exchange puzzle (Yip!) and once again he amazed me with his eye for detail on the different experimental variants he'd tried and the reasoning behind some of the latest changes. Expecting a long day on the Sunday, I retired to my hotel fairly early that night... and Louis collected me bright and early the next morning for the short drive out to Wil's place in Venlo.

The traffic was really light so we ended up getting there earlier than we'd intended to and found ourselves being greeted like long lost friends. Wil gave us some coffee and offered us an amazing array of cakes and tarts, and we did a little catching up before the rest of the puzzling world arrived. 

Over the course of the next hour or two there was a steady stream of folks arriving - at first Wil would answer the doorbell himself, but soon that became a bit difficult as his house rapidly filled up with puzzlers either chatting or raking through his hundreds of plastic crates - so in the end whoever happened to be nearest the front door just let the latest arrivals in and made them feel welcome. 

I was chuffed to see Michel van Ipenburg in the flesh after reading his puzzling newsletters about all his latest acquisitions and seeing him on Facebook - and as Goetz Schwandtner pointed out, I'd actually seen Michel at the last DCD when we were chatting about Goetz' Fidgety Rabbits (only in a puzzle blog would that sound entirely sensible...) but I was being a bit dense and hadn't put two and two together that day. Later on in the day, Michel was wandering around and dishing out copies of Stressful that he'd made up in really small colourful binder clips to pretty much everyone who was there ... thanks Michel! It's going to live next to my somewhat less colourful and rather obese looking ones. :-) 

I must have spent hours trawling through Wil's plastic crates finding some absolute gems from IPPs-past - stopping occasionally to try and solve something -sometimes succeeding, more often than not putting it back the way I'd found it and hoping that nobody had noticed my failure! 

Some puzzlers had brought along some of their designs to sell and I ended up spending a lovely time chatting to Ton Delsing about some of his sliding tile puzzles. He took great pleasure in showing me some of the tricks and constraints that he'd built into some of his puzzles and kept encouraging me to have a bash at some of them. I bought a couple of them ["Sliding Puzzles" - it seemed appropriate! and "Cat & Dog" which Ton told me was a tough puzzle] and I've had a little play with one of them since then and scrambled Cat & Dog ... and no amount of fiddling since then will return it to any of the target orders - I may need to spend a little time thinking about this one ... or perhaps taking it away on holiday with me!

Louis and I had a chat with Peter Knoppers [of Buttonius-fame] who'd done the laser-cutting for my Exchange puzzle about the latest variations and then we worked through half of the solution to make sure that everything fitted properly - and it did - beautifully - so we asked Peter to let rip on the rest of them. 

Peter had also brought along a couple of puzzles that I'd ordered off his web-site including a copy of Oskar's EGGcentric, his own Di-Half-Hexes from IPP32 and a Crazy Elephant Dance Kit. 

Somewhere around lunchtime a huge feast appeared in Wil's kitchen and folks helped themselves to an vast array of incredibly yummy-looking food. I'd piled up a plate and wandered outside into the sun (yip, I did venture outside in spite of all the puzzle-goodness inside!) where I found some puzzlers I hadn't met yet with some I had - having a great time chatting and munching and occasionally fiddling with the odd puzzle as well. I found myself feeling a little guilty as there really was a United Nations of puzzlers there that day, happily chatting away in Dutch, German and occasionally English - but whenever I happened to open my mouth, the conversation would invariably switch to English and carry on, having included me - puzzlers are a really inclusive bunch!

After lunch I had a spotted a Binary Burr (or was it a Ternary Burr?) on one of Wil's shelves and seen that there was a piece sticking out... my OCD kicked in and I was unable to leave it in that condition so I picked it up and began playing with it. Very quickly I realised that it wasn't one of the early moves that had extended it so I ended up wandering up and down aimlessly through the sequence of moves not really getting very close to restoring it back to its brick-like shape. While I was doing that, Goetz-master-of-all-puzzles-n-ary wandered in so I did the obvious thing and gave it to him and asked him to take it back to the starting position. He took it and sized it up much as a twisty-puzzle-solver would give a scrambled cube the once-over and then proceeded to whizz through a bunch of moves with jaw-dropping dexterity that had it back to the starting position in about a minute. OCD satisfied, we replaced it on the shelf...

Later in the afternoon I set myself a bit of project and picked up Wil's copy of the Popplock T1. I'm a big fan of Rainer Popp's puzzle locks and the T1 seems to have attained an almost legendary status - not just because it's virtually impossible to find one, but also because it's a really tough puzzle. Knowing that Louis had recently opened it, I knew I could get some help if I needed it so I sat myself down and began fiddling... the T1 is a really solid-looking lock and the haps seems to be sprung and travels all the way through the body, peeking out the bottom when you compress it. A careful examination shows a few "interesting" markings / buttons around the body, but at this point nothing really moves. I spent a little while on it before discovering the first set of moves and I have to say that they totally blew my mind - I just wasn't expecting this thing to do THAT! There was the vaguest of clues to the eventual move just before it went, but nothing to suggest what was about to happen... Having made some progress, I was then pretty stumped as to where to go next - there was a world of new things to try, none of them seemed to really do anything though... so I wandered upstairs and found Louis and asked for some pointers - which he duly provided and after a couple of false starts we had it open ... and it really is EPIC! 

Later in the afternoon Wil was dishing out some laser-cut assemblies he'd brought back from his latest trip to Japan to everyone who was still there... I know there's a Cherry dodecahedron and a Clover dodecahedron in there, but I still have no idea what the set of triangular pieces is going to turn into. (Louis has subsequently assembled his copy and pronounced himself surprised at the eventual shape - so I have NO IDEA!)

That evening Wil took the Van Grol-clan, Rob, Louis, Chris and I out to dinner at his local Chinese restaurant where they treated us to some wonderful delicacies all served in great big platters so we could all try everything. Wil entertained old and young alike with puzzles and magic and we had a terrific meal. After the meal, the manager ushered a pair of us into a storeroom to pick up a couple of large boxes that clinked a lot when we picked them up... :-) 

Back at Wil's place we puzzled even more, with Louis obliging and opening Wil's Bronze Revomaze for him so that he could display it in the lovely clear sleeve that Neil had made for him. Judging by Wil's reaction he was over the moon with the new clear sleeve and promptly gave it pride of place in one of his special cabinets. 

Somewhere after 11pm we called it a day and after dropping Chris at the station, we headed back toward Eindhoven with stacks of new puzzle-related stories buzzing around in our heads. Next morning I did battle once more with trains (signal failures again), planes and automobiles to get myself home - a really fantastic puzzling weekend thanks to Louis, Wil and all the folks who helped make Wil's last Queen's Day Puzzle Party for a while such a wonderful day. [Queen Bea's abdication means next year it's a King's Day PP!]