Sunday 30 June 2013

Lock 250+ and the Generation Lock ...

A few weeks ago Wil Strijbos sent out one of his customary email newsletters with a bunch of puzzles available for sale. One of the puzzles that caught my eye was one that I'd been meaning to get for a little while called the Lock 250+, so I asked Wil to put one aside for me and he duly brought it over when he came to join us at MPP11. 

It's a neat looking lock-shaped n-ary puzzle made by Jean Claude Constantin in laser-cut plywood. The outer panels are all veneered and it looks reasonably innocuous - although there's an ominous clue in the name that there may well be c.250 moves to open (and then another 250 moves to close) this puzzle. Looking between the slots in the sides you can see a series of internal plates that are moved up and down through the interactions of the steel sliders. The bottom slider is pretty much free to move left and right all of the time and the plates interact to allow each successive slider to move one place until it completes a full transit, allowing the next slider to move one space along... repeat until open...

At MPP11 Kevin had brought his copy along and reckoned that once you got into the rhythm of a particular n-ary puzzle, they became pretty mechanical and didn't take long to solve at all... mere minutes for this little 250-ish move version...

At that point Kevin made a fatal mistake - he engaged Wil in a conversation about the fact that the highest order n-ary puzzle currently out there was "only" around 4000-odd moves (the 7-ary Kugellager puzzle) - now I knew what was coming (having seen the monster the night before) and played along a little coaxing him to suggest just how high he might like to go... he plumped for c.6000 moves... and with that Wil introduces a special collectors' edition fresh from the Constantin workshop - dubbed the Generation Lock, it's a slightly larger version of the Lock 250+ .... slightly larger... OK, I lied ... it's huge! (and we all know that size isn't everything...)

So how do they compare?

Lock 250+ has 4 sliders ... three of them have 6 positions each and the bottom one shuttles between the two extremes freely... the Generation Lock also has a bottom slider that shuttles between the two end positions freely, however it has a further 7 sliders each with 15 positions... so similar then?

Well, yes - in the same way that the Spirit of St Louis is similar to an F14... 

Think about the number of discrete positions and moves on the Lock 250+ : each of the three main sliders has 6 positions (including the start position), so each has to make 5 moves... and each one relies on the previous slider having done one complete left/right transition also taking 5 moves (except the bottom trivial slider) ... so I think that means that in total you need [2*(5^3) + 1] moves, or roughly 251 of them - which sort of lines up with the thing's name, so my sums may be right... but I'm not good with sums, so don't take my word for it... OK, so assuming that you can do roughly one move per second, you can open little brother in a little over 4 minutes... [See below for the right figures!]

Now let's consider big brother - 15 positions gives us 14 required moves per slider, and 7 sliders means that the total number of moves required should be of the order of [2*(14^7) +1], which is a bit larger ... about 210 million moves ... and if that doesn't quite put it in perspective, at a move per second on average, that's 6.7 YEARS - AS LONG AS YOU NEVER TAKE A BREAK[See below for the right figures!]

OK, hopefully that makes the point - it is totally BONKERS! 

So bonkers in fact that you're probably never ever going to actually solve this one - not in one generation anyway ... see where the name comes from now? 

Having introduced it to us, a couple of us duly threw some cash at Wil and ended up taking home a really unique, if not totally bonkers puzzle lock...

I've spent a little while exercising the mechanism. (I don't think you ever seriously set about trying to open things like this, you can only hope to exercise the mechanism a little in the right direction and head towards the solution... but I suspect that it's not going to feel like it's coming closer for a very long time!)

Since acquiring our Generation Locks, Wil's been back in touch with us to let us know that the locks will have their name laser-etched on the front in future and he's given us a fantastic suggestion for the puzzle equivalent of a log-book to track who has helped us to ultimately open our Generation Locks. 

Given that it's going to take many, many years to open, what better way to track your puzzling meetings than have everyone put in a couple of moves on the puzzle and sign the log-book ... so I think that I shall be instituting exactly such a rule for all visitors to the puzzle cave... and sit back and watch my puzzling mates open this monster for me ... over the next forty years or so!


ERRATUM - Thanks to Goetz Schwandtner for pointing out (very nicely) that all my calcs were totally wrong! And that there are one or two subtle differences in how the mechanisms work so that they actually behave slightly differently ... the net upshot of which is that Lock 250+ could in fact have been called Lock 310, and the Generation Lock requires about 341 million moves... or 10.8 years at my mythical move-a-second - read his analysis over here.  Thanks Goetz!!

Friday 28 June 2013

Strijbos cola bottle #9

In the run up to MPP11 Wil had mentioned that he was hoping to have a new cola bottle puzzle for us in the Midlands. Having seen a crate full of rather special aluminium cola bottles in his kitchen a couple of months ago I was hoping that this one would be something a little different, and Wil didn’t disappoint!

Shortly after settling down at my place on the Friday evening, Wil opened his suitcase and produced a very funky looking aluminium cola bottle with a familiar-looking red rod sticking out of the mouth. He said he’d been working on it right up until the night before and had managed to bring just a couple of them along. He explained that these cola bottles were a bit different and since they were made of aluminium, it was a bit harder than usual to see what was going on inside. Strijbos – master of the understatement!

He had however solved that particular problem, he went on to explain, by pointing to the 4mm hole he’d drilled in the side of the bottle as he produced a little glow stick and proceeded to bend it and set it glowing. One end of the glow stick is poked into the hole in the side while you peer into the mouth of the bottle and you can almost see something useful inside there … then he points out that these glow sticks only have a limited life and that with the pair of them he’s given you … one of which he’s helpfully lit up already – you only have about 24 hours to solve the puzzle! 


Better get started then…

I peer into the green gloom and once you get used to it, you can see a fair amount inside there… only problem is that part of Wil’s mechanism appears to be a plastic washer on the familiar red rod whose only purpose seems to be to hide the business end of the stick from view … unfortunately it’s pretty effective at exactly that! 

Down in the bottom of the bottle the familiar jangle of a grey marble provides some familiarity, but not a lot of help ... a fair amount of experimentation and manoeuvring reveals not an awful lot to me so I hand it over to Louis and he jangles things about for a while - noticing more than I've managed to, but not managing to make significant progress before we retire for the night, leaving the little green light glowing in the dark while we recharge for a full day's puzzling. 

The bottle goes along to MPP11 ... along with two other copies but it takes all day of various folks making various attempts before Russ manages to open one of them... much to Wil's delight. Seeing the business end of it out in the open helps you realise just how mean Wil's been... working out what's going on in there through a tiny hole in a dark bottle takes a fair amount of imagination - kudos Russ!

Wil talks me through some of the aspects of the design, and shows me how to make it even harder with a simple twist ... he's mean! 

And by the way, reassembly for the next victim is non-trivial too...

The bottle gets reassembled and I get some time to experiment and play some more the next evening and even having seen the mechanism outside the bottle and knowing how it must work, it takes me a little while to come up with a reasonable strategy for reliably opening it ... 

It's a really great new addition to Wil's wonderful range of cola bottle puzzles...  Thanks Wil!

Monday 24 June 2013

MPP11 – one helluva weekend

This particular epic starts when I collect Wil and Louis from the airport on Friday evening. It turns out that Wil’s suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of a lovely young stewardess on the way over (she may have stubbed his toe with her trolley - the accounts I got of exactly what happened aren’t necessarily complete…) and as a result he’s had to be pacified with a glass or two of champagne – he manages to survive and makes it to Birmingham with a little help from Louis… and that’s just the start…!

Back at my place we get a bit more of the story of the trip over (the complete facts still elude us!) before Gill retires for the night leaving the boys to talk (and play!) puzzles. I bring out a few recently acquired things to play with, Louis produces close on a hundred partly completed exchange puzzles (he’s done all the hard work, it’s just up to me to finish off a couple of little things) and then Wil opens his suitcase and starts pulling out all manner of treasure…

He produces a mammoth new n-ary puzzle from Jean Claude Constantin that looks like a super-sized version of the Lock 250+ and challenges us to guess how many moves it requires to open… and between Louis and I we guess a large number… a very large number and Wil seems content, and not at all surprised – we’re staggered… I ended up getting a copy from him and it’ll turn up in the blog shortly – although there may not be any pics of it solved… sorry. 

Next he produces his newest cola bottle puzzle … except this one’s really different! Suffice it to say that he has a good laugh at setting me up for this one and catches me out thoroughly… and the next day he widens the net …

At one point Louis asks for my copy of the Amazing Box #3 and proceeds to take out a little bottle of furniture oil from his luggage and polishes up the AB#3 and it looks terrific. I give up at 2:30am and wander off to bed leaving Louis still puzzling in the cave… next morning there’s the now-traditional pile of solved puzzles to prove his previous night’s productivity. 

We all head out to Warwick the next morning and soon after we arrive there’s a room full of puzzlers happily chatting about the hundreds of puzzles arrayed around the tables… Wil’s set up shop in the far corner and there’s a continuous throng gathered around his collection of plastic crates full of puzzling goodness. 

A couple of Wil’s new cola bottles make their appearance and there’s an orderly queue of people trying their luck on it but no-one solves it until later that night at Nigel’s … and there’s only one casualty when Steve manages to line up the bottle and his eye perfectly as it released one of the little radioactive devices that Wil had dished out … Steve survived… 

At some point Kevin was talking about the fact that the n-ary puzzles he had just weren’t enough, somehow – he has a Kugellager puzzle that requires c.4000 moves but he wants something more… so one of us asks him how many moves he’d like to see in an n-ary puzzle so he goes for the radical suggestion of c.6000 … at which point we tee up Wil to introduce his latest offering: JC Constantin’s monstrous new lock and Wil sets the assembled masses the challenge of estimating the number of moves required to open it… with the winner who comes closest (as long as they’re within 30% of the right answer) receiving a copy of his latest cola bottle. Game on! Unfortunately most people soon settle on the same answer (c. hundreds of millions) so the game deteriorates somewhat and a while later a new cola bottle challenge is set…

There was a short pause in the proceedings during the afternoon when we all headed to the next room to wish Oli a happy birthday in traditional song (no, we were polite!) and invite him to entertain us with a speech – he offers us some of his cake instead – everyone’s a winner!  

A little earlier in the day Chris had presented Oli with a large box beautifully wrapped in some interesting pink wrapping paper held together, at one end at least, with hazardous materials warning tape … Oli piles in undeterred by the warning tape and soon enough has opened the first box to find… another box – cue mild amusement all round … so he piles into the next box … and so on … and so on … until the eventual gift of a recent IPP exchange puzzle emerges from amidst the piles of packaging looking positively microscopic in comparison, but kudos to Chris who’s found a sensible use for all the packaging that most of us puzzlers seem to accumulate in our quest for new toys! 

Satomi joined us for a good few hours bringing along her usual couple of boxes of Japanese puzzling goodies. This time she'd also managed to bring along a couple of copies of variants of Mine's cubes (Lock-N, Lock-y and Disjointed) for folks who'd not been able to find them elsewhere yet ... 

Drawing inspiration from an earlier group photo of Super Cubi's and a King Cubi, Nigel asked everyone to bring along their Popplocks and the resulting table-full, including Wil's T1 is a real sight for sore eyes - don't anybody try and put a price on that table-full, please!

...speaking of Wil's T1, that got passed around quite a lot with several folks having a bash at it over the course of the day. While not everyone solved it, a few folks did enjoy victory over that most legendary and unobtainable modern puzzle lock - and broad were the smiles of satisfaction! 

Peter Hajek managed to puzzle a number of folks with his new incarnation of the anti-gravity machine employing decks of cards ... and couple of lucky puzzlers managed to bag a copy of their own along the way. 

Oli brought along a crate of puzzles that he'd run out of place for and a couple of us did our bit by swapping him some small bits of paper for some big bulky puzzles, although in fairness, I don't think he quite understood the process because half the time he wasn't even taking the small bits of paper we were proffering! (Thanks Oli!) 

The day literally flew by and before we knew it we were packing up the toys and heading around the corner to Nigel's place for a BBQ. It was the first time I'd been into Nigel's house and in spite of having seen some pics of his collection, walking in through the front door and being greeted by three massive cabinets full of puzzles still stopped me in my tracks ... it looks impressive, mate!

It didn't take everyone long to decamp to Nigel's, make themselves at home and pick up some new puzzles to play with... Nigel slipped into incredibly-gracious-host-mode, donned his Harley apron and set about feeding everyone  - the BBQ was exceedingly good (remember that coming from a South African should be taken as high praise indeed!) - special mention must go to Adin's homemade burgers - phenomenal!! 

Several more folks ended up playing with Wil's new cola bottle and eventually Adin Russ (sorry Russ!!!!) became the first to solve it, much to Wil's great pleasure (and relief that it was solved the way he'd intended). 

After most of the eating had been completed, Wil presented a second cola bottle challenge in the form of a puzzle with a deck of cards... he took out a standard deck of cards without any jokers (well actually he used an incredibly shiny gold deck of cards, but trust me it doesn't make any difference!) and asked someone to select a card and place it face down on the table. He then closes up the fanned deck and places it on the table near the selected card and asks "What card is now in the deck that was not in the deck before?"

I'd heard it the night before, and had tried a lot of guesses and yet I was nowhere nearer the answer than the others who'd only just heard it... there were plenty of theories and even more guesses - at one point Simon's suggestion of "DIScard" was immediately countered by "DATcard" but Wil patiently listened, sighed and told us to try harder - he pointed out that it wasn't a play on words (we'd been concentrating on that for some reason) and it worked equally well in Dutch and in English... in the centre of the guesses Louis was struck with inspiration and gave Wil the answer, scooping the last available copy of the cola bottle #9 - well earned Louis!

There were a few rather stranger incidents during the course of the evening... with Jamie getting to know a set of Chinese rings rather intimately over the course of what seemed like hours ... I'm sure there wasn't much alcohol involved but he did seem to be going backwards and forwards a fair amount and not necessarily waiting until he got to an end before changing direction, but he seemed to be having fun... so no harm done!

...Adin took it upon himself to solve Mount Fuji and received a fair amount of encouragement from all round him, including a challenge of a large cash prize if he managed to solve it himself in front of us... sadly that made him smell a rat. As did the fact that a few of us specifically drew up chairs to watch him and give him "advice" and he got visibly nervous when I took out my camera ... and thus began one of the funniest interludes ever at an MPP with several of us literally in tears of laughter as Adin tried various strategies only to be quizzed by the masses and then given more and more helpful advice. 

"Have you tried spinning it?" 

"Have you tried blowing on it?" 

"Have you...." - "AAAARRRGGGHHH leave me alone!" ... whenever the hints were deemed too obvious by the offerer of the prize, he'd announce an appropriate reduction in the prize - none of which was lost on Adin who followed all the baiting carefully and you could see him slowly forming the solution in his mind and it pretty much coincided with us virtually telling him what to do and then there was a moment of absolute clarity on his face when he looked at us and announced that he would not be doing that to a puzzle - even for offers of cash ... 
I haven't laughed as much at a puzzle in ages, and I don't think Adin will forgive us for a while ... although he has subsequently admitted to be considering trying to buy a copy of his own, so it couldn't have been too traumatic for him! 

Having the Dutch puzzling team in tow, I was one of the last to leave Nigel's after a thoroughly awesome MPP11 (+BBQ) - compliments to the cook and organiser - grand job Nigel - GRAND JOB!

...I spent the drive home quizzing Louis and Wil on Wil's riddle, and still didn't solve it until the next morning when I stumbled across something that helped me bridge a few gaps in my reasoning... and it's good - there's an elegant solution that you will know is correct when you find it...

Even though we were pretty shattered after a FULL day's puzzling, we still spent a couple more hours chatting before crashing that night ... and then a few more hours puzzling in the morning in between a great English breakfast courtesy of Gill before placing the Dutch contingent back in the care of KLM where hopefully Wil didn't get assaulted on the way home as well... :-) 

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Discoveries on a puzzling cruise

While we were cruising across to Copenhagen, Gill asked if there were any puzzle shops in Copenhagen, and once I'd got over the initial shock (only kidding dear!) I hit Google and discovered a place called Games that looked like it might have some interesting looking puzzles in it...

Once we'd found our way into the city centre and done some of the touristy sight-seeing stuff, we wandered down the main shopping drag and came across Jorck's Passage and duly found Games ... which it turns out has a pretty decent array of great puzzles. In one display there was a set of Sonic Warp (or whatever they call themselves at the moment!) puzzles including Isis, Ramisis and Coppernisis.  There were several displays of cast puzzles of varying descriptions, entanglement puzzles by the dozen and shelves full of Thinkfun puzzles and games.
Around the back of the shop I found a veritable treasure trove of wooden puzzles in large glass display cabinet ... I recognised tons of Vinco's along the top two shelves and saw quite a few puzzles that I didn't recognise... including an interesting cube dissection where the pieces also fit into a rectangular box that I  immediately decided I needed to add to the collection... it'll turn up in a blog post one of these days, promise!

I also picked up a travel-sized Katamino puzzle that has already provided more than its fair share of puzzling trying to fit various combinations of pentominoes into different sized rectangles in the playing area.

We didn't try and find any puzzle shops in Stockholm but while we were wandering around Gamla Stan we had a look in a little shop that was run by a group of craftsmen who took turns in manning the shop that sells their handiwork. One of the craftsmen is a woodworker called Carl Nelson who happened to produce one or two puzzles, so I picked up a copy of his 11-piece furniture puzzle - simple and cute!

Before getting into Helsinki I hit up Google for some puzzle shops and I found one interesting candidate called Heureka in the shopping mall at the Kamppi station. Thanks to Gill's superior map-reading skills we managed to find it and I was amazed to see not only a full display stand of Cast Puzzles but shelves full of JC Constantin puzzles ... including several that I didn't already have, so I helped myself to a copy of Blumen Orange and Surface along with an intricate-looking double sided ball bearing maze whose name escapes me...

On the wall next to the cashier there were rows and rows of puzzles that looked like Tomas Linden's work and indeed on examining the packaging they were all Tomas' work branded for Heureka - so I picked up a copy of his Comet disentanglement puzzle... Oh and a set of optical illusion cards that were going for a song...

A few days later in Tallinn's old town I discovered a cute little puzzle box along a well-known principle - not a difficult puzzle - not even particularly good-looking, but it'll remind me of my visit to Tallinn ...

Having left on a cruise with the intention of just having a holiday, somehow some new puzzles managed to hunt me down and sneak into the collection ... now that's a great holiday!