Saturday 28 June 2014

Wil Strijbos’ Egg

At the risk of becoming a “me-too” blogger, I feel I need to write about Wil Strijbos’ latest new release. Jerry and Kevin have already shared their impressions, so I’ll try not to repeat too much of what they’ve already covered and give you my impressions.

Both of the guys have covered the pre-history of the Egg, its recent re-discovery in James Dalgety’s collection and alluded to the challenges involved in getting the Egg produced in China – Wil’s been working on getting the Egg just right for quite a while now, so when he announced it was finally ready there were quite a lot of us throwing money in his direction for the privilege of being puzzled.

His first run of 55 Eggs sold out in a little over a week(!) … don’t worry if you missed out, there’s bound to be another run along in the near future.

Right – onto the puzzley-bits…

Dainty, she ain’t – I’m not going to give you another shot of Wil’s Egg next to a standard chicken egg, suffice it to say, Wil’s Egg’s bigger! It’s a rather nicely anodised pink aluminium number with some lettering giving you the puzzle’s name, a serial number and Wil’s great, if almost illegible, signature on the bottom. 

The top and bottom halves of the Egg are clearly separate pieces (no that’s not a spoiler!), but at the start of the solve, there’s precious little movement between the two pieces. You’ll need to spend some time playing with it and working out how to get things going and once you do, you’ll be rewarded with a little movement, first this way, and then that way…

Make a little more progress and you’ll even be able to peek inside a little – not enough to be in any way useful of course, but enough to let you know you’re making progress. You may be able to work out what was stopping your earliest progress, but you certainly won’t get any clues on how to progress! (Wil’s mean like that!)

I spent quite a while in the middle of this solve, spread over a couple of evenings… mainly because I’d got some other puzzles at the same time and I was flitting between a couple of them trying to progress them all, so whenever I found I needed to pause and think, I was picking up one of the other puzzles…

In the end I must have spent an hour or two on opening the Egg the first time – and I’m not ashamed to say that it needed a pretty ruthless, rigorous approach to working out how to get into it… the mechanism is so finely tuned that unless you get the solution pretty much spot on it throws you back a bunch of steps … generally without you even realising it!

There’s just enough feedback to keep making progress and work out what you’re trying to do, and ultimately being able to picture what’s probably going on in there is a really valuable skill. (Alternatively access to a handy NHS X-ray machine if you’re that way inclined!)

When you do get it open you have to appreciate the tremendous balance between simplicity and incredible engineering to get all that stuff working together so nicely… you’ll also realise why the Egg needs to be that size.

Having opened it I set about studying the insides very closely … and spotted a number of incredibly subtle little details that probably didn’t have to be there, but adding them significantly increases the potential traps for the unwary.

Locking it all up again requires a sequence of actions to get everything back where you started from – there’s no easy reset on this one!

It’s a CRACKing puzzle, EGGseptional in every way, superbly EGGineered, good OVALue for money and EGGstremely good looking. No YOLKing!

[Hey, I behaved myself right up until the end! You know you’d be disappointed if I hadn’t done that … :-) ]

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Three more Fuller gems…

Eric Fuller offers some stunning dinky little puzzles from time to time. Made from laser-cut acrylic and the little bits of wood that would otherwise get thrown out, they generally go for less than $20 but come with all of the accuracy and superb finish that you’d expect from Eric’s bigger puzzles. I’m a big fan of them, although I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm for them. 

In the last round of Cubic Dissection offerings there were three of these little guys and I couldn’t resist picking them up – especially since they cost about the same as one of the other puzzles on offer. 

Vortex is a deceptively simple-looking little guy. 4 little C-shaped pieces are trapped in a single sheet of acrylic in a vertex-y shape. Designed by Chi-Ren Chen, its official name on Ishino’s site is 4C Vortex. A couple of sliding moves present themselves early on and you can make yourself a bit of space to get the pieces moving around… for move around they must! The first piece requires 21 moves to release it, and you’ll need another 13 moves to get the remaining pieces free…

Oh, and if you’re guessing that there are probably rotations involved, you won’t be disappointed – there are plenty!

Once you got the pieces out, working out how to get them back in should keep you “amused” for a while – once you start putting the pieces into the frame you quickly run out of space to manoeuvre the pieces in there and it’s not hard to see why you need those 21 moves from getting the last piece into the frame until they’re all lined up and interlocking properly. 

Carbo Cube is a neat little cube made up of 4 burr pieces in checkerboard colouring trapped inside a pair of clear acrylic plates around their waists. Designed by Donald Osselaer, it has a nice balance of dead-ends to get lost in and interesting moves. 

Getting the two plates to move the way you want them to can sometimes be a fit fiddly, especially when the burr-pieces have been moved and you’re a bit ham-fisted like I am…

Navigate your way past the dead-ends and you’ll find that this puzzle isn’t as tough as you might have thought it will be, but there is an unexpected little way of making some extra space in there to get things moving a bit – very cute. 

Gaia comes from prolific Turkish puzzle designer Yavuz Demirhan – four burr-pieces are trapped in a combination of two acrylic plates and a frame that allows the plates to slide at right angles to one another. 

Right from the get-go there’s a lot going on – plenty of movement to explore, although most of it’s not all that useful. In fact you can get two of the pieces almost all the way out in just a couple of moves – yet the actual solution requires a full 11 moves to release the first piece…

Decent little challenge in a pocket-friendly size, with all Eric’s usual quality. 

Bonus Puzzle – Eric recently started selling a budget range of “Raleigh Puzzles” aimed chiefly at new collectors who weren’t necessarily after his high-end limited edition puzzles. They’re significantly cheaper than the limited edition puzzles, but seem to be made of the same woods and while they may not be oiled or waxed like his other puzzles, the fit on them is second to none… so I’ve bought a few of them and found them to be absolutely brilliant.

One really stood out though – Ray Stanton / Akio Yamamoto’s Slideways burr is an absolute classic. Three identical pieces slide together in a co-ordinate motion to form the classic three-piece burr shape. The original was machined in aluminium and it’s gorgeous, although it can tend to suffer from spontaneous disassembly issues…

Eric’s wooden version has no such trouble – and while it might not end up being quite a “collectable” as the aluminium original – the fit of the pieces is astonishing and the friction between them is more than enough to hold them together until you apply pressure in the right directions, at the same time. 

An excellent acquisition – you cannot go wrong with an Eric Fuller precision-made puzzle for $15! 

I highly recommend Eric’s range of Raleigh Puzzles.

Friday 20 June 2014

Good grief, what a weekend…

It started on Thursday evening… we’ve got the painters in so we needed to turn a drop-sheet-strewn mess into a liveable space suitable for entertaining guests over the weekend -  that took Gill and I the best part of Thursday evening so we got to sleep in a bit on Friday morning (I’d taken the day off knowing that folks would be arriving). Laurie arrived at exactly the time that he’d predicted weeks earlier, with Dick Hess in tow. Dick played talisman en route, ensuring that there were no traffic jams, and Laurie navigated largely from memory despite having never been to my place before in his life. After a quick catch-up and a cup of coffee, Gill put on a great spread for lunch out on the deck in the glorious British sunshine. (Yes you did read that correctly!)


After lunch the puzzling began up in the cave and it didn’t take long for Laurie and Dick to find something that interested them and there was plenty happy puzzling grunts and the occasional intelligible (if not intelligent!) mumblings – and even the occasional “A-Ha!”.

Dick and I headed out to pick up Wil at the airport and found ourselves tied up in the some horrendous traffic (so much for the talisman!) although we still managed to arrive on time to find Nigel waiting to collect two other Dutch MPP guests. They all arrived on the same flight from Amsterdam and there was lots of happy greeting type sounds as puzzlers greeted new friends and old ones. Nigel took his charges back to Warwick, and Dick and I took Wil back to Barnt Green.

Plenty of good-natured banter followed as the three wise men have known one another for around 30 years and share a lot of history together – so there were many stories and a lot of joking with each of them giving as good as they were getting. Dinner was cottage pie and dessert was a fantastic homemade cheesecake – I may be biased, but it is awesome. After supper more puzzling ensued, with Dick bringing out the puzzles Wil and I had pre-ordered and then we managed to goad Wil into opening his oversized suitcase (which we duly dubbed “The Shop”) and bringing out all manner of new puzzles. In honour of Dick we concentrated on the entanglements (which I’m RUBBISH at) and we spent ages with Wil fishing out one design at a time, handing it to one of us who’d fiddle with it a bit, then say they’d take a copy, only for the rest of us to ask for one as well.


I’d bought a copy of You Two from Wil a couple of weeks earlier and I’d managed to get it apart (with the help of his solution) but I couldn’t for the life of me get it back together again (even trying to follow that solution in reverse!!), so I gave it to Laurie and Dick to un-solve… and then a while later I was a bit bemused when Laurie was fiddling with it and chatting to Wil and Dick about whether Wil had any more copies of it left. When Wil said he was out of stock of them, Laurie kindly donated my copy to Dick on the grounds that it would be easier for him to get another copy from Wil in the interim – there was a lot of hilarity when I pointed out just how generous he’d been with my puzzle … at which point he began negotiating with Dick over a few of my prize puzzle boxes!

Dick headed for bed, and Laurie and I ended up trawling through a few more of Wil’s boxes in search of treasure before we all called it a night at around midnight.

After breakfast the next morning we faced our sternest puzzling challenge yet over the weekend – packing everything into Gill’s car ('cos it has twice as many seats as mine!) for the trip through to Warwick. We had to ditch Wil’s suitcase, but we did manage to fit in all of the puzzles, including four huge crates of Laurie’s swaps. I couldn’t see out of the back window and every time I drove around a corner, my crate of puzzles slid ominously from one side to the other – and somehow it managed not to clout Laurie on the head…

When we got to The Gap we weren’t expecting many folks to be there as we were supposedly half an hour early … yet the coffee area was already jammed with noisy puzzlers. Laurie and Duncan set about trying to have a serious IPP planning meeting in the one corner while the rest of us amused ourselves with new puzzles and meeting new puzzlers. We’d been joined by Maarten and She-who-must-not-be-named-on-line-unless-you-refer-to-her-as-the-cats’-girlfriend, from Holland for the first time and they were busily getting to know new puzzlers while playing with puzzles.

We had a couple of hours to kill until we could get into the main hall so we just set up shop in the coffee area and proceeded to chat and puzzle and drink copious quantities of caffeine. Dick was wandering around dishing out a sheet of logic and maths puzzles to everyone who’d come along and presented everyone with a handmade Hess original entanglement puzzle. [So far I’ve managed to take it apart, but can’t get it back together again!]

Wil lost no time in producing his latest find – a shiny metal object that looked a bit like a rather downmarket version of Marcel Gillen’s rolling pin and invited people play with it. Some of the quicker-witted folks managed to find their way into it and extract the key that was jangling inside, although no-one managed to find out what to do with the key itself. Several tried manfully to find a way to use it in one of the ends of the little rolling pin, all to no avail. After a suitable struggle, Wil would then own up to the story behind this particular item and there would be raucous laughter from all involved and from the bystanders who’d been offering helpful advice on what the solution might just be… you had to be there… and no I won’t say more for fear of spoiling this party trick for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet!

Somewhere around midday the hall became ours and we moved in with a vengeance, with several more crates of puzzles being collected from cars outside and tables rapidly spread around the hall and piled with toys.  Nigel produced the usual spread of cupcakes, biscuits and crisps that kept some of us going all day, while most folks bailed out to the chippie across the road for something more substantial.

About a week before MPP Laurie had asked if he should bring his Katie Koala along so I suggested it might be fun to take a group photo of a few of them, and sent out an email to the others that I knew happened to have one too… on the day we had five of them – which given how few of them have been released into the wild is rather impressive. 

We started out with a simple group photo of them all in a semi-circle and then someone heard Laurie’s innocent suggestion that we should have two of them holding hands with the others lurking behind and suggest that one of them must have been a Kevin and they’d procreated… unfortunately it all went downhill from there and we ended up with a shot of Katies clustered around the telly (reasonably wholesome) and then another group shot that is probably best left sans caption. 

There was a lot of laughter around that table for quite a while though. (And for anyone who was worried that we might not be able to recognise our own Katie afterwards, Brian had branded their bottoms with scribbled serial numbers.)

Satomi did a fair amount of business with several of us stocking up on goodies from Japan that either aren’t available via mail order or where the postage costs would make them too expensive. I managed to pick up a couple of Mine’s hidden picture puzzles and a few Minoru Abe sliding puzzles that I’d been after.

Several of us had a bash at Simon’s copy of Kagen Sound’s Pattern Box – I failed miserably, even though the target pattern is shown on the ends. Nigel managed to get one of the compartments open, but the second one eluded pretty much everybody.

One of the prime attractions seemed to be a fancy new bicycle lock that kept a few puzzlers wondering how the heck to open it for ages…not intended as a puzzle, it’s meant to be an unpickable bike lock where the mechanism is deep inside an outer casing and the key is inserted and then manipulated through the casing. [The internet being the wonderful thing it is has already shown the lock’s claims of being unpickable to be a bit over-stated.]

Steve (M) took delivery of his new Threedy printer from Simon and within a few minutes (literally!) they had it set up and printing off a couple of MPP logos while a huddle of amused puzzlers looked on. During the course of the afternoon various bits and pieces were cranked out with Simon and (big) Steve providing Steve M with tons of advice on using his newest toy and getting a good finish on the pieces. That’s service!

Somewhere around 6pm I rounded up my bus-load and we headed back to my place to get things sorted for the BBQ. I’d hoped to have about half an hour free to get everything sorted, but things didn’t quite work out that way so I ended up having to draft various puzzlers into helping so Chris became the official doorman, Dick was honorary barman and Laurie ended up helping me lug stuff around and set up the gazebo to protect us from the English summer weather (clue: not the sun!). Most of the gang had arrived before I managed to get the meat on the grill, but they somehow managed to amuse themselves for a couple of hours before the grub was ready. Gill did an awesome job of getting all the ancillary stuff organised and made sure that there was salad and potatoes to go with the meat (my only responsibility!). Dick kept everyone well-watered…or at least pointed them in the direction of the drinks fridge. A while after we’d all eaten, we dished up ice cream and chocolate sauce that seemed to go down rather well …22 hungry puzzlers fed – tick!

I’m sure there was a lot of puzzling going on during all of that but I found myself outside burning the meat during most of it, however I have noticed from Chris’ pics that Laurie spent a while on the Stickman Checkmate Box, managing to open one side but the second one stubbornly refused to let him in.

Judging by the pile on the coffee table after dinner, my Roger puzzles and Popp locks definitely found favour among my guests … I saw several folks having a bash at Eric’s latest cigar box, but don’t think anyone managed to solve it during the day… although Phil did helpfully tell me there was nothing wrong with mine so I must deduce that I’m simply incompetent – no great surprise there!

Folks began drifting off around 10pm, with the die-hards leaving somewhere around midnight… and I think they had a few hours driving ahead of them still…!

Laurie had to leave fairly sharpish the next morning so we found ourselves having an early breakfast before he had to dash off. He managed to sign the guest book over breakfast – no mean feat if you know how Laurie generally signs guest books! After Laurie had left we had an extended breakfast before retreating to the cave for a couple of hours of final puzzling before I dropped Wil off at the airport and Dick at the train station so he could head down to Wimbledon for some tennis…that afternoon Gill and I crashed and had a few hours sleep to try and catch-up – it may have been a bit hectic, but it was a really awesome weekend!