Friday 29 August 2014

A Quick Shout-Out(!)

UPDATE: They're all gone now!

Phil Tomlinson has put five sets of his puzzle boxes up for sale on eBay - this is your chance to get a copy of the Always Empty Box and the Don't Shout Box in one go! I've got a copy of both and love them - you can read my thoughts and see some pics over here and here... 

I suspect you won't get another opportunity to pick up a set of them, just saying... :-)

Thursday 28 August 2014

IPP – part, the second

OK, it’s kid-in-a-candy-store time AGAIN! Saturday is puzzle party day – stacks of people from around the world all trying to sell you wonderful puzzles… awful, isn’t it?! At least I’ve already bagged 90-odd puzzles the day before in the exchange, so some of the pressure is off…

I join the queue and then help Steve carry a couple of crates into the puzzle room fifteen minutes before it opens to the rest of us rabble and somehow resist the urge to loiter around inside and see what’s on offer – I re-join the throng outside and we’re all released into the room at 9am sharp. I have some money in the wallet and an empty rucksack – I’m ready!

I quickly join the crowd at Perry McDaniel’s table – this year he’s ditched the bakery and turned chocolatier. When I get to the table the crowd’s already three-deep so I wait my turn unable to see a thing – when I get to the front I fork over some cash and ask for a set of this year’s toys (including a cutaway display model because there was so much demand for the single cutaway version that Perry had in DC along with the last petit four). 

From there I head over to Mike Toulouzas as I suspect (read: HOPE!) that he might have some copies of his design competition entries. I get a copy of Cross Links and I’m delighted – I’ve seen it in the Competition room but haven’t had a chance to play with it yet – this way I know I can enjoy it at my leisure… and put it on the shelf next to the Gavel and a couple of other bits of Toulouzas magic. 

I pick up a copy of Mike’s earlier design called Doors and Drawers from Bernhard and then begin exploring some of the other stands…

I notice a collector holding a Dodecahedron Ball while chatting to Wil and I suspect rather strongly that he’s not going to let it go … and he looks happy!

For the next 5 hours I wander around the room from table to table finding little treasures like Dmitry’s Paperclip entanglement, a brass Ball Puzzle by Charles Perry, a copy of Eric Fuller’s Spline Box, an exploding brass ball and a copy of Meiko’s other transparent Secret Box – which despite being transparent holds its secrets rather well! 

I pick up an absolute bargain from Chinny toward the end of the day when he refuses to let me pay the full price for one of his Exploding Icosahedrons. I manage to pick up a couple of puzzles I’ve been meaning to get from Jurg von Kanel too. 

I spend a while at Pavel’s table and basically pick up a copy of each of the puzzles I’ve been meaning to buy from his web-site for ages. 

Peter Gal had a great selection of his book-puzzles including a pile that I hadn’t seen before … and knowing that I was going to be on a cruise later in the year, I picked up a fistful of them – great holiday puzzles!

Simon Nightingale had a few of his earlier puzzles for sale and I couldn’t resist picking up another of them, not just because all of the proceeds of his puzzle sales go directly to charity. 

I ended up making several trips back up to the room to empty the rucksack and refill the wallet.

This year I had a bunch of my exchange puzzles left for sale and I managed to flog most of them in between doing all my own puzzle shopping…

At one point I chanced upon Angus Lavery and Allen Rolfs chatting about impossible card-and-bill-folding designs in the hotel lobby and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to join them and listen and learn for a little while from these two masters of the art. I got to see some of their latest amazing creations up close, including Angus’ rather impressive four-way trapdoor card – WOW! And it was great to finally meet Angus in person after swapping emails with him for a while…

After the puzzle party, we had another series of lectures. James Dalgety entertained us with some wonderful “Whatsits” including a number of strange-looking gadgets that no-one had managed to identify yet. Otis gave a great talk on puzzling in China – focussed mainly on twisty puzzles (his speciality) and introduced us to some familiar names and some not-so-familiar faces from beyond the Great Wall. He talked quite frankly about the problem of knock-offs but also about the great developments and the promise of the huge new market in China. 

Dick Hess gave a delightful talk on how studying colliding masses might give us the digits of pi. He strung us all along beautifully developing the arguments in a simplified world of no friction and no limits right up until the end of his talk when he had to admit that the universe wasn’t big enough to give us a useful number of digits and relativity made them horribly inaccurate anyway. 

Sol Golomb gave a talk on Tic Tac Toe in higher dimensions and their optimal strategies and I’m afraid I have to admit that I didn’t quite follow all of it… Tom Coutrofello bravely demonstrated some puzzle apps live on his iPad, solving almost all of the levels he randomly selected to demo!

Finally the Grabarchuks demonstrated their puzzling app Puzzlium and then took a range of rather interesting questions from the floor – ranging from the rating system used for their puzzles to how they expected their business model to operate. 

Another quick change of clothes up in the room and we were all back down in the ballroom for the Awards Dinner. Laurie provided the entertainment with a great magic show to get things kicked off, culminating in a huge production from a modest-sized box that had been pretty darn empty just a few moments earlier. 

Laurie got the whole hosting committee up on stage to thank us and presented us each with a an engraved puzzle from Vinco and a large chocolate bottle… now I just need to make sure I do my bit on the book properly!

I positioned myself up front to get some pics of Nick running through the awards and presenting them to the winners and got caught by surprise when Louis and my Conjuring Conundrum got a Top 10 votes award. I managed to snap pics of all the other winners though!

Mike Toulouzas took the Puzzlers’ Award and I swear I saw a tear in his eye when he collected his award – a hugely popular winner and a wonderfully humble craftsman … Congratulations Mike! :-)

After we’d congratulated all the winners things wound down as folks began to say goodbye to friends that they might not see for another year. 

Quite a few folks moved across to the lobby where Laurie appeared with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of the Queen, who was duly subjected to all manner of photographing / photo-bombing and generally high jinks – she seemed to remain amused through it all. 

On Sunday morning we packed up everything and started saying goodbye to friends who were leaving: Peter and Lesley, and Louis headed out first thing in the morning and after we’d seen them off properly, we packed up the car and checked out of the hotel. 

Gill headed off to spend the day with her sister and I lurked in the lobby for the day, chatting and puzzling in between lunch at the Three Magpies and then heading out for our tour of the Magic Circle. Laurie had laid on a tour of the Magic Circle’s premises and a full magic show in their impressive auditorium. 

There were some wonderful cabinets full of memorabilia from some of the biggest names in the business – I had a great time looking over bits and pieces that I recognised from my time in magic … many, many years ago. It was absolutely brilliant hearing Laurie telling stories from his time in the navy when Dillis (sp?) the blindfolded duck was a firm favourite at sea. 

I had a lovely chat with Sue Young in the bus on the way back to the hotel before yet more goodbyes ahead of our short drive north-west to Barnt Green, back home to my own bed and a heavenly night’s sleep, with plenty dreams of puzzling. 

Saturday 23 August 2014

IPP - part, the first.

Well IPP probably doesn’t officially start until Thursday, but we’re all in the hotel and ready to go on Wednesday, so this is when IPP really starts for me…

Gill leads the IPP Fabulous Fun Fabric & Fibre tour that leaves from the hotel bright and early on the Wednesday morning. Their coach takes them on a tour of three fabulous & fun yarn, fabric and haberdashery stores around London with a stop around lunchtime for the hungry shoppers to replenish their energy levels. Gill counts the trip as a huge success, not only has she found some interesting new stuff for future crafting projects, she also manages not to lose any of the folks she started the day with – Result!

The boys in our bunch all congregate in the lobby before we head off into London for the room escape we have booked for around noon. We realise that things aren’t going that smoothly when we start getting messages from Nick that he’s been a bit delayed … in fact he’s sitting on a plane at Heathrow when we get the first message. Subsequent messages tell the story of him getting off the plane first, making it past 200 folks in the queue for Customs and then managing to grab a cab for the hotel. When he walks through the entrance we erupt in cheers and after handing his case to the concierge, and changing his shirt he heads off into town with us in search of a room to escape from. 

At about the same time we get emails from Brian and Kellian, who’re coming into London by train from Paris, saying that they missed their train, and then got delayed… in spite of all of that adversity, we all meet up at HintHunt HQ in time for the briefing to begin. We've booked two different rooms for teams of 5 each and before we start the escapes there’s a bit of inevitable trash-talking and competitiveness between the two teams who fundamentally can’t compete. 

We all end up having a brilliant game, with the experienced guys (some of whom have done several room escapes in the US, Canada and even Beijing!) having just as much fun as the neophytes (me!). We had great fun literally trashing the rooms in search of clues and answers to the riddles we found. Solving puzzles along the way and even having to open a few puzzle boxes. 

Both teams ended up escaping from their respective rooms – although we ended up finishing with a mere 55 seconds on the one hour countdown clock… brilliant fun and well worth a visit if you’re in London. 

From there we took the tube up to Camden for some lunch at Lock 17 before heading down to Village Games where we bumped into Otis. Village Games manages to cram an incredible variety of puzzles and games into a really tiny little shop. 

From there we wandered across to the market itself as some of the guys had found some interesting looking Japanese puzzle boxes with a Union Jack on the front. Jim and Jeff each bought a copy and we didn’t manage to convince the lovely young lady in the shop to bring some through to the hotel for us (pity, she could probably have sold a heap of them in the lobby!) – I did manage to get one from their web-shop after IPP though… :-)

After a round of ice-cream cones, some of us headed back to LHR on the tube and then went through registration while I sorted out my duties for the next afternoon. 

Dinner was back at the Three Magpies again and this time we had a waiter who spotted the puzzles on the table and got really interested and seemed amazed when we told him there’d be three or four hundred of the world’s most serious collectors in the hotel across the road. 

Back in the hotel lobby the girls, under Lesley Wiltshire's creative direction, ran an impromptu needle-felting workshop and soon had the Bexfield girls merrily creating a mallard and a dinosaur – they seemed to enjoy it and next day they arrived with a bagful of felting supplies sourced en route to the hotel via a quick visit to Hobbycraft. Methinks the SOAPs are winning friends and teaching new crafts… 

At one point Jeff hauled out Jack (it’s a card game!) and proceeded to teach Brian and Louis the rules and then stepped back and watched them play… I watched from a distance, listening to the verbalised logic and realising that I really wasn’t paying enough attention to keep up. I sat fiddling with a copy of Cast Galaxy that a friend had thrust into my hands earlier that evening – I got nowhere on that either!

Highlight of the evening must have been finally meeting Mike Toulouzas and his lovely wife Margaret for the first time. I’ve been emailing Mike for a couple of years and we’ve chatted about what makes a good puzzle so much that I felt like I’d known him for ages, but it was great to finally meet him in the flesh… and even better to see how well Margaret and the rest of the girls got on as soon as they were introduced – Margaret loves sewing and crafts as much as the rest of them… ‘nuff said. 

The Greenhorn Hat began doing the rounds with Rox… it’s a ridiculously garish blue bowler hat, decorated with union jack ribbons and a pair of large green horns sticking out of it. (I can say it’s garish because Gill made it and it was intended to be as garish as possible!) 

The intention was that the hat would go around to every IPP-rookie (greenhorn!) twice and that every time they had it, they would need to talk to a non-greenhorn they didn’t know in order to pass it on… the veteran then passes it on to a rookie they don’t know yet, after they’ve introduced themselves and had a chat to them… cute idea to get everyone talking and give the new folks an excuse to chat to the big guns! Or that was the theory, but at the start it didn’t seem that Rox was very keen to pass the hat on. When we asked her why she said there weren’t any greenhorns around, which was quite amusing as there were a couple of them within spitting distance, and when we pointed that out, the hat began to shift rather rapidly.

On Thursday morning we met up in the lobby and headed into town for some sight-seeing. We hopped off the tube at Green Park and wandered through the park to Buck-house where the tourists spent a while taking pics of the palace and the Guardsmen leaving on horseback. There were huge crowds waiting for the changing of the guards so we headed down through St James Park and on to Whitehall where we hung around to see the fresh set of guards heading off back up to Buck-house. We followed Whitehall along to Westminster for some views of the Abbey and the Palace of Westminster before heading across the bridge to the London Eye. 

The guys had booked themselves on the Eye, so Gill and I wandered along the river for a spot of lunch while they enjoyed the views from a few hundred feet up before Gill went back to meet the others and I headed back to the hotel to help out on registration and photographing duties. I had a lot of fun at registration joking with my puzzling friends and making sure they were having a laugh while we took care of the business of getting them formally signed up. 

A quick trip back up to the room to get changed and find Gill (successfully back from London with all the tourists in tow!) before joining the several hundred-strong queue for the Founders’ Reception with the usual suspects.  We grabbed a table near the front when we were allowed in and hooked ourselves up with some food and drink before the speeches kicked off – Jerry gave the traditional welcome and made sure that the rookies felt specially welcomed and encouraged to chat to all of the veteran-IPPers. Laurie followed Jerry’s speech with a welcome from the host and the Greenhorn Bowler Hat began doing the rounds rather rapidly after that. 

I had a fun chat with Saul Bobroff who took Gill’s chair when she got up to go and have a chat with someone – she kissed me as she went off and Saul said “She’s a keeper” at which point I looked in the direction that Gill was leaving in and then looked at Saul and with a deadpan look said “Who the heck was that?”. Soon after that Laurie swiped my chair as I’d finished eating so I wandered around and found myself having a chat with Robert Sandfield and Perry McDaniel, discussing, of all things, finishing off puzzles using grocery bags…!

The Design Competition room was opened a little while later and it was immediately flooded with folks eager to get their paws on the latest and the greatest from the best designers and craftsmen in the world. Brian began his marathon attempt at solving every single puzzle in the Design Competition and I made a couple of lame attempts at solving some puzzles… I did manage to open Chinny’s stellated Pennyhedrons and I was quite chuffed with that. 

At one of the puzzle tables I ended up having a long chat with Tomas and Mikko about producing the Souvenir Book – I get some more ideas about just how big a job this is going to be… before I spend a while watching some folks trying to solve Peter’s Golden Ratio box. 

As usual there’s plenty of banter and abuse around the puzzling tables – I spend an absolute age trying to build a 5*5*5 cube out of a few simple pieces and fail miserably… one thing I do spot is a puzzle called Cross Links that looks a lot like Mike Toulouzas’ work and I make a mental note to ask him about it…

Friday is Exchange Day – or to give it its full name, the Edward Hordern Puzzle Exchange, in honour of the wonderful gent who first started the idea of exchanging puzzles when IPP was last held in London many moons ago. 

Louis rocks up at my room bright and early and a short while later we join the queue of folks waiting patiently outside the conference room with our two large cases full of books. Everyone’s chatting animatedly and the excitement is clearly building. 

We’re released into the room and soon 99 puzzlers are setting out their stands laden with 100 of their puzzles… one copy goes on the display table and then we’re more or less ready to begin the games. My table looks like a second hand book stall and today I’m giving away books…

Marti eyes out a book and sidles over before Laurie’s even done his opening remarks – Laurie explains the ground rules and then we’re off … 98 puzzle exchanges follow – you’re explaining your puzzles to others while listening to their schpiel, you exchange puzzles and take the obligatory pictures for posterity and move on to the next table, or wait for the next customer to rock up at your table… some of the puzzles look absolutely fabulous and I know I’m going to enjoy playing with them when I finally get a chance.

Louis and I stop for lunch along the way, pretty tired already – it’s pretty exhausting explaining your puzzle’s aim and the ground rules 90-odd times and I realise that there is no way in heck I’m going to remember the aims of all of these puzzles come the end of the session…

We finish with about half an hour to spare and Louis has done a stunning job of photographing every single exchanger with their puzzle, kept me in puzzles to exchange with others and lugged all my swag around for almost 6 hours… but I think he’s enjoyed himself, and managed to spot some interesting puzzles to look out for at the puzzle party the next day. 

I dump a shed-load of swag in the room before heading straight out again for the afternoon lectures. 

There are some great lectures in the afternoon and I particularly enjoy Simon and Steve’s presentation on Threedy printing, Peter’s talk on secret opening boxes and Angus Lavery’s talk on impossible card folding… and I learn a lot from Markus’ talk on solving disentanglement puzzles – which I’m  unusually rubbish at!

After the lectures I literally have five minutes to get changed, find Gill (who’s only just got back from a shopping trip with the girls) and get downstairs again for the banquet. There are a few tables of Renegades and MPP-folk and it’s terrific to see so many MPP shirts among the masses at the banquet. 

There aren't many speeches, but there are a couple of presentations that are quite special. Gary Foshee has been making the customary Host Gifts for many years now and he'd decided after he'd made this year's gift for Laurie he'd be retiring from that role... so the organisers had a special gift made for him - Brian Young presented him with a special version of The Opening Bat, made with leftovers and reject bits and pieces if Brian's speech was anything to go by - I suspect that he's added a fair number of new twists and "improvements" to Gary's version of the puzzle... 

And with that out of the way, Gary was allowed to present a beautiful Corian Big Ben puzzle to Laurie as a thank you for hosting this year's IPP in London...

The entertainment for the evening is headed by Colin Wright, a rather talented juggler. He pitched the performance just right when he noted that a huge number of folks in the audience juggle too. His routine was based around defining notation for juggling tricks and having described the basics, he then went on to demonstrate by getting the audience to make up a new juggling trick that he proceeded to perform(!). 

After the entertainment was over, we resorted to creating our own and Chris ended up giving the table a master class on solving and disassembling Ramisis puzzles… I faded pretty soon after that and ended up totally missing what I suspect were some world class close-up magic displays at the various tables.