Sunday 22 February 2015

MPP 17

MPP17 was finally planned for Valentine’s Day 2015 after an all-too-long gap since MPP16. (Personally, I blame the organiser!) Invitations were duly sent out on FaceBook and pretty quickly it became apparent that we’d have a goodly number of folks rocking up at Puzzling Times HQ … well I guess it serves me right for not getting another venue organised in time!

Our international visitors began arriving the night before, with the entire Coolen clan and a puzzle salesman from Venlo arriving on my doorstep at about 9 o’clock on the Friday evening, having left from Eindhoven earlier that afternoon. After a bit of a chat and a quick catch up, the kids were put to bed and the puzzlers ended up in the cave playing with new toys.(I know, I know - hard to believe, eh?)

Louis had brought over a prototype of a new puzzle that had me perplexed for quite a while – in the end I managed to fluke it open and closed again without understanding how it worked at all… when he subsequently talked me through it I was surprised at the elegance of it… now if we can find a way to reduce the chances of idiots like me fluking it, we’re definitely onto something!

A little gift from Wil
Wil had brought over a few little interesting goodies for me that he’d managed to find here and there and I was delighted to add a couple of beautiful objects to the little hoard in the cave… particularly a Tom Lensch copy of Oskar’s Wanderer and a lovely (rather larger than I’d imagined!) Coffin original. I left the two of them puzzling when I crashed for the night, and then we caught up again in the morning.

I collected Dave from the station at about 09:30 and over the next hour or so the house gradually filled as more and more puzzlers from various parts of the countryside descended. Wil set up shop on the dining room table and there was a steady stream of puzzlers poring over the treasures in his crates throughout the day.

By the time Simon Nightingale arrived, the dining room table was pretty much jam-packed with boxes and crates, so his boxes of swaps were relegated to the hallway, where several very happy puzzlers found many wondrous treasures including several original Coffin burr exchange puzzles that I was a little too slow off the mark to snag for myself. Once again Simon asked everyone who was taking stuff out of his boxes to donate whatever they thought was reasonable to charity – his son Joe is running the London marathon to raise money for St Mungo’s later this year – a really worthwhile cause if you’d like to add your support / encouragement.

Satomi managed to come for the best part of the morning and brought some new Japanese puzzles, including a great little pair of free-the-coin puzzles from Mine that had only just been released in Japan.

Virtually everyone who was driving in from further afield ended up getting caught in some horrendous traffic jams on a number of motorways – with Oli and Kirsty taking the prize for the worst delay of the day – topping out at around 6 hours … such is the magnetism of the MPP! (or Cadbury World, which was where they were heading the following day…)

It was great to have a couple of new faces join us – I’ve already mentioned Dave who’d just been a name on FaceBook to most of us until this MPP, Angela that some of us met at IPP in London for the first time, Mike, one of the Camden regulars, and Ant and DecLee, the two guys behind NG Puzzles and Loki, their first design.

Wil was on top form during the day with a couple of magical effects presented in the form of a puzzle – with the aim of working out how the effect worked … he must have performed one of them at least ten times to a variety of groups of people – most of whom managed to distil the relevant critical details and deduce the principles behind the trick.

Donald brought a pile of gingerbread pentominoes
Lunch was a fairly relaxed affair of bread and cheese with cold meats and salad that seemed to go down reasonably well… and I think most people managed to find enough to eat – the quantity of cake and biscuits left over at the end of the day suggested that people had enough to eat.

One of the definite highlights of the afternoon was the group solve of Nick Baxter’s IPP17 Host Gift. Nick had been in touch a couple of weeks before MPP17 and suggested that it might be fun for the folks at MPP17 to play with the IPP17 Host Gift – I agreed rather readily and he shipped his rather precious puzzle across the pond for us to play with…

When I asked him whether he was supplying the solution he asked what on earth I’d want that for, and then told me there wasn’t one anyway! Thankfully it arrived a week or two before MPP17 so I had plenty of time to get it sorted in my own mind before trying it in a group… the host gift is in the shape of a San Francisco Cable Car with four shiny passengers secured in place. Your goal is to remove all four passengers… and along the way you will discover all manner of rather interesting tools and techniques to allow progress.

I herded all the interested puzzlists into the dining room and presented them with the cable car to many sounds of approval – a couple of them began to examine things a little and with a bit of encouragement they started postulating  a line of attack – with a little more encouragement they set off on the path toward the solution … while I kept an eye on things, they pretty much had it all sussed and didn’t need a lot of guidance at all, in fact the only guidance I really ended up giving them was suggesting that they delay some experiments until a better tool came along.

I had a great time watching their faces whenever a new part of the puzzle was opened and a set of new tools would emerge – sometimes it was obvious what the tools would be for although every now and then it was just the real lateral thinkers spotting the links… Gary Foshee did an amazing job of hiding a pile of useful tools around the puzzle with hardly any of them visible at the start of the solution. There are a couple of absolute gems in there in terms of tools – one I won’t mention and one I will: when have you ever found a DIY corkscrew in a puzzle that you needed to assemble and use in order to proceed?! Brilliant!

Chris took stacks of pictures all the way through the group-solve and then spent a while arranging all the respective bits and pieces for an appropriate shot of the solved puzzle at the end… of course reassembling is a simple matter of reversing your steps, carefully, so that you don’t find yourself without the tools you need to lock up the rest of the steps… a decidedly non-trivial problem given the sheer number of steps involved in the complete solution – there was a lot of discussion along the way but they actually managed to not have to back-track in their reassembly – which is more than I can say for my first attempt!

Thanks Nick – that was brilliant!

Rich Gain had brought a bunch of his printed puzzles along and at one point hosted a team challenge where two teams of three were each given a set of multi-coloured burrs to disassemble and then reassemble as three burrs each in a single colour… as you might expect they weren’t exactly trivial burrs to start with and there was a healthy rivalry between the two teams sitting across the table from one another all trying to learn as much from their own team and the others’ progress without giving anything away – Chris’ team finished first, but everyone seemed to enjoy the contest.

Simon had brought a shed-load of wooden cubies (and wedges) for Donald to play with and he ended up spending a while constructing a puzzle to taunt me with… it’s still in its solved configuration held together with rubber bands inside a Ziploc bag as I’ve been too afraid to let it loose yet…

 A fair number of folks began drifting homewards (avoiding the motorways!) at around 6pm, but a hardened core hung around for some fish suppers from the village chippy – I eventually managed to hoof the last ones out at around 10pm… a long day’s puzzling!

The next day gill and I took the visitors to Stratford for a wander around the town centre and a visit to the MAD Museum – we spent about an hour and a half in there and all of the kids (yes that includes, Wil, Louis and I!) had a thoroughly brilliant time! Well worth a visit if you’re every anywhere near Stratford!

Wednesday 11 February 2015

7-Piece Nightmare

Everyone’s favourite Greek puzzle maker, Mike Toulouzas, recently put a copy of his 7-Piece Nightmare puzzle up for sale. He’d made a short run of them and had a spare copy or two and I was delighted to be able to snag one of them. 

7-Piece Nightmare was one of Mike’s entries in the 2005 Puzzle Design Competition in Helsinki. 

As you might expect from the name, there are seven pieces to be packed inside a neat little box with a lid on it. The pieces all consist of a number of half-squares glued together in a variety of configurations, so that in total you have three layers of 4 squares on each layer. Two of the pieces have triangles in three layers, with the remaining pieces spanning two layers each. The shapes are pretty funky and take a bit of getting used to…

Mike has alternated the colours of the triangles on the top and bottom so that you end up with either a chequerboard pattern or a windmill pattern on the faces (Iroko and Eucalyptus woods) … and the central layer is all a single colour. 

Mike describes the puzzle as surprisingly difficult – and with only seven pieces, it is rather tricky! 

I’m still not sure whether knowing that one side of the completed assembly is a chequerboard and the other has a windmill pattern actually helps or not – at the start of the solve, pretty much any piece could form part of either of those patterns, and it’s only after experimenting and wandering down a blind alley or two that you’re able to deduce the orientations of one or two key pieces. 

The search-space is dramatically reduced once you’ve got a few of the pieces together, but it’s still a long way from a trivial task to slot the final pieces together – the combinations he’s chosen seem to be particularly confusing (at least to this amateur puzzler!) and several times I’ve found myself only one or two pieces form the final solution and still not at all certain that I’m on the right track. 

As you’d expect from Mike’s work, the fit and finish is superb – the detailing on the box is stunning, from the decorative inlays around the corners to the detailing on the top of the handle on the lid. 

A beautiful object that also happens to be a great puzzle – it may only have 7 pieces, but I’ll wager it’ll give any puzzler a decent challenge – and if you don’t simply enjoy playing with the wonderful handiwork then there’s something wrong with you! :-)