Sunday 21 June 2015

Labour of love!

…that’s the only way to describe this masterpiece – truly a labour of love. 

Jack Krijnen designs some wonderful burrs – he is also a talented craftsman who’s been known to sell a few copies of his own designs at the Dutch Cube Day – I’ve been lucky to pick up a couple of them there and they really stand out: not only are they really interesting little burrs, but they’re little! 

Jack has found a sweet spot size-wise for creating puzzles for himself that gives an eminently playable puzzle, with all the accuracy of a larger copy, but at a significantly smaller size … which is probably important if you have a large collection of the things and plan to keep on designing and making more of them!

I jumped at the opportunity when Jack made a short run of Level 5 Burr sets about 3 years ago – I’d seen some pics of hundreds of little wooden sticks waiting to be burr-ified and knew I wouldn’t be sorry… and when Jack mentioned there might be another burr set in the future, I didn’t hesitate and piled in again.

This time Jack’s produced a copy of the Ultimate Burr Set featured in Botermans and Van Delft’s seminal “Creative Puzzles of the World”. The book uses this set to illustrate six piece burrs and includes a lovely description of JH de Boer’s exhaustive (manual!) analysis of the possible shapes of burr pieces and how they can be combined to give the familiar inter-locking 6-piece burr shape. 

Unfortunately the book makes no mention of how the pieces are selected for The Ultimate Burr Set, but does point out that 69 different combinations can be assembled into a 6-piece burr. (There may be slightly more than that... )

Jack has not only reproduced the pieces in a wonderful box (complete with tweezers and challenge cards, again), but he’s stepped up the analysis with the help of Ken Irvine and provided 59 combinations to produce a solid burr with no internal voids and a further 578 with internal voids – all sorted by level – right up to level 8!

In the interests of full disclosure, I have not yet constructed all of the possible assemblies (!) … I’ve constructed a fair few of them and the pieces are a delight to use – Jack has constructed each piece from a single piece of wood (I suspect it’s an honour thing! :-) ) – which is pretty awesome given the number of blind corners in there – and the fit is just brilliant. 

This is a set that will be bringing me many, many hours of joy (and no doubt plenty of perplexification!) … with some relatively simple level 1 challenges right up to the ones I’m unlikely to be able to solve in a month of Sundays…

The two Krijnen burr sets are slightly different sizes so you can’t mix and match pieces between them, but he’s kept the same style and inlays so it’s clear that they belong together – and they do look great together! This time the box is mainly mahogany and the pieces are maple… the attention to detail is pretty mind-blowing – it’s very clear these sets are quite simply a labour of love.

Thank you Jack!

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Puzzling in Wales-shire

This week’s blog post was delayed a little by a family trip to Wales-shire… Oz was over visiting from Cape Town so Gill found us a stunning self-catering barn 5 minutes’ walk from the beach… sounds awful doesn’t it? Hopefully the picture will confirm just how much I was taking-for-the-team… I did get to take some puzzles along, and there was a goodly amount of time spent puzzling… some of which will deserve their own write-up so they’ll hardly get a mention here.

…along those lines, the day before we left, my latest package arrived from Wil, complete with a copy of the Butterfly Lock Box (aka Pleasure and Pain) and Ying Yang 69 puzzles – those will definitely need to feature on their own at some point… for now I will only say that they’re both great puzzles – and my inherent distrust of the puzzle-meister saved me a fair amount of pain! ;-)

Aside from the latest arrivals, I wanted to take puzzles that would keep me puzzling for a good while, so there were a few multi-challenge puzzles from Thinkfun for me to work through, some Minoru Abe sliding tile puzzles and several entanglements from Dick Hess – most of which had proved my undoing in the past… I was going to refer to them as my nemesii, but realised there’s probably a good reason that there’s no plural for nemesis. A couple of Osanori Yamamoto puzzles rounded out the puzzles that were successfully solved while I was away…

…and the quick-witted among you will realise there is at least one obvious omission – that’s ‘cos it wasn’t solved while I was away… hopefully you’ll also notice that I took my special £2 coin along for the obligatory photograph! 

The lengths I go to…

Two Thinkfun multi-challenge puzzles helped keep me puzzling for several hours on the Gower:

Turnstile provides 40 graded challenges (the earlier ones just really get you used to the mechanics of the game) where you’re given a start positions with gates and pieces set up in a particular fashion. Your challenge is to move the coloured counters to their home corners while negotiating the turnstiles and the other pieces (the grey pieces are basically just movable road blocks).  Good fun to take out and work through a few challenges at a time before switching across to another puzzle… the latter challenges will definitely give you something to think about, but remain accessible. 

Tilt provides a great real-world implementation of gravity mazes that seem to pop up in puzzle apps quite regularly. The challenge cards show you where to place blocking pieces and green and blue counters. Your job is to tilt the board successively in different directions so that the green counters fall through the hole in the centre and the blues all remain on the board… and the only rule you need to worry about is that you must let all pieces slide and come to a rest against something (i.e. no sneaky half-moves – that’s cheating!). Having played one or two of these apps definitely helps a bit, but the later challenges have a number of traps for the unwary (yes, I was very unwary!) – but resetting and starting over only takes a few seconds and you’re ready to go with a clean board. Nice real world application of this sort of puzzle – with the mechanics working pretty much all the time, but if anything does get caught, a tap or two will send them on their way. 

A couple of weeks ago I’d picked up three Osanori Yamamoto burrs from Satomi at CU-Japan. These weren’t particularly expensive as they’re made from thin laser-cut MDF. While nothing beats a lovely exotic wooden version, until someone takes up the challenge of making them, these represent a great cost-effective way of getting the designs out into the market. 

Rose presents you with four interlocking pieces trapped in a central circular frame. Your first job is the find what movements are possible, and with a new puzzle, the pieces need to be well-aligned or you won’t find anything moving. Find some movement and if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself going round and round in circles… you need to be a little more subtle than I generally am to find the next set of moves – and given the designer, you’ll be tempted to start exploring all manner of rotational moves as well… good luck with that! 

Rose 2 is a development of Rose, with a more complicated frame and some differences in the pieces… you probably want to play with Rose before going on to Rose 2 if you want to maximise your enjoyment on these two… another lovely little design that will amuse the most-hardened puzzlist. (Oh and it take 26 moves to release the first piece!)  

# Shield gives you a frame with four pieces that need to make up a “#” sign inside the frame, only this time there’s a ledge along the bottom that will block quite a few rather useful moves… which makes it a rather nice challenge. 

A pair of sliding tile puzzles from Minoru Abe kept me quiet for quite a while. Angel and Satan has two simple little creatures, each made up of three pieces that need to be transposed – that’s all! There’s a huge gap in the centre between the two figures and only a tiny little interfering piece in the centre. Yet it’s thoroughly non-trivial! I’d had several bashes at it before my holiday and got nowhere, so I was delighted when I finally managed to work out how to make use of every little feature in the design to get those two creatures to swap places… I think the optimal solution requires 74 moves… I took somewhat more!

Runaway II provides a 5 different challenges with varying themes on moving a set of digits from 1 to 4 from the top to the bottom (or vice versa) via two different sized cut-outs between the two rows… Oh, and there are a pair of stars and a heart to get in the way and force you to think a few moves ahead… which I’m rubbish at! 

Finally, in preparation for an upcoming visit form the entangle-meister himself, I took a few sets of Dick Hess’ entanglements along … mainly because I’m thoroughly rubbish at them and haven’t been able to solve any of them yet and I wanted to avoid the embarrassment of having to admit I couldn’t solve any of his puzzles at all…

First off the Mini-Menagerie Puzzles – Dick’s IPP26 exchange puzzle. This set consists of the Ox, Rhino and Whale and to the neophyte, they all look like they’re more or less the same puzzle… yet I hadn’t managed to solve them yet despite the odd attempt at doing exactly that! 

To the untrained eye, the Whale looks to be the simplest… so I started there, and promptly got nowhere – it doesn’t have a lot of the complications that the other animals have, yet I just couldn’t get it to do what I wanted… so I switched to one of the land-based animals and had a little more luck, after quite a while I found I could get the Ox’s bits to do something interesting that I hadn’t expected, and pretty soon I had removed its tail (or rider, of you prefer). 

Flushed with a sense of victory I switched attention to the Rhino and tried something similar – only to find that simply wouldn’t work… so I spent a long time experimenting before I finally found something (else) totally unexpected …and had its tail off too. The Whale finally succumbed too, but only after I’d generated a HUGE amount of respect for my friend Dick – he’s made those puzzles all look thoroughly similar, but are they? Heck! That was a lot of fun, and I’m now looking forward to trying my inexperienced hand at some more of his puzzles – if they give me half as much of an A-Ha! moment I’m going to be very chuffed!

The final two puzzles in the pics are a pair of Dick’s Sisters – from his IPP29 exchange puzzle Three Sisters – spot the missing one yet? Sadly I only managed to take two of the sisters apart – the Tall Sister still eludes me… 

These puzzles again look totally similar yet the subtle differences in the shapes or the design of the rings makes their solutions totally different – Blonde and Dancing Sister yielded after a good session of experimenting where the solution always looks like it’s not too far off – you’re pretty sure you know where you’re trying to get things, they just won’t quite go where you want them… a couple of little bits of wire kept me wonderfully amused for hours… thanks Dick!

Sunday 7 June 2015

The Pentagon

Just over a week ago I received a rather large package from my mate Shane – he’d been working on his latest puzzle for a while and had been teasing me with pictures and the odd email about progress for a couple of months. Things ramped up significantly when he let me know that the first copy had gone out to Kevin and he was waiting for the maestro’s feedback [Read Kevin's experience over here.] … and then a large parcel, nicely wrapped in brown paper arrived via a courier – game on!

Tearing the paper off I find another well wrapped package inside … and inside that, I find the Pentagon shipping case I’ve seen in the pictures that I’ve been drip fed over the last month or two. There’s a letter with it addressed to Agent 002… inside is a set of instructions from Shane – some immediately helpful (NO BANGING!) others less so, at this point…

Time to take stock: Shane describes his fourth puzzle, The Pentagon, as a prop puzzle – and it certainly fits the bill – the case looks like a weather-beaten steel case that must contain something of great value given the rather large brass coloured latch on the front of it. And the multitude of warning stickers on the outside. And the number of encouraging phrases on some of the stickers (“BAD IDEA”, This is irrelevant” and “This is where I lost interest”). There’s also a number of names scattered around the case that I recognise as the owners of Shane’s other creations – a nice touch!

Shane’s instructions tell me that my mission (impossible or otherwise!) is to retrieve the nuclear fusion code inside –reassuringly he tells me that he’s deactivated the internal timer mechanism (yay?) so I don’t need to rush… o-kay… he also goes on to tell me that any tool will only be used once, and he gives a high level run-through of the stages involved… so let’s puzzle!

I throw myself into the first layer (getting into the case) on the first evening and I have an absolutely brilliant time… after reading all of the stickers – some more useful than others I start experimenting with what I can do… I find that the usual latches work as expected, but the locked third latch in the middle blocks all progress… so I set about finding some means of unlocking it (I’m keeping an open mind at this point!!)  So I go diving through all the packaging in case I’ve dropped a key in there somehow (!) – check there’s nothing in the envelope (nope) – so settle down to a little serious puzzling and make a couple of wonderful little discoveries that give me the means to get inside the case – rewarding me with my first view of the Pentagon – an extremely handsome wooden creation nestled neatly next to a rather interesting little golden object in the centre of the case… PROGRESS!

Careful examination of the Pentagon shows it’s shaped like a pentagon. (I am nothing if not careful! Suspicious and careful.)  It’s made of two halves with a split through the middle and currently seems to be kept together by a rather large bolt in the bottom quadrant. (Shane’s attention to details like the lettering and his signature really make this puzzle look brilliant! … not to mention the lovely wood work as well…) 

Next step is to find some means of getting past the first stage of the Pentagon’s locking mechanism itself – the “anti-tamper fuse” – you see a pattern here? Are you worried yet? What could possibly go wrong? 

I get a bit lucky here (or my inherent suspicion pays off, you decide!) so I find the right tools and get things going, only to find, as Kevin did, that they start locking up again… so start thinking, and fiddling and get some more progress… until I manage to remove that piece, see why it was locking up (SNEAKY!) and find my first goal in the form of a (13A) “anti tamper fuse” – very cute! :-) 

At this point in the story, things slow down quite a lot as my sister arrives for a visit and I find myself rather well stumped by Shane’s next locking mechanism… I have the occasional bash at it over the next few days, but I get absolutely nowhere… I’m pretty sure that I know which tool I’m using next, but I can’t work out what to do with it… so I spend about 5 days getting nowhere. Every now and then there’s an encouraging / questioning email from Shane wondering where I’ve got to and telling me I’m on the right track – he doesn’t want me to get frustrated and does a great job of not giving clues while giving encouragement…

Eventually, late into last week I spent some quality time with it and listen to it very carefully, and am gobsmacked when I hear something inside there ticking… so I immediately l drop him an email and he seems to enjoy my discovery, and my amazement! (Later I tell him he's a nutter!)

I make a little more progress that evening, but not really much useful progress toward my goal, but I’ve narrowed down my search area and I class that as a small victory…

My next session on it comes at the weekend and this time I find something really useful and make a major stride forward – and I’m not at all ashamed that it’s taken me days of ruminating to work out the next step… it is a crackingly good lock! 

From there, there’s effectively one more lock to defeat and I suspect I got quite lucky on that one as it didn’t really hold me back for very long at all… so I found myself separating the two halves of the Pentagon and staring at the source of the ticking – spot on it was too! 

I retrieved my code and send it back to Hales HQ - job done - almost... still thinking about the last little bit...

That was a brilliant journey of discovery, with every single step deducible (in spite of what you may think!) and each tool interesting in its own way. Having taken everything apart, it’s all delightfully simply engineered – KISS at work! Taking it apart now is a pretty quick series of steps – but they will delight everyone on their first time through it… guaranteed. 

It’s a cracking puzzle Shane – you ought to be very proud of this one! 

Thanks mate!