Friday 30 October 2015

DCD 2015

Attending DCD each year is one of my guilty pleasures – an excuse to go away and spend the best part of a weekend with some of my puzzling mates from around the world – and as I’m not organising or hosting any of it, I get to selfishly just enjoy it all – I like DCDs!

DCD 2015 was once again held in Voorburg, a suburb of The Hague. I flew across to Schipol on the Saturday morning meeting Steve (M) who’d flown in from London and Louis who’d caught the train across country from Eindhoven to act as tour guide and fellow-puzzler. We hopped on a train through to The Hague and met up with a bunch of puzzlers at Rob Hegge’s place for a gentle afternoon’s puzzling and snacking (which turned out to be important as I’d contrived to miss out on getting any lunch!).

When Wil arrived, Rob showed him a rather locked up copy of the Butterfly Lock Box and sought some help, so Louis (as Wil’s Chief Approbation Manager) was duly roped into getting it back into a more reasonably solvable position and a few minutes later it was presented back to Rob for his further puzzling pleasure… unfortunately Taus then took up the challenge and with just a little encouragement he made superb progress through the solve, reassembling everything the way it should be and looking quite pleased with himself, probably wondering what all the fuss had been about… 

When he was asked to put it back into the original position for Rob he had that gloriously sinking-feeling-look on his face when he turned the key and realised something important… Pleasure and PAIN indeed… so after all that, I suspect that Rob was exactly back in the same position that he was in before we all arrived, in spite of Louis helping him out in the middle.

Steve (N) had brought along several copies of Derek’s latest helical variants Twiddle Dum and Twiddle Dee that were generally getting twiddled by various puzzlers during the course of the afternoon… I managed to twiddle one until it released the first piece, but then took absolute ages to put it back into its starting position. I made sure I picked up a pair of them from Steve’s table the next morning!

When we all started getting a little peckish we headed across town to the hotel so that some of us could check in and we could find some other puzzlers for dinner… after we’d checked in and reassembled in the lobby, it turned out that there were 11 of us for dinner so we wandered down to the usual Italian restaurant we frequent on these trips only to discover we were a little too late and they couldn’t give us a table for 11… which I guess shouldn’t really have been a surprise. We headed back to the hotel, safe in the knowledge that the restaurant there wasn’t full and they did in fact manage to feed us… a rather nice meal – along with several puzzles on the table doing the rounds throughout the whole affair.

After dinner we found a couple of the German puzzlers entertaining the barman so we engaged in a little gentle banter before admitting defeat and heading off to bed… only to hear from (Big-)Steve that they’d carried on for another three or four hours, well beyond the time when the cleaning staff emerged with their rug-suckers.

Next morning there were bunches of puzzlers at breakfast and just after nine everyone had checked out and headed across to Sint Maartens. At registration we were each given a Threedy printed DCD board burr that looked suspiciously similar to the JCD version I talked about over here. [In spite of that similarity it still takes me a while to assemble it!]

Inside the hall there’s a familiar gaggle of puzzlers around the tables laden with treasures from around the puzzling world. After I dump my bags in the corner I start wandering around and greeting old friends. 

Marcel shows me a pair of his original chess pieces that he’s found and has for sale and a couple of hours later I notice that at least one of them has been sold… the other one taunts me for hours as the copy I have is somewhat jammed and I could be doing with replacing it… but I resist that urge.

Alfons Eyckmans has a table full of beautifully made burrs of all descriptions. I spend a while trawling through the various options and getting recommendations from Goetz (“on that one I’m struggling to release the third piece” – SOLD!). I end up picking up a few burrs that are terribly reasonably priced for such beautiful creations and Alfons throws in a tray-packing puzzle for free on top of it… merci Alfons!

Michel has a table full of duplicates that he’s bought over a number of months and is now offering to his fellow collectors like me who aren’t as good at scouring the internet’s auction sites for bargains – I get a pristine original copy of The Brain, still in its original pretty-good-looking box to add to my collection. (Yip, I really didn’t have one yet!)

Rik seems to be doing a pretty good trade in signing people up for NKC memberships during the course of the day and Wil has a steady stream of people raking through his various plastic crates of wonder. At one point he invites me to trawl through a crate around the back that has a Tom Lensch copy of Kagen’s Maze Burr, some rather collectible Karakuri pieces (have you ever seen one of Kamei’s Bombs in the flesh?) and some rather lovely Coffins – I end up playing with a KW-2 cube for ages and cannot open it… eventually we open the solution to make sure it’s not malfunctioning and of course it isn’t, I’m just being useless… it’s a brilliant mechanism so I end up buying it…

I got to meet Christoph Lohe and chat for a while over some of his designs that have been made by the Pelikan guys… I picked up a copy of Letterbox after it comes recommended by a passer-by (Goetz again I think - he may be on commission by now! Nope! Christoph reminded me it was Dirk...) and I’m somewhat embarrassed later that day when he gives me a copy of his variation on an East German sliding tile puzzle along with a booklet of his own challenges – sehr dank Christoph!

I was quite chuffed to pick up a twisty puzzle from Tony Fisher – Yes, you read that right! It’s even a twisty puzzle that I can do… I’d been meaning to get a copy of Tony’s replica of the original wooden Rubik’s cube for a while, so when I spotted a single copy on his table I took it off his hands… he’s done a great job on these making them look thoroughly authentic, down to the odd stickers on some of the pieces and the occasional uncovered screw-hole, but he’s built them on a modern mechanism so they behave beautifully… it’s one twisty puzzle that I will definitely be keeping proudly on display!

Splinter had a table with all of his puzzling creations laid out for everyone to try and buy – I saw the Burgh Swing Lock keeping some folks rather confuzzled for a while…

In the afternoon we had three lectures from the assembled international contingent:

  • George Miller started out the afternoon’s talks with an overview of the development of his Cubigami puzzles – including some rather astounding facts behind the specific nets chosen for his various Cubigami productions… having a bit of a math-bent I found it all rather fascinating.
  • Roxanne Wong gives us a talk on her various puzzle factory visits over the past few years and shared some insights on the development and manufacturing processes of some of the puzzles that are now available on the mass-market.
  • Steve Miller gave us a talk on the design and development of complex mechanical puzzles based on his experience with the Tessarisis and Fire puzzles. Seeing the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes on design, prototyping, manufacture and marketing is quite daunting…

Somewhere around 5pm things began to wind up and we headed out to grab a train back to the airport where Steve (M) and I grabbed a burger before heading off in our respective directions…. and I was home before 10pm – having done an awful lot of puzzling, prattling and purchasing in a great little weekend break.

I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Saturday 24 October 2015

Confessions of a blogger

I was being a little mischievous in my last blog post and not quite totally transparent…

First of all thank-you to the well-meaning puzzlers who dropped me a note to tell me that the two-pronged industrial plug was actually a highly sought-after puzzle from Roger – I was aware of that, although I thought I’d have a little fun in my blog post… so I deliberately didn’t mention its pedigree too explicitly.

I did however leave a few little crumbs lying around hinting toward the fact that I knew… so for instance, there’s a “Roger” tag on the post even though he’s not really mentioned anywhere in the post…

There the first few paragraphs have a few letters italicised in them – and if you can be bothered to write them all down you’ll find the following message: “Yes I know it is a copy of Roger’s Stecker. I am not that naïve.” – You’ll need to supply your own punctuation…

And then finally in the white space at the end of the blog post there’s some white-on-white text that says “Hook, line and sinker?” – which I hoped would be an apt description for one or two folks…

So once again, thanks to those of you that tried to save me from doing something silly with a highly collectible puzzle – I appreciate that! :-) …and thanks to the folks who played along and let me know they enjoyed the meta… and props to Marc for being the first to read the message and let me know he had.

[…and yes, someone really did give it to me – that part was entirely true…]

Normal service (whatever that is!) will resume shortly….

Friday 16 October 2015

…a thousand Thank-Yous – many of them belated!

Thank You!

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I owe quite a few people a thank you and I’ve been rather lax about that recently… so this post is a bit of an attempt to address the issue and thank a few folks publically.

Let me start with Big-Steve – ever since he started printing large quantities of puzzles on his home-grown 3D-printers, Steve has been giving me puzzles with frightening regularity…from some potentially promising experimental ideas that turned out to have too many short-cuts to a puzzle that really should have been named the St George’s Burr after the colour-scheme he used. There were 3D-printed versions of the Peanut (remember that psychedelic one?) and his modification on the theme. His generosity wasn’t limited to just the things he’d printed himself though and a while back be gave me a copy of his i.materialise project Tripod.

Steve had a great story about a wheeze he’d discovered that meant that if you designed a box around your puzzle pieces that meant that the eventual object could be picked up as a single piece, the price being charged would plummet… so he tried it with his Tripod puzzle and discovered it worked rather well… of course since then we’ve been through all the Shapeways price-ma-geddon antics and everyone’s aware of the need to finesse your designs through these services to reduce their costs, but at the time it was quite amusing to find what appeared to be a loophole, that the 3D printing service then actually publicised to show everyone else how to do the same thing. (And, yes, these days they all offer all sorts of tools to help achieve that!)

Tripod looks like an intimidating puzzle with 30 (mostly) notched sticks that you need to build into a ball-shape. When it arrives from i.materialise the sticks are inside a neat little box that needs to be snipped open to release the sticks and (usually) a small cloud of white powder. Rinse them off in some water to remove the excess powder and you’re ready to play… the notches are nicely sized to grip the neighbouring sticks securely… and one of the sticks has no notches, so it’s probably going to be a key-piece… but apart from that, there aren’t many clues as to where you might want to start…

I found it helpful to familiarise myself with the way they all fit together and to start working toward a ball-shape. Invariably at some point you’ll come up against a situation where you can’t insert the next piece because something’s blocking your way, and then it’s a good idea to come up with some sort of strategy…
I got lucky and managed to formulate a reasonably simple strategy that led me straight to a solution – but I still find the geometry rather confusing and think these sorts of puzzles are rather tough… Thanks Steve – it’s great!

The next puzzle was given to me by James Dalgety, although it too was designed and in fact printed by Steve. The JCD is a disarmingly simple-looking three piece burr where the pieces are shaped into James’ initials – no only shaped that way but they also fit together rather neatly when they’re not assembled – great design touch!
Assembling them is a lot trickier than you might think it should be… the basic shapes are exactly what you’d expect, but the little bits in the edges that stick out to make up the letters tend to get in the way, and as a result, the standard assembly simply doesn’t work… it needs careful attention to the exact shapes and sizes that have all been rather deliberately crafted to stop you doing all the usual things… find the right unusual thing, though, and you’ll have a neat little colourful three-piece burr assembled.

Next up is a trapped coin puzzle designed and made by Mineyuki Uyematsu for my friend Matt from across the pond. Matt commissioned Mine to make up a bunch of Texas-themed puzzles to give away to his puzzling friends and I was lucky enough to get a copy – cheers Matt!

Made up of a few layers of acrylic held together with screws, the puzzle holds a Buffalo Nickel captive, albeit partially visible through a hole on the front. With a Texas flag on the front and a map of the great state on the back, there’s no doubt about where Matt hails from…

While it’s not a hugely complicated puzzle, I’ve known seasoned puzzlers play with it for weeks on end before finally finding the neat little solution that allows the coin to drop out … and there’s a wonderful little feature to it that some folks manage to miss in spite of solving and resolving it stacks of times…a lovely little detail that really didn’t need to be there, but sets it apart.
The next Thank-You goes to Chris for giving me a lovely little copy of Coffin’s Fancy This!

He gave it to me on one of his visits explaining it had come off a new 3D printer he’d been testing at work – the quality looked pretty good and I was somewhat amazed when he told me that the printers were selling for under £250 – I suspect that when I get my life back again I may need to investigate them… I kinda like the idea of building a printer and then printing off the odd experiment to torment other with… one of these days…

Back to Fancy This!… it might only have a handful of pieces, but the geometry is a little mind-bending again. It’s quite a fiendish design that combines elements of sequential assembly and co-ordinated motion, and even when you think you’ve got the hard part sussed, you’ll find there are stacks of almost-right assemblies where the pieces all go together absolutely fine and even look like the correct assembly, until you get to the last piece that seems to be the wrong way around… it amazed me just how many different wrong ways I managed to find to assemble these pieces before I eventually managed to find the right way to put them all together so that the last piece locks everything into place – thanks Chris… not just for the puzzle, but also for tempting me into experimenting with 3D printing… between you and Steve I suspect I won’t be able to resist much longer!
The final thank you in this round goes to a friend who gave me this rather unusual-looking object. It looks like an industrial two-pin plug with some rather untidy wiring sticking out the end. There weren’t any instructions that came with it so I had to try and work out what the heck the object was, if in fact it was a puzzle! (This friend collects all sorts of things so it could, for instance, have been an oddly-shaped bottle-opener for all I knew!)  

When I showed it to one of my friends with an engineering background, his first question was why there were four wires coming out the back when there were only two pins on the plug – that’s probably a tip to the solution right there… surely!?

Turns out it probably is a puzzle and the object is to get it to do something unusual…it isn’t easy and the elegant method for doing it turns out to be rather neat, repeatable and not require too much physical effort – which is just as well as I’m a lazy old asthmatic puzzler. Thank you for a very special gift!

Hook, line and sinker?