Saturday 27 February 2016

Haleslock 1

My friend Shane fools me regularly… he’ll quite often rock up at an MPP, shove something in my paws and silence me for absolute ages while I try and solve his latest creation. 

His main series of puzzles are absolutely terrific, but his recent adventures into “Interval” puzzles has been pretty darn good too… and I know that I haven’t been the only person to suggest to him that his interval puzzles would go down rather well if he ever decided to make some for sale – heck, there was virtually a queue forming at MPP already! 

At the last MPP Shane had a slightly modified padlock that he was challenging us to unlock with the key provided… and then he wanted our feedback as he was considering possibly making some up for sale… I think I can safely say that the feedback was pretty unanimous with several of us wanting to throw money at him there and then…

Over the course of the next few weeks he teased us with pics of a shed-load of German locks arriving in his workshop, and then the odd pics of various levels of abuse being meted out to the assembled (innocent!) locks.

Toward the end of that process he put a pic or two of the final product up on his website and posted an email around inviting folks to express an interest… and he was probably hoping to shift most of his stock before passing some onto a couple of potential re-sellers… except that within a couple of hours he’d had more takers than he had made locks – which would have left him in a bit of a pickle, so he ended up having to ration his sales on a sort of lottery basis before reducing the volumes that he was planning to pass on to the re-sellers… it’s a good problem to have, as problems go, but it did up the pressure on the poor lad to finish them off rather a bit! 

A short while later I received my copy of Haleslock 1 courtesy of the Royal Mail… and Shane, who refused to take any of my money! (Thanks mate!) 

There’s a key attached to some sort of key ring around the shackle, but that’s not the really interesting bit – at least not to my mind… there’s some pretty serious modifications going on down in one corner of the lock, albeit with no apparent way of doing anything with it… apart from that, the lock appears(!) to be unmolested apart from a serial number on the top of the lock and Mister Hales’ customary signature on the side, just above all that weird modification I was going on about… all-in-all a rather professionally produced puzzle… nice job that man!

Soooo, what’s it like as a puzzle, then?

In a word: GREAT!

If you haven’t seen one of Shane’s locks before, you’re in for a treat… there’s several layers to solving this one… starting from the little set of instructions that tells you not to damage the key ring securing the key to the shackle… "key ring" might be a bit misleading here – the key is attached to a very strong device that seems to be rather well locked onto that shackle… but call it a key ring and challenge the puzzler to extract the key might just sound like a cruel joke for a while…  

(Shane’s used those key rings on some of his previous (short-run!) puzzle locks and heard that some people found the key ring almost as challenging as the locks – so they were duly incorporated into his first production puzzle…)

Find a way to release the key and you can at least pop it in the lock and see if the lock just magically opens – err, NOPE. 

Prepare to spend a while navigating through a few layers of sequential discovery before you can finally stand a chance at opening the lock – and even then it’s anything but simple… the test model he was trying out on us at MPP was just the last bit – and that’s what we were all prepared to pay for and sign up for on the spot… Haleslock 1 has that and a sequential discovery problem or two to solve along the way.

Shane has done a great job of producing a really great-looking puzzle in his workshop… he’s virtually giving them away at the prices he’s charging – I really cannot recommend them highly enough if you like puzzle locks… but I’m afraid you will struggle to find any more for sale – Shane doesn’t have any left and I think there are only one or two re-sellers who may have a few copies – they’re definitely worth tracking down though…

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Mike Toulouzas' Fairy’s Door

Just before IPP34 John Rausch’s website listed the 2014 Nob Yoshigahara Design Competition entries and sparked the usual round of guessing as to who the designers and craftsmen might be… 

I spotted something that looked rather intriguing and shot off a speculative email to a friend… a short while later my friend is literally crying tears of joy because he’s just heard the announcement that his puzzle has been awarded the Puzzlers’ Award at IPP34. 

I was exceedingly chuffed when my copy arrived a couple of weeks ago – just in time to take it along to MPPXXi, where it was a huge hit with everyone who had a go at it.

The Fairy’s Door is something really special – it is a thoroughly beautiful object and a delightful puzzle – it wasn’t an accident that it was the most popular puzzle in the design competition among the puzzlers at IPP34… it’s terrific!

Broadly speaking, it’s a box, with a Fairy’s Door on the front of it… and what appears to be an ornate hinge on the right hand side… the detailing on the door and the surrounds is staggering – the door panels have been individually distressed and imperfections introduced to make it look like a quaint old door. The edges have been rounded where you’d expect there to be some wear and tear and it has a pair of big, solid (fully functioning, wooden!) hinges securing it to the surrounding doorway, that looks like it’s been made of rocks. There’s a helpful sign pointing to the Fairy’s Door in case you weren’t sure where you need to address your attention…

A gentle tug on the doorknob confirms that the door is currently locked and anyway, that little sign is blocking the way… closer inspection will reveal where the main locking mechanism on the door might be, but there isn’t much of a clue as to how to get rid of it, so you best start exploring…

Finding a few things that do a little more than they first appear to, you’ll be able to work your way through unlocking the first set of locks and find you can open the Fairy’s Door… only there’s a solid wooden wall directly behind it, and unless Mike has introduced some negative space in his puzzle, there’s clearly more to be discovered. 

Find some more stuff to play with, play with it and you’ll be rewarded with the grande opening – and the cavernous innards of the box… that contain a bit of a surprise – something that wasn’t there that Mike’s added to this run of puzzles… something that I think is going to be a really popular addition to the design as virtually everybody who played with my copy made the same comment along the solve only to be delighted when they finally opened the box and discovered Mike's surprise at the end… it’s a great addition to a brilliant design and it’s going to be rather proudly displayed in my cabinet – complete with that little extra touch, ‘cos, well, you know… ;-) 

It’s not a tough puzzle, but it is thoroughly delightful and puts a smile on everyone’s face… and you have to read through the solution booklet after you’ve solved it – Mike’s whole family put a huge amount of effort into making it fit with the style of the puzzle and it’s also really delightful! 

A very worthy winner of the 2014 Puzzlers’ Award!

Thursday 18 February 2016

Popp Lock T10

Rainer Popp is definitely the master of puzzle locks… he has a reputation for producing challenging puzzles in the form of beautifully crafted locks, so his new designs are eagerly anticipated by both puzzle and lock collectors around the globe. 

When I spotted an alert from Rainer to say that his newest design, the innocuously named T10, was available for sale, I immediately dropped an email to my favourite puzzle purveyor to ask if any might be available and ordered one on the spot… and I’m very glad that I did as they seemed to be pretty much all sold by the following morning – in fact, as I sit writing this I’m not aware of a single re-seller who has any in stock… :-(

It arrived on a Monday evening and it’s a brute, weighing in at about a kilo – it looks every inch the big, solid, secure padlock. Designed to look like a padlock made up of stacked steel plates, it’s made of, err, stacked steel plates, topped and tailed with brass bars and the obligatory stainless steel hasp. It comes with an interesting key and the padlock has a very obvious place to shove it…

A cursory examination of the lock in its unsolved state shows an interesting feature… and once you start playing with the mechanism, you instantly know exactly what you’re trying to achieve…

So the first thing we do is insert the key and turn … and something rather magical happens – hypnotic even… to the extent that I spent probably the best part of an hour experimenting with that simple little motion, and a couple of variations on it… if that were it’s only party trick, I’d be sold on it… but it gets better!

From your initial experiments you’ll learn how to influence things, and that there are obstructions to just how freely you can choose to influence those things… sometimes that can be a right pain in the shackle!

I spent a really long time in this phase of the solve… getting myself to the place where I thought I was able to pretty much do everything that I wanted to be able to … almost – there was always one little element that eluded me, and I’d pretty much concluded that it was impossible… and that was the little breakthrough I needed: allowing myself to think that it might be impossible.

From there there’s a delightful little discovery that literally provides the key to further progress… and it still took me more than a week to finally solve the thing from there… I had it so close for ages that I could just about reach out and touch the solution, but it refused to budge… turned out I was actually quite a long way off, it just looked like I was close… and in the end it had taken me many, many hours over the course of three weeks to finally solve it…

This thing is a brute of a puzzle – nobody is ever going to open this one and feel cheated out of a sense of achievement – EVER! 
In fact, I’d probably go as far as to say that if Rainer didn’t ship them with a solution booklet, quite a few of them would remain unsolved.

Investment-grade hard-core puzzle lock from the master…

Friday 12 February 2016


Midlands Puzzle Party turns 21… it’s not only a milestone – it’s a darn good day’s puzzling!
It all started on the Friday night with the arrival of a car-load of Coolens (and a Strijbos!) fresh(?!) from their trek across Belgium and France and an underwater train ride. The smaller Coolens quickly settled into cuddling the pups while we caught up with the larger ones over a coffee or two…
Inevitably one or two puzzles emerged, then a few more and soon enough Gill and Mieke had fled the lounge and the coffee table was covered in puzzles…damn good start to an MPP, I reckon!
When I was ready to crash I left Louis and Wil in the puzzle cave puzzling and next morning there was some evidence of further successful solves littering the desk…
After getting the world breakfasted, we headed down into the village to open up the hall and get some tables and chairs set out and within a few minutes of that, we had people begin arriving from as far afield as Leamington! (Note for those not familiar with the Midlands geography – that’s just down the road…) By the time I’d managed to get across the road to get some milk we had all sorts there – even some Londoners! (Note for that same group – that’s quite a bit further afield!) … and by the time I’d had my first cup of coffee, we had someone from Sheffield in the north and Devon in the South… (Look at a map!) More than enough puzzlers to make up an MPP.
Wil Strijbos commandeered a table in the corner and several crates worth of goodies passed hands during the course of the day… including some personal deliveries of Rainer Popp’s latest masterpiece, the T10… several copies of Wil’s own Sweta Cross and a goodly smattering of Siebenstein puzzles.
Since last August in Ottawa, Wil’s had a running gag with a bottle opener that I gave to him…challenging all comers to balance it in various positions, with and without various supports… at MPPXXi he’d taken this to a whole new level with the addition of two further copies to be balanced together… and clearly nobody bothered telling Chris that it wasn’t possible to balance the three of them together…
I’d taken along some new-ish acquisitions from a simple little six-piece burr to an old-ish box from Kagen Schaefer. My copy of the Fuller IRMO Box kept a few folks amused for a while, although only a couple of them managed to actually open it… several more managed to open the Snake Box, although most needed to have the existence of the second compartment pointed out to them… much as James had to me several years ago… just as I’d pretty much completed the locking up sequence! Johan Heyns’ Wish Cube attracted a few challengers who went at least as far as getting the drawer out, but stopped dead in their tracks and retreated rather than dismantling the entire beast - probably a wise move…
A little Frank Chambers’ Corian box went down quite well with the few folks brave enough to take it on properly… although it has to be said that they all needed a little encouragement, which is probably a good thing! (If you know the box, you’ll understand…)
By far my most popular offering on the day was a copy of Mike Toulouzas’ award-winning Fairy’s Door which had arrived the day before…this whimsical beauty has the perfect balance of puzzle, discovery and beauty to tempt just about everyone who wandered past the table…and everyone had a fat smile on their faces when they were done.
Simon Bexfield brought along a pair of Threedy 3-D printers and had them churning out spare parts during the course of the day – I’d always thought they were pretty noisy beasts, but Simon’s printer hummed away in the background on the side-lines without causing any offence at all…while producing a spare Dot Box bit. Impressive pieces of kit, and I suspect that more than one of the puzzlers present will be investing in one in the near future.
The weather was pretty foul all through the day with several puzzlers telling some fairly interesting stories about their drive down in the morning – we managed to venture out at lunchtime and loaded up on fish and chips and pig rolls, all enjoyed in the room off the main hall before yet more puzzling for the entire afternoon…
One of the unexpected hits on my table turned out to be a copy of Holey Astigmatism – a simple little six-piece burr… sort of. This was Bill Cutler’s IPP14 exchange puzzle where he’d taken a standard burr with multiple assemblies and pushed it sideways a bit, just enough so that it eliminated all bar one assembly – the level 7 assembly - coincidentally the highest level assembly available for that combination of pieces. (And if you think that’s a coincidence, you clearly haven’t met Bill!).  Anyhoo, it’s a neat little burr made by Stewart Coffin in cherry and looks pretty unpretentious at a distance… closer up it becomes clear that it’s a lot trickier than it first appears, so I challenged a few burr-istas to have a bash at it and I was chuffed to see every one of them manage to complete it… and the smiles on their faces were really something to behold – doesn’t this number from Sheffield look just about as-pleased-as-Punch with his success? [Tip o’ the hat to all who succeeded on it!]
Tim Turner brought a few crates-worth of lovely old puzzles for sale and I ended up spending a while raking through his wares – getting advice and encouragement from Frank to the extent that I started an exceedingly humble collection of (3!) Journet puzzles at MPPXXi – thanks Tim! They really are in amazingly good nick given how jolly old they are … and I’m absolutely rubbish at dexterity puzzles to boot!
James Dalgety brought along a couple of antique ivory Chinese puzzle sets that several of us lusted over but nobody was brave enough to ask for a price on. He’s done a lovely job of pulling together pretty complete sets from a number of different sources over the years.
Ali had a great little design from Philipp Knöringer that had most of us going for quite a while – OK some of us for quite a long time! Thankfully one of our number was man-enough to solve it (we believe that his knee will recover, eventually) and when Ali put it back together the right way around, it turned into a lovely, rather more popular puzzle! Great idea Philipp – and rather nicely executed!
Simon Nightingale, looking every bit the English country gent, had brought along some old exchange puzzles and lined them up with new owners for a discrete donation to his favourite charity…
We herded everyone out at around 6pm and headed up back the road to a quiet dinner with the Coolens (and the Strijbos) before even more puzzling…
That session turned out to be really productive with Louis and I managing to open my copy of the latest Splined Box from Eric after having had it (unopened!) for about a year already… and then opening my Oriental Toothpick Safe and cleaning out its guts properly (it wasn’t behaving properly, although there wasn’t anything apparently getting in the way… rather odd!) … and overnight Louis bashed through a few Gillen locks and solved the new Hanayama Cast Padlock as it was there… and a week later – it’s still in bits on my desk…I must put it back together sometime…Oh, and solve my T10!
Thanks for a great weekend folks!