Saturday 23 April 2016

Popplock T1

About three years ago I was lucky enough to get to play with Wil’s copy of Rainer Popp’s T1 Tricklock at his annual Queen’s Day Puzzle Party… since then it’s found its way to a new owner across the ocean who seems fairly chuffed with it. 

It’s been on my “Gosh wouldn’t it be nice to have a…”-list for quite a while, but having heard rumours of the prices they’ve been changing hands at recently (yes they do, occasionally, change hands, privately) I’d more or less given up on that until I won the lottery… and then recently it seemed I’d won the lottery – not literally! But figuratively… in that a friend recently found one for sale and offered it to me – I won’t tell you how long it took to say “Pretty please!” and “Take my money!” but it had arrived at Puzzling Times HQ a few days later…

…and it’s every bit as awesome as I remember it being three years ago! 

This copy looks a bit different as the shackle is made up of straight metal parts rather than the customary rounded stainless steel shackle on the later copies. It’s marked as “T1 001-333” although I’m pretty sure that there weren’t 333 copies made of this one – in fact someone who should know, suggested it was closer to just a tenth of that. 

It’s a big, handsome lump of a puzzle with no apparent keyhole (or key for that matter!) and the shackle appears to come almost out of two holes at the base of the lock. There are a couple of interesting buttons located around the sides and some remnants of filled holes where the innards have no doubt been inserted, but apart from that, there is no apparent obvious place to start trying to open this thing. 

A fair amount of experimentation will lead to something unusual and probably rather interesting, although your brain will almost certainly stop you from making any progress at all at this point – it knows what’s possible and what isn’t – unfortunately the next move is somewhat impossible and is for me, the most charming thing about this lock – if you’re thinking, you’re stuffed! :-)

Find that wonderful next move and then things really start to open up for you – all of a sudden you’re spoilt for choice, but finding the right thing to do next is, once again, a fantastic challenge – there’s another lovely little piece of theatre just before you head into the end-game… where you’ll need all your wits and senses, you’ll need to examine everything super-carefully and then work out what you haven’t used yet before you can finally perform the final sequence of steps and find the shackle is freed.


You should be warned that while this lock may have become somewhat legendary due to its limited numbers and tremendous scarcity, and the fact that Rainer’s gone on to create another nine awesome puzzle locks in his series so far, it’s not universally loved – some people have found it too hard as a puzzle to be entertaining – and I can see their point to a degree. 

Solving it the first time, it is a pretty brutal puzzle – subsequent solves, if you keep your wits about you, shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes, but you do need to be pretty exact when you’re executing some of the moves… and some copies seem to be less inhibited in some respects which make choosing the right spots a little harder! 

Me? I love it – as a puzzle and as a beautifully hand-crafted object…

Friday 15 April 2016

More Kostick treasures!

I’ve been collecting little bits of beauty from Jane Kostick for a couple of years now and I always get excited at the prospect of new goodies from her – but this time was different. 

You see, about three years ago I acquired a set of Quintetra pieces from her and she promised she’d make me something special for its insides… every now and then in the intervening period we’d touch base and she tell me she’d made up something interesting for me, but it wasn’t worth shipping over yet, she had a few more ideas she wanted to make up before boxing it all up and shipping it over the pond.  

Early this year the message changed to more along the lines of “OK, I’ve got a few things for you, would you like them now?” By return of email I was offering to send cash and just before the transaction was completed she offered to add in a new style of star that she was working on – another of John’s designs that he’d been making for years… I was never going to turn that down and I duly sent over some money…

A week later DHL dropped off a medium sized box and I had the unbridled joy of opening a package from one of my favourite crafts(wo)men where I had literally no idea what was in there… I knew I was getting a star and some innards for my Quintetra, but beyond that I had no idea as Jane had been a little cryptic when she’d described what she was putting into the package… think of it as a grown-up version of a Lucky Packet!

Opening the box, I quickly found the star (it’s the biggest thing in there!) and then began a wonderful journey through a series of individual packages with post-it notes on them giving me instructions and challenges… 

I started out with the star – a variation on John’s collapsible star, this one seems to have the “wrong” wires joined at the tips giving it a beautifully full and open structure – it won’t collapse in this configuration, but it will allow the outer ten-axis sticks from an earlier Kostick creation to weave in between the arms of the star – seemingly floating inside the star – and of course they fit perfectly into those spaces – knowing Jane, that wasn’t a coincidence! 

There was a second, smaller six-axis star in the package that fits perfectly inside the Quintetra pieces – when I say perfectly, I really mean it! The inside of the assembled Quintetra has pyramidal gaps between the pieces that close off at the surface of the assembly… the tips of that star stretch up into each of those gaps as far as they possibly can without fouling the assembly – the star fills the internal space perfectly. That’s the first of the objects for inside the Quintetra. 

The next interesting item is a rhombic dodecahedron in (I suspect) spalted apple (and I suspect only because I’ve had something in a very similar wood from Jane before and that was spalted apple!) maple (thanks for correcting me, Jane!). 

This one opens up to reveal a darker interior with the neatest little Tetraxis star nestled neatly inside it… open it up further and the star comes out (it’s a perfect little collapsible chappie!) and then you notice something interesting about the pieces – they all have concealed magnets to hold the pieces together, but they’re cunningly aligned to allow the pieces to be inverted and reassembled in the shape of a regular dodecahedron(!) – which in turn fits snugly inside that Quintetra of mine… whodathunkit?

…the last of the goodies to go inside the Quintetra was a real puzzle: the triacontahedron box is made up of six identical panels that lock together to form a box courtesy of the perfectly placed magnets. 

Inside that box was twelve little bits of wood… so far, so good… now separate from that was a tube with a cube in it, and a challenge to insert the cube, and the twelve little bits into the box… and it makes a great little challenge! The space isn’t so much filled, as rather effectively utilised! I’ve given it to a number of serious puzzlers and it’s found a couple of them wanting… it makes a great puzzle – and of course the resulting assembly fits perfectly inside the Quintetra – the third thingie that does…
There was also a set of short six-axis sticks that wrap perfectly around those two wooden Quintetra interiors… a lovely addition to the set. 

The final item in my Lucky Packet was a fantastic little puzzle called Phive. It starts out life in a little clear canister in a pleasing double flowered shape made up of five peaks and valleys in a circle in each of the main two faces. Shake the pieces out into your hand and you’re faced with four wooden pieces (handed pairs) and a ball bearing that had been hiding in the centre – your goal is simply to reassemble the pieces back to their starting shape inside the canister. 

And that turns out to be quite a challenge!

Phive at rest
It took me a goodly time to get it sorted on my first attempt and every single puzzler I’ve given it to has found it a neat little challenge too… I think it’s a cracking little teaser and it came as a total surprise, which makes it even better! 

Jane has subsequently tried it on a few hard-core puzzlers herself at G4G and I suspect that she found the results rather gratifying… now if only we can convince her to make some more… :-)

Thanks Jane – for a wonderful little treasure chest of puzzling goodies with a beautifully mathematical bent.

Sunday 10 April 2016

Bobroff Edition Puzzle Party

Gill and I had the pleasure of having Saul and Paulette Bobroff to stay for a week a little while back… they’d been over visiting their granddaughter in Ireland and had spent some time with Jim Kerley before coming over to Brum to spend a little time puzzling and knitting. 

It's a thing - who knew?
Whilst planning for their visit, Paulette spotted that there was a Yarn Festival happening in Edinburgh during their time with us, so within moments (and a few quick emails to & fro across the pond) Gill had teed up a couple of tickets and some flights for her and Paulette to head north for a day’s yarning … leaving the lads free to puzzle… on a Saturday, so I did what any self-respecting puzzlist would do and promptly invited a bunch of puzzlers around for the day…

They began arriving at around 10 in the morning – Chris being the first, if memory serves … actually, no, that’s not quite true, one of them arrived at about 11am, the week before! [He felt very sheepish when he realised what he’d done so we had a cup of coffee, talked puzzles and maths for a while and then he headed back home for a week.] 
By late morning we had a lounge-full of puzzlers and there were puzzles strewn over practically every horizontal surface (can you tell the girls were in Edinburgh by this point?). Ethel had brought Laurie up and he’d brought his customary rucksack-full-of-puzzles which he duly passed around to anyone who might not currently have enough puzzles in their hands with a “Here, you’ll like this one”. 

Simon Nightingale made the trip east again and if he hadn’t outed himself no-one would have known about his trip the previous week! Ali, Oli and Steve arrived in force and Adin and Sophie completed the puzzling gang for the day. 

I’d brought my copy of Peter Hajek’s How Box down for everyone who hadn’t already seen it, to have a bash at, and it pretty much always raised a few smiles along the way… if you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why! And exactly How!

Saul had laden the coffee table with piles of goodies and made sure that pretty much everyone left with some sort of puzzling gift from him… he’d started plying me with all sorts of gifts earlier in the week and I ended up with an embarrassing number of Bobroff originals (including some VERY sought-after Bobroff impossible objects) and some samples from The Puzzle & Craft Factory – a small puzzle manufacturer not far from his home in the USA. 

At one point Sophie mentioned that something was impossible, so I took that as my cue to introduce Saul’s Nine Drilled Holes which he’d given me earlier that week. It was duly passed around and speculated on. We started with the usual, “How do you think that was made?” – and the obvious first answer “Curved drill bits!” – “No, think about that…” – “Ahhh…” – mighty confused expression! 

Several more plausible possibilities are mooted before an extended discussion of the actual process and the machinery required… and then things took a really interesting turn (which given the audience, you might have predicted!) when Chris wondered aloud whether he’d be able to 3D print one in a (perfectly) clear material. Saul’s interest was piqued and soon enough there was a full-on discussion of printing using clear materials, printing using sacrificial materials and moulding a clear positive and several potential avenues for exploration… 
At some point lunch was called and several pizzas, some salad, a few litres of ice cream (Devonshire clotted cream if you’re interested) and a large pot full of chocolate sauce were turned into puzzle-solving-fuel. 

Back at the puzzling, a few of the guys enjoyed a new lock I’d managed to pick up recently before I decided I needed my pound of flesh out of the assembled puzzlists: I’d recently acquired a copy of Bathsheba Grossman’s Moon Pi and it was sitting in more than the usual number of pieces, ready for assembly. I’d done some research and read up on how they were supposed to be assembled (with extreme difficulty) and even been warned by a friend that his copy had required a visit from some world-renowned puzzlers to get it assembled, so I did what anyone else would do in my position and gave it to Chris and Oli and asked them to assemble it for me.  
To their credit, they did it not just once, but twice! 

On the first assembly they used the training wheels (a magnetic core and rubber balls) and flushed with their success, took it apart and promptly reassembled it (using a couple of sacrificial loom bands that Chris apparently never leaves home without) using the glass marbles…  which is how it currently resides on my window sill – thanks guys!!

Laurie became the first person brave enough to take my copy of the Surprising Cube apart and promptly reassembled it before remarking “It’s not that difficult – you’ll see.”  [Full disclosure: So far Louis and Laurie have done it and I haven’t… one of these days…] 

Early in the evening we got a call from the girls to say they’d landed back in Brum so we ordered a large pile of fish and chips… collected it just before they arrived to provide a veritable feast for all. 

Simon had brought around a couple of boxes of puzzles-looking-for-a-new-home and I managed to snag a couple of rather interesting old exchange puzzles and a vicious-looking entanglement for the now-customary donation to Oxfam.

Paulette managed to catch up with Laurie and Ethel before they headed off on the long trek south leaving a decreasing entanglement of puzzlers chatting, fiddling with the odd puzzle and generally “encouraging” one another to do better – mainly through the medium of banter!

Thanks for coming around folks – it was great to have you all… and especially to Saul and Paulette for not only providing the excuse, the week’s entertainment, but also for all the little gifts left behind, the wonderful memories and great new friendships.
What's wrong with this picture? :-)

Addendum: Nine Drilled Holes
It feels only right to give this little object a bit of a spotlight: Saul Bobroff’s IPP20 Exchange puzzle is quite rightly one of the most sought-after impossible objects around. 

It is a stunningly beautiful object… but one that teases even the best of minds. It’s a cube of beautifully polished clear acrylic just over an inch on each side. It is a thoroughly beautiful little object – the light positively dances around it and it really draws you in, inviting you to work out how the heck it came to be thus… 

You see there are (there’s a clue in the name!) 9 holes drilled through from one side to the opposite side in a 3 * 3 matrix. The centre hole goes straight through the cube – so far so good – but all the holes around the edges and bowed inward toward that central hole – and that’s just wrong!  [Before you ask, yes they are genuine holes, you could pass a piece of thread through each one of them.] 

You cannot drill around a bend – and yet… there are 8 of them in this little gem.
During his stay, Saul and I had several long conversations about his manufacturing process and even knowing exactly how he’s done it, I still think this is an object worthy of wonder – there is a lot of effort encapsulated in that little acrylic cube…

Thank you Saul – I think it’s brilliant!