Wednesday 29 June 2016


Each year, just before Wimbledon starts, I try and entice Dick Hess into coming around for a day or two so that we can get the local puzzlists together for a gathering… he’s fallen for it a few times now… and last Friday I took the day off work so that I could collect him from the station and spend the day chatting about puzzles and tennis and life in general… Gill and I had a great day with him – and that evening we collected Louis from the airport which could only mean one thing: an MPP was in the offing... and sure enough, next morning the puzzlists descended on Puzzling Times HQ. 

MPP XXiii!

Gill left early on the Saturday morning to attend a workshop a friend was running in Alcester, leaving me to ready the house for the impending arrivals. 

I’d unwittingly arranged a bit of a test for the arriving puzzlists in the form of some major roadworks in our street that resulted in almost everyone having to negotiate some interesting detours, and then negotiate with a surly construction worker to allow them safe passage past the obstruction he was manning with strict orders to keep them out… they all made it through.

Apart form his usual mathematical challenges, Dick had carefully prepared a number of new puzzles to dish out to everyone – after last year’s Four Keys puzzle (which I’d done 90% of and needed Dick to restore the final key for me!) he brought us the Five Keys puzzle – consisting of – you guessed it – 5 differently shaped keys trapped on a trapeze – so far I’ve looked at it, confirmed that all five keys are currently attached and taken a pic of the solved state… and sometime in the next few days I shall embarrass myself by attempting to remove and replace the keys… it only took me the best part of a year last time… Thank you, Dick!

Shane had brought along a couple of prototype lock puzzles that several of us had a go at – and without exception, we were encouraging him to manufacture them and inflict them on a wider audience. 

Oli presented everyone with a 2 pence version of the obloid wobbler and they were duly rolled around to much amusement... cheers Oli!

Big Steve had brought along copies of a Wimbledon-themed Coffin-like 3D-printed puzzle for everyone – a lovely idea and rather generous of him… I didn’t get a chance to play with it until the following day and it’s a great variation on a theme that makes for a really interesting little puzzle: six identically-shaped pieces in three colours fit together to make a neat little rhombic dodecahedron – Thanks Steve!

James had brought along a couple of challenges for us all: a copy of the World’s Fair Prize Puzzle from 1891 confounded everyone, as it had done at our last PMPP, but several folks had a lot more success tackling his yoghurt pot challenge to assemble 6 pots into a three dimensional cross shape in such a way that it holds together of its own accord. I saw several complete structures and also witnessed a number of sheepish looks when a passer-by picked up one that someone else had assembled, only to have it fall apart in their hands… some of the advanced challenges with smaller pots and other sorts of plastic lids didn’t meet with as much success, so we decided they were probably impossible!

Lunch consisted of several pizzas, a couple of quiches and even some salad – can you tell that Gill had organised the food and not me? Oh, and the ice cream and choccy sauce went down quite well afterwards. 

I’d left out my copy of Pavel’s Edgewise for folks to solve for me (having failed abysmally on my last holiday to do so myself).  A couple of folks, led by Chris duly had a stab at it and found some really interesting “features” – but couldn’t quite crack it … although later that evening when everyone had wandered off in their respective directions, Louis and I had another bash at it and ended up actually managing to solve its multi-layered challenges – tremendous sense of satisfaction, almost smugness, ensued. 

A couple of copies of Wil’s new Pachinko box were in evidence and a few guys who hadn’t bought one managed to have a go at solving them… and I think that Oli managed to get all the way through it – well done that man!

Somewhere around mid-afternoon I had to run Dick back to the station so he could get back to Wimbledon in time for his dinner date, so I put Ben in charge and left the puzzlers at it… and when I got back from the station, somewhat drenched from the superbly ill-timed downpour that arrived just as I was escorting Dick into the station, everyone was still puzzling furiously – in fact, had I not told them I was going out for an hour, I suspect that none of them would have been any the wiser! 

Simon entertained us with a set of rebuses (rebii!) that his daughter had created and several times you’d see a flash of recognition when someone was sounding out various words and suddenly they would join together to form the title of a well-know movie… good fun and rather well designed, and drawn, by Charlotte! 

I did learn one very important lesson that day: NEVER. EVER. Tell puzzlers that a particular disentanglement requires a little force! 

I’d left out an intertwined pair of C’s and mentioned that they were a bit stiff so a little force might be required… seems that form then on, anything was fair game and the resulting entanglement wasn’t untangled for the rest of the day… in fact it took Louis and I about half an hour, WITH A VICE, the following morning to encourage the unnaturally joined pieces apart … then we spent a little while tuning the pieces so that excess force would never again be required… probably serves me right for not doing that before they all arrived! 

Another brilliant day's puzzling with good friends... 

BTW did anyone, by any chance, end up with an extra copy of Dick's new book inscribed to me - I can't find it anywhere...

Thursday 23 June 2016

4L Co-Mo DD from Johan Heyns

A while ago Johan posted some pics on FaceBook of his experiments with variations on a triangular coordinate motion puzzle – he’d come up with a fiendish variant that made similar variants in my collection look rather tame by comparison – and it looked rather stunning, so I gladly signed up for a copy of 4L Co-Mo DD – a rather descriptive name if you can crack the code! [It stands for 4-layer coordinate motion with double difficulty… it’s all clear when you’ve had it explained to you…]

When it’s assembled, it resembles a wheel with an internal ring and an outer rim – closer examination shows that there are four layers to each of those rings, and that they all split apart into three pieces… offset on each layer so that the three pieces form a rudimentary spiral. The basic concept is common to a few coordinate motion assemblies and part of the trick is realising how you need to push or pull the various bits in order to get them to start coming apart…

This little monster has a nasty sting in the tale – it starts out reasonably predictably for these sorts of puzzles, but then as things start coming apart, it goes beyond the point where the first set of interactions hold it neatly in place and it all goes very sloppy … before the second set of interactions begin to bite.

This leaves you with a floppy set of loosely connected - but very much still intertwined - pieces, and a serious challenge to get them all properly aligned and interacting in order to allow the bits to finally come apart – the double difficulty part of the name is well-deserved!

Persevere and you’re rewarded with three separate identical (save for the wood choices!) pieces.
Putting things back together will require a lot of precision and more than a little patience… and a flat surface certainly helps, in my experience – as does a third hand.

It’s a great extension of a reasonably well-known standard, but Johan’s added several lovely twists to make it a serious challenge for even practiced puzzlists… and the stand, that enables it to be displayed semi-open is a master-stroke that makes it display beautifully and invites the challenger.

Skitterend Oom!

Friday 17 June 2016

Pachinko Box

Wil Strijbos’ latest sequential discovery puzzle has been in the works for a while – it’s been prototyped, it’s been tested and it’s finally been perfected – and a couple of weeks ago it was unleashed on a community eager to be puzzled. 

Several painful seconds elapsed between receiving the email announcing the new puzzle and my sending the reply asking to be puzzled… and a couple of days later a friendly delivery man (yes, they do exist!) deposited a rather heavy box at Puzzling Times HQ. 

Sod’s Law dictates that on the first evening I only had enough time to remove it from its shipping box… admire the nice sturdy inner box, take it out and admire its shininess. 

The next evening I did get to play though…

It’s a solid, handsome aluminium box, similar in size to Wil’s Angel Box – the obvious distinguisher is the sprung plunger sticking out the one side of the box – think Pinball launch-mechanism, or indeed, if you’re au fait with them, a Pachinko machine. There’s a little window on the side that allows a view of the plunger trapping a shiny marble against an internal wall in the box. On the top of the box there’s another window through which a Russian 2 Ruble coin is visible… there are one or two tiny holes around the box, a T-shaped slot on one side and a single round hole in the bottom of the box – which looks about marble-sized. 

First order of business must surely be to play around with the marble and the plunger, so if you’re like me, you take a deep breath and release the marble and then immediately try and replace it back where it was, clamped in place by the plunger – if only so that you can convince yourself that you can get back there again if you find the need to… turns out that’s pretty trivial. So you may as well get a bit more adventurous… 

Peering into that first little window I spotted a potential exit for the marble, although it seemed, rather unhelpfully, to have something rather severely in the way… 

After a while I managed to navigate to another area and duly found the marble in my lap – that hole IS large enough it turns out… marble in one hand, (very locked-up) Pachinko Box in the other – what’s a bloke supposed to do? I’ve got the marble out, but Wil’s instructions were to remove the second coin – and so far I’ve only seen one coin. Clearly there is (a lot!) more to be discovered… 

Gingerly the marble goes back into the hole it came out of – and immediately check you can remove it again (confirmed! Tick. Move on.) before peering through the slot and the hole to see if there’s anything else interesting looking in there… nada, at least there’s nothing to be seen… and now the real puzzling starts! 

From there you’ll find a few tools and begin a wonderful little odyssey that slowly reveals the box’s innards – usually just a bit too late to actually be useful in solving that stage, but great to confirm what you thought you knew! 

Toward the end of the journey you're rewarded with a wonderful Strijbos touch: a tantalising view of the second coin… you just can’t actually do anything about it until you solve a few more aspects of the puzzle. 

It’s a really fun sequence of events that forces you to use your imagination and skills in some unusual ways – there’s a wonderful use of tools at one point that had me grinning like a Cheshire Cat – it is delightful. 

By the time you remove the second coin, the box is pretty much laid bare… there’s only one little piece of the puzzle that you need to imagine as it remains blocked from view…

…and as a bonus, resetting the puzzle for the next victim is simple and quick!

Another great puzzling journey from Wil.

Monday 13 June 2016

Stickman #18 – Sphere Box

Toward the end of 2008 Robert Yarger made a run of 31 little round puzzleboxes – number 18 in his series of numbered designs, it was dubbed the Sphere Box. 

Upon first inspection, it looks like a ball trapped inside a wooden cage – so your first instincts might be to try and release the ball from the cage… and that would probably be useful, except the cage is pretty snug around the ball… and the ball has a few pins protruding from its surface which tend to get in the way of manipulating the ball around inside the frame… 


OK, so let’s look at this object in a little more detail: the frame appears to be built up of two layers of wood bonded at right angles – and reading Rob’s notes on the puzzle over here, that was deliberate to add strength – to the point where it was “so sturdy it can practically be stood upon” – and No, dear reader, I am not tempted to test that in any way, shape or form – I can vouch that the frame is pretty sturdy and will certainly withstand an enthusiastic puzzler’s handling. 

A couple of the rings on the cage have notches in them that look like they’ll allow those pesky pins on the ball through them – which is great, but there are only two of those notches – and there are three pins, so even if you line things up neatly, you still find a pin getting in the way somewhere…

As you might expect with one of Rob’s little beauties, not all is as it seems initially, and there are a few features to be discovered that will assist in freeing the trapped ball… although it takes quite a bit of manipulation and understanding of all the “features”, and sometimes exploiting them in unusual ways – do all that and you’ll be rewarded with being able to release the trapped ball – which turns out to be in two halves – with Rob’s trademark little Stickman logo inside it.

It looks unique – I’m pretty certain that you’d be hard-pressed to name another puzzlebox in the shape of a ball trapped in a cage – and if you could, I’d wager a lot that it wouldn’t be nearly as good-looking as this little gem.

You can read Neil’s thoughts, and even see a video of the puzzle in action (with some spoilers), over here.