Wednesday 21 September 2016

Katsumoto-san’s winners

Two new puzzles really stood out for me at this year’s Puzzle Design Competition – interestingly they shared a common theme and a designer: Hajime Katsumoto. And I wasn’t surprised when they both took a Jury Honourable Mention and one also won the Puzzlers’ Award in the 2016 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition.

They’re both excellent and if you get a chance to play with a copy, or pick up one of your own, you will not be disappointed! 

Slide Packing has a really simple premise – it’s one of those puzzles you can just leave out without any description or instructions and everyone will instinctively know exactly what the goal is… you’re presented with a box in two halves and a few pentominoes … so clearly the object to put the pieces into the box and close it up… simples! 

Anything but, actually!

The two halves of the box slide together on a pair of rails carved into the edges of the two pieces. The bottom half of the box will allow two layers of cubies and the top half will fit a single layer… the resulting space inside the closed box allowing for a full 3*3*3 cube. The pieces you need to put inside the box will only take up 20 of those 27 cubies – so there’s theoretically bags of space left over inside there once this thing’s solved… 

Hopefully I’ve convinced you by now, dear reader, that this is not only theoretically possible, but you’re probably thinking to yourself that surely there’s another catch… well there ain’t – that is it!

But when you start playing with putting the pieces into the bottom half and sliding the lid closed you realise the problem – you’re going to have to either put one of the flat pieces inside the lid and get the others into the bottom half of the box without any obstruction to the top half, which would allow you to simply slide the lid into place, or you’re going to have to manoeuvre things around while the lid is semi-open and hope you can get things where you need them to be…

Now when I first sat down with this puzzle it was pretty clear what you were trying to do, and I very quickly found that everything I wanted to try wouldn’t work. So I fiddled around for a while and rapidly ran out of ideas…so I did what anyone in my position would do and moved onto the next puzzle… but in the back of my mind I kept playing around with the odd idea or two… and the next morning I’d come up with a plan that I was thoroughly delighted to find actually enabled me to slide the lid home with everything neatly inside the box… my favourite puzzle in the Design Competition and also the one puzzle I’d save.(*) 

Penta in a Box consists of five pentominoes to be packed inside a neat little box with a hinged lid. Once again we have space inside the box for a 3*3*3 cube, so this time there will only be a couple of cubies spare once the box is closed… the pentominoes are also all different this time, which makes finding a 3*3*3 assembly a little more of a challenge!

Finding one is only half the battle, however… the hinged lid effectively swipes a little bit of the top front row of cubies because of the arc it takes as you close the lid… which is interesting because you know there are only two cubies spare in there, yet the lid will probably stop you using three of the cubies – and while it’s been a while since I did any really serious sums, even I remember that 25 into 24 don’t go good! 

Thankfully there aren’t nearly as many possible assemblies with this set of pentominoes so it quickly reduces to the problem of closing the lid and how you can cunningly remove the apparent constraint. 

Another puzzle that needs a bit of thought before the arrival of a massive “A-Ha!” moment…

Two terrific puzzles from Hajime Katsumoto – both were available from Mine’s webshop – hopefully more will become available in due course… 

...and it's not just me who thinks these puzzles are brilliant! - Read Kevin's thoughts over here... 

(*) At one of my earliest IPPs one of the veterans asked me which puzzle that I’d acquired over the course of the magical few days I would choose to keep if I was only allowed to save a single puzzle? It was a brilliant question! And one that we generally discuss every year now… This year it would have to be Slide Packing!

Thursday 15 September 2016

IPP36 - the rest of it... and then some.

Sunday is the puzzle party – usually one of the great highlights of my IPPs – however this year it was preceded by a bit of a chest issue that kept me up all night and saw me needing to head to the Emergency Room in the morning for some drugs and a cortisone drip… 
Osho insisted on driving us to the hospital [Thanks Osho!!] and made sure we were getting helped and much interpreting help from Tetsuro who stayed with us the whole time we were there and made sure that we got everything we needed – Thank you to both of these puzzling friends who gave up the first few hours of the puzzle party to make sure that I was OK. (And to Lixy for getting me sorted at the hotel!) 

While the drugs were doing their thing, I went back to bed and then made it down for the last hour of the puzzle party. Much concern was expressed and also a fair amount of relief to see that I was vertical - thanks all! 

In spite of “missing all the good stuff” (not really!) I managed to pick up a fair few nice little trinkets, including a copy of the Imaginary Cube puzzle from Saturday’s lecture and a few little packing puzzles from Kotani-san. 

Gill ushered me back to the room for some more rest before allowing me downstairs for a few of the afternoon’s lectures. Takashima-san gave a really poignant lecture on puzzles in wartime showing that puzzles literally transcended the war with both sides using the same puzzles for their propaganda messages. That lecture really struck a chord. 

I ended up missing a few of the other lectures that afternoon while I caught up on some of the sleep I’d missed out on the night before…

At the awards dinner we were treated to a truly world-class act from Yosuke Ikeda – well worth watching the video link on that page! We were all thoroughly delighted – everyone in the audience had a permanent look of absolute wonder on their faces – you just had to smile all the way through his act… after the act, the applause was rapturous!

The Obligatory Renegades Photo!

Nick’s traditional awards show followed with the two Penta packing puzzles doing really well and an Honourable Mention for Mike’s Toolbox. It’s a good night for puzzles!

After the formalities wind up there are the usual long sad farewells to folks that we probably won’t see for another twelve months… but it’s been great to catch up again and to puzzle together. 

That evening Mine puts a note on FaceBook to say that the Penta packing puzzles will be for sale in Hakone on Tuesday… and we just happen to be heading there on a bus with a hundred or so puzzlers! 

Monday, and the drugs are starting to help, a bit. 

We have an 8:30 bus call before we head east wending our way to Tokyo. Our first stop is at the Giant Kite Museum – where they just happen to have a pretty awesome collection of impossible objects of every single persuasion, from traditional Japanese bottle stuffing, to modern puzzles like Strijbos’ impossible aluminium dovetails. 

Several impossible objects are for sale from Osho and a friend who’ve driven ahead of us to make sure they were all set up before we got there – grateful puzzlers did what they normally do in situations like this and bought many, many things from them!

Next was a stop at the Toyota Car Museum with some lovely specimens for the petrolheads to drool over – loved the blue Bugatti! Light lunch at the museum before we headed off to the next Toyota museum – this one specialising in the future technologies being developed – and outside their auditorium they just happened to have a fantastic Patrick Hughes perspective painting to mess with your head… 

Another hour or two in the bus took us to our hotel for the evening – easily the dinkiest hotel (and rooms) I’ve ever seen. A bunch of us head out in search of food and find a great little restaurant that had a table for ten(!) available. We settle down for an extremely varied dinner before Gill and I fade early – still trying to catch up on the sleep we’d missed on Saturday night. 

Tuesday sees a reasonable start with everyone keen to get on the buses and head for Hakone. We make one stop on the way there – at a services with a great view of Mount Fuji … and it’s not covered in cloud! The Tourism gods must be smiling on us today! 

When we reach Hakone there’s a disorderly disgorgement of puzzlers as everyone tries to get to Izumiya first! 

There’s a serious gaggle around Mine’s table outside of Izumiya where he’s selling ready-made bags of puzzles in two sets – I opt for Set A as I’d missed out on last year’s puzzles and that gives me a set of them as well as this year’s designs. I am delighted – happy to have already got what I really came to Hakone for – the puzzle boxes will be a bonus!. 

I picked up a couple of the more recent Karakuri boxes and then Gill and I spent the rest of the wandering around the village, having lunch and chatting…

We visited the new Karakuri Museum – well worth a visit – there’s a Kamei secret door to get into the exhibition and woe betide anyone who tries to sneak around the back and get in without going through the secret door… Strayer, we’re looking at you! 

Inside there are some wonderful Nonomiya and Okiyama boxes, a self-opening trick box (just press a button and watch it open itself up!), several items of puzzle furniture being enthusiastically demonstrated by the staff and even some Brian Young and Frank Potts puzzles on display. As I said, well worth a visit! 

The drive into Tokyo was really interesting, especially as we entered the great city itself – where a number of subterranean expressways link parts of the city – accessed via long corkscrewing tunnels into the centre of the earth…

The bus drops us off outside one of the recommended hotels and we wander up a couple of blocks to get to our hotel for the next few days – we’re totally zonked and manage to find a sandwich joint for dinner and we crash really early…

Come Wednesday morning we realise that we’ve both picked up Chinny’s flu bug so we take it really slowly, taking in a few fabric stores that Gill’s scouted out via ‘tinterweb and I spend an hour wandering around the local Tokyo Hands. Dinner is in the hotel because we literally can’t face going out… damn flu!

Thursday sees another late start and we managed to head to Akihabara and find Torito where Meiko and Susuma are back at work again after taking a couple of days off to enjoy IPP36 (in fairness, they worked pretty hard there too!). I pick up a few small goodies there before we decide that we’re running out of ‘nergy and we need to get back to the hotel… and sadly we have to cancel our date with the Pawligers that evening at a Ninja restaurant in Akasaka… we have take-out in our room instead.

…and Friday is pretty much completely filled with travelling home – which takes us about 24 hours all told… but then we’re home with the pup and we can both convalesce a bit before work beckons on the Monday morning. 

Even though things didn’t really go all that smoothly for both of us on this trip, we still got to spend time with some brilliant friends from around the world, got to play with some fabulous new puzzles, bought a few, swapped a lot and wouldn’t trade it for the world… same again next year? 

Of course!