Sunday 26 March 2017

Molnar's masterpieces

Several of my mates told me how great they were.

I’d played with one of them a while back and it had me stumped.

….so when Brian Menold made a few more copies of Laszlo Molnar's original L-I-Vator, L-I-Vator II and BDSM recently, I put in a little order from Wood Wonders.

…and I was duly delighted. 

Let’s start at the beginning – the original L-I-Vator Cube: Laszlo Molnar entered this design in the 2015 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition. I had a bash at it in the Design Competition room in Ottawa and from memory it kicked my backside. 

The premise is fairly simple: pack the pieces of a 3*3*3 cube into a box where the only potential issue is that a pair of opposite corners are blocked… the pieces are interesting in that there are an increasing number of cubies on each piece – from 2 up to 7 cubies – start from the largest piece, remove one cubie to form the next in the series – repeat until you’re left with a simple 2-cubie piece. 

So, what’s it like as a puzzle – pretty damn good! Those two blocked corners in the box turn out to be really well-chosen! In theory there are three ways to assemble those pieces into a cube… and then each face could be uppermost, and oriented one of two ways, so I reckon there are 36 possible permutations for those pieces inside the box… and while I’ve no way of telling whether I’m right or not, I suspect that Laszlo has reduced that to a single possible solution (allowing for reflections). 

I’m just happy to have found a solution!

Next up is L-I-Vator II that uses the same shaped box and introduces a different set of six pieces – these pieces only go together to assemble a cube in one way… ! … so while it might be a little harder to find a potential solution outside of the box, you know that’s how it must look inside of the box (allowing for arbitrary orientation of the cube) when you do find an assembly. 

That’s got to make it easier than the original, surely?

Actually, no, it doesn’t… :-)

There is a lot of tricksiness involved here too… more tricksiness than the original, IMHO. 

At this point I need to interrupt myself and talk a little about Brian’s work on these puzzles – terrific! I’m a sucker for good-looking hardwoods – and the canarywood – particularly the bits with the spalting on them are just lovely… they look the business… and the fit is exactly what you want for a packing puzzle: the solution rattles, but nowhere along the way will you be tempted into doing something that you shouldn’t be allowed to – it’s obvious what you can and can’t do in terms of any tricksiness… :-) Nice work, Brian!

OK, back to the solve – this one took me a while longer than the first one… spread over a couple of evenings – ending with a wonderful moment of triumph at the end of a series of deductions – yes, dear reader – this one rewards Think©ing and deducting. 

The third in my little Wood Wonders set is BDSM – and I’m sure there’s a PG-rated explanation for the name out there somewhere, although I suspect that the less PC version is a lot more descriptive! 

Once again there’s a set of pieces to build a size 3 cube but this time the “box” is more of a diagonal cubic bandage – picture a box with two of its opposite corners sliced off on the diagonal… or just look at the photo!

My friendly well-worn copy of BurrTools tells me that the pieces will assemble into a cube in 11 different ways… which makes finding assemblies a bit like shooting fish in a barrel… however, and it’s a big HOWEVER, finding one that will assemble inside the confines of that blocky wooden ring is tough! 

If L-I-Vator II kept me busy for a bit longer than the original, this one kept me thoroughly amused for several evenings! I’d been working on some puzzle hunt problems with some mates via t’internet and been making very little progress on those puzzles so found myself fiddling with BDSM while trying to work out some phonetic anagrams (it’s harder than it sounds!) when I finally managed to find a useful way of getting the bits inside the bondage… YAY! 

(Sadly my success on BDSM didn’t translate into great encouragement and breakthroughs on the puzzle hunt… that was not a spectacular success! Fun, but not a spectacular success!) 

Thoughts on solving – I found it easiest to attack these head-on – play with the pieces directly inside their boxes from the get-go… establish if there are any real constraints on where some of the pieces can go and work around those… and then experiment, invariably coming up with assemblies that almost worked and then bashing through all of the possible variations on ordering, orientation and tricksiness before discarding and trying another assembly… fun puzzles to play with and even more fun to solve! 

Sunday 19 March 2017

Ninomiya Crates (2&3)

Ages ago I had the good fortune of playing with some of the original series of Ninomiya crate puzzles… the master had produced some innocuous-looking crates that hid some wonderful secrets, most of which I’d managed to discover over a couple of visits to James’ emporium of wonders

More recently the master has created some smaller crates as part of the Karakuri Christmas presents. Given Ninomiya’s incredible reputation for precisely-made, wonderfully original puzzle boxes, they tend to be pretty darn popular and as he’s been doing this for a very long time now, his production capacities are limited – so if you want one of his presents, you go into a lottery – I always try – I never win them!

…so when I recently managed to acquire a couple of them, I dived on in – and I was duly delighted with them! 

They literally resemble a couple of little packing crates, complete with reinforcing strips around and across the ends, and at their waists – with a neat little maker’s mark subtly in a corner. 

When I first got them I had no idea what to expect – other than the unexpected… a little fiddling around on the first one and I found a couple of little movements before something rather unexpected happened and the box opened up in a most unusual manner! 

Closer examination of the mechanism, and a little back-tracking and you discover that some of the steps along the way are total red herrings – lovely little piece of humour from the master – I, for one, was caught for a sucker!

The second one took me several evenings of playing before I even got close – the moves were a little tight and I was hesitant to increase the pressure until I was thoroughly convinced I was on the right track… that continued for a couple of evenings until I was pretty sure that I was almost there, but I couldn’t get it to open up…

… next time I was chatting to James I asked about the solutions and he pointed me to a pic of the two crates next to one another in their open positions (well-hidden behind a spoiler tag in case you’re worried!) – one looked instantly familiar and the other confirmed that I was indeed only one step from the solution – so we introduced progressively more and more pressure until it finally opened – also in an unusual manner. 

I left it open for a couple of day and that helped a bit to reduce the pressure required, but eventually when Louis came around to visit we decided to apply a little sandpaper to a particularly shiny spot in the mechanism and things are a lot smoother now – to the extent that it can safely be given to puzzlers who don’t know it without fear that they’ll need to force things…

A cracking coupla crates! (even if they are a bit smaller than I thought they were...)

Tuesday 14 March 2017

A quick plug - for a friend...

Robert Yarger is easily the nicest puzzlebox maker I have ever had the good fortune to meet... I'd only been collecting his creations for a year or two when I met him in DC, and spending some time with this rockstar of a puzzle maker left me with serious admiration for such a wonderfully humble soul.  

Over the next few years I've been lucky enough to acquire a few more of his puzzles and his ingenuity literally knows no bounds - the one thing that marks out a new Stickman design is that it looks (and works!) absolutely nothing like any of the previous Stickman puzzles... in my books, the man is a legend... 

...and the legend could use a hand - his wife Jeannie has set up a GoFundMe appeal to raise funds for Rob to pay for some new equipment and raw materials... if you'd like to encourage and support him, please consider donating to the appeal at



Sunday 12 March 2017


MPPXXV had been planned last year and timed to coincide with a visit by Saul and Paulette Bobroff… we’d billed it as another “Bobroff special” 
which Saul decided to make it even more special by having open-heart surgery just over a month before his MPP… so he duly arrived operating at slightly less than 100% just before the weekend – having him operating at a little less than 100% means the rest of us mortals stand a bit of a chance at keeping up with the lad…

He and I collect Louis from the airport in spite of the Highways Agency’s best attempt at stopping me from using any of my usual routes for a variety of reasons… and the puzzling begins in all seriousness in the cave over a few cups of coffee… I crash somewhere around midnight, leaving Louis puzzling on his own in the cave (you’ve never read that phrase before, have you?!). 

I’m up early next morning to get some Japanese puzzle boxes released from being held hostage by Parcelforce – unfortunately it’s a one hour round trip so it makes for an early start to allow me to get back in time for breakfast with the rest of the gang. The puzzles are duly liberated and added to the pile I’m taking down to the hall for the day… we all have breakfast together before the lads load up the car with puzzles and the girls head out on a fabric and fibre-hunting trip.

When we get down to the hall we find that Angela and Peter have beaten us to it and we quickly get the tables and chairs set up for the day – largely accomplished before the majority of folks start arriving with shed-loads of puzzles…

Angela and Peter are hoping to get rid of some puzzles and have brought along several crates-worth to sell or swap – Tim T has several tables groaning under loads and loads of antique puzzles, all on a two-for-one offer, and James has brought along a couple of suitcases full of books that he’s selling in aid of Devon Air Ambulance (just in case he needs them one day, he explains). 

Tim Dixon, current owner of Pentangle, joined us for the first time and had a few goodies for sale and plenty of stories about the various Pentangle puzzles, old and new – with lots of comparisons between him and James of then and now… and how things have changed. 

James interests me in a little antique chest of drawers that looks quite innocent (if you ignore the holes on the back made by some idiot with a screwdriver attempting to open one of the hidden compartments…). Five of its six drawers open quite simply, but the sixth drawer at the bottom remains resolutely locked shut – it takes a fair amount of sleuthing around to open the bottom drawer and when you open it, you’re rewarded with a little stash of treasure, which James says arrived with the box when he first acquired it… cute! Finding the second hidden compartment is a little trickier, although those totally unnecessary screwdriver gouges might give you a clue as to what should happen… and inside the final compartment there’s a treasure map, courtesy of JCD. 

I bought it. Had to. Really. 

Several others seemed to have fun opening up its various secrets during the course of the day – nice little piece of history. 

I also helped myself to a few books in support of the Air Ambulance… for charity, you understand!

There’s a long conversation when Chris rocks up with a plastic container full of experimental Nine-Drilled Holes items… last year he and Saul had spent a while discussing the manufacturing process and Chris had said he wanted to have a bash at it… Saul said “Sure, as long as you make some earrings for Paulette!” …so Chris duly produced a bunch of cubes with the recognisable bowed holes drilled through them and a pair of smaller clear rods with similarly bowed (drilled!) holes through them – complete with earring attachments… et voila!

Cue long, enthusiastic conversations about how they were made and what took the real time in the process (polishing!) – So Paulette got her earrings and Chris has a few more variants lined up on the drawing board – and Saul’s pleased as Punch because Paulette got her earrings and he didn’t have to make them…

Saul’s Pants keep several folks entertained for quite a while… (his IPP34 exchange puzzle, that is…).

Shane shoved a little package in my hand soon after he arrived and said it was from a mutual friend – a great little trapped-coin puzzle from Matt Dawson that has all the hallmarks of a classic Robrecht Louage puzzle. Matt had mentioned this little project to me back in December when he was trying to source some specific coins to be trapped…I hadn’t been able to help him at the time, but Shane had… and here was the fruit of his labours – a lovely little puzzle as I discovered the following day. 

Several folks had a bash at the various Karakuri boxes freshly liberated from Customs that morning – with Kawashima-san’s Pyramid keeping several puzzlers amused for quite a while… it’s a fierce little puzzle! One or two folks tried their hands at barrel-rolling and playing with some Ninomiya crates that recently came my way…

Louis had brought along a few more copies of his 3D printed tricklocks (2015 and 2016) that make brilliant use of the properties of Shapeways’ 3D printing process – made even better now by the ability to control the print orientation and produce spectacularly precise prints every time. (When the orientation can’t be forced, some of the lines can turn into steps, which isn’t helpful when you’re designing puzzles to fit very precisely.)

Lunch was the usual round-up of fish suppers and pig buns taken in the spare room balancing our lunch on our laps on account of all of the tables being used in the main room for the puzzles…

After lunch James rounded up a few of us to play a new game he’d found called Igloo Mania – imagine Jenga, but with an igloo(!). After we’d worked out how to build the igloo we took turns to remove blocks trying to keep the structure standing for as long as possible… cue very little strategy, lots of “I dare you”s and plenty of laughter – even some semi-successful attempts to rebuild the igloo without using the internal dome to hold up the pieces during the build. Not very puzzling, but great fun. Big Steve was probably the winner, mainly on account of the plaintive look on his face when it inevitably all came tumbling down even when logic and physics decreed that it shouldn’t have. 

I spent an absolute age totally failing to assemble a six-panel box that James had brought along – six ply panels with a variety of slots and cuts on them that should fit together into a cube… I make an absolute meal of it and can’t ever quite get the last piece to do what I needed it to do… later on that afternoon I notice Louis slotting it all together perfectly… there’s a reason I keep out all my hard puzzles for Louis whenever he comes to visit!

Mike Toulouzas’ Three Rhombic Tetrahedra gets a reasonably decent playing-with although one puzzler who shall remain nameless (although I usually refer to him as wee-Steve) leaves it in bits on the table rather than solving it… Chris duly puts it all back together again and one or two others have it apart and reassembled during the day… (It's a tough little puzzle!)

We call it a day at around 6pm and several of us head back to my place for the traditional fish supper, a surprise message from Lauire (who's sorry he can't join us but wants us all to have a great time!), more puzzling, plenty of banter and a damn fine end to a rather nice day, even if I do say so myself…