Monday 30 October 2017

Dutch Cube Day 2017

An early morning alarm rouses me from blissful nothingness at the start of a weekend late in October – this must be the sign that I’ve been waiting for: DCD weekend!
The traffic is light (everyone’s still asleep!) and the queues are short at the airport so I have plenty of time to pick up essential gifts for folks I’ll be seeing, a long cup of coffee and a failed attempt at picking up a new phone a bit cheaper in duty-free. (No, I can’t rock a rose-gold phone… I want a black one… they don’t one have in stock).  KLM and Storm Brian make for a wonderfully exciting take-off and just over an hour later I’m greeting Louis outside Schiphol Arrivals. The trains behave and we get to Rob’s place just after midday, as planned, where we find wee-Steve puzzling quietly at Rob’s dining room table. Rob tops us up with caffeine and we pull out the puzzles…
I’ve taken along an evil packing puzzle by David Goodman which several people try over the course of the weekend, and while Louis finds a (new to me) rather tight solution, nobody manages to crack the “right one” – as discovered by Ali at the last MPP.  I also have a couple of burrs that I need help with, and both of them end up getting solved over the weekend, although we end up having a lot of fun with Lucida: several people fiddled around with it before I took a turn, and in the process of trying to take the pieces apart, I mistakenly end up solving it. Realising my obvious error, Rob then helps out by taking them apart again and for the next few hours we fail at reassembly, until Louis eventually takes pity on us and re-solves it… at which point I hide it in my rucksack lest Rob “helps” me again.
During the course of the afternoon Wil and Sveta, Taus and Isabel, Goetz and Frans arrive… Rob keeps the snacks eternally topped up to keep puzzlers from flagging, and the banter and merriment flow in equal proportions.
Somewhere around early evening Rob orders a large pile of pizzas for dinner so we take pity on him and help him out by polishing off most of them for him. We puzzle for a bit more until folks start feeling the need to check into the hotel and leave Rob in peace and quiet – knowing he still has to prepare his slides for his traditional presentation at DCD covering this year’s IPP exchange puzzles. (There’s apparently a bit of a theme here as Taus hasn’t prepared his slides either and manages to get them done in the early hours of Sunday morning…)
Back at the hotel we get checked in and head down to the bar, finding some random Luxem-burgers and a few more German puzzlers, so we set up a table, grab a few drinks and pull up a few puzzles to solve.
The stand-out favourite puzzle that I’ve taken along for the weekend turns out to be a lovely little wooden number from Takeyuki Endo. It’s basically four nesting pieces with couple of constraints in the form of dowels and grooves between a few of the pieces… everyone can immediately see that the goal is to put the smallest piece into the centre and close up the other pieces into a cube around it… except that a few minutes proves this to be totally impossible. Taus managed to solve it in a matter of minutes, Louis spent considerably longer on it before he solved it, and everyone else (and there were several challengers!) failed to solve it, with everyone wanting to know where it came from (Torito) and how I’d managed to get hold of it (because they won’t ship internationally)… it really is a brilliant little puzzle that relies on one beautiful “A-Ha!” moment… I predict that if a puzzle re-seller who shipped internationally were to stock them (assuming Endo-san has any more copies available) they would be an instant hit!
Somewhere around midnight we fade for the night – and crash… I get a rather pleasant full night’s sleep not having to get up at 3am to let the puppy out!  A combination of a rather dreich day, a late night and not setting an alarm sees Louis and I wake up at 8am… which was when we told wee-Steve we’d meet him for breakfast – Oops… we get down to breakfast not much after eight.. ish…
We check out in time to grab a lift to the hall with Goetz, register and enter the annual DCD wonderland where the speed-cubers are frantically solving down one end of the hall and the rest is given over to tables groaning under loads of puzzles their current owners are trying to offload - it’s a sight I’ll never grow tired of.
Jack has hinted at some of the wonders that he’ll have for sale a few days before in a post on FaceBook and I’m keen to snag at least one item from him, so as he starts setting out his stall I descend on him and insist on giving him some cash… yet again I tell him his prices are embarrassingly good – I’m sure he’d sell just as many puzzles at twice the price… I grab a tiny copy of Coffin’s Cruiser and a monster copy of Coffin’s cardboard burr in wood – very chuffed with that one!
Much later on, when people have begun to leave, I swing back via Jack’s table to pick up some copies of his “Make a House” and Cruiser as gifts for puzzlers.
Michel has a wonderful array of eBay finds for sale, including an incredibly well-preserved Devil’s Knot, complete with a well-worn instruction sheet that he reckons is probably more than 8 years old… I resist the urge and later on he tells me that it found a delighted new owner.
Marcel has an enormous variety of puzzles available and Hendrik seems to have brought a fair chunk of the latest stock for sale. I pick up a copy of Siebenstein’s Bell puzzle – later described quite accurately by Goetz as a poor man’s Panex – and a little cube fidget spinner for a fiver. A little while later I accost Oliver (he of twisty-sticker-fame) and ask if he has any stickers for the fidget spinner – OF COURSE! And his partner duly sorts me out with a set for next to nothing… at last a cube I can actually scramble and solve with virtually no effort whatsoever!
As per normal I end up spending an inordinate amount of time trawling through the piles of crates on Wil’s table, finding some wonderful little treasures ranging from a nice large Jan Sturm copy of the standard handcuffs disentanglement puzzle through to some beautiful wooden creations, including a Karakuri Rose that I’ve been looking out for for a while. 
NKC provides the usual huge spread for lunch and after lunch Joop rounds us up for the lectures… so we can see if Rob and Taus have finished their slides in time – Spoiler: they have.
Taus presents a really interesting mathematical (yes, really, those two words, together!) analysis of a set of Polarium-style puzzles, introducing tools for analysing different problems and then positing various interesting questions on solvability and indeed proving some puzzles have no solution. The audience got involved with suggestions and ideas for further analysis. 
Chris gave an amusing presentation on ambigrams and other visual puns – he has great timing in his presentation, letting the audience get there themselves rather than taking their fun away from them. Rob ended things off with his annual canter though the IPP37 exchange puzzles.
After the lectures we caught the last few rounds of the cubing competition – great to see Mats Valk in action – in between some last minute shopping for puzzles – just in case we’d missed anything super-special!
When all was said and done, the most challenging packing puzzle of the day commenced: getting all the puzzles into the case before we headed out to the station… just in time to catch the rain – which didn’t manage to put a dampener on a terrific weekend… must try and do it again next year. 

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Haleslock–ALLARD 50th aka Pre-prototype Haleslock3

At our inaugural Northern Puzzle Party Shane gave me a little wooden box as a birthday present… neatly branded with his signature logo, and very much locked shut. He apologises for the box – apparently it was an afterthought hurriedly pressed into action when another idea didn’t quite pan out… yeah, right!

As I mentioned in my NPP write-up, it took me a long time, several hints, and some downright straightforward instructions from Shane before I managed to get the box open… afterthought, my eye!

Nestling inside is a trick lock that I think I recognise: it looks a lot like Haleslock3, Peter Hajek’s IPP37 Exchange Puzzle… except the accompanying card tells me this is in fact a pre-prototype of the Haleslock3 – and while it may look similar, I’m warned to ignore all that I know about number 3 as this one’s different – VERY different!

OK, so I do the obvious thing and Shane points out that no force is required– as instructed on that card I haven’t read properly… neither is banging…

I resort to thinking instead… fiddling around with the key, looking at things carefully, playing with the slot cover, examining the back – hey, it says “ALLARD 50” on the back – that’s so cool… feeling around this, that and the other… looking at things even more carefully – and stopping for a bite to eat every now and then – don’t want to exhaust myself!

After a while I find something interesting and make a little progress and the lockmaster smiles down at me, probably in pity given how long it’s taken to find that first step…

From there I make some more rapid progress and get the lock opening and closing at will, only Shane gently points out that I’ve been breaking one of his rules, and he demonstrates the desired technique – far more elegant than my somewhat agricultural approach… you can tell he’s from London and I’m from Africa!

Thank you squire – that will take up position in front of the rest of the family as soon as I’m finished writing this…

Sunday 15 October 2017

Thanks Frank!

At a recent MPP Frank and I were engaged in some idle banter – is there any other type? – and the topic of some of his early exchange puzzles came up… we’d been playing with an unusual three board burr (I think it was Big-Steve’s Czechoslovakian monster) and he mentioned that one of his exchange puzzles had worked along similar lines… 

When he saw me at the next MPP, he duly presented me with a copy of that exchange puzzle, and the one from the previous year as well, for good measure – Thanks Frank!

Frank’s Unfinished Burr was his IPP26 Exchange Puzzle – exchanged with much theatrical apology for his awful woodworking skills, pathetic finishing off of the pieces, dubious fit and an obvious error in that one of the slots was clearly missing from the standard three-board burr design… aside from that, he was glad to be getting rid of them and happy to receive the other participants' exchange puzzles in return… cheeky so-and-so!

Well that was the story, and what may have appeared to the trained eye to be a rough, unfinished set of pieces, is actually a rather neat puzzlers’ puzzle…

Try the usual things and you’ll find a lot of slop, and a missing slot, making the usual solution somewhat impossible…

…which it turns out was the name of his previous exchange puzzle: Imp Possible Nail

Apparently the schpiel here was that Frank’s workshop is besieged (no less!) by imps who play nasty tricks on him on a regular basis… 

…one time they even hammered some nails through a bunch of rings he’d left out on the bench – only being imps, they hammered them out of the rings rather than in to the rings…

…leaving a puzzler to ponder on how they got there, or for the brave, remove the nail and replace it! 

Cheers Frank – that was very generous of you, sir!

Monday 9 October 2017

Boaz' BLock

Boaz Feldman has plenty of form when it comes to puzzle locks – being the son of the maker of one of the very best puzzle locks in existence, the Danlock, he comes with a built-in pedigree… so when we saw him exchanging a puzzle lock at IPP37, a lot of us were delighted.

The BLock – Boaz’ Lock – looks like another common-or-garden Nabob padlock – with some lettering bashed into them to brand it as a BLock exchanged at IPP37… there’s a key helpfully attached by a short piece of string… so we do the obvious and untie the key and insert it into the lock – except it won’t go in… someone’s obviously jammed something in there or otherwise damaged the lock…

…or something…

Straight after the exchange, up in my hotel room I spent all of about 5 minutes convincing myself that it wouldn’t just unlock the way it should… that wasn’t difficult, after all you can’t get the key into the darn thing, let alone turn the key!

The next evening at the dinner Shane came wandering over with his copy of the BLock, cursing just a little (highly unusual for this sober English lad!) and announcing that he and Rainer had been trying to open the darn thing for hours, with no success… it was duly handed around the table for others to try – with similar levels of success…

Watching this from the other end of the table I had a little brainwave, which turned out to be rather useful… I asked if I could have a look at it, grinned, and then there was a lot of colourful seafaring language and plenty of guffawing at how we’d all been caught out…

The apple has not fallen far from the tree.

I am sure that Dan is proud of his son’s first exchange puzzle – he ought to be, it is an instant classic: a fun puzzle to solve with some sublime machining and excellent camouflage…

Hopefully there’ll be a BLock 2 or a CLock along in due course…