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. 

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