Saturday 25 November 2017

Kagen’s Twisted Burr

A little while ago my eye happened to fall upon a six-piece burr that looked a little different – there appeared to be some little sticky-outy bits one the sides of the burr pieces – it looked interesting and I duly enquired about it and found it might be for sale… and then during the course of establishing a price, I discovered that, quite by accident, I’d enquired about a very interesting little piece indeed. 

Back in 2002, Kagen Schafer had entered two puzzles in the IPP22 Puzzle Design Competition – his Block Box duly won the Puzzlers’ Award and First Prize, but his Twisted Burr didn’t win any silverware. Which is a pity, because it’s a really fun little puzzle…

It starts out looking just like an ordinary six-piece burr, albeit one with a few extra lugs on each piece that locks into the pieces on each side of it… now thinking about it a little will probably drive you a little batty… if every piece is captured by the pieces on either side of it, and they’re doing that across all three planes simultaneously, then surely nothing could move… and indeed I wouldn’t be possible to have built the jolly thing in the first place, now would it?!

OK, OK – we all know about impossible dovetails and the like, and we know that if a woodworker is good enough, he can make some of those cuts at strange angles and things might just be able to slide in strange axes… and we all know that Kagen is an extremely talented woodworker… 

Playing with this little lump of teak for literally a couple of seconds will show you that things slide around… quite a bit! In fact, if you slide one piece relative to any of its neighbours, it will immediately send all of the other pieces sliding in a beautifully choreographed manner…

Slide them far enough and you reduce it to a little pile of pieces…

…which shows you there are just two sorts of pieces, each with a pair of slots on the sides and ridges on the base. 

With a relatively low piece-count and the fact that there are only two types of pieces, reassembly isn’t massively challenging, but it’s a really fun little puzzle – especially given the wonderfully funky movements that literally involve all of the pieces at once… all of the time!

Friday 17 November 2017

MPP 30

It was always going to be a big weekend!

 Louis was bringing Laura over for an English immersion weekend after she’d started at a new school where the lessons were all in English… Frank and Jo were coming around on the Friday evening for dinner and to stay over, as was Ethel… and we were being joined by five first-time MPP-ers, including a pair of friends from Sweden and a chap who’d found us on FaceBook who was coming from Bulgaria(!) – for the weekend… Oh, and most of the usual bunch were coming too… what’s not to love?!
Straight from work on Friday afternoon I headed out to the airport to meet Stefan off his flight from Sofia via Frankfurt… I got to know him a bit in the car on the way to his hotel (Walkers’ B&B being full to the gunwales already!) – actually the heavy traffic meant we had a while to chat and make all our arrangements for the rest of the weekend before I dropped him off and headed home, where Frank and Jo and Ethel were already entertaining Gill in the kitchen while she cooked dinner.

Frank and I trawled through a couple of boxes of puzzles that Ethel had brought along to sell the next day and I managed to purchase a few really nice puzzles – including a massive disentanglement puzzle that I’d played with on a visit to Laurie and Ethel’s a couple of years ago.

Dinner was yummy and we had fun catching up on “stuff”, before I headed back to the airport to collect the Dutch contingent. We got back to the house to find an extremely competitive game of Blokus in progress between Gill, Ethel, Frank and Jo… in between the hello’s and how-are-you’s the game continued and it was quite cut-throat. It seems Frank had made the mistake of winning the first game and as a result the ladies felt the need to punish him in the second game which is where I came back into the house… it is safe to say that Frank did not win that game.

The girls went off to bed at some point leaving the boys to puzzle on the dining room table… I was flagging and ended up leaving Frank and Louis with a bunch of puzzles to be solved while I headed off to bed… Barkley had other ideas and got me up a couple of times while they were still puzzling, and the next morning they were neatly arranged into clumps of solved, not solved and partially solved puzzles… (very helpful!)

We headed down to the hall a bit early and managed to get everything set up in plenty of time to collect Stefan from the hotel and introduce him gradually to the assembling knot of puzzlers… Daniel and Johan arrived shortly afterwards and they were soon sitting chatting to puzzlers with a puzzle in their hands.

When Wee-Steve arrived he’d brought along an unexpected guest in the form of Rob, one of our Dutch puzzle friends – I hadn’t realised he was joining us so it was a lovely surprise to be able to welcome him, and indeed to have him around to the house later on, after I’ve made a habit of visiting him before every recent DCD meeting in The Hague! 

James had made the trek up north (all things are relative!) with a few crates of books and lots of puzzles… including a super-sized Peppermint Twist puzzle which a few people couldn’t resist having a go at before Chris eventually assembled it properly… or reasonably properly, even though James was muttering about the ends not being neat enough… it looked solved to the rest of us!

Oli had brought along a massive balancing nails puzzle where you need to balance 17 nails on a single standing nail… these were large, heavy, twelve-inch nails – and the single nail was literally being held in a large rock… when you put it down on the table, this thing stayed down! There were a few goes at it, and some surmising that it was probably not possible until some of us just assembled it and balanced it rather steadily on the up-ended nail… a little while later Big Steve decided we should try and spin the nails to see how far around we could get it to spin without falling off… his first tentative nudge got a 90 degree turn…I raised the ante a bit, he countered and I duly spun it about 540 degrees… sensing victory he gave it a whirl only for the inevitable loud crash to announce the end of the game… we stopped at that point for fear of spearing the floor and damaging the parquet. 

Johan and Daniel were systematically introduced to a bunch of different sorts of puzzles and puzzlers and I think they managed to get some useful research to build into their gaming ideas – everyone always seems happy to chat about what makes a good puzzle for them...

Ali had brought along a Christmas bauble for our amusement: basically, one of Johan Heyn’s big wooden ball sculptures, filled with a number of Big-Steve’s 3D printed balls (neatly nested!), some large burrs and a disentanglement puzzle to suspend it all from a suitable Christmas tree – assuming it had been structurally reinforced, given the extreme weight of said bauble… puzzlers are a weird bunch!

Ethel’s table did a reasonable trade during the course of the day and I suspect that quite a few people left with a bit of the Brokenshire collection having been added to their own… I couldn’t resist picking up a few extra little pieces, including some rather old cast metal puzzles.

James had brought along a Tea Caddy from c.1790 in pretty good nick that he insisted on me buying… so I now have an Eighteenth Century Tea Caddy with a secret compartment in it… cool! It’ll make a nice place to store other little puzzles… which helps, given I’m running out of space in the Puzzle Cave. 

I’d taken along my copy of Jack and Johan’s wooden variant on Coffin’s 12-piece carboard sheet puzzle… it’s a fun assembly that's not really all that challenging if you approach it reasonably logically – something I’d proved to myself a couple of times at my desk on my own… yet somehow at MPP, it required a team of four or five to assemble it under Big-Steve’s guidance… they did seem rather proud of their achievement though! (In truth it’s a LOT easier to assemble than the steel plate version… the wood is a lot grippier.) 

Several people had a bash at a modified Bits and Pieces Kamei Ribbon Box that James had brought along. It seems that Strijbos had decided that the traditional Ribbon Box was way too simple and had modified it for the more serious puzzler… several years later, James had forgotten the solution and was trying to get us to open it for him… I tried, and failed, as did several others – in fact it wasn’t until later that afternoon after James had left that Louis managed to crack it – and having seen the mechanism, I have no shame at all that it flummoxed me… it was a classic, simple Strijbos modification that turned a straight-forward puzzle into a monster. 

During the course of the afternoon Frank managed to solve his Mr Puzzle 50th Birthday special – and treated us all to the sight of the naked lady emerging from the cake – classic Mr Puzzle touch! :-) and a cracking puzzle to boot: he’d had it unsolved for a month or more but the calm, inspiring atmosphere of an MPP helped him to solve it in style – that or the goading and banter of his “friends” – not sure which. 

Stefan had brought along a 3D printed blind maze with a quick reset function for us to try – I think he’d designed it for a friend’s Escape Room and it looked great. Several people had a bash at solving it, and I didn’t see anyone troubling the quick reset mechanism all day… Trifcho 1 -  MPP 0 

On the Friday evening Louis had given me a copy of his latest WSF Shapeways puzzle: Tricklock 2017. I’d played with a near-final prototype in The Hague and it had kept me out for quite a while… thankfully I didn’t embarrass myself this time and I managed to remember most of the solution and derive the rest without spending too much time dithering… Thanks Louis! On the Saturday, Louis had a small pile of his locks available for sale, and sell they did! (I’m sure it’ll get a proper write-up in due course… exec summary: it’s great, get one if you can!).
Rich Gain brought along a number of brilliant examples of his 3D printing – he manages to get a superb finish on the pieces and spent ages sharing his experience with various printers and materials and software – really helpful for anyone wanting to get a head start and not need to spend ages experimenting.
I’d taken along a couple of Japanese Joint burr puzzles that I was hoping to get assembled, and several people had a pretty good tonk at doing them, but sadly the one I hadn’t already found a solution for remained resolutely unsolved all day…

Dale Overy showed us the solution to his now-defunct credit card challenge to stack a complete set of UK coins onto a standard credit card… defunct with the recent change of the One Pound coins to a new size and shape… Dale reckons that in all the years he’s been handing them out, he’s never had anyone email him a solution, so his puzzle remained victorious while the right coinage was available. 

At the end of the day quite a few folks, including Johan’s parents, decamped back up to my place for a fish supper, and some more puzzling… including letting the newest MPP’ers loose in the Puzzle Cave where one made a bee-line for the Kagen boxes, one went for the Karakuris and another piled into the Popp locks… plenty to go around. It was great to see everyone enjoying the puzzles… even Johan’s folks who’d been dragged along from Sweden, were gamely solving puzzle boxes and packing puzzles with the rest of them in the Cave. 

The usual banter and puzzling carried on until reasonably late before people decided they really ought to head out given they still had a couple of hours driving ahead of them before they’d get home… at which point I dropped Stefan back at the hotel… now with a seemingly permanent grin attached to his face for some reason… I guess your first experience of a puzzle party might just do that that to you?

Once again, I left Louis puzzling when I crashed for the night and once again there was a neat row of solved puzzles on the desk in the morning. 

On Sunday morning I collected Stefan from the hotel so we could have a couple more hours puzzling before he needed to catch his planes back to Bulgaria in the afternoon… and he, Louis and I spent a good couple of hours chatting puzzles and playing, and even occasionally solving a puzzle, until I had to drop him off after an epic weekend…