Saturday 27 January 2018

More diagonal silliness…

Once or twice in the past I’ve mentioned that I like finding puzzles that look ostensibly alike, but are really totally different puzzles… in fact I’ve even written about a pair of puzzles that look identical from Lee Krasnow over here – so imagine my delight when I stumble across a few more variants to add to the Krasnow bit of the collection. 

First up is the plainest looking of the trio – it is the standard Coffin Star design (SC-04), aka the diagonal burr. The fit on this little sucker is just so darn good that the usual trick of tugging on adjacent pieces does absolutely nothing… spinning it – likewise… until you pay this innocuous looking beastie due respect and adopt the correct grip and pull it apart on the correct axis, it will simply stand there and mock you. 

Those pieces continue to grip together like there’s no tomorrow until they physically pass beyond just the tips holding things together… I’ve never seen a diagonal burr that hold on quite like that one…

Next up looks ostensibly the same again, except it’s made in far prettier woods this time… and unusually for Lee’s work, the pieces feel a bit loose when you pick it up… and that gives you a bit of a clue to what’s happening inside – take this one apart and you find it has a cubic cavity in the centre – this is Coffin’s Star variant 4B(?). Having had that central little bit of the puzzle removed means there’s a lot less wood to grip between the pieces when it’s assembled, giving it the slightly loose feel, but when it comes to reassembling this guy you really miss those central pieces! 

If you’re anything like me you assemble the two halves in a three-fingered grip and then slide the halves together… which is usually pretty simple – but this variant’s missing bits mean that you can’t just squeeze the three pieces together in each hand, you have to hold each of the three pieces in the right place relative to the others, without the bit in the middle that you’d normally be pushing against… which makes this fella pretty fiddly to reassemble – not horrible, just tricky!

The final new addition to the canon is the Sneaky Star… looks just like a Coffin Star (give or take the fancy spalted wood) but it open in a rather different manner… and like 4B it has a cubic cavity in the centre – except this one comes with a pretty little cubic box in the centre – a puzzle box that is one inch cubed – and it’s called Inchricate. It is a fine puzzle on its own… 

I’ve given it to a few puzzlers over the last month or so and virtually all of them have wondered out loud if I was having them on, sought encouragement and even advice. 

It’s an excellent little box that uses most of what you “know” about puzzle boxes against you… so some of the moves are unconventional to say the least, so of the usual “rules” about “once this face moves, that must be the next face to move” are deliberately flouted, resulting in a wonderful little puzzle box challenge that literally fits into a 1 cubic inch cavity inside the Sneaky Star. 

It’s sneaky and brilliant!

Thursday 18 January 2018

EPP 2017

By a quirk of calendarization EPP 2017 took place at the start of 2018. Peter’s usual invitation resulted in just over a dozen puzzlers from around Europe descending on chez Hajek at the anointed time for some puzzle trading, banter, plenty of food and of course, presentations of everyone’s Top 3 Puzzle Finds of 2017.

I drove down and arrived half an hour early courtesy of London’s traffic behaving in a most un-London-traffic-like manner… I’ll bet that’s the last time I ever have the opportunity to say that!

At Peter’s I found Louis, Shane and Wil had all beaten me there: some by minutes, some by hours and some by days! We congregated in the kitchen with the snacks and drinks and before long there were several puzzles in play. I had great fun inflicting a new (to me) three-piece dissection of a tetrahedron that really messes with your head and everyone seemed to enjoy Lee’s Sneaky Star and the Inchricate pox inside it… it really surprised me to see how virtually everyone struggled with that little box… it really does seem to use all of our programming of how puzzle boxes are supposed to work against…

The rest of the gang duly rolled up over the following hours or so and we ended up with a long row of plastic crates of puzzles for sale, trade or “please take those from me – I really don’t have space for them!” I found an old copy of Saul’s Dragon’s Head disentanglement exchange puzzle and I was chuffed to add it to the collection as I only had the remake which looks a lot less interesting (it’s “just” a cube rather than the full on painted dragon’s head!). 

Wil was in full-on generous mode giving everyone an acrylic Sixty-Nine puzzle in honour of his age (he’s 45) and a copy of Siebenstein’s HeimSpiel. Martin and Big-Steve insisted on giving me things as well…thanks to all of you!

When the afternoon events got properly underway, we took turns to present our three Top Puzzle Finds of the year to the rest of the gang… going last I found some of my picks had already been presented, allowing me to concentrate on the stories behind the acquisition and explaining why some were particularly special this year… 

If you’re interested, my Top 3 (plus an extra commercially available puzzle) and their accompanying blurbs for Peter’s book were: 

Tricklock 2017 – Louis Coolen – available directly from Louis

Louis Coolen has been designing 3D printed puzzles that superbly make use of the Shapeways materials’ translucency, strength and flexibility. Tricklock 2017 is the latest in a series of puzzle locks and it packs a serious number of steps required to open the lock into an extremely small package. The presentation taunts the puzzler: forcing you to go backwards before you realise that that’s what you’ve just done to yourself… a really fun challenge. 


Revenge Lock, aka The Wanderer - Wil Strijbos

“The Wanderer” is Wil Strijbos’ further development of his earlier “Revenge Lock”, itself a reprise of Gary Foshee’s Lunatic lock. It might look like the original, but the internals are somewhat more challenging! It comprises a fantastic series of challenges that gives and takes away your sense of achievement and keeps you puzzling right until the very last step. Working out how to reset this lock is almost as much of a challenge as opening it in the first place. 

Laurie’s Three-Piece Block Puzzle – Shane Hales (with a little Coffin) 
At last year’s EPP Shane Hales presented Laurie with a puzzle he’d cooked up especially for him: called Laurie’s Three-Piece Block Puzzle it was Laurie’s favourite Stewart Coffin Design with a little added Hales’ secret sauce: a chain locking the pieces together! A few weeks later I was humbled and delighted to be given a copy and I found that Shane’s addition took the puzzle up a notch… and it beat me until Shane gave me a gentle nudge. 


Down the Rabbit Hole – Peter Wiltshire

After I’d totally failed to make all but the slightest possible progress on Down the Rabbit Hole in the 2017 Design Competition, Gill managed to convince Peter to sell her a copy to surprise me for my 50th birthday this year. Several days after my birthday I finally managed to open it and it instantly became a favourite: the sublime tolerances give nothing away until you work through the precise solution to find the rabbit down the hole. 

Presentation-of-the-afternoon went to Big-Steve for delighting the audience with his re-telling of the horribly entertaining Oli Sovary-Soos real-life Paris Metro disentanglement puzzle… even though I’d heard the story before, hearing Steve re-tell the story with occasional corrections from Ali along the way had me in tears – even more so as I had Oli sitting behind me repeatedly saying “I’m going to kill him” and “I hate you…” If you haven’t heard the story, give Big-Steve a beer and ask him about it, you won’t be sorry!

After the puzzle presentations we were once again treated to a first-rate magic show from a local magician – who started out by saying we’d made him nervous with all of our presentations but he held his own quite well and certainly confounded more than a few of us during the course of his act. 

After the magic, supper miraculously appeared in the kitchen (although I suspect that Katja may have had a lot to do with it! Thank you!!) and there was plenty happy milling around, chatting and gentle puzzling to be done…

Shane ended up keeping several of us in stitches regaling us with stories of his new lock-smithing business – if I hadn’t heard it from his own mouth I’d never have believed that he’d get stiffed by a sweet little old lady.

Somewhere around 9pm Louis and I called it a night and headed up the road to Brum – I was making use of his puzzle-solving skills to sort out a few things for me that evening and the following morning before he flew back to The Netherlands…

Another terrific get-together at Peter’s place – looking forward to getting a copy of the book to see what the most popular choices of Top Puzzle Find for 2017 were…