Monday 26 March 2018

Yin Yang Master Puzzlebox

I have a simple rule about emails from Robert Yarger: whatever he offers, I say “Yes, please!”. Quickly. So it won’t surprise you, dear reader, that when I heard from Rob that he’d reserved a copy of a joint venture with the late Randal Gatewood for me, that I said “Yes, please!” and duly dispatched some PayPal… but this was a little different. 

Rob had been planning a collaboration with Randal around a new puzzle, but sadly those plans got kiboshed with Randal’s untimely passing. When Rob heard that Randal had been partway through completing a run of 60 copies of his latest puzzle box when he passed away, he hatched a plan with Karin, Randal’s widow, to resurrect the project and complete the run.

Randal had pre-cut most of the parts needed for the run and assembled the puzzle mechanisms for pretty much all of them, so Rob rounded up the unfinished bits and duly set about completing the project and adding a bit of his own touch… and then offering them for sale with the proceeds going to Karin – What an absolute gentleman! 
The resulting puzzles bear both Rob’s ‘Stickman’ and Randal’s ‘Quagmire’ branding - bringing the best of two puzzling legends together in a single puzzle. 

The five-inch cubed padauk box has a wonderfully detailed lid with an inset yin yang symbol and an unusual peg sticking upwards… with maple and purpleheart accents setting off the details rather fetchingly. The yin yang symbol has a couple of shorter pegs in the two halves and your first instinct turns out to be useful… sort of… inasmuch as the symbol will generally turn, but the lid will stay resolutely locked in place…

It’s not super-hard as a puzzle – Rob describes the solution as “requiring a minimum of at least 7 elusive steps” but it does yield to an inquisitive mind, a sensitive touch and a keen sense of observation. 

Quite a poignant collaboration.

Wednesday 21 March 2018

The Flatliner Deluxe

I quite often find myself raving about Mike Toulouzas’ creations in this blog – he comes up with some fantastic puzzle designs, and then executes them beautifully. Mike’s entries generally stand out in the annual Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition and when he’s at an IPP, I generally make a bee-line for his table at the puzzle party in the hopes that he’ll have some spare copies of his latest designs, or that he’ll add me to the ever-growing list of puzzlers who want to order one of his latest creations.

Recently I’ve been fortunate to be able to acquire a few of his older works, swelling the Toulouzas shelf in the puzzle cave a little… all super puzzles that still slide as smoothly as they did when he first made them… Mike’s got skillZ!

Recently Mike popped a couple of interesting looking pictures up on FaceBook – he’d been working on a new incarnation of an old design called Flatliner… then he posted a short video clip of the 3D packing puzzle with typical Mike T touches in the detailing of the box and in the magnet for keeping the lid safe on the side of the box while you’re playing… lovely touch!

Knowing that Mike occasionally sells a few copies of his latest works on Puzzle Paradise I began watching it regularly for updates… none came… but every now and then a new pic or two would be posted, and then a video of Mike signing his name inside the lid… still nada on Paradise…

…and then out of the blue, I get an email from Mike telling me that he’s just posted a copy to me - as a gift – cue dropping jaw, confused grateful email and several offers of payment, all of which get roundly rebuffed – he just wants to give it to me. Cue even more grateful emails, both then and a few days later when it arrives from Greece…

... it’s even better looking in real life. 

Flatliner was designed when Mike was inspired by Liu Suzuki’s Stuffing puzzle – a 3D packing puzzle in a box with cubies joined with occasional offsets… Mike’s puzzle extends that idea and presents puzzlists with five pieces to be packed inside a box… with just a little protrusion in one of the corners… and the cubies have all been squashed, a little… and none of them are joined without an offset. 

Actually, that’s not quite true, so before the mathematicians out there jump on me (you know who you are!) the five pieces are made up of three pieces of three cubies each, one with four and then a single lone cubie left (so, arguably no offset on that one, eh?!). Oh, and the box isn’t quite square… it’s almost as though Mike’s jigs were a bit off the day he made these, and he glued the bits together really badly, and by accident he’s ended up with a fabulous challenge for puzzlists… yeah, right! 

If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell ya’ll…

Those five pieces have many, many ways not to go into that box – I know that as I’ve probably explored most of them! Given the offsets between cubies, there’s also quite a lot of extra space in there gently mocking the puzzlists. Oh, and given those offsets, you can’t really build the puzzle outside box as the pieces won’t naturally lie flat the way you might want them to… 

Mike it seems has a special talent for evil when it comes to designing these puzzles… it’s brilliant!

Thank you, one last time, Mike!

Thursday 15 March 2018

Crazy Knights

I’ve already admitted to a serious weakness for Mr Puzzle Limited Editions, but this one ticks a few extra boxes for me! 

Back in my dim and distant youth I remember playing a couple of PC puzzle games called 7th Guest and 11th Hour – the premise was fairly straight-forward: you found yourself in a house where something awful had happened and more details were revealed to you as you solved puzzles in different rooms… this was well before I’d been bitten by the mechanical puzzle bug and I found myself really enjoying the games – and one particular puzzle stood out for me because of the way that I solved it… the Knights Puzzle in 11th Hour – which was published in 1995.

Edward Hordern presented the puzzle at the Third Gathering for Gardner in 1998, and the following year Brian Young produced a run of 12 limited edition copies of Crazy Knights – complete with pewter and Australian hardwood pieces on a Queensland Spotted Gum board… I was thrilled to recently run across a copy for sale and pounced on it!

The puzzle is simple: you have a section of a chessboard comprised of just 10 squares (1-4-3-2) and demarcated starting positions for the pair of black and white knights. Your goal is to simply transpose the black and white knights, using only standard knight-moves – [the ‘k’ is important there, night moves are something entirely different]. 

At the start of the puzzle there aren’t that many permissible moves – after all you only have 10 squares, four of them are occupied by pieces already – and some of the squares aren’t immediately accessible… so you can start exploring a little, and find some useful patterns, but unless you have a brain the size of a planet (anyone feeling paranoid?) you’re going to find yourself going backwards and forwards and not making a heck of a lot of progress…

…which is exactly what I remember playing this puzzle on 11th Hour all those years ago… until I had a little flash of something-or-other and transformed the way I was thinking about the puzzle altogether – look at it differently, and it instantly transforms into an almost trivial puzzle where the solution is painfully clear…

I love the fact that twenty years after I solved this puzzle in the ether, I now have a Mr Puzzle limited edition real world copy of it… and I can inflict it on others, and encourage them to find a simple way to solve it…