Saturday 27 October 2018


This is probably one of the hardest puzzles I’m going to write about in this blog – not because it’s difficult to solve (although it definitely is!), but because there is so much absolutely fantastic “stuff” that I can’t talk about because it would totally spoil the surprise for other puzzlers getting to play with this puzzle… so let’s see how I can talk about the former without committing the heinous crime of the latter. 

Jack Krijnen has been designing and making puzzles for years. I look forward to chatting to him at the Dutch Cube Day each year (something I was gutted to miss this year!) as he always has some wonderfully made little gems available at stupidly cheap prices – it seems he makes puzzles for the love of it, not for the money…

Over the years I’ve acquired several lovely little burrs and a couple of his burr sets, all in Jack’s own unique dinky form factor, as well as a number of fun n-ary puzzles from him. 

Earlier this year he sent up the bat-signal that he was working on his first puzzle box design… several milliseconds later I registered my interest. A short while later the Royal Mail delivered a box, somewhat less than lovingly, to my front door… sadly it appeared that someone had played football with the contents of the package, although on the outside, there didn’t seem to be much damage… inside however, quite a lot of the detailing that must have taken Jack absolute hours, had been reduced to wooden scraps. Fearful that I might damage the box, I exchanged a few emails with Jack and he encouraged me to puzzle on – so I did, albeit with a slightly heavy heart.

I made a little progress quite rapidly, not entirely as a result of the damage, but it probably provided a couple of clues that others unafflicted might not have seen quite as readily…

I found myself having blown the bloody doors off the thing, with a couple of tools in hand, and no apparent way to proceed… my little metal rod and my wooden key didn’t seem to be very useful, even though I’d found some keyhole-shaped orifices. 

At this point things sort of came to a halt – I went off to IPP38, spent a few weeks with my puzzling friends and didn’t think much about the puzzle box gently mocking my inability to progress – while somewhere in the back of my mind I had a niggling doubt about it perhaps being damaged internally as well…

At this point my friend Nigel asks how I’m doing on it – he’s stuck too, it transpires…I can’t help him much and over the course of a few days he gets a nudge or two and once the dam has broken, rapidly becomes a massive fan of this puzzle… telling me along the way that I NEED to SOLVE this thing – because I WILL LOVE IT!

I need several more nudges from him; in fact it’s probably fair to say that for one specific part I need encouragement to keep trying – and indeed to simplify what I’m trying to do! Once I’m through that bit, an entire new world opens up in front of me – quite literally, and I understand exactly why Nigel (and many others) are being so darn encouraging about it… the next phase comes as a wonderful surprise and it’s an absolute delight to solve…

…leading to the final reveal, and something I think I shall refer to as Jack’s Revenge on puzzlers for solving his puzzle box – inside there is an 18-piece burr, unassembled known as the “Assembler’s Challenge” – with good reason! Seeing where the pieces need to go isn’t the main challenge here – physically getting them there using only the single pair of paws most of us are endowed with, IS however, a MAJOR CHALLENGE.

I am a huge fan… there’s a bit toward the start of the solution that is tough – well I think it’s tough – some of my puzzling friends have almost breezed through it without slowing down (yup, Louis!) whereas others have needed the nudges I required… but everybody loves the reveal and the bit in the middle – that is superb. 

Jack – that is an excellent debut puzzle box… I hope you’re suitably encouraged to create many more designs!

Sunday 21 October 2018

Northern Puzzle Party 2

Frank had decided a couple of months ago that we should reprise NPP1 around the end of September again this year – so he put the word out on The Facebook  and some of us opted in rather rapidly… this was always going to be a fairly select bunch of puzzlers given that we’d be gathering around Frank and Jo’s dining room table (although I’ve heard it can seat dozens at a push!) – by the time NPP2 arrived we had an American, a Dutchman, a couple of Africans by way of Barnt Green, and even some English folk.

Louis’ travel plans brought him into the country via Brum so he spent Friday evening with us – which was helpful as I had a bunch of puzzles that needed solving! He’d brought me several puzzling birthday gifts – he always manages to get hold of things that I haven’t got in my collection and this time was no exception – I now have a copy of Yuu Asaka’s Jigsaw Puzzle 29 and a Chinese Lunatic Lock in the form of an actual (albeit slightly butchered!) padlock. 

We headed up the motorway fairly early on the Saturday morning hoping to arrive around mid-morning, but a combination of some rather silly traffic and my wonderful sat-nav saw us leave the motorway and experience some interesting English countryside before arriving about an hour later than we’d hoped – hey ho… the London gang had even more of it to deal with than we did!

We got the warmest of possible Lancashire welcomes and settled into puzzles, caffeine and nibbles… lots of nibbles! Regan, Dale and Mike were already seriously puzzling so I pulled out a few things to thrust in their faces with a “Try this one, you’ll probably like it”. 

Steve and Ali arrived a bit later having had even more fun and games on the motorway than we’d had and it didn’t take long for them to put their journey behind them and a puzzle in front of them. 

Frank and Jo had laid on one almighty lunch for us and after lunch Gill and Jo headed off to Yarndale (some sort of annual woolly gathering nearby) leaving us to some unadulterated puzzling. 

I hauled out my copy of Jigsaw Puzzle 29 and spent a good amount of time on it before finally managing the required number of breakthroughs (several!) to find a suitable solution. I’d spent some time the evening before and managed to thoroughly confuse myself – there are too many X-pieces, followed shortly by there aren’t enough Y-pieces. A couple of wonderfully insightful questions from Louis nudged me in the right direction and little lightbulbs began to flicker in the dim recesses of what I jokingly refer to as my mind. It’s a fab puzzle and after hearing how much Louis was raving about it at IPP38, I’m very glad to have a copy of own to be able to foist on others who haven’t seen it yet – definitely a worthy Design Competition prize winner. (Thanks Louis!)

Steve had been lucky in a couple of recent Japanese auctions and brought along a well-disassembled Kamei Box & Cage puzzle apparently dating back to 1978. One or two of the panels on the box had become a little warped but it appeared impervious to Steve’s attempts at opening it – none of the panels would slide in (any of!) the usual manner(s) and he handed over the bits of the cage and the box for me to assemble it – apparently it was too trivial for Steve to bother with. I hauled out the rather cryptic “solution” and then spent ages trying to identify the pieces and their orientations before finally managing to assemble the cage – without the box inside it… and for some reason Steve wasn’t impressed or even thankful! [I did put the box inside the cage a little later – after one of our fellow puzzlers pointed out that the box wasn’t a trick box at all – you merely pulled the lid off – Steve’s groan was a little louder and more pronounced than my own at this wonderful news!] 

I spent a lot longer than I should have solving Michael Tanoff’s San Diego exchange puzzle – a pair of vintage letter dissections - an “S” and a “D”, should be a fairly simple puzzle for someone who’s been solving proper hard puzzles for years – but I found myself falling for all of the usual traps on these sorts of puzzles and making an absolute meal of it – got there eventually. 

I’d been struggling with an 18-piece Tongue Depressor burr from Stephan Baumegger called Depressburr, so I decided to take it along to give Ali a little bit of a challenge – and it didn’t take him long to blast through the hundred moves required for a complete disassembly before he presented me with a neat pile of pieces – awesome!

Jo had organised a birthday cake for Frank and I complete with little-Frank and little-Allard playing with a rather large disentanglement puzzle – or that’s our story and we’re sticking to it… of course birthday cakes wouldn’t be complete without life-threatening pyrotechnics – this one was complete. 

Chicotito – for that is what we’ve christened him – had his first puzzle outing and there was more than a little larking about – mainly around Steve for some reason. There was Steve feeding him pizza, beer and entertaining us all in a rather shrill manic voice while Steve looked on amused at where on earth this alter ego was coming from. 

We decamped into town, well Whalley, for a quick drink in a small, very popular pub while we waited for Steve and Ali who’d gone in search of their Airbnb for the night and we waited for our pizzas to be lovingly made and then thrown in a fire pit. The lads arrived in time for a swift pint before we took our pizza back to chez Potts for another hearty meal. 

There may have been some more puzzling before we all hit the sack somewhat exhausted, but there had been plenty of food and some rather good beer, so it was hard to tell – or at least remember. 

Next morning, we got up at the crack of somewhere around 9 o’clock for more food! Frank and Jo couldn't stop themselves from providing a full-on fry up with all manner of continental goodness as well… we didn’t come close to finishing it all!

After breakfast we headed off to a couple of room escapes nearby – although that was almost foiled at the very start by not being able to find the establishment’s entrance – apparently we’d only managed to find the well signed fire escape and not the main entrance – which was hidden in a nearby pool hall.  Having found our way in we divided into two groups and got ourselves locked up… quite literally! The four hard-core puzzlers were locked into a few cells and had to escape whilst the two couples were handcuffed to a pipe with our backs to the wall (not nearly as much fun as that may sound!) – trying to escape the clutches of a psycho murderer – more than a little inducement to escape there…

We (all) managed to get out with a couple of minutes to spare after managing to miss several important clues along the way and finding ourselves totally unable to actually count. Good thing we don’t rely on those skills in our day jobs!

After the room escapes we said our goodbyes in the parking lot before heading our separate ways… Regan went to Wales in search of his roots, Steve and Ali headed back to London, and Gill and I headed back to Brum. (And Louis flew home from Manchester later that afternoon…)

Another excellent weekend at the Potts’! Thanks Frank and Jo for hosting another brilliant NPP!

Friday 5 October 2018


We planned MPP xxxiv to be a couple of weeks after the end of IPP38 – so that we would be able to give our mates who didn’t make it along to San Diego an opportunity to play with the latest round of exchange puzzles… and anything else we happened to snag while we were over there.

Peter and Angela had already arrived and set out a few crates of books and things for sale when I got to the hall. Sensibly they headed off into the village in search of a cup of tea and a newspaper for Peter, which left me to get things set up before the rest of the gang arrived. 

It didn’t take long to get all the tables through from the room next door, set out the tea and coffee stuff and put up the customary MPP signage. As I was finishing that off Tim arrived with several crates of antique puzzles and he set out his stall (quite literally) while I wandered over to Tesco to pick up some milk and cold drinks… finding a few more puzzlers had arrived in my absence… and about half an hour later the ranks had been swelled to the extent that it was starting to feel like a puzzle party. 

Bob H had joined us for the first time and dragged Ed along (thanks Bob!) – Ed had been in touch during the week and was asking about some the Kamei Expansion Boxes and the Link Box by Iwahara, so I’d taken my copies along for him to fondle… we duly set him up in his usual spot somewhere near the door and laid out a bunch of Karakuri boxes within reach for him to work his way through… it should be said that this time he actually stumbled on one or two of them:  pronouncing one Expansion Box was clearly broken (not really, and after we had a conversation about a binary pattern that might be at play, he made significant progress on it) and later he admitted defeat on getting the Link Box closed up properly again – although in fairness it was the hardest of the set. 

I’d taken my latest Kostick beauty along for anyone to have a bash at and the only person who really stepped up and had a go at it was Rich, who was making a welcome return after a gap of  couple of years… he carefully took the outer puzzle (RDS Interlock) apart and set aside the little copy of 4 Directional Trapsticks, only to pick up the latter and move it out of the way – managing to pick it up at exactly the wrong orientation and finding a sliding axis that split the puzzle neatly in half, and when I fumbled at the halves they duly fell apart totally – at which point he smiled and mentioned my parentage… and then duly reassembled both of them separately, so that it was clear that he’d thoroughly solved them…  becoming the first and only person who solved it that day!

Wee-Steve had brought along his Sisyphus side table and had set it up drawing and re-drawing pretty patterns pretty much all day – it was pretty hypnotic watching it. At one point Wee-Steve was having a whinge at Big-Steve about the fact that it had been a Kickstarter project that he’d funded so he’d paid his money and then had to wait almost two years before he’d received this wondrous object – fancy having to wait that long for someone to finish off and ship something, eh…

James had managed to battle his way up the M5 and spent the best part of the day with us, having brought along some duplicates of old exchange puzzles which he proceeded to give away – Thanks for my Cornucopia! He’d also brought along a rather handsome tea caddy with hidden compartments and a stunning interlocking chess set from Mongolia which Laurie had purchased on auction in Ottawa… the chess set is still looking for a good home if anyone’s interested. :-)

Gill and the hounds arrived at the hall somewhere around lunchtime having wandered down to the village via the woods… just after Jo had arrived by train from oop north, and after the hounds had been duly fussed and petted, the girls took them off to the local deli for lunch whilst the boys headed to the chippy and the pig bun purveyors… Ed did not conquer the kebab this time and will probably not order a large one next time… Ali did and presumably will once again… the jury is out on Kevin, who really should know better with all of his medical training. 
No, this isn't the solution!

In the afternoon a few of us had a go at Dor’s exchange puzzle and managed to spend some time thinking out loud and helping one another past the inevitable mental blocks we all had about the solution… which then allowed one of our number to deduce the actual solution which we all agreed would pass muster.

Several people played with Radek’s latest design, the Hexahog – I managed to disassemble the outer cage (by which I mean I removed the retaining masking tape and it fell apart in my hands… it’s an assembly puzzle!) and Frank managed to remove the hog from the hex cage – seriously no mean feat! An anonymous puzzler then “managed” to reinsert said-hog and forced me to actually have to solve my own puzzle… ‘cos that’s what friends are for...

I’d brought along a few sets of Connectaballs that I’d found at Eureka in Brookline… while the name may be decidedly dodgey and reminiscent of an Ann Summers’ product, they’re quite fun to play with (don’t go there!) and will give a couple of relatively straight-forward puzzling challenges: use two strings to make a tetrahedron, four to make a cube etc…

By packing up time Big-Steve and I were feeling a little impish and set about trying to provide Kevin with a little additional challenge for the weekend – I manged to disassemble his copy of Square Target and then Steve cunningly inserted the four loose pieces into the frame of a Loopy Lattice – probably not a hugely challenging disassembly puzzle for a man of Kevin’s talents but he did see the humour in it, sort of…

When we called time almost everyone headed back up to chez Walker for more puzzling and a decent fish supper from Peter’s Pan. After said supper, the remaining puzzlers decided to take on Pavel’s Punana Split and managed rather well to work their way through the whole thing in around an hour with very little steerage from yours truly who managed to remember a little of the process from a couple of weeks earlier at Jeff’s place… much fun and a good sense of achievement whenever a particularly challenging match was finally made. 

Ali stepped into Louis’ shoes for the evening and provided me with a much-needed puzzle solving service: returning the Link Box that Ed had unceremoniously left half unsolved back to its proper starting position, and opening a JB Hoffmann Barrel puzzle which some kind gorilla of a puzzler had closed up for me at the last MPP – leaving me totally unable to get it to budge for the intervening month or so… thanks Ali!

Another pretty darn good MPP for the books…