Thursday 31 January 2019

Juno’s Sequential Discovery Burred Box

Some puzzles appeal to some people and not to others… burristas like burrs, boxophiles prefer boxes and so on… but what would happen if you could design a puzzle that would appeal to almost every sort of puzzler. The answer must be obvious: you bring lots of joy to puzzlers everywhere and you sell out your edition rather quickly…

I’m not saying that’s what Juno set out to do, but he did sell out of these beauties rather darn quickly… and having played with it, I’m not surprised!

I was also not surprised when it made several people’s shortlisted puzzles of the year for 2018 – is it very good indeed!

OK, so what have we got here?

Essentially, it’s a box, albeit one with a reasonably compact interior… scale model loaves only!

But it looks just like a decent sized six-piece burr… quite literally – there are no visual clues to it being anything more than a straight-forward burr. [Yes. I'm deliberately only showing you the starting position!]

Start playing with it and it’s becomes clear there’s a lot more to it – for starters, things that usually happen on a burr, don’t. In fact, if you approach this as a burr, it will confound you for a long time! (Mental note, leave this on the shelf with other burrs in my puzzle cabinet for the increased joy of other puzzlers!) 

Find something unusual and you’ll soon discover you’re not in Kansas anymore – weird stuff happens and things aren’t what they appeared to be, and you’re finding some rather unusual tools – some of whose use isn’t immediately obvious.

From the beginning with what’s “obviously” a burr, there’s a wonderful journey in the middle that is full-on sequential discovery, before opening up the final bits to reveal the locked interior of the box… this one really can be all things to all puzzlers…

Friday 25 January 2019

Interesting restricted tray-packers

A couple of weeks ago I managed to acquire a couple of rather interesting little restricted tray packing puzzles from Wil… and I managed to find some puzzling time earlier this week so I hauled them out and worked my way through them in between one of my other little projects. 
Pocket had been entered in the 2018 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition but I hadn’t been able to have a bash at it in San Diego – so when I saw a copy in one of Wil’s crates I pounced on it. Designed by Koichi Miura and MINE, my copy came with two sets of pieces, each of which needs to be inserted into the tray through the slot at the top… which holds the only little wrinkle: a single obstructing voxel.
The two sets of pieces appear to be a beginner’s puzzle and a slightly more advanced puzzle – with the beginner’s pieces all being made up of two pairs of blocky pieces (C’s and P’s – both hexominoes) and a little playing will convince you that there’s probably only really one way to arrange all of those pieces in the tray, so the puzzle reduces to finding a way to get them in there… as I said, I think this is the beginner’s challenge – in fact, it wasn’t even used in the Design Competition.
The second set of pieces provides a slightly trickier challenge: all four pieces are different and they all have 45 degree corners / cut-outs… which makes for a lot of interesting ways to combine them in the shape and size of the tray provided… sadly, however, most of those arrangements are precluded by that one, pesky little voxel sitting in the centre of the top slot… I should know, as I spent an awfully long time trying various arrangements that turned out to be un-assembleable. (It IS a word, now!). Finding the one that does work is quite a treat – it definitely rewards the solver in a delightful manner.
I hadn’t ever seen or heard about Packing Puzzle 4P until I stumbled across it at Peter’s place – I did recognise the designer’s name -  Hajime Katsumoto – and I have rather enjoyed a few of his other designs, so I took a punt and I ended up being rather glad I did.
There’s a two-sided tray, helpfully titled “Puzzle 1” and “Puzzle 2” and a set of four P-pentominoes… it’s pretty clear from the get-go that you need to put the four pieces into each of the (slightly obstructed) 4 * 5 frames. The holes on the first side are big enough to allow pieces to be inserted either way up, which is helpful… and you can fiddle around for a while and realise that you’re going to need to be a little creative in order to find a solution to this one… it’s quite a cute little solution and gives a nice little “A-Ha!” moment.
Puzzle 2 on the other hand is a bit of a sod – it kept me going for a lot longer! The holes on the second side are 5 voxels and P-shaped – so you can simply drop in the last two pieces, right?! Fine… all you need to do is position the first two pieces correctly and you’re done… except you can’t!  I spent ages trying variations on a theme, doing things this way and then that, and every single time I ended up with the same conclusion – it doesn’t work! Unless I can get one piece to magically pass THROUGH the other, they ain’t getting into the position I want them to be in…
Desperation led me to resort to Think(C)ing (it’s been a while!) and then even to consider CHEATing – although I did manage to stop myself just short of doing that when I realised I wouldn’t actually be able to UNDO the thing I was about to DO… until the right little briefest flash of inspiration struck and seconds later side 2 was solved – love it!
The last puzzle in this post turned out to be my first and second prize for A2P2 – each year my competition winners are invariably puzzle collectors who already “have everything” – so finding a puzzle they haven’t got turns into an annual conundrum for me… with Wil Strijbos invariably managing to turn up something SO NEW that nobody could possibly have a copy yet – Framed Jigsaw was that puzzle this year.
The original design comes courtesy of Hajime Katsumoto (yes there’s a spelling mistake on the puzzle... sorry) but it’s been “Streetwise’d” and “JCC’d” resulting in the improved version here – the pic shows the starting position with what appears to be a nicely checkered set of jigsaw pieces under a partial clear frame – with a central 2*2 hole… almost fully constructed – except for the final piece that obviously(!?) belongs in the top right hand corner – is the wrong colour for a neat checkerboard pattern, and has a tongue and a groove too many… which is odd.
Removing the pieces tells you a lot about how interesting this puzzle is going to be… a piece come out easily, but then you need to start moving things around to get the rest of the pieces out: the central opening is big enough for the 2*2 pieces, but not big enough for any tongues projecting outwards… so you need to manoeuvre pieces to be fully in the open frame in order to remove them – taking things out at an angle relative to the tray, isn’t possible at all…
Get all the pieces out and some things become apparent, like all tongues fit all grooves – and there are the same (ergo just enough) number of each…which is great: it means there are LOTS of ways of constructing a 4*4 square with those pieces.
How many of those do you think are assembleable (yup, still a word! Work with me here…)?
Very, very few!
You need to be able to keep as many degrees of freedom available as you progress or you’ll find yourself up a blind alley that simply won’t allow the last couple of pieces to be inserted… and let me tell you that I found a LOT of ways of almost doing this one…there is a solution to be found, and I found it quite tough – Nick on the other hand seemed to solve it rather rapidly, and I’m not sure how Ali’s doing/done… at least I know it wasn’t trivial! :-) 

Saturday 19 January 2019

EPP 2018

(Yikes - almost three weeks since my last post - that's going to drag the average down! ... I won't bore you by telling you that I've got some projects going on in the background that are taking up a lot of my spare time and robbing me of most of my puzzling time... but I will try harder to put stuff up here!) 

Just after New Year the Coolen-clan popped in for a few days and their visit just happened to coincide with Peter’s annual End of Year Puzzle Party, so Louis and I headed south-east for an afternoon/evening of banter with our mates, good food, some magic and the odd puzzle. 

The drive down was lightened by the ongoing battle between the car’s sat-nav and Google maps – they agreed on the quickest route, but Google reckoned it would take about 45 minutes longer than the sat-nav was prepared to countenance… turned out Google was right with the sat-nav regularly adjusting its estimated time of arrival until it grudgingly agreed with the time that Google had predicted the day before. We got there bang on time – which tells you who I believed when I set out…

There was already a bunch of puzzlers in residence so we fished out our slippers and settled in for the afternoon. Peter and Katja made sure we were all well-caffeinated and snacked up before letting us loose to catch up with old friends we hadn’t seen for weeks / months / since the same time last year. 

Wil had his customary collection of plastic crates full of wondrously puzzling items and he’d brought along a couple of special items for me as prizes for my Annual Puzzle Puzzle – how else can I find puzzles that I’ll know my winners don’t already have?! I spent ages trawling through all the crates and ended up finding a number of excellent recent MINE creations – some of which are still puzzling me weeks later! I forked over some Euros and moved on to Ethel’s crates where I spotted a couple of highly collectible things that I convinced some of my mates to buy from Ethel – everyone seemed happy.
Joop had brought along a bunch of leftover DCD 2018 puzzles that he was insisting on giving away to everyone, so I help him out a little. (Thanks, Joop!) Peter tried hard to relieve himself of a number of spare PerplexCity cards (remember those?!) during the course of the day, resorting to physically foisting them on people at one point – could they become the new tongue depressor?

After a suitable amount of general chit-chat, Peter herded us all into the lounge for the traditional presentations where we all get to tell our mates what we’ve selected as our Top Three Puzzle Finds of 2018… and why we’ve chosen them. This time we presented in reverse alphabetic order, by surname – so I was up pretty early. 

My picks this year were:
Gordian Knot by Robert “Stickman” Yarger - I’ve been hunting for two numbered Stickman puzzles to complete my collection for a while now. This year one of those unicorns found me and I was delighted to add it to the hoard. A crazy-complex network of interacting pieces in the shell hide a tool to unlock the final chamber. Definitely a puzzle that leaves you astonished at the mind that designed it, and the hands that created it.

Depressing by Ken Irvine - Somehow 2018 became the year of the tongue depressor. Several talented puzzle designers stepped up to the plate and brought us a tongue depressor puzzle. Ken Irvine designed my favourite: a 2*2*2 cube with interfering planks made of surgically-reduced tongue depressors. In spite of the small number of pieces, it’s a fiendishly difficult puzzle. 

Mini Maria byBerrocal - Bought from the designer’s sons after a guided tour of the Berrocal Foundation’s workshop in Villanueva de Algaidas, Mini Maria is the first Berrocal in my collection. Not only is it a fun puzzle with wonderfully organic shapes, it will always remind me of an excellent long weekend in Spain with wonderful friends, good puzzling and lots of belly-laughs. 

…and then, if none of our Top Three is commercially available, we’re allowed to nominate a fourth puzzle that is currently commercially available – and I nominated the HoKey CoKey Lock by Ali Morris - In his infinite wisdom, Steve Nicholls decided to turn his exchange at IPP38 into a little piece of performance art - seeing Steve perform the Hokey Cokey for three hours straight was one of my IPP38 highlights. The puzzle was definitely one of my favourites in the exchange – everyone knows how you open a lock – except you don’t know how this one opens. A truly unique, fun, new puzzle lock from the mind of Morris. 
Quite a few others presented Ali’s HoKey CoKey Lock in their picks, in fact it ended up being the second most coveted puzzle of 2018 – only beaten by Volker Latusssek’s Casino which had also won Puzzle of the Year at IPP38. (I told you it was good!)

Rainer Popp’s EPIC T11 was another popular choice, with several people lugging their 2 kilogram lumps over to Peter’s house to talk enthusiastically about them – thinking about it, 2018 was a pretty special year for puzzles, and in particular for puzzle locks – the T11 kicked things off at the start of the year with a very big bang, Shane’s Firestarter was really innovative and the HoKey CoKey is guaranteed to put a fat smile on your face, EVEN if you didn’t get to see Steve’s exchange dance first hand… and those three all came within the top four most coveted puzzles of 2018! Shane’s other creations also got mentions, as did Louis’ 2018 Tricklock… does that make 2018 the year of the puzzle lock?

One particularly memorable bit from the presentations was Big Steve presenting his bonkers-sized disentanglement puzzle from Japan, weighing in at 6 kilograms – “more of a workout than a puzzle, really”– and one or two folks taking photographs of the event asking him to hold it up a little higher while they laboriously focused and zoomed and checked their camera’s settings and carefully framed their pictures, before eventually snapping a quick pic, just short of Steve bursting an artery. 

After the puzzle presentations Clive delivered an excellent magic show with his usual slightly self-deprecating politely aggressive patter, keeping us laughing while absolutely blowing our minds with his magic. 

Somewhere in between all the presentations while we were all just hanging out in Peter’s lounge, we found ourselves having to explain where the whole tongue depressor thing had come from, just who Chico Banan is and why there are so many inflatable bananas involved. Between Big Steve and I we manged to tell most of the story, but others helpfully chipped in every now and then when we glossed over a small detail that might just be embarrassing – so it all came out in the open… much to the amusement of those who’ve thus far managed to avoid the curse of the tongue depressor… although I suspect that Steve may well have managed to drag a few new converts into his game by secreting a few spare tongue depressors into their crates before he left…

Tim Rowett had brought along a massive collection of Klein bottles and Mobius Strip related paraphernalia and he gave us a wonderful canter through them all, along with several pointers to where many of these items were still available (see for instance – you gotta love Clifford Stoll!).
After the presentations people decanted into the kitchen in shifts to help themselves from the wonderful buffet that Peter and Katja had laid out – everyone always seems to find exactly what they were hoping to eat – and more than enough of it – there’s always a wonderful spread!

Somewhere around 8pm we said our goodbyes and headed north-west – taking home significantly more puzzles than we’d arrived with – another fine EPP disappears in the rear-view mirror.