Sunday 24 March 2019

Ken’s Pushbutton Burr

Ken Irvine’s been designing unusual cube assemblies for a good few years now… mostly they’ve been lovingly designed by hand (because BurrTools isn’t that useful at solving assemblies that rely on rotations – and a lot of Ken’s designs certainly involved rotations – that, or taking a step into the next few dimensions and back again!). 

Last year he entered his Pushbutton Burr in the Design Competition and I was lucky to snaffle one from Tom Lensch who’d made a few extra copies just in case anyone wanted one.

Tom’s usual build quality yells out loud and clear and if you hadn’t spotted it from the outsides, there’s a confirming little logo on the first piece you get to remove… it is beautifully made. 

The unusual feature on this design is the dark spots on all of the sides, almost opposite one another on each side, ten of them…

Sit down and fiddle with it and you find that you can’t pull any pieces apart -  but if you push on the buttons, they’ll move – there was a large clue in the name!

Move enough of them and you’ll find you begin moving the lighter pieces and indeed disassemble the whole thing into a disorderly pile of oddly shaped pieces – except for those five pairs of spots formed of five offset rods that interfere with one another through the centre(-ish) of the assembled puzzle. 

Mix ‘em up and puzzle a little and you’ll find you can figure out where the light bits need to go with a little trial and error, but the fun bit is introducing all of those keys at the right time in the right direction so that you can continue to get everything back into the 5*5*5 cube that you started with.

Once again, Ken’s produced a fun puzzle – not horribly difficult, possibly even within reach of absolute muggles – but definitely in the “fun-range” for mere mortal puzzlers like me-self.

Saturday 16 March 2019

Three of the best... tray-packing puzzles. 

I’ve mentioned all three of these puzzles in various blog posts over the past three or four months but I thought they really deserved a post on their own, so here goes!

Yuu Asaka’s Jigsaw Puzzle 29 was entered in the 2018 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition…  and I didn’t play with it once. In my defence, I was fairly busy at IPP38, but the fact remains, I didn’t let it draw me gently in and punch me in the stomach… that came later, when my Dutch mate gave me a copy for my birthday a month or so later… I did the classic mechanical puzzler thing and commented on the fact that it was a jigsaw puzzle – missing the ‘29’ reference entirely but he grinned and said I’d like it… and he’s never been wrong yet! 

So I started playing with it – first thing I noticed is the corners – you always start with the corners, don’t you… it’s a square frame so there are four corners… always. Except this time. Jigsaw 29 has more – which is interesting, to quote an old friend.

Try coming up with an edge and you find that it’s either too long or too short – and when you FINALLY come up with a couple of edges, you find yourself running rather low on edge pieces, which is probably going to make constructing the remaining two sides rather tricky…

This puzzle gives you a fabulous roller coaster ride from having no suspicion that anything strange is afoot, to thinking this is pretty weird, to “Hey I can do this” only to be followed by “Aw nawwwww” and somewhere in between all that, thinking to yourself that this is a square puzzle… but there are 29 pieces, which isn’t usually a square number.

I like ‘29’ as the introduction to this set of puzzles… it looks almost normal and let’s you think that your usual strategies for solving jigsaws should suffice… until they don’t. 

Next up is Jigsaw Puzzle 19… a gift from Kevin - Thanks mate! 

If 29 suckered you in gently, then 19 sits up and yells at you, telling you “You don’t know nuttin' ” right from the get-go! You see, whereas 29 has an extra corner, 19 consists only of corner pieces… 19 of them – and there’s that whole 19 isn’t a square number thing again – but the frame is square…

You’ll pretty quickly find that your standard jigsaw solving tools aren’t going to be very useful at all here… again the pieces are transparent with no top or bottom and starting at the corners, filling in the edges and then completing the middle clearly isn’t going to be a simple task of sorting the pieces appropriately. 

This one really requires some thought and a fair amount of jettisoning what you think you know about jigsaw puzzles…

Wave 7 is a little different – seven simple wave-shaped pieces come with a neat little rectangular tray. Six of those pieces will fit into the tray rather simply – but the seventh will invariably refuse point blank to go in… no matter how carefully you match up the dents to the bumps, the remaining gap is pretty much always just the wrong shape: there’s always a bump where you need a gap. 

But that’s OK, ‘cos we’re puzzlers – we don’t always expect fair play, so we start exploring the potential tricks – and interestingly the tray’s geometry looks quite fair – at least in the Stew Coffin sense of fairness… trying those sort of tricks results only in greater embarrassment.

The solution, it turns out, is very cute and has taken almost every puzzler I know a lot longer than seven simple little pieces should ever really take a proper puzzler… this one starts and ends as a simple “pack seven pieces into a tray” challenge and doesn’t have all the wonderful jigsaw subterfuge of the other two, but it’s definitely an excellent design… 

I hope we see a lot more from Yuu Asaka in the future!

…and best of all? They’re all still freely available direct from the designer, who’s on FaceBook. Look him up!

Saturday 9 March 2019

Takarabako Box

Rick Jenkins has spent a goodly while apprenticing at the feet of the master – learning the sweet craft of dreaming up and then handcrafting puzzle boxes from Robert “Stickman” Yarger.

Having seen Rick’s fine handiwork on the Hexagram Puzzlebox, I was interested to see what he’d be producing when he struck out on his own… so when the Takarabako Box was announced I joined the orderly queue.

I did have a few moments of doubt when some pictures of the partially finished product appeared and it looked a little, err, rustic. I stuck with it and when my box arrived I was delighted that I had: the finish on this box is excellent! In fact, I’d go so far as to say that by releasing those initial pics, Rick may have done himself a gross injustice.

The box has a complex lattice covering all six faces and at first there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot you can do… you need to spend a little time getting to know it, and in the process, finding a few things that will probably be interesting at some point – but in my case – weren’t accessible just then… it should be said that there are also a good few red herrings thrown in there as well: it’s always nice to see a puzzle designer having a bit of a laugh at your expense – both literally and figuratively!

I ended up massively over-thinking this one and imagining all manner of hugely complicated mechanisms and interactions, and ended up being slightly embarrassed – delighted, but embarrassed – when I finally opened it up.

The final reveal tells you a lot about Rick’s craftsmanship and his confidence… lesser mortals wouldn’t (and probably shouldn’t!) attempt what he’s pulled off here… seeing things in the altogether show just how simple they can be, and yet cause so much confusion – at least inside this puzzler’s head…

Here’s hoping that Rick keeps on making puzzle boxes for a long time – Cheers!

Friday 1 March 2019

Juno’s Chubby Crocodile

…is very well named!

It’s also very cute!

…and it’s still available over here! 

(Thought I’d get that in early given the hard time I got over the fact that some of the last few things I wrote about weren’t readily available… normal service will no doubt resume and I’ll be writing about unobtainables again soon… :-) )

Juno reckons that it’s hard to classify the Chubby Crocodile, but as there’s an internal space, and it’s locked and requires opening, I’m going to go with secret opening box – even though it looks a lot like an animal – other bloggers may disagree and consider the infamous bread test… although his copy came with a couple of slices of bread in it!
Pick it up and it’s immediately obvious that bits move – and some of them appear to be interrelated – experimenting with the bits that move, opens up a few more possibilities – and more interactions – to the point that keeping track of all of them requires a little thought. 

Just when you think you’re making good progress; however, things sort of take a turn for the confounding and you may well be left wondering if you’ve been barking up the wrong tree… and indeed wondering why some things look the way they do…

At this point in my little journey I found a little Think (C) to be helpful, before setting out in a slightly different direction only to wonder if that one was another blind alley…. Eventually I managed to find something that actually used all of what I’d already learnt, albeit not quite in the manner that I’d been expecting, and found the way into the belly of the beast – where I was delighted with my little surprise – Juno has the last laugh on his puzzlers: you get pot luck on the contents and mine stuck a grin on my face for a while…

This one isn’t horribly challenging, but it IS FUN! Definitely suitable for muggles and mothers-in-law… and in case I haven’t mentioned it, Juno still has a bunch of them in stock! (No, I'm not on commission, just a fan...) 

Postscript: I took the Chubby Croc along to MPP and many actual puzzlers (like Ed!) had a go at it and everyone enjoyed it - so it's not just me! ...AND what's more - Kevin likes it too!! Read his thoughts over here...