Friday 20 September 2019

Titan Lock Puzzle

I first spotted this one on a FaceBook post a little while back and Sod’s Law dictated that by the time I headed over to the Etsy store, they were sold out… so I had to watch patiently as the first wave of puzzles made it out into the wild while I sat on my hands. I dropped Sashko a note through Etsy and asked to be put on a waiting list – and waited patiently. 

There’d been a couple of questions from puzzlers as to whether this was a cheap imitation of the DanLock (after all, it’s a puzzle lock with a sawn-off key…), and initial feedback from those already in possession of both, was “No sirree! – this is a totally different animal.” – interest duly piqued, I keenly waited for my name to float toward the top of the waiting list before I pinged over my PayPal – and a short while later, a neat little packet arrived from Sweden. 

Inside the packet there’s a little introductory booklet with half a key glued to the front of it…the booklet makes it clear that that half of the key is purely there for decoration – you don’t use it in solving the puzzle. Good to know. 

The booklet gives you the back story about the lock which effectively collapses into: using the sawn-off half-a-key (and any other tools you can find), open the lock and find the pearl, then reset it for the next puzzlist. 

OK – so hurl yourself in puzzling-mode and examine what you have… the padlock seems to be a little butchered, with a couple of obvious grub screws disturbing the otherwise unblemished surface. The key will fit in the keyhole – a bit – but not enough to be useful… and it certainly won’t turn the barrel. 

Engage puzzle-brain and explore the possibilities and you’ll find a way to make a little progress and probably even find some additional tools… which turn out to be quite useful. 

Puzzling-wise, I found things broke down into three phases, with discoveries / A-Ha! Moments in each phase… the first bit was fairly straight-forward and got you hooked into the puzzle. 

The middle bit took (me) a fair amount of experimenting and playing around before I made a critical bit of progress, and to be honest, I hadn’t realised that I’d effectively solved the puzzle… the critical little bit of treasure had become jammed in its hiding place and hadn’t come rolling out on cue when I’d opened things up. 

I ended up asking The Oracle if I’d done anything stupid because I couldn’t see what else I could do and I was still searching for my treasure – he told me I’d finished and a closer inspection led me to find the treasure waiting to be revealed. 

Having removed the treasure and danced the required little pirate jig, I began the reassembly process – and that, it turns out, is a whole extra puzzle to solve… a puzzle that, on its own, would be worth the entry price, IMHO.

… it’s NOTHING like any other puzzle lock out there – and it’s a damn fine puzzle.

Saturday 14 September 2019


I collect Louis from BHX sometime after supper and I drag him kicking and screaming up to the puzzle cave – I have puzzles he needs to solve – lots of them! (The truth is not nearly as amusing, so I'm sticking with my version of events.)  I’ve brought back literally hundreds of puzzles from IPP and he’s only seen about half of them already – there’s work to be done.

I point him at a couple of favourites and watch slack-jawed as he churns his way through them – when I lose the ability to keep my eyes open, I leave him with a long line of puzzles – all of which are duly solved when I wake up the next morning. 

After breakfast we head down to the hall via some exciting detours, and get things opened up and the tables spread around the hall. We just about manage to get everything sorted between the two of us before the gang starts arriving, which is unusual – the last few MPPs there’s always been someone already at the hall when I’ve got there, keen for things to get started. The biscuits and cakes are laid out and the drinks set up – I caffeinate and start chatting to the arrivals and pointing out some good new finds. 

I have literally taken my entire Japanese puzzle haul to the hall for the hordes. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) There’s a full set of exchange puzzles along with more than a hundred other little things I’ve found at various puzzle shops and puzzle parties. 

Ali brings Big-Steve and Michael from the big-smoke and Shane arrives in the lock-mobile. Kevin arrived looking somewhat flustered – not his usual fresh-as-a-daisy look – so he draws a fair amount of abuse – any excuse really… I collect Ed from the station and drag him through the current road-works-hell of Barnt Green’s main street. 

The Two Brass Monkeys have brought along copies of the Nova Plexus for all interested puzzlers and I’m not the only one foisting cash in Big-Steve’s hands – I add a stainless steel and brass set to the shiny brass copy I already have at home. Ali assembles a couple of copies so that folks can see them in the flesh. There’s some idle banter about whether two copies could be assembled in an interlocking manner and later on that afternoon Louis puts some quality time into proving that it probably isn’t possible after all. We have fun trying though… and find out just how tough it is assembling a left-handed copy if you’re used to assembling them right-handed. 

We have a few first-time MPP-ers in the form of Clive, Amy and John. Clive needs no introduction to most of us, but it’s the first time he’s bothered to come along to an MPP – it was good fun to have a wonderfully straight, down the line, talented puzzle solver among us. Amy was worried that she didn’t have any interesting puzzles to bring that we hadn’t seen, so she brought home baked cookies – WIN!  John had brought a bunch of puzzles – and some lock picking equipment to entertain us. Having seen them both deep in banter with the usual gang, I suspect that they’re going to fit in just fine with the other reprobates. 

One of our very own Two Brass Monkeys won a Jury 1st Prize Award in the 2019 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition at IPP39 in Kanazawa – you may have read about that on a reputable blog somewhere. Unfortunately Ali wasn’t in Kanazawa at the time so the other Monkey was obliged to collect his trophy and pin… And that Monkey felt that a local ceremony was called for, and duly arranged for a suitable guest-of-honour-stand-in to hand over the trophy officially to Ali – there may have been a little more Nick-ness in Barnt Green than there had been in Kanazawa – at least if you squinted – but the trophy was presented to a somewhat taken aback Ali Morris for his 1st Prize winning Hokey Cokey Lock. Congrats again on an awesome puzzle!

Ali did manage to recover his composure quite swiftly and promptly put his left arm in… who says puzzlers don’t have a serious side?!

Kevin has rather thoughtfully brought along a bunch of assembled Happiness cubes AGAIN, and Big-Steve and I can’t stop ourselves from trying to disassemble them and scrambling the pieces… except, this time the joke’s on us as between the two of us, we can barely manage to take one of them apart, let alone the entire handful. Thankfully there’s a helpful Welsh puzzler in the neighbourhood who isn’t as thick as the two of us and he manages to reduce the small pile of Happiness to a rather large pile of Happiness. (You’re welcome, mate!)

Somewhere in the middle of all that there was some lunch (pig roll for me as usual, Ed stepping back into the fray with a massive kebab) which took us away from the puzzles for about half an hour – not too long a break!

Big-Steve was dishing out copies of his exchange puzzle to all comers who didn’t already have a copy – and I suspect that someone ended up going home without one as my crate ended up with a pair of them and I’m pretty sure he only gave me one in Kanazawa. (Drop me a line if you’re missing one and I’ll wing it to you…) 

Clive arrived with a wheelie-bag full of Japanese puzzle boxes – much to Ed’s delight… on more than one occasion Clive had sought some advice from me on how to open a box and I’d directed him at Ed who’d duly opened every single one of them… some of them in the hall while he was with us, and the rest on the train home toward London that evening. 

Clive had also brought along a whole set of Osho’s co-ordinate motion trapped coins. Last time I’d seen Clive’s set had been at the Kanazawa Karakuri Museum where I showed him just how easily they flew apart when you spun them on the floor. Some of the folks at MPP hadn’t been in Kanazawa so I felt the need to demonstrate Osho’s lovely designs to them as well – Clive wasn’t around at the time so we left the pile of pieces for him to enjoy. [He spotted them a little later and it turned out he didn’t appreciate them in that state(!), so I ended up reassembling them for him – I didn’t want to be sued.] 

Just before six we hurriedly tidied up the hall and decamped up to my house where the traditional fish supper for thirteen took place around the dining room table – lucky nobody else came or we wouldn’t have been able to eat at the table! 

There was a lot more puzzling with people managing to find the odd puzzle they hadn’t yet conquered in one of the puzzle caves, or the several crates still to be sorted scattered around the house. (Sorry, honey. I will tidy them all up soon. Promise!) 

We had a debate about which train to put Ed and Clive onto – they didn’t want to rush their dinner (too much!) and only one of them had an open ticket… the other was going to miss his particular train and risk getting a fine. The resultant discussion around the dining room table was rather un-PC but an absolute scream. Ali took the boys down to the station and within minutes of them leaving I had received a text from Ed saying “Clive has been arrested.” In the end they managed to get home without incident. 

The lads started leaving somewhere around 21:30…. Although I think it was about midnight before the last person left… at which point I left Louis with some puzzles and I crashed! 

MPPiXL was another goodie… and the only question remaining is how will I mange to butcher the Roman numeral system for the next one?

Saturday 7 September 2019

Nova Plexus

I love a good story. And when there’s a puzzle involved as well, even better!
This design has been around for a long time – but it was made in such limited quantities that the only way to see one or play with one was to visit Luppitt or Bloomington – well not quite, but there were only twenty six copies made, and at least three of them resided in those two collections. So your odds of stumbling across one weren’t very good. Add to that the challenge of assembly, and their ability to instantly and spontaneously disassemble if any of the joints gets tweaked, and your chances of ever seeing one assembled in the wild was rather limited.
I first found one as a pile of sticks at James’ place several years ago – James gave us all the history of Geoff Wyvill’s neat little design and told us about the somewhat limited run that had been manufactured at the time, and told us just how hard it was to assemble – that challenge, a few rubber bands and a picture of the assembly were enough to enable Oli and Chris (if memory serves correctly) to assemble the sticks into a pair of Nova Plexii (‘cos that’s clearly the plural, right?!). James was happy. We were happy. The universe was at peace.
Fast forward a few years and Nick is visiting the Puzzle Museum for the first time ever and he picks up an assembled Nova Plexus – he knows the history and wants to handle it – James looks nervous and says “Be careful” just as Nick twists one of the joints ever-so-gently and there’s a tell-tale tinkle as twelve steel rods collapse in a mess – James looks mildly disappointed.
And that would have been a great story – but it gets better – this little interchange prompts Steve and Ali to borrow a set of rods and explore the possibility of getting them manufactured with the blessing of the designer… which is ambitious because there are several legends of others trying and failing – even engineers with access to some wonderfully whizzy kit haven’t been able to reproduce the precise dimensions and curvature required to get those little rods to hang onto one another just enough to assemble perfectly. At least one of our friends has tried, and failed…
Undaunted, the lads have a chat with the designer and then consult their man-in-a-shed who reckons he’ll give it a go… and things look promising on the first few prototypes and shortly afterwards they’re good enough to make the guys believe they’ll be able to actually offer them for sale…
When it was designed in 1978, Monty, a mate of Geoff’s at the University of Bradford had made 26 stainless steel copies out of a planned run of 500. After the first 26 copies were made, production stopped, and for forty years there have only been 26 copies in existence.
Thanks to the Two Brass Monkeys, that original run of 500 copies will now be completed.

OK, that’s the back story…. Tell us about the puzzle!
Nova Plexus consists of twelve quarter inch stainless steel rods, each with a precisely machined notch at each end. Those twelve rods assemble into four triangles which each interlock with one another in such a way that the whole assembly is self-supporting – with only the friction at the notched ends and between the rods holding things together.
The kit comes with a small bag of rubber bands to assist initial assembly – although interestingly, once the first three triangles are interweaved, the fourth can be introduced without needing rubber bands… and while my introduction above paints a picture of a rather tricky assembly, I’ve honestly found they go together quite predictably as long as you make sure that the corners are properly aligned along the way and the triangles are properly weaved. There’s a lovely symmetry in the assembly with each rod weaving in and out of each of the others it crosses, ensuring there’s quite a lot of tension holding it all together.
The Boys are selling the original steel Nova Plexus on their Etsy shop bundled with a brass copy – think of it as a buy-one-get-one-free deal… on a puzzle that hasn’t been available for forty years.
As an aside – if you prefer your metal shiny, the brass copy shines up beautifully if you take the trouble to rub a little metal polish over it. Well worth the (limited) trouble in my books!

Tuesday 3 September 2019

IPP39 Post Trip

Next morning we enjoy our last breakfast in the ANA Crowne Plaza and assemble in the lobby before boarding a pair of luxury buses that will ferry us back to Tokyo via some cultural attractions and Hakone, or puzzle mountain as it’s known to metagrobologists.

We commandeer a couple of the back rows in the bus noticing that they have extra leg room again. Frank, Marc and Brian have the 5-seat back row to themselves for the next two days and Gill and I sit in the next row next to Luchen and Fangyuan on the first day and then Frans and Sue on the second day... there’s plenty of merriment thrown in through the next two days at the back of our bus.

For most of the first day on the bus I manage to keep the puzzlers near me entertained with a few puzzles I’ve selected from the trip so far - 4 Pfeile and my little disentanglement get given to those who haven’t already mastered them, and then a couple of new packing puzzles are shared around. Brian terrorizes us with a prototype of a new design from Juno that he hasn’t been able to solve yet and might turn into a future exchange puzzle - several of us try it over the course of the next two days and we all fare as well as Brian has.... Juno ONE - several highly talented puzzlers (and me) NIL!

Our first stop is the wonderful little village of Shirakawa-go up in the mountains that’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. The buses park across a river from the village and I can’t resist the urge to cool my feet off in the river before we head across the suspension bridge and wander through the village itself... Marc, Gill and I wander out to the one extreme of the village before doubling back and stopping off at a picturesque shrine for some pics.

A little further on we stop for selfies against some seriously stunning backdrops and then find ourselves high-tailing it back to our bus so that we don’t miss the first deadline of the day... along the way we overtake Otis setting up a picture of the river and we relax the pace a little realizing that we won’t be the last ones onto our bus. (And it turns out we’re all in good time anyway!)

We hit the road again and stop at Takayama for a few hours. Gill and Sue head off in search of lunch and the rest of us head off to the Karakuri Museum where we’re treated to a brilliant display of 5 ancient automata - the simplest serves tea, whilst the most complex is a doll that climbs up a series of posts stepping only with one foot at a time on each post - in between steps across posts it sways around this way and that in a wonderfully chaotic fashion - just think about that.

After the show Nick, Brian, Dick, Frank and I wander off in search of some lunch and find ourselves on the floor in a tiny restaurant off in a side street - three of us have the lunch special and Dick and Brian have the Sashimi... the food is excellent and the conversation wildly amusing as usual - and the only thing we find to complain about is how stiff we are from sitting on the floor! After lunch we drop into an old antique store and find some weird items but my language skills aren’t good enough to work out what they are...

Walking down the road we spot Gill and Sue coming towards us and we end up meeting inside a French patisserie, so we have cake. After the cake the boys head down the main drag and take turns to pose behind the cut-out figures dotted down the main road, much to the amusement of the locals as we hunch behind the various figures designed for people significantly shorter than us! It makes a good set of mementos though!

We take a few pics down at the river where a couple of well-rubbed brass statues make it very clear which bits of the anatomy one should rub for good luck - we think it’s rude not to. Heading back up the street in the opposite direction we spot some Hanayama Woodies in a couple of toy shops before we bump into Frans with a cone of blue soft serve - Taus reckons it tastes like bubble gum - we aren’t going to contradict him. We regroup back up at the buses and head out through some lovely countryside and past a few stunning looking golf courses heading toward Kofu for our evening stop.

Ours is the second bus to arrive so we find the lobby somewhat over-stuffed with IPP-ers already... we get keys for our rooms and join the queue for the lift. Before we head up to the rooms, Sue has a brainwave and we ask the concierge if they can keep our big suitcases -they oblige and we save ourselves having to lug all our puzzles upstairs. A short while later Gill and I are checking out our rooms across the corridor from one another (we couldn’t book a double room through the tour company - we haven’t had a spectacular argument). There’s a double bed in each room, but just a single pillow and a single set of towels, so we move those from one room to another and squeeze ourselves into the dinkiest hotel room we’ve ever shared. It is perfectly serviceable and the air conditioner soon has the room comfortable.

We’ve arranged to meet the Young’s, Nick, Marc and Frank for dinner so we head downstairs and find most of them in the lobby. While we’re waiting for the Young’s, Brian walks in through the front door announcing he’s found us a great Indian joint around the corner (when in Japan....) so we follow him around and settle down in a corner of the restaurant. Before we’ve even had a chance to order, Brian and Sue’s meals arrive - apparently having already ordered - or the chef’s telepathic - we weren’t certain.

Soon enough we’re all tucking in to a variety of spiciness and it’s pretty darn good. There’s plenty of banter and fun and after dinner we stop in at the Family Mart for some bus snacks and some office sweets for back home. It doesn’t take long to fall asleep.

Breakfast next morning is included but it is best described as sparse - after being spoilt at the ANA Crowne Plaza, we get coffee, juice, a couple of pastries and some soup... no butter for the rolls, no marmalade, nada. We’d been alerted to this when we were getting into the lift and passed Dick coming back up when he said that the eggs Benedict had been wonderful earlier but sadly, they’d run out. We’re tucking into our coffee and pastries when I spot Nick peering around the buffet looking rather disappointed so I helpfully tell him that the egg and bacon station is around the corner. A little while later he wanders around the corner, followed by Taus and Isabel in search of the good stuff - and about thirty seconds later he’s shown back to the pastries by the chef he’d found in the kitchen who waves his arms around a bit and says something somewhat incomprehensible. Nick then describes us in a gently colloquial phrase before tossing a (thankfully hard-boiled) egg at me - it bounces on the table but we manage to contain the carnage.

We load up the buses carefully with luggage neatly arranged by eventual destination before we get back onto our trusty steeds and head for Hakone. There’s lots of attempted Fuji-spotting along the way, some of it more successful than others.

We roll into Hakone just before lunchtime and we’re told that Mine will be opening his shop outside Izumiya at 1:30. We head in the opposite direction  and duck into Maruyama for a nose around - there are already many people raking through the puzzle boxes for sale and Marc and I head around to the back to view the private collection and the yosegi work. We head across the road to the Karakuri Museum and get caught out by the door, again, in spite of having “solved” it last time. A bit embarrassing! There’s a great selection of Karakuri Creation Group boxes available for browsing and buying... there’s another souvenir shop further down the road and a jewellery store that Gill spotted something nice in last time we were here.

From there we head down toward Izumiya where there is a serious horde of puzzlers swarming around the puzzles and then forming an orderly queue to pay for their new treasures.

I spot a couple of old-looking Kamei book boxes and William W and I each end up taking a copy. I pick up a simple looking burr that looks really pretty and a set of simple muku puzzle boxes that I think should nest nicely (they do). I also convince myself that a little wooden muku dish will work well as a spinning top platform, so I join the back of the queue. While I’m there, Mine-San comes up to me and says hello and then tells me he’ll wait to open his shop until I get out of the shop after I’ve paid for my little pile of goodies.

True to his word, as I come out of the shop, he looks over to me, smiles and waves, and then puts out a pile of 4L Basket puzzles and a bunch of Tetra-spinner puzzles. The surrounding gannets duly hoover up everything in sight in about 5 minutes and the folks who’d timed their visit so that they got back at the officially announced hour are left disappointed as there’s nothing left by then... I’ve got contacts, me.

Marc, Gill and I head out for some lunch and end up having a super lunch of katsu chicken overlooking Lake Ashi. The view is lovely and the company even better. We split the bill and head off in search of some sights to see - so we wander along the shore marvelling at the massive carp waiting to be fed at exactly the spot where there’s a cooler box with fish food in it on the jetty - these fish aren’t dumb!

Along the jetty there’s a wonderfully regal-looking heron patiently waiting for a fish to stray too near while a bunch of ducks seem to be doing a great job of scaring off the fish.

Further along the shore we get a great view of the pirate ship pulling in to the jetty with Mount Fuji briefly visible in the background. So Marc and I snap away - he finds the perfect spot, I take the pic as well.

Frans has recommended the wasabi ice cream so I hunt down a cone-full and it’s truly weird: the first impression is that of standard soft serve sweetness, and then the spice kicks in and your whole mouth warms up, which makes you want more ice cream and the whole impact builds and builds - highly recommended if you like spicy... not so much if you don’t.

We reassemble in the shore opposite the buses and say goodbye to Jean Baptiste and Edouard who’re making their own way home from there... Gill and I resolve to come back and spend some more time in Hakone, possibly a few days on the way to the next Japanese IPP?

The bus ride into Tokyo is quite long and punctuated by a few traffic jams due to broken down trucks in the fast lane and road-works. We roll into Tokyo and make a few stops, saying goodbye to friends as they get off for their hotels or to catch trains, before the buses head out to our hotel outside Narita airport.

We’ve booked the hotel directly from their website and have their cheap rate that excludes breakfast... expectations are not exactly sky-high but it’s the last night of the trip and we’ll probably be able to sleep anywhere. When we’re checking in the clerk gives us the key and smiles very broadly when he tells us it’s a bright room - cool - if you say so... so we take the elevator up to the top floor and find our room, which turns out to be a rather large suite, complete with massive bathroom and dining room. Now the check-in clerk’s comment makes sense and we spread out and chill... dining on leftover snacks rather than heading out to try and find dinner after 10 o’clock.

There’s a little bit of re-packing to do in the morning and we head down to breakfast where we spot Vinco and Dagmar, John and Bill and Janice - it’s weird only seeing 5 people from IPP at breakfast, I guess it is all actually coming to an end...

Let me leave you with one story about a nameless puzzler, just for a chuckle at the end. I’d been talking to nameless about his (spoiler) flights (spoiler) home and where he was staying on the night the post-IPP trip ended - turned out he’d booked a hotel for the night of the 6th and intended to fly out on the 7th, as late as possible to give himself some time to explore on his last day... so he sought out the latest flight he could find and it turns out that there’s one at 30 minutes after midnight - brilliant, right? Eh, not really - turns out he wouldn’t be able to use his hotel room for more than an hour (think about it) and they wouldn’t refund him for the room, and to add insult to injury, because the buses were running a little late, he had a mad rush to get from the centre of Tokyo out to Haneda airport in time for his flight. Lesson learnt: nameless should definitely let Jo take care of his travel arrangements in future!