Sunday 27 October 2019

Fuller’s Tiddlers

Eric recently announced a new series of small puzzle boxes – aimed squarely at lovers of the box, made to his wonderfully exacting standards, but on a smaller scale, resulting in a more pocket-friendly price point… there was quite a lot of virtual cheering when fans read of his plans, and then a couple of weeks ago he released his first two small puzzle boxes on the world. 

Now these weren’t his first foray into boxes teeny – he’s been producing pristine pint-sized boxes for years: Small Button Box and Reactor were pretty small – and his 14-move Mame box showcased some superb craftsmanship… so he’d set the bar pretty high. 

Small Box Number 1 is called the Window Box – please don’t plant geraniums in it! 

One side has a large porthole cut into it giving a view of what seems to be the bottom of a drawer that protrudes a little outside the one end of the box. There’s a little play on the drawer, mirrored in that piece you can feel through the porthole. There appear to be a few magnets inlaid into the sides of the box and that’s about it – nothing else to see here, guv. 

Fiddling around with it, there are definitely some rattily bits inside the box – there always are, right?

Turns out there’s a little more to discover and to play around with, and when you find just the right combination of “things”, you’ll find the drawer compliantly opening up and displaying the elegantly simple locking mechanism – and if you’re like me, you’ll ask yourself why you made such a meal of that one! 

It’s unusual and Eric’s once again done a nice job of making it less trivial than it might have been – nice bloke that Fuller!

Small Box no. 2 is Eric’s homage to Alan Boardman’s A-Ha Box – an instantly recognisable (when you solve it!) classic design. There’s a huge amount of elegance in the simplicity of the puzzle’s design – nothing is wasted… and it’s almost too easy to convince yourself that it’s impossible to open – until you find exactly the right thing to do to it – and then it puts a fat grin on the puzzlist’s dial. 

Eric’s done a stunning job of recreating an old classic, but as usual, he’s gone a little further and Fuller’d it with a neat extra little touch that I suspect most people will not even notice… he didn’t have to do it, he’s just gone and made extra work for himself – but this puzzlist grinned even wider when he noticed it – thanks for doing that extra little bit in there, mate! …that makes it a Fuller and sets it apart!

Judging by the first two, Eric’s onto another winning set of puzzle boxes… and they’re still available for sale because he made a decent sized batch of the little chaps!

If you’re a box-lover, you won’t regret it.

Friday 18 October 2019

DCD 2019

After finding that DCD 2018 clashed with a week away in Wales with some good friends, I was pleased to be able to return to the scene of the crime this year. Gill dropped me off at BHX at a reasonable hour on the Saturday morning and KLM did a grand job of getting me across the puddle to AMS where I met Louis in the arrivals hall. We hopped on a train through to Rijswijk and managed to surprise Rob by arriving a few hours too early. The puzzles came out almost immediately. The coffee began flowing and soon enough the banter struck up.

More and more puzzlers arrived until there was literally no room left round Rob’s dining room table – and he has a pretty big dining room table! The lounge was duly populated with puzzlers metagrobologising and there was a good buzz about the place.

After nearly running over Steve and Ali with his bicycle the day before, Rob had acquired a Brass Monkey 3 which had him rather perplexed, and a pair of Nova Plexus that hadn’t quite been assembled yet.

Ali and Steve had brought along a slightly oversized set of Nova Plexus sticks – actually they were three times the size of a standard puzzle hamster-sized Nova Plexus. Ali then spent a few minutes lashing various bits together and carefully positioning the large rods in three-space – while Rob tried to keep up with a dinkier set of sticks next to him. 

When the last of the big sticks were edged into place, Ali pulled out a large hammer and began “encouraging” things into their right place – this is after all, a rather critical part of the assembly process as any Nova Plexus assembler will tell you: it’s crucial to get everything properly aligned before you remove the rubber bands… hearing the tinkle of twelve little metal sticks is one thing – hearing the din of 12 massive rods bouncing off Rob’s dining room table wasn’t something any of us wanted to experience. He duly tapped his way around the structure until he was satisfied that things looked about right and then proceeded to remove the lacky bands… successfully! Cue several mightily impressed puzzlers at the sight of a giant Nova Plexus on the table. Rob’s set of sticks remained less rigidly assembled until Taus took over and quickly assembled the little pair with almost no fuss whatsoever.

It turns out that the large assembly is even more stable than the standard sized ones, so we created a bit of a shrine to all things holy to the assembled puzzlers – I realise this may be confusing to some readers – just go with it. Try not to think about it too much.

Several wotsits were duly pondered over – some in real life courtesy of Rob’s crate of what-the-heck! And some virtually - courtesy of Timo’s phone. 

At one point several puzzlers were huddled around a set of brass Hyperboloid Burr pieces in an attampt to prove Steve's theory that if six puzzlers all ran at one another with a piece of the burr fast enough, the burr would assemble itself... they may have been hampered by not having six puzzlers actively participating, but their attempts at a slow-co-ordinate-motion assembly weren't spectacularly successful. They were, however, very funny to observe.

Several folks had a bash at my copy of Hat Trick and pretty much everyone managed to solve it there and then…in total they managed to solve it quicker than I did – reminding me just how rubbish I am at solving these things! My copy of Gremlin got passed around a bit as well, but it didn’t yield to anyone – then again that one literally took me months! Several unsuspecting puzzlists had a go on Rob’s copy of Ice 9 – there weren’t any little whoops of joy on that one…

Pretty much everyone managed to solve my one-piece-two-dimensional-tray-packing-puzzle, albeit everyone was amused by the fact that something that sounds like it should be thoroughly trivial, isn’t quite.

I’d also taken along a few puzzles of my own that I needed to solve and was delighted when I finally managed to crack Bracket Holes, Iwahiro’s exchange puzzle designed by Hajime Katsumoto. The object is quite simple: place a few L’s and a Z into a clear acrylic frame with a few odd shaped holes on both sides… the solution is anything but simple, requiring puzzlists to think WAY outside the box in new and exciting ways – I had several mini A-Ha moments before I finally had enough techniques to string together a complete solution – it’s an absolute delight to solve!

Somewhere around 6pm Rob ordered a large pile of pizzas for dinner and a couple of us jay-walked across the road to collect them. Boxes opened, a bunch of hungry metagrobologists duly grazed and refuelled, ready for a few more hours of puzzling.

Somewhere about 9pm we decided we’d probably sufficiently overstayed our welcome and we piled into a combination of public transport and private automobiles and headed toward our hotels. Most of us were staying at the newly reminted Hotel Den Haag so we ended up in the hotel bar where the new management made it incredibly difficult to order libations of any sort… I tried asking for a Coke Zero to be told that the bar was closed and they couldn’t serve me any cocktails – when I looked even more confused than normal, they offered me beer or soft drinks, so I opted for a Coke Zero – someone travelling with us, who needn’t remain nameless, felt that comparisons to Fawlty Towers weren’t amiss. It was hard to disagree based on how they ran the bar after 10pm. The rooms were spotless and comfortable and the breakfast the following morning was as good as it used to be… so we’ll probably be back – we just won’t rely on the bar being able to serve us anything after 10pm – sort of a BYOB bar. 

Back to the bar… the German twisty puzzle gang had a number of somewhat exotic looking twisties spread around the table and Steve and I couldn’t quite resist the urge to fiddle with one of the shape-shifting monsters on display – it quickly lost all semblance of conformity and no amount of earnest attempts at returning it more or less to its original form would help… apparently Ali came pretty close to solving it after I crashed for the evening, but it remained stubbornly unsolved for the rest of the weekend. (We did consider buying a solved replacement from Hendrik and attempt a sneaky substitution…)

I did my pumpkin impression somewhere around the appropriate hour and we all re-grouped around the hotel breakfast in the morning, where I recognised Makoto from his FaceBook profile pic and introduced myself – it’s good to see new enthusiastic puzzlers joining the fray!

Several Ubers collected a series of puzzle sellers and ferried them off to the school hall and a little while later we followed along courtesy of a lift from Patrick. (Thanks!) We joined the queue to pay our entry fees and get a name tag – I opted for the same old name again this year – and then headed into the hall, almost immediately seeing people we haven’t seen for ages, and the re-acquainting and catching up began.

Tony had brought along genuine twisty coconut (2*2*2) and an absolutely massive Astrolabacus – for its public debut. Fully functional with balls that wouldn’t look out of place on a pool table instead of the usual little plastic beads, this monster took a fair amount of man-handling, but it operated perfectly and Tony was happy to demonstrate it to all comers over the course of the day. The world needs more nutters like Tony!

Wil had his usual huge collection of plastic crates full of wonder – nicely balanced between his current latest finds from around the puzzling world and past treasures from some time ago – I was delighted to find a copy of Claustrophobia, Nick’s IPP20 exchange puzzle along with a fairly recent tray-packing puzzle from Mine that I hadn’t seen before.

Jan Willem had brought along a couple of duplicates from his extensive collection of puzzle boxes and I found myself hoovering up a Hamburger, a burr and a couple of box-shaped thingies. While I was doing that I managed to help another puzzler convince himself that he really needed both Splined Box 1 and Splined Box 2 as they were in fact quite different in spite of their apparent cosmetic similarities.

Diniar had brought along a huge selection of recently printed goodies and I found myself getting totally confused by his 7-piece moon and star sliding tile puzzle [Question: HOW HARD CAN IT BE? – Answer: pretty tricky!] – so I felt obliged to take a copy home, along with a copy of his new sliding tile box with a tree.  (Since getting them home I’ve managed to solve the star and moon, but the box is still locked solidly!)

Jan Grashuis’ widow and his son were selling a couple of table’s worth of puzzles from his collection and I decided that I needed a couple of puzzles to remember Jan by – so I bought a large wooden copy of the Alcatraz puzzle labelled “Impossible Ball” and a small copy of Blockhead by makers unknown… something to remind me of Jan’s presence at DCDs.

Steve and Ali did a steady trade on the Brass Monkey stand, with the massive Nova Plexus proving to be a good conversation starter. Rich however outed himself as a closet twisty puzzler when he proceeded to solve one of John’s 11*11*11 cubes while manning the Brass Monkey stand… completing it rather briskly before solving and scrambling a 7*7*7 he’d purchased earlier for a laugh several times – apparently there is nothing that boy can’t solve!

Just after the traditional NKC all-you-can-eat lunch we head upstairs to a darkened room crammed full of metagrobologists for the afternoon lectures. Before the lectures get underway, Frans is presented with a Thank You gift for serving as an editor for CFF for more than 20 years before recently retiring. Rox then shows us what you get when you join two seriously large puzzle collections together, and how you go about displaying them so that you can actually play with all of them at any time, and then George gives us a lecture on the various incarnations of puzzle printing he’s experienced, including a preview of his next virtually commercial-scale printer. Rob rounds out the afternoon’s lectures with his customary canter through this year’s IPP exchange puzzles.

I picked up a couple of Rombol productions that I’d been meaning to get hold of from Hendrik, so the hoard now has a copy of Bastille and Tower of London – the latter had confused me at Rob’s place the day before and I’d been meaning to have a bash at Bastille for a while… now I can say that I’ve had a bash at both of them, and they have both defeated me – there’s probably a lesson in there somewhere for me, but I’m too darned dim to learn it.

Jack had brought along a couple of new designs – most notably variants of his own Chair puzzle: a simple 3*3*3 cube made up of three articulated pieces… he took one of them apart in front of us and then gave us the pieces – which had by now changed shaped several times – and invited us to reassemble them… and I tried, as did several others – all of us failing rather spectacularly – we all insisted on throwing money at him and the copies he’d brought along disappeared quickly! I returned to his table later on in the day, giving everyone else a good opportunity to grab whatever they wanted before hoovering up a bunch of Jack’s cheap little pocket puzzles as gifts for puzzling friends – he does a super “Make a House” puzzle and has produced a neat little version of Coffin’s Cruiser – all for a really attractive price – so I loaded up on gifts.

Sometime around 4pm the speed-cubers finish up for the day and Matts is awarded his many, many winner’s certificates – that guy is pretty incredible.  The sellers repack their remaining wares into their suitcases/crates/shipping boxes and we re-set the hall for the arrival of the schoolchildren.

Another excellent DCD courtesy of Joop and the NKC gang - this year with a little more hamster-fondling than usual.

Trains, planes and automobiles take me homeward where the weekend’s loot is unceremonially dumped on the sofabed in the puzzle cave and I crash – it’s been a long weekend. 

Lets play a game: Where's Nick?