[Sorry about the hiatus – life intervened.
Some of it has
now calmed down, a bit.]
When my mate John told me he was thinking of coming to visit
for a weekend, I’ll admit that my first instinct was to check whether he was serious,
and whether he was swapping emails with the right Allard – John lives in Ohio,
Turned out he was (on both accounts) so we laid some plans
for a bit of a puzzling weekend, inviting some slightly more local puzzling mates to join us…
John duly arrived in Birmingham on the Friday morning,
having survived some long flights, a technical delay because an aircraft door
wouldn’t close (arguably quite important!), the London Underground and Virgin
Trains. I found him at the station, took him back to Puzzling Times HQ, let him
grab a shower and then gave him some lunch – although at this point his
body-clock must be somewhat confused having jumped 5 hours ahead while running on
a distinct lack of sleep.
We had a quiet couple of hours thrusting various puzzles at
one another and then spending time in between contemplating their solutions… or, in my case,
just bemoaning my severe lack of solving skills. During the course of the
afternoon and evening John ended up giving me several puzzles to add to my
hoard, including a neat new collaboration with the Kosticks, a copy of Hoffman
Jr, a metal copy of George Bell’s ball pyramid and a thoroughly horrible jigsaw
– which I shall bring out when the family arrive for Christmas… ought to keep ’em
happy for several hours – and it’s only about 400-odd pieces… it is evil though!
Somewhere during the course of the afternoon Gill reappeared
from her shed (she’d been hosting a candle-making workshop for a bunch of
friends) and Frank arrived from up north – yes, the traffic had been awful as
usual. Gill treated us to a yummy homemade pizza before yet more puzzling
ensued in the cave. Frank had carefully sought out some lesser known puzzles to
bring along and we had a good laugh when one of them turned out to be a puzzle
that I’d literally received four days earlier – Mine’s Square with Wonder –
type 1 in case you were, errm, wondering.
Next morning we’d more or less tidied up the breakfast stuff
when the gang began arriving for some serious puzzling. Rich and Oli had
car-pooled separately as they didn’t fancy their chances of getting into Ali’s
pickup truck with Big-Steve and Michael… possibly for a shorter trip? Shane and
Chris completed the gang for the day.
Steve and Ali had thoughtfully
both brought along their massive entanglements, keen to see if we could out-do our
previous (world record, surely?!) loop of entanglements – Ali had been away on
holiday for the last MPP so we “only” had 4 links… this time we had 6 – and it
didn’t take long for some enthusiastic puzzlers to hook them up into a rather
large necklace… which languished on the floor for most of the day (it was
too bluddy heavy to move!) only moving when it was time for four of the links to
head home that night.
John’s copy of Hoffman Jr was
passed around and some of my visitors managed to solve it significantly faster
than I had – I know, no surprises there! John had mocked up a set of regular
cubies of “the same” assembly for folks to fiddle with afterwards and it is
quite remarkable how easy it is to start on the regular cubie version and make
some progress before finding that the last piece is the wrong shape, whereas
the Hoffman Jr pieces behave exactly the opposite: finding how a couple of
pieces fit together is really hard, but once you’ve done that, the puzzle
virtually solves itself – isn’t that interesting?
Mine’s Square with Wonder kept a
couple of people amused for a while, with Michael remarking that at first it
seems as though the pieces are cut rather roughly, but then when you actually
start solving it, it’s clear that they’re actually perfectly precise. It’s a
fun set of challenges with a basic set of pieces and a pair of extras that get
used selectively for some of the assemblies.
Michael had brought along a copy
of a symmetry puzzle he’d been working on for a bit: three triangles (two
obtuse and one right-angle) will make a symmetric shape. Several people tried
and failed, and I’ve been trying since then as he left the pieces behind – and (to date) I
have failed too. One of these days there’ll be a loud “A-Ha!” from the puzzle
cave. (Don’t hold your breath! If Michael hasn’t solved it…)
Somewhere around lunchtime a
couple of us did a run into the village for kebabs, pig rolls and fish suppers - you can't beat a good local tradition! It was nice actually having enough space around the dining room table for all
of us to enjoy lunch together. (The puzzles had been temporarily shifted
somewhere else, and straight after lunch they returned!)
I brought out a wooden crate I’d
received recently for the Hastur Kickstarter from the Mysterious Package
Company – I thought it would be fun and that I would be able to leverage the assembled puzzle-solving capacity in the living room at the time. I got a crowbar out of the
garage and we duly opened the crate and spread the artefacts among the puzzlers
– some of them obviously had a lot of effort put into them: nicely aged
manuscripts and documents, old newspaper clippings, a mysterious ring and a
rather menacing looking gargoyle of sorts. The gang threw themselves into
trying to make some sense of the documents, there was a shed-load of
information to trawl through and ultimately we ended up giving up on it, not
having found a way in to any of the puzzles that have obviously been rather
well hidden among the various artefacts… at some point I’m going to have to try
again when I get a stretch of relative calm and some spare time.
Bill Sheckels’ puzzle clock and book
had a good outing with a few people solving them and enabling me to put a
battery in the clock and set the time – I hadn’t solved it yet! :-)
Rich spent quite a long time reassembling
a recently acquired Kim Klobucher box that I’d managed to open, but hadn’t
managed to close… over the course of a number of weeks. Thankfully Rich
dispatched it fairly rapidly – and I now have some helpful sketches of the
different paths dotted around the sides of the box itself – thanks mate!
Frank had brought along an
experimental “Make a T” puzzle that he tried on a bunch of us over the course
of the weekend. We helpfully found a couple of unanticipated solutions and he’s
taking it back to the drawing board for some tweaks.
Gill made a couple of pots of
homemade soup to go with some freshly baked rolls for dinner – damn good winter
The boys all left at fairly
sensible hours given that some of them still had a few hours’ drive ahead of
them and we managed to crash at a reasonably sensible hour.
Frank left the next morning after a fine breakfast of
too many croissants and plenty of bacon – Jim would have been proud of us!
and I spent the rest of the day walking the hounds, playing with puzzles,
chatting about puzzles and then putting the world to rights and comparing our
paths through life. I found it really interesting to see just how similar our
approaches to solving problems in a business environment were – even though we
were working in different fields on opposite sides of the world. It was great
getting to spend some time just chatting with John and getting to know him – I’m
really glad he had this whacky idea to fly halfway around the world to spend the
weekend over here. Thanks for coming, John!