Last week a package arrived out of the blue from my mate
Ken… there was a Snoopy toy in there for Gill (Thanks Helene!) and a modest
pile of wooden blocks with a Zen business card and four letters scribbled on
the back of it – J A B S.
Rapidly putting two and two together, I realise this is a
new design from Ken and immediately throw myself into solving mode, trying to
pile them up to make a cube, which seems like the obvious thing to do here –
there seem to be more or less the right number of cubes for a three by three
cube so I’m in there!
Several minutes later, having got nowhere near making
a cube at all, I pause for thought and decide to check the number of cubes… and
half-cubes – for this is one of those deviant designs that starts out with some
recognisable Soma pieces and then splits one of them into several little
half-cubies and distributes them around the other pieces in a pretty haphazard
way… well it looks haphazard, but I’ve come to learn from Ken’s designs
that they’re anything but!
OK – I can confirm that there are indeed the equivalent of
27 cubes among the pieces – so we should be good to aim for a cube, remembering
that several of Ken’s design aren’t actually cubes and this one didn’t arrive
with any instructions telling me to make a cube – you can’t be too careful!
Settling down into something resembling a more thoughtful
approach to puzzling I start experimenting with some piece placement and after
a little experimentation I manage to find a couple of very-nearly-solutions –
one of which starts me down an interesting theoretical path and after hitting
one more dead end, a little adjustment yields a perfect cube – complete with
theory turning out to be spot-on… I love it when a plan comes together - cue cigar-smoking colonel.
After I’d solved it, I enthused a little (OK, quite a lot!)
at Ken and he mentioned he’d come up with this design when he was working on
Broken Soma – so this one become JABS – Just Another Broken Soma – because he
wasn’t quite as excited about this one as Broken Soma. I asked if a particular
variant might be possible and a very short while later, he shipped over a
BurrTools files with what he called Allard’s BS – suggesting it would make a
good blog title – so it has! That puzzle looked interesting too and has a
couple of “features” intended to make life hard for puzzlers … no idea if it’ll
actually be any fun as a puzzle though.
JABS is another really enjoyable puzzle from Ken which he
told me that Brian at Wood Wonders
would probably be making in the near future – unfortunately I was a little slow in publishing this blog post and that's already come, but not quite gone! There are a few left for sale over here.
…all of which gets me to the point where I’m writing up this
blog post and I want to put in a link to my blog post about Broken Soma – Ken’s
selection as his best Broken Soma puzzle that made a big splash at the 2019
Rochester Puzzle Picnic. It was an excellent puzzle and I’m thoroughly
embarrassed that I didn’t devote a blog post to it… I meant to – I even said as
much when I mentioned handing it around at last year’s Northern Puzzle Party
and tormenting many puzzlers with it – and yet somehow, I did not. That must be
Kevin mentioned that I’d been torturing people with it at
MPP’s last year too when he wrote about getting a copy of it from Brian over here.
The conceit of Broken Soma is simple: Ken has taken the
small L-piece from a Soma cube and split each cubie in half and then spread
those bits across the other pieces, and then asks you to build a 3*3*3 cube
from the pieces.
Sure Ken – that sounds simple.
(It is not!)
Many puzzlers have discovered this as they’ve tried, like me
to simply put the pieces together and build up a cube… in fact I’m not ashamed
to say that I’ve taken a fair amount of pleasure over several months watching a
number of well-seasoned puzzlers struggle with this one – you can see why this
was Ken’s favourite in that style – it is thoroughly evil!
Having said all those nasty things about it, it is a
thoroughly good puzzle if you think about it – there are a couple of things
that you can deduce form fiddling around with the pieces, and armed with that
information you can actually come up with a bit of a strategy that will
significantly reduce the amount of legwork required to find a nice, neat
construction that satisfies every constraint – yours and Ken’s.
I reckon that just plain old BS is definitely the king of
the castle, but JABS makes a pretty good prince!
Thanks Ken – for both of them!!