Monday 26 October 2020

Kagen Sound’s Butterfly Box

Part, the third, in the Lotus-Trilogy announced several years ago by Kagen Sound arrived in Barnt Green recently. This time the wonderfully sturdy round shipping box came with not just the usual plastic cushioning wrapped around the box nestling inside – it was additionally cushioned by six comically large wood shavings, as though Kagen had been fine-tuning his kanna while he was packing up these beauties.

I’ve described my encounters with the first two puzzle boxes in the series over here and here – in short, I found them absolutely delightful – they had a lovely rhythm of trying to work out what pattern you should be striving for, trying to get the pattern to work, completely, opening a drawer and then repeating the process until you’d opened all four drawers around the hexagonal boxes. Each one started with a visual clue to the first pattern and as you progressed, each drawer would somehow provide the clue to the next pattern… both of them presented a lovely little journey and a nice sense of achievement.

The third one in the series – the Butterfly Box - builds on that progression in about the same way as the Burj Khalifa builds on the mud hut. Ostensibly it looks just like the other two (OK, I realise my Burj comparison just fell flat!) with some subtle changes to the wood varieties on the main parts, but the main features maintain the strong family resemblance: the pair of drawers feel the same, the rings on the top of the box seem to handle themselves like the previous two and generate similar sorts of patterns – you might even be tempted to think that once you’ve done the previous two, this one won’t pose a huge challenge.

That would be a large mistake.

This one is the proverbial wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing – don’t be fooled – this is not a simple little exercise in making pretty patterns, even though they are VERY pretty patterns! This is a proper puzzler’s puzzle!

From the get-go in this one you realise that things are going to be different: on the previous two you always had somewhere to start… this one gives you literally nae clue! You’ll need to cast your mind back to Kagen’s original premise of a series of puzzles where the first two helped you solve the third one…

Knowing this, I duly set about re-solving the previous two in the series in order to jog my memory a little, and to try and find the way in to this final box – and that was a good idea, not just to remind myself of the mechanics and the approach to completing the patterns (often you’ll find that the "right" pattern isn’t possible given some of the rings won’t be able to get into the position that you really need them to be in) but there is also a beautifully disguised clue waiting there for you in plain sight, sort of… and that is the start that you need for the Butterfly Box. (It is beautifully hidden and I have to admit that in the past two years I hadn’t “seen” it until now.)

Diving into the Butterfly Box it won’t take you long to clock that this one is tougher – sometimes not all of the rings really want to play ball – and that can be problematic. Finding the clues for the successive drawers is a lot harder than on the previous two boxes – so several times I found myself retracing my steps literally back to the start again in the hopes of finding something different along the way. Sometimes I found myself totally stumped with no idea of where I should be heading next or no idea what the next pattern should be – word to the wise: there are stacks of very beautiful, wonderfully symmetric patterns that won’t open a drawer for you! Creating random pretty patterns may be a wonderful way to wile away the time, but it isn't a good puzzle-solving strategy!

Find all four magic patterns and you’re ultimately rewarded with a little piece of paper with a URL on it that will transport you to a video of some of the making-of this stunning little trilogy. That video really blew my mind – seeing the amount of work that has gone into creating the sliding rings is truly gob-smacking, and some of the little details in the mechanics are wonderfully clever. (I love the use of wooden “springs”!)

And after all that, you find out that Kagen’s hidden something else in this box that you almost certainly haven’t found, so you need to go back through it and find it, don’t you? Only it’s so well-hidden that it took me several goes through the entire solution before I could finally say that I ‘d completed all of the challenges this box provides.

At the end of the day, the Butterfly Box is both a stunning work of art from a craftsman who really knows his stuff; and a memorable puzzler’s puzzle – there are 98 of them out in the wild – track one down and solve it, properly – it will make you feel good about yourself!

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Popplock T12

I bring you a somewhat overdue blog post about a stunning puzzle that I got at just about the same time as the country went into lock-down… that will become important later on in the story… in the meantime, you just need to bear in mind that was seven months ago!

When I got the eagerly awaited email from Rainer announcing that he was ready to start selling his new Popplock T12 I didn’t waste any time and a few days later a rather heavy package arrived in Barnt Green.

The T12 is a brute of a lock – this thing will do serious damage if you’re ever clumsy enough to drop one. It deserves respect, and it definitely got more than its fair share of that from me… over the course of the following six and a half months or so!

In its starting state, you have a key with nowhere to shove it, a large block of brass, which might just as well be solid for the lack of anything doing on it at the start, and a really solid looking straight steel shackle. (Mental note: can you call a straight metal bar a shackle if it performs that role? … Hales?)

There are a couple of obvious things to try at first and they generally result in finding something actually rather useful: a keyhole! (Bet you didn’t see that one coming! Even thought you were given an actual key with said lock, remember…?!)  Putting the key in and turning it, sadly, does not open the lock…

Examining things a little more carefully provides some clues as to some things that might be interesting at some point  (that’s a whole lot of somes and I’m not good at numbers!), albeit right now they’re stubbornly useless…

Several days later my troubles began: I thought I’d found something interesting and potentially useful, and indeed it may well have been, were it not for the fact that I found I couldn’t retrace my steps and I’d somehow managed to trap the key inside the lock… cue mild panic… and a seriously concerted effort to release said key.

A few weeks later I reach out to my tame locksmith to ask if he’s ever seen that before on this puzzle – “Eh, nope! – You’ve obviously done something stupid, ya muppet!” – Not a direct quote, actually he was far more sympathetic and suggested I send it back to Rainer, but neither of us was convinced that a T12 would actually allow me to do anything irreversible – and I decided it was far more likely “operator error” so I kept at it...

It sat on my desk for the next few months – getting picked up from time to time whenever I had some downtime in “the office” but sadly the key remained very much trapped.

By now we’re well into lock-down so I can’t even rely on the usual services of my puzzle-whisperer to rescue me from my stupidity – he’s trapped in The Netherlands.

It became a bit of a standing joke with some of my puzzling mates on our regular Sunday evening video calls – I’d show them the T12 with key trapped, they’d laugh at me and ask me if I’d tried blowing on it yet. (Yes. It didn’t help. Damnit!)

After several more weeks of their enjoying my misery, they finally took pity on me and coached me through some things I swore I’d already tried, exactly that way, about a million times already, but somehow the key was no longer trapped!

Promptly reinvigorated I managed to make some serious progress over the next week and a bit – using some of what I’d managed to learn while the key was trapped in there to finally release the shackle, a mere seven months after getting this thing…

What do I think of it? Given that for the vast majority of that time it was apparently locked up refusing to give up its key? It’s BRILLIANT! This thing has locks on the locks – getting all the way through the solution gives you a terrific sense of achievement – you earn the victory on this one… for a puzzle with so little apparently going on on the outside, this one packs a big punch! Would I have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t had to wrestle with it for months to give up its key? Hard to tell… either way, there’s no denying it’s a fabulous new puzzle lock from the master.

Monday 12 October 2020

Blinded II

Dee Dixon (he of DEDWoodCrafts) has burst onto the puzzle scene producing a flurry of intriguing puzzle boxes recently. I’d managed to acquire a pre-played copy of his Where’s My Hammer and rather liked the ideas I found in there, so when Eric Fuller had a bunch of Blinded II’s on a recent update, I decided that I needed one of those too…

It’s a rather handsome little box with a stunning Zebrawood top on a Sapele box reinforced with several beautiful Maple slip-feathers reinforcing the main joints. The first thing you’ll notice is a little “handle” to one side on the lid, and as soon as you touch it you’re going to realise that it’s attached to the lid by a pair of rather strong magnets…

Explore a little more and you’ll realise that Dee’s given the box a floating base (so you won’t have any trouble with humidity) as a rather nice touch. Aside from the tiniest amount of play on said-base and on the lid, there is very little to find to interest your puzzling instincts!

I ended up doing the only obvious thing left to do and dragged the magnetic button all around the box in search of something “interesting”… and I did manage to find some “interesting” areas, but I couldn’t get them to actually produce anything worthwhile… so the box made it’s way onto my shelf-of-shame where it was duly pulled out every now and then and new theories explored as and when they hit me – often while I was “in the office,” as it were.

I’d kept exploring new theories, and to be fair, retrying the old ones over and over again in the hopes of getting a different outcome (I know!) until I had a bit of inspiration and tried something totally different – and all of a sardine I had actually done something useful, and then having found a little forward momentum, I managed to wander through the next few steps in a couple of minutes…

So I reckon it only took me a few minutes to solve it, but there were several weeks between the first couple of minutes and the last couple of minutes! :-)

Having solved it, I really like this box – the locking mechanism is clever – it suckers you into totally overthinking it and then blows you away with the elegant simplicity in there… and it’s all on view when you open the box so you aren’t left wondering about anything… it did leave me feeling rather foolish for some of the grand designs I had envisaged going on inside there, though.

Great as a puzzle, cleverly engineered and very well made, highly recommended!

Monday 5 October 2020

Box Rebellion

I’ve always maintained that Eric Fuller has a wonderful knack for selecting really interesting puzzles and then crafting them absolutely sublimely. He recently decided to make a run of Stewart Coffin’s Box Rebellion puzzles and I was delighted – I’d been trying to nab a copy of Walt Hoppe’s 2004 exchange version for a while and haven’t ever managed to come close enough to actually getting one up to now – so I made sure I didn’t miss out on one of Eric’s copies.

I was not disappointed: Eric has done his usual stellar job of producing a puzzle that not only looks wonderful, but the tolerances make it play absolutely beautifully too.

Four simple little L-shaped Padauk pieces need to be inserted into a lovely Canarywood box with a partial clear acrylic cover restricting entry to the box just a little. There’s a handy circular hole in one end that lets you get a finger inside the box in case you need to manoeuvre the little L’s inside the box, and that's about it… well, one other thing that you’ll notice right away is that the clear lid-piece slides back and forth a tiny bit – and knowing Eric’s attention to detail, you’ll realise that cannot be a mistake.

Solving this one was all about experimentation for me – you might as well start with the obvious, so I did… and quickly found that it’s easy to get a few of those L’s in there, but it quickly becomes impossible to get the last ones in there… and there’s only four of them to put in there!

Having a bit of a Think (c) is always a good idea, and if that’s not enough, then a far more serious examination of exactly what is possible, and what isn’t, will probably pay dividends.

I love how this puzzle leads you through all the dead-ends and then reveals little bits that might just be useful before finally allowing you to string all those things together into a sequence of events that see you dropping the final piece into place with all four L’s neatly below the clear lid.

An excellent design from one master, perfectly crafted by another master.