Thursday 26 November 2020

Euklid for Nick

First there was Euklid, and I did not enjoy it – managing to eventually find a single solution.

Then there was Euklid for Kids,and I did enjoy it…

Now we have Euklid for Nick and I started out not liking it too… but now I love it – but I’m getting a bit ahead of the story here, so let’s wind back a little…

After the launch of Euklid, the designer Volker Latussek was probably a little disappointed and more than a little non-plussed when Nick announced he’d found about twenty solutions for it. Volker decided this should be addressed and duly emerged from a darkened design space (in my mind at any rate!) with his answer to Nick – Euklid for Nick … a Euklid variant that definitely won’t have that many solutions. (And probably only has one solution!)

This one comes with a familiar Euklid-family lipped box with a few pieces to be tipped into it so that the pieces are all below the lips. As always, the Acacia box is beautifully made by the guys at Pelikan and this time we have two sizes of pieces – three Padauk blocks and four Purpleheart blocks to put into the box. Simples!

When the puzzle arrives one or two pieces are peeking out just above the lip and there’s clearly a lot of room underneath them and you’re briefly conned into believing that this is going to be a doddle. Tipping the pieces out with a bit of a shake of the box seems to confirm your suspicions.

Putting them back in so that they sit below the lip is, however, quite a challenge. One that has “entertained” me for several weeks now – long enough for me to develop a healthy dislike for this puzzle, even if it was twinned with a good deal of grudging respect for it.

Over the course of several weeks my puzzling buddies (including the puzzle’s namesake!) have laughed at my inability for put the blocks inside the box, and I kept bashing away at it… last weekend Steve and I ended up working on our respective copies on a Zoom call, and about an hour later he announced he’d done it. I cursed a little and hurled a little abuse at him on instant messenger and redoubled my efforts… and started Think(c)ing a bit more.

And that it turned out was the key. I’d spent several weeks playing with the pieces and slowly learning the combinations that did and didn’t work in particular orientations, but I’d been playing and not really analysing or thinking about things. Switching into proper puzzle solving mode really changed things.

I’d had a pretty good idea of how I thought things needed to go together, but I was still playing with other variations – so now I focused on eliminating the other alternatives – and that seemed to be successful – and so having reduced the possible solution set down to a single case, the only thing left to do was work out what the orientation needed to be, and how the heck to get the pieces in there in that orientation.

From there I switched to another helpful thought experiment that assumes you’ve got it solved – and considers which pieces can you take out – and then it’s just a case of building the bit that’s left behind, somehow… and that’s still non-trivial, but having broken it down that far, it’s at least a tractable problem for second-rate solver like me.

Getting to that stage took we several weeks – but once I’d grudgingly engaged the little grey cells, it didn’t take long at all to find the elusive solution  - and that’s why I rather like this puzzle – you can use deduction and logic to home in on the solution – as long as you’re prepared to Think(c)!

Thursday 19 November 2020

Virtual MPP 2

A couple of weeks ago we held our second virtual MPP and got to chat with our puzzling friends from (literally) across the globe again. We kept to the idea of running three two-hour sessions over the course of the day in order to make it a bit easier for our international friends to join in a couple of the sessions no matter where they were… and it seemed to work, although a couple of really hardened way-distant puzzlers made sure they were there for all three sessions – so we must be doing something right!

The morning session was a pretty laid-back affair as I’d totally failed to line up an exciting tour as the main attraction. Instead we literally just asked everyone on the Zoom call to tell us what they were currently puzzling on and what they thought of it… there were around 25 or 30 of us on the call and that ended up filling the morning session with plenty of chat, and I suspect that I wasn’t the only one taking note of some of the recommendations along the way!

I gave George Bell’s Chocolate Box a bit of a plug having received it the week before and really enjoying the solution to it… at first it seemed really fiddly and the round box had me chasing pieces around and around, until I had a bit of a Think (c) and then loved the solution.

Dor’s recommendation was a binge-solve of virtually all of the Popplocks – which sounded like an excellent way to spend the better part of a weekend, and Nigel confessed to really enjoying working back over Kagen’s Lotus Box trilogy in order to really enjoy the latest arrival.

Ken teased us by showing a copy of Juno’s Puzzler’s Cage from Cubic Dissection still in its plastic wrapping – and after plenty of goading I think we managed to convince him to take the pieces out of the plastic wrapping - we did not succeed in goading him into actually solving it during the course of the day, however. 

Jack showed us the new box he was working on – cue plenty puzzler’s lusting! Amy shamed the lot of us by showing that she’d been working on two high level Baumegger burrs, and a couple of folks told us they were working on Juno’s SDBBB:M – all with fat grins on their faces, as you’d expect.

It was great seeing that Wil had managed to join us, although without a webcam or a mic, he was only able to lurk in the background – he did however grab some brilliant screenshots of the folks on the call and unwittingly provided some of the pics that found their way into this blog post – as I didn’t record any of the sessions and didn’t take any screenshots myself – so thanks for that, Wil! :-)

It was great having a chance to just chat about puzzles we were currently working on – a bit like we’d normally do at an MPP – only with our mates around the world, and if this doesn’t sound like total blasphemy, I wonder if there’s a place for these sorts of “get-togethers” even after we all get out of our various shades of lock-down?

At the end of the first session, we gave everyone a scavenger hunt list that included a bunch of things that would need explaining in the second session, including: a puzzle that makes you smile whenever you play with it, a puzzle you’ve crafted yourself, the smallest and largest puzzles in a single shot and a puzzle that you need some information on. During the break between the first two sessions folks posted their pictures on the MPP Facebook page.

During the first part of the second session, Big-Steve walked everyone through the entries received, inviting people to explain their entries and tell us some of the stories behind their particular choices, and then awarding random points for the various entries – which seemed to be based more on the amount of humour coming from the selections than for the selections themselves – but the audience seemed to approve and there weren’t any public lynching’s, which is always a good sign.

Frank looked like he had a really strong set of entries, starting with his awesome Kumiki Robot with a tiny Alan Boardman micro-burr perched on its shoulder… he seemed to be scoring unbelievably well too, until Steve decided to deduct WAY MORE points than he’d awarded on the grounds that Frank had actually already seen the scavenger hunt list earlier in the week when we’d been doing our preparations for the MPP!

Brian put in a solid performance, totally acing the “puzzle you’ve crafted yourself” – come to think of it, he’d made most of the puzzles across all the categories in the first hunt – not many people could say that.

We worked our way through all of the entries before we handed over to Pantazis on the lovely Greek island of Kastellorizo for a tour of his puzzle museum. In spite of me managing to time our Greek island visit to coincide almost precisely with Pantazis’ renovation of the puzzle museum and the arrival of a multitude of crates consisting of three quarters of his puzzle collection, Pantazis still managed to do a sterling job of showing us around.

He’d spent the days immediately prior to the tour working tirelessly unpacking crates and crates of puzzles so that he’d be able to show us some of his favourite and rarest treasures – and he didn’t disappoint. His obvious love for puzzles in general, and for spreading a love for puzzling, shone strongly through all of his stories about his experiences of sharing the puzzles with folks on the island. 

I loved the story of one of his mates tossing one of the puzzles into the harbour (don’t worry – it was shallow enough to save it!) in disgust when he found out that the puzzle he’d been trying to solve for absolute ages, had been solved in minutes by a blind friend of theirs. (Reminds me of a fearsome puzzler I know…)

Pantazis’ whole mission in life seems to be to share these wonderful puzzles with as many people as possible – puzzles should be played – and if that means that they occasionally need some repairs, then so be it.

There were plenty of questions and even a little dose of maths, as you might expect, in the form of some interesting results on his analysis of the ancient Stomachion Puzzle.

With the light fading and the electrics not yet quite finished due to the renovations, Pantazis was absolutely undeterred and fired up the torch to continue the tour on the ground level – it really was lovely to see around Pantazis’ Puzzle Museum – THANKS PANTAZIS!!  (And bonus points for managing to find a rare pair of hamster twisties and posting a pic on the MPP Facebook group a couple of days later – our memes salute you sir!)  

At the end of the second session we posted another scavenger hunt with similar levels of “interpretation” required – although nothing could quite prepare us for Shane’s entry this time around. At the first VMPP Shane had managed to score negative points for posting a picture of a dirty sock as one of his entries (fair scoring, right?!) – this time he posted a split keyring as his entry for all ten topics – although in fairness his justification for some of the topics was pretty funny. I’m not sure the judge was that impressed though!

Once again Steve did an awesome job of walking the various entrants through their selections and coaxing them into telling us some of the stories behind their choices – I love hearing puzzlers talking about the puzzles that are important or particularly interesting to them.

After walking through all the entries we headed into Frank’s Pu(b)zzle quiz hosted through an online app that handled all the scoring for us (to avoid any more unfortunate incidents of bribery)… a couple of us had play-tested the quiz during the week and we still managed to get a few good belly-laughs at some of the questions.

For some reason there were a lot of questions about cheese, but not many questions about train stations. Puzzles did feature in some of the questions and there was the obligatory trick question to check whether people had taken the trouble to read all of the instructions before the quiz began. (I think we managed to catch the actual Nick out with that one for the second time in a week!)

At the end of the quiz, I think Michel came out on top of the leader board – I’m sure someone will remind me if I’m wrong! To be honest, it was a lot less about who won and a lot more about the fun that we managed to have along the way… and that was there in spades.

I reckon we might need to have to do another one of these… they’re fun. 


Friday 6 November 2020

Kelly Snache’s EWE EFO

The short version: Kel socks it out of the park!

The longer version:

Kelly had already been teasing a new puzzle box on social media for a while when I had an email from him asking if I’d be interested in  acquiring a copy. Facebook had been littered with tales of a gang of five fluffy four-legged creatures and their (stolen) fantastical flying machine of fun. Not just tales, there were pics too, and they looked thoroughly fab. So I piled in and managed to acquire #5 of the 17 copies made and released into the wild…

The flight across the pond was completed in no time at all, no doubt due to the ewes' patented rangtangdangular oximobinator.

It’s a mighty handsome little puzzle box – complete with 5 portholes each with one of the ewes peeking out – courtesy of some custom art that Kelly commissioned via ‘tinterweb. There’s an obvious top to the box, and four clear sides, all of which have a porthole on them, and then the bottom has a (not so) secret escape hatch built into it…

You mission is to release Wee Fae from the top of the EWE EFO – because she just wants to go home while the rest of the crew want to go off exploring, apparently. All righty then…

You are told to leave the four brass nuts alone until you’ve totally solved the puzzle and released Wee Fae – and then you’re free to undo the nuts and remove all the innards and marvel at them… Kelly also tells you there aren’t any tricky magnets at play and you won’t need to tap or bash anything to “encourage” it.

Starting with a bot of exploring around the sides and the top, you’ll find lots of interesting “stuff” going on, but not a to of it will really do much – you can tell that they will do something at some point, e.g. the tiniest wiggle might suggest this is a panel that could move or open at some stage, but right now, they’re all rather tightly locked in place.

A few of the little portholes will move, and aside form making it look like the little ewes are inside a washing machine, that doesn’t seem to do an awful lot. At some point you might even find linkages between the different sides, or indeed between a side and some mystical hidden forcefield, and you’ll need to learn how to control them in order to make progress.

Along the way you will almost certainly come across some rather useful tools that will assist in your reconnoitring, for reconnoitre you must!

I really enjoyed the whole exploration of this this little piece of art – having a pile of tools laid out next to a partially dismantled EWE EFO wondering which panel to attack next and what tools could possibly be useful to me. In all I spent a couple of wonderful afternoons exploring this craft and slowly progressing through the Trap Door, the Guillotine and the Four Finger Force Field. (Yup, Kelly really went to town on the backstory and the mythology of this puzzle – it was clearly a massive labour of love for him!) 

For me the best part was getting Wee Fae out of her turret and then dismantling the rest of the craft to see exactly what all those strange mechanisms inside the craft really were… and Kelly has done a super job in there – the mechanisms are simple once you see them, but delightfully duplicitous when you’re trying to work out how to release them while you can’t see most of the gubbins in there…

Everything is always fair and yields to some sensible Think(c)ing though… just give yourself a couple of afternoons like I did – it’s a wonderful puzzle to wile away several happy hours!

Once again Kelly has outdone himself, producing a stunning looker of a puzzle with some wonderfully interesting mechanisms and locks along the way.

Awesome work, Kel!

Sunday 1 November 2020

Juno's SDBB Master

Juno’s latest well-telegraphed release of an epic sequential discovery puzzle (the Sequential Discovery Burred Box – Master, to give it its Sunday name) resulted in a bit of a deluge at the appointed hour, sadly crushing his web-site under the weight of stacks of eager puzzlers wanting to shower him in PayPal for the chance to test their wits. Unfortunately it took his web server quite a while to recover and as result some transactions ended up taking many hours… so having a young dog that is still getting you up in the middle of the jolly night for a quick wander around the back yard turns out to be a good thing on this particular night… she times it right, and I manage to snag a copy of Juno’s latest masterpiece.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I’m ripping open the well-packaged puzzle and thinking to myself that this is definitely one of my largest six-piece burrs… it is a big, handsome brute of a puzzle. From a distance you might think it’s “just a six-piece burr”. Pick it up and start playing with it and you’re left in no doubt whatsoever that this is a heck of a lot more puzzle than it might seem.

The first thing you notice when you explore which bits might be able to move, is that there are interesting things hidden on the insides that you can’t see when it’s in its starting position. If you start disassembling things, you’ll find some very interesting movements in there before you manage to get all six pieces separated – for, yes, dear reader, there are indeed six pieces to this burr… however, that is only really the beginning of this epic quest.

The fun really starts now!

From here on in, you’re in serious sequential discovery land… you’ll find tools galore and challenges aplenty, and sometimes you’ll be wondering which way to go next, but one thing I can tell you is that every single mechanism you encounter has a beautifully elegant solution to it… something I discovered the hard way because the first time I worked through the puzzle I found myself at “the end” and realising that I still had a locked compartment – which is weird… so I retraced my steps and realised that I’d unintentionally bodged one of the stages and applied a somewhat agricultural approach to opening a compartment – a little time Think(c)ing and I found a far more elegant solution, which then resulted in the perfect tool for the next step and my Yin and Yang were once again in perfect harmony.

Trust me - this isn't a spoiler!
Since that first time, I’ve gone back over the solution again and again and really marvelled at the clever design that’s gone into creating so many different locking mechanisms – each one unique, and each one requiring some serious lateral thinking.

In a wonderfully witty twist, Juno’s description of the puzzle tells you that he’s placed a little infinity symbol in the last compartment so that you’ll know that you’ve reached the end ;-) – and also in my case so that you’ll know if you’ve done things wrong and cooked the solution! There’s a lovely progression through the different compartments with some very interesting tools along the way – sometimes they’re quite obvious, and sometimes you really do need you apply the little grey cells to imagine what might be required.

I’m very chuffed to have managed to snag one of these – I’ve even forgiven Barkley for all those trips around the garden in the rain in the middle of the night! This puzzle made that all worthwhile – it really is another classic from Juno – another one to be mighty proud of, Juno!

And if you didn’t manage to get one of your own, make sure you make friends with someone who did and play with their copy! Or better still, come along to an MPP if we ever hold one in the real world ever again and play with one of our copies!

SPOILER ALERT: Kevin’s a big fan too!