Thursday 24 December 2020

Allard's Christmas Puzzle Puzzle 2020

It's been a jolly weird year and I didn't have a lot of inspiration for this year's puzzle, but I really didn't want this to be the first year in a while where I broke with tradition - hopefully it isn't too trivial!

Just send the answer to my question to allard <DOT> walker <AT> gmail <DOT> com before the end of this year to be in with a chance of being picked for my random draw prize (everyone who sends me an entry has a chance!) or a prize for the first correct entry received.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday 16 December 2020

The Joy of Hex

The Two Brass Monkeys are at it again: this time they’re jam-packed with a whole lot of hex and a decent filling of double entendre – vintage monkey business!

Steve and Ali have leant on Derek for some hexhaustive analysis (well, he was hexhausted!) of the possible assemblies of hexagonal sticks in the shape of Stewart Coffin’s classic Hectix design. They’ve used that to select three base designs, and a set of five further pieces that can then be used to construct 30 hand-picked and carefully named assemblies that are neatly documented in the accompanying book: The Joy of Hex… Oh, and they also throw in a hex aid, for, err, you know… assistance.

The result is a handsome set of four matching tray-shaped boxes with custom foam cut-outs to cushion your pieces of hex when you aren’t playing with the little buggers. These are some good-looking puzzles and the packaging is none-too-shabby either!

While you may be tempted into jumping straight into the joys of Group Hex, I would strongly counsel you to start with the Missionary – this one builds confidence and if you’ve never hexed before, it’ll give you a solid basis for further hexploration. I’d also encourage you to use the hex aid you’ve been given – unless you have way more hands or fingers than the average, you’re going to be thankful of the assistance.

The Missionary consists of three sets of four different types of pieces – have a look at the target shape and you can probably guess how you might like to try and use those sets of pieces… and with a little thought, you can figure out how they might go together – in fact if you use a simple rule, you can get virtually all the way to the end inserting a piece at a time… it might not be the most adventurous position, but it is the bedrock of all things hex.

While common wisdom might suggest tackling Bish Bash Bosch next – after all it is listed as position number 2 in the great Hex Manual, I would seriously counsel you, dear reader to progress straight to Group Hex. Trust me, once you’ve got the Missionary under your belt, so to speak, you’re ready for Group Hex.

Group Hex is designed to confuse – where Missionary gave you sets of three to position and get comfortable with, this one doesn’t – there is but a single set of three identical pieces and then there is a rather unruly collection of pieces – 8 different sorts in fact! (I’m left wondering where they got the name for this position from!) In fact, this position uses the maximum number of piece-types possible and results in a unique solution – it’s all about matching up all your rods and notches properly, making sure than no notch is left un-rodded and you’re done!

While the pieces might be as confusing as the proverbial temple orgy, at least the position turns out to be pretty stable and can be approached in a reasonably steady, progressive manner – it is a long hard slog though.

Bish Bash Bosch, or Position 2, on the other hand, is not nearly as accommodating. It is pure evil and should not even be approached unless you are absolutely determined to be thoroughly humiliated along the way – but perhaps if humiliation is your thing, you’ll like this one!

A good few months ago, before lock-down began, the Monkeys began their hexual hexperimenting and inflicted some of it on the good people of the Midlands Puzzle Party… several of the assemblies were tested and pronounced achievable and this made Steve pause for a while and pull out something that would stop us in our tracks – showing us the position assembling on his trusty laptop we determined that there was an awful lot happening all at the same time, so a team of puzzlers duly assembled and in the end it took about 5 people to assemble the darn thing… and that is the position now dubbed Bish Bash Bosch, ladies and gentlemen.

And you’re cordially invited to try and assemble it yourself – with or without a hex aid of some description, heck, any description!  It does not go together in a nice simple linear fashion, things happen sort of all at once – and choreographing all of that takes more than the average number of hands and or fingers on a single person… it took 5 puzzlers! Bish Bash Bosch my RRR’s!!

(FWIW I had help getting mine into position, hex aids, a rubber band and my loving wife were all required to coax that little beast together – where I hexpect it to stay until the arrival of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.)

As I write this, that’s about as far as I’ve got – there are another 27 positions for me to hexplore using combinations of those and the hextra five pieces that come with the set… I hexpect that I have several years of hexual discovery ahead of me given how long it took me to get those first three positions assembled…

If you’re already a fan of the hex, this will really improve your repertoire – and if you aren’t, you probably owe it to yourself to hexperiment a little… oh, and the humour in The Joy of Hex is hexcellent!

[No puns or double entendres were armed in the making of this blog.]

Friday 11 December 2020


Hmmmm… shiny!

A couple of years ago I bought my first Berrocal while on a visit to the Berrocal Foundation that Nigel organised for us. (There may have been an entire weekend of silliness wrapped around that visit.)  Sometime after that trip John Rausch told me that, in his opinion, the stand-out smaller Berrocal multiple was Manolete – and I should definitely look out for a copy, so given that John is seldom wrong on such important matters, I began gently keeping an eye out for one at a reasonable price… and earlier this year I found one at what I thought was indeed quite reasonable – so my Berrocal collection has now doubled!

Manolete is a torso modelled on the famous Spanish bullfighter who died in the ring in 1947. Whatever your thoughts on bullfighting, this little statue cuts a rather fine figure with nickel accents on the mainly brass assembly. It’s a bit bigger than the mini’s and definitely smaller than the Richelieu’s and Goliath’s of this world. Most importantly it’s not too big to look out of place on the mantle-piece – this is only the second puzzle that has been allowed out of the Puzzle Caves to live permanently in the lounge. 

This puzzle is quite literally a work of art.

And makes for a fine disassembly puzzle as well as a pretty decent assembly challenge.

Disassembly requires some close examination to start with as there’s a clever locking mechanism that keeps this statue neatly together until you want it to come apart. Of course it’s beautifully hidden in the details of the stature that you expect to be there.

Start the disassembly and pieces come off in a wonderfully serial sequence where literally each piece needs to be manoeuvred absolutely precisely or it will refuse to budge… and given that Manolete was cast by a company used to casting fine jewellery (if I’ve remembered that bit correctly, and I’m sure the inter-web will correct me if I haven’t!) you know that if it’s not budging, you’re not doing it right!

...before The Shining.
Work your way right through to the end and you have a nice pile of little pieces (including the obligatory finger ring) that don’t resemble what you started with in the slightest!

Of course when I got to this point on my first disassembly I did what all my mates have done when presented with a similar pile of pieces and duly set about them with a bottle of Brasso and a large pile of very soft cloth… for a few hours… and removed all that lovely patina that had grown on the surface over years of gentle handling… so from now on the patina on this copy will all be my own fault!

Building up Manolete from scratch is a pretty decent challenge – you can work out more or less where things need to go and then start the inevitable trial-and-error process as you make some progress only to realise that you should have introduced a piece a few steps earlier, so you back up a bit and improve the assembly… until the final locking piece is allowed to click into place.  

Where art meets engineering, there is indeed profound beauty.

Great recommendation, John!

Wednesday 2 December 2020

Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake

Perry McDaniel makes some very fine cakes. I’ve had several in the hoard for a while now, but this one had eluded me for quite a while. Whenever I found one on an auction, it seemed someone else wanted it a lot more than I did, so when I was recently offered a copy out of the blue, I didn’t really have to consider my response for very long… and now I have a slice of Marbled Walnut Sheet Cake too.

This was Perry’s own exchange puzzle at IPP26 in Boston and it resembles, rather nicely, a corner slice of neatly iced walnut cake. As you’d expect of a walnut cake, it’s made of, err, walnut, complete with, I think, maple frosting. A classic combination in any kitchen.

It’s worth spending a little time admiring the packaging, complete with its nutritional information – there’s a lot of fibre in there! And a bit of crushed bugs…

Look at it carefully and you’ll spot some trademark, slightly impossible, dovetails in the centres of the walnut sides, and there appears to be something inside there rattling.

If you’ve solved a few of Perry’s dovetails before it should take you too long to solve, but this one does have a neat little kicker to it. Get past that and you’ll expose the little void inside which carries a cute little bit of treasure – which may have been what you heard rattling around inside there at the beginning…

The tolerances are quite amazing on this little box – it has a void inside, it’s a box! – it’s definitely worth bearing the notes about caring for the puzzle and caring for the puzzler in mind as the sharp, pointy bits are indeed very sharp and very pointy!

Definitely another classic bit of baked goodness from the master confectioner.