Saturday 25 December 2021

The 2021 Christmas post

WelL I never! HOw did that happen? It’s Christmas! Time to kick Off your shoes and see what Santa left in your stocKing… even if it’s all still a wee bit weird, with COVID, and stuff…    bit.

Some things change. Some things don’t. Some things shouldn’t.     ly/

Either way, I wish you and your Clan a wonderfulLy Merry Christmas tOgether, and a fantaStically healthy, yEt puzzling, New YeaR.     allard

25122021   ;-)

Merry Christmas folks!

Wednesday 15 December 2021


We hosted our sixth Virtual Midlands Puzzle Party last weekend as the world was coming to terms with the latest Coronavirus variant. As we lurched from one level of lock-down and restrictions on international travel to another, it was probably inevitable that we’d be holding another MPP virtually… which is a bit of a let-down for the usual gang who can’t get together in person to wind one another up, but it does mean that we can get together with our friends from quite literally around the world – and they didn’t disappoint!

For the first session we had Stefan join from Wyoming where it was 3am and Louis T joining from New Zeeland where it was 11pm – and that’s not to mention our regulars Tyler, Ken and Brian from almost as far away.

As has now become customary, we ran three sessions spread out during the course of the day in Great Britainland – with a couple of two-hour breaks between sessions to allow for refuelling and caffeinating.

The first half of the morning session was a bit of round table chat on how we’d got into puzzling – I was definitely one of the relative newbies in the class as a collector of merely a single decade… with some admitting to having been hooked for up to 5 decades – which is an awfully long time to have spent puzzled!

After that round of chit chat Jack Krijnen stepped up to present his work on creating his Phoenix Family Burr set (which you can read about over here). Jack had intended to deliver his presentation at the Dutch Cube Day a couple of weeks ago, but the latest Covid guidance led the organisers to re-think the idea of herding a large number of adults into a small classroom for the usual lectures… DCD’s loss was our gain as Jack offered to do the presentation for us seeing as how it was already all teed up. It wasn’t a hard offer to consider!

Jack had taken a series of photographs literally all the way through the process of making every single aspect of the burr sets: from making the sticks for the burr pieces through to making the inlaid Phoenix on the box lids… Jack showed us his workspace and the different tooling used for the various processes – it’s really humbling to see what someone with a modest amount of space (and obviously shed-loads of talent) can produce with a few bits of hobbyist machinery. I’d always imagined a need for big heavy pieces of machinery but Jack manages to get away with literally just table-top devices and a lot of ingenuity.

Before I saw Jack’s presentation, I thought I appreciated the amount of work and care that had gone into the burr set but I’m afraid I was massively underestimating it – having seen the extent of the process, I’m gobsmacked.

After his presentation there was plenty of time for Q&As around his choices of process, how he’d chosen the piece selection (carefully! – given some of the designs require the different axes to be coloured differently to enforce unique solutions) and a discussion about how a presentation like this really didn’t work for his sequential discovery boxes. <D’Oh! Spoiler Alert!>   Thanks Jack!

…after a lunch break for those of us in Greater Britain, and an opportunity to wake the dog and take him out for an early morning walk in Wyoming, we reconvened for the afternoon session. Peter Hajek had agreed to give us a 15-minute talk on some of the puzzles in his new book on puzzle boxes “Enter if You Can: The Art of Puzzle Boxes.” To be honest when he said he’d give us 15 minutes I was hoping it would be a lot longer, but I didn’t want to scare him off so we went with that… and then we sort of let him go and just talk about a topic that he is clearly very passionate about in the hope that he’d use up a lot more than his 15 minutes… like I said – he’s clearly very passionate about the topic!

He talked about some of the thinking behind the book and what he was hoping to achieve with it, and then stepped through each of the main sections pausing to give a little colour on what they contained, mentioning particular favourites and then pointing out a little easter egg he was rather proud of: did you notice the pages are sandwiched between two pictures of a pair of trick opening bookends – one open and one closed?

After the canter through the book he showed us a spoiler-free teaser of the locked version of the book before showing us a couple of recent arrivals in the shape of rather unusual variations on a couple of the puzzles featured in the book… only for Peter W to produce a similarly unusual version from his cabinet in Canada to show Peter.

Once again, we had plenty of time for folks to quiz Peter, ask his opinions and soak up some of the deep knowledge he’s clearly amassed on the topic that he so obviously adores – Thanks Peter!

The second half of the afternoon slot was given over to a Wotsit quiz run by Rob and Frank… Wotsits for those not in the know are things we tease puzzlists with by asking them to work out what these things are and giving vaguely unhelpful clues to lead them astray. Obviously this works best with things that aren’t immediately obvious what they are unless you happened to have seen one before (else it’s a pretty short game and not really much fun!). Rob’s been collecting Wotsits for a while now and has a couple of crates of them to amuse visiting puzzlists – there are usually a bunch lurking around whenever you visit him.  

He'd chosen a bunch of nicely obscure items to display to all, answer some questions and then Frank would put up the multiple-choice answers for us to choose from – it was remarkable how many of them involved hamsters! Pretty much all of the items produced a jolly good laugh either during the introduction and questioning, or when reading the potential answers, or afterwards when trying to work out how some of the wrong answers could be made to work. Thanks Rob – that was a good laugh!

The evening session saw the reappearance of the Toorenburg following a bit of kip, and he treated us to views of the antipodean museum and shop and even a quick wander around outside to show us the stunning setting… mental note: must go visit Louis and Sue over there!

Our first event in the evening session was an update from George and Roxanne on the developments at the Puzzle Palace Museum(s) – and while Rox was downplaying the progress since her last update, there’s clearly been a heck of a lot more work and things are looking quite nicely squared away almost everywhere.

There was a special mention of the Bulgarian burr-ish tables that now adorn most of the rooms in the museum from a firm called Praktrik – I’d seen a couple of their designs online and it was fab to see them in a proper puzzling context in the museum – they definitely look the part and fit in with all the other puzzling goodness in there… definitely worth the extensive assembly efforts that some of them demanded - good job George!

We also got to hear about the documentary film that had just been shot about George and Rox and their work on the museum – definitely something to keep an eye out for in about 6- or 8-months’ time… Thanks guys!

The final event of the day was a quiz that Marc had pulled together for us with a little help from Frank… Marc had been teed up to present it all but he got called away to an emergency on the internet at the end of the afternoon session and was looking at not being able to be there for his slot in the evening session – so Frank picked up the reins, brushed up on how Marc has set things up and got ready to present the quiz for Marc… only for Marc to re-join us at almost the perfect time and let Frank off… I suspect that wasn’t the sort of excitement that any of us was hoping for!

Marc ran a highly entertaining quiz that saw questions on hamsters (obviously!), IPP geography (albeit we had a complaint from the pedant corner the following morning pointing out that one of our answers had been wrong – SERIOUSLY?! – If there was only one wrong, I’d be thoroughly AMAZED!). There was a Dickens or Chickens round (do you know your Dickens from your chickens?) and a lot of fun with definitions of words you probably don’t use every day – aphthong or aglet anyone? (Apparently the former is not a Brass Monkey in skimpy lingerie – get that image out of your head! – You’re welcome!)

At the end of a hotly-contested battle Steve came out on top, followed closely by Tamsin and George B – although I may well have got that wrong given the pseudonyms being used – no doubt someone will correct me!

All in all, another excellent quiz worthy of the good belly laughs it produced – cheers Marc (and Frank-in-reserve!).

Links to the videos for those who couldn’t make it / slept through any of the sessions:

Morning session

Afternoon session

Evening session

Saturday 4 December 2021

Lunsford’s Lovelies

Alan Lunsford has been selling little 3D printed sequential discovery puzzles through his Etsy shop for a while now… but I’ve struggled to purchase any of them given they’re so darned popular. A little while back Louis gave me a set of Alan’s Cop Out puzzles and I thought they were quite fun, so I’ve been keeping an eye on his shop for new stock and finally managed to order myself a copy of Mighty Pin and Bolt Action a few weeks ago… and I rather like them both!

They’re both 2 inches cubed, quite light and they rattle a lot! Definitely a sign of a whole lot of puzzling stuff going on inside there… each comes with a little instruction card setting out the goal and some handling suggestions like “Don’t use external tools” and “Store below 40 degrees Celsius” – this being England, I can probably safely ignore at least one of those instructions! :-) Alan’s puzzles are all beautifully printed with neatly embossed names – these guys look good and invite you to play with them…

So let’s dive in – starting with Bolt Action which has a protruding bolt just above the name, along with a number of intriguing looking holes scattered around the sides of the cube. One large hole has a coin peeking out of it which is either a 3D printed AL token if you’re ordering from outside the US, or a US quarter if you’re inside the USA (thanks to the joys(not!) of shipping anything internationally with currency inside it).

Given that bolt is just begging for some action – heck, it’s even in the title – you might as well have at it… and remove the little guy – and that starts a wonderful little journey that sees you finding a bunch of tools and some very interesting ways to use them… every now and then you’ll find yourself wondering how the heck to progress but a careful inspection of the tools and the various combinations of holes and other little interesting features will have you heading in the right direction without chasing your tail too much. (I’m here all day…)

Releasing the coin is a fun action and you might well be tempted to think you’re all done, but a reminder from the little instruction card will have you searching for something to make you smile… and you’ll realise that you’re actually a little way from finishing this puzzle… the final step is a lovely little surprise that really should make you smile… and then pop it all back together again for the next puzzlist.

Mighty Pin also has a bolt sticking out of the side of it, a number of oddly shaped holes around the various sides of the cube, and it too has a square window with a token/coin peeking through it. Interestingly this one seems to be made up of two halves which wiggle a bit relative to one another, but definitely won’t come apart…

Once again, you might as well start with that rather prominent protruding bolt and see where that takes you…

This time things really start to move and if you’re careful, you might even find the puzzle’s little namesake. The discoveries and wonderfully engineered uses for the various tools you find along the way will definitely test your puzzling chops, and probably your test your boldness too…

By the end of the journey you really do have to smile at Alan’s ingenuity and just how precisely every little aspect of this is thought out - you have to follow the path he’s laid out for you, and each step along the way is a positive one – you’re never asked to just wing it on a prayer – trust me on that one and you won’t find yourself down an alley you might struggle to back out of!

Another delightful little journey all crammed into eight cubic inches of 3D printed goodness.

…all of which really makes me want to get my hands on a copy of Unsafe Deposit somehow…

Sunday 28 November 2021

Gear Box

A couple of months ago I’d asked Wil to send me a couple of things off his latest update and at the end of my note, I’d asked him if there was “anything else that I just had to buy at the moment…” He duly replied to tell me that he did indeed have something that I ought to buy and by coincidence it didn’t have a name yet, so he’d decided that it would be called the “Anything Else Box” – and as Wil has never once given me a bad suggestion, I added it to the order and eagerly awaited its arrival.

A few days later I found a handsome box with twelve intriguing gears on the lid – there are three rows, with each row having four meshed gears – and a set of connectors ensures that the navigating pins are ganged together between the rows – so the pins in a specific column all need to move up and down in unison… which is great because it dramatically cuts down on the possible moves at any one point in the process… and it also means that you need to go through quite a few moves to find a solution…

It seems pretty clear that this is a box, and that by manipulating those gears and their connectors, you should be able to unlock the lid… in its fully locked state, the connectors are in a position that allows the acrylic lid to slot neatly into place – ensuring that if you want it neat and tidy, you’re probably at the furthest possible state from being able to actually open the thing… nice touch!

Remove the lid (– that’s not supposed to be part of the puzzle, Nick!) and begin to fiddle with those gears – given the paths through the gears, it looks like you’ll be wanting to get all of the gears pretty much to the opposite ends of their travel… and that you’ll need to both rotate them and manipulate those connectors… however, being meshed gears within the rows, they will obviously move in opposite directions to their neighbour – which means you really need to keep a cool head when you’re trying to work out which way you’re wanting things to go at any point… and you will need to think about that quite a lot in my experience.

I’m pretty sure those paths and the order of the gears are constructed to confuse – I found myself going backwards and forwards several times as I thought I was heading in the right direction only to find that I should have done something else before this particular set of moves to release a later move, so I’d need to backtrack and try again…

…and there was a whole lot of backtracking because I kept finding myself up against a position that couldn’t be improved from where I was…

…and in spite of all that backtracking, I still didn’t find myself getting into that normal Zen-space of mindlessly navigating an n-ary puzzle – this one kept me on my toes all the way through and it almost felt like you were having to work things from first principles the whole time…

When you do finally get to where you think you want to be, there’s a sneaky little step at the end that might leave you confused for a while once again until you finally release the locking mechanism and open the box – and at that point you really do need to admire Jean-Claude’s impressively efficient design that puts all of the mechanism inside a really slim lid… which leaves LOTS of space for putting something surprising inside the box for the next puzzlist to discover.

A damn fine recommendation from Wil that’s now more widely available as the Gear Box – it’s always going to be the Anything Else Box for me though…

Saturday 20 November 2021

Window Lock

Several weeks back at our last Virtual MPP, Peter Hajek told us about a new puzzle lock from Dick Hensel called the Window Lock. Peter had been chatting with Dick  through some of its development and wanted us all to know that Dick would shortly be ready to begin selling them if any of us were interested.

He gave us all Dick’s contact details and encouraged us to reach out, so shortly after the session ended, reach out, I did… and a couple of weeks later I had a copy of Dick’s latest wooden creation in my grubby paws.

Window Lock is about the same size as his previous puzzle locks, but this one really stands out for it’s deep red (padauk?) colouring and the fact that there’s a large window covering the front of the lock. Seems kinda generous, almost -putting all of the gubbins inside on fairly clear display… and yet in spite of that, it’s a really fun puzzle!

The window gives you a clear view of what’s stopping the shackle from opening, and you can see what’s blocking that in turn... A little manipulation will get things to begin moving and then it gets interesting, because there’s no apparent way to do what you want to do… and there are some spare bits and pieces inside that lock that don’t appear to perform any useful function… 

Welcome to Window Lock!

That’s where your puzzling fun begins – you’ll need to work out how to use all those things together, and what order to do things in in order to finally release the shackle. 

I found myself going round and round several times before I really had a clear picture of what I needed to do.

It’s a delightful sequence that literally uses every single little feature inside that lock – take my advice, don’t be too eager to jump to the end because I guarantee you’ll miss something along the way and be forced to go backwards…

Saturday 13 November 2021

Maze Bolt+

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you’ll be aware that Roger D has been coaxed back into making puzzles again – so after years of puzzlers chasing a limited number of copies of Roger’s classic puzzles – and their price spiralling ever-skyward on the usual auction sites – Wil has offered them for sale at eminently reasonable prices, and has pretty much serviced all the pent-up demand that was out there – much to the delight of puzzlers everywhere (hey, I managed to plug a hole in my little Roger collection) and no doubt the absolute dismay of the flippers keen to make a quick buck.

And it was good…

But then a couple of weeks ago Wil reached out to me and offered me something rather unexpected – a totally new puzzle from Roger… so I mortgaged a kidney and soon enough a well-packaged lump of aluminium and brass was delivered to my doorstep.

Wil explained that Roger had been working on this design some time ago but hadn’t quite managed to get to the point where he was happy with it… until a recent collaboration with Jean-Claude Constantin provided the necessary breakthrough and Maze Bolt+ was born.

A short while later four prototypes had been produced for testing and, thanks to Wil, one of them ended up on my doorstep... and I get to play with the first new Roger D puzzle in many years! <Cue stupid big grin!>

First impressions: this is a big aluminium bolt – it stands about 7.5 inches tall and it’s a heavy brute. Do. Not. Drop. This. On. Your. Toe. (Or indeed on any piece of furniture you’re rather taken with.) There’s a chunky brass nut that spins freely at the base and an obvious maze cut into the shaft of the bolt, and finally a little RD logo inside a hexagon on one of the bolt’s six faces. Paying a bit more attention to the maze shows that it should be pretty simple to navigate through it with four potential exits apparent at the end of the bolt…

So far so good… but I’m quite the curious sort so I spend a while examining the bits of the maze I can see even further, and I can’t find any evidence of foul play so I dive in and find a way into the maze, spinning the nut around the shaft and then through the maze… which seems even more elementary than I’d thought it was and without almost any effort at all, the nut is right up at the top of the bolt, only it won’t come off… my smile widens – game on!

I spend a while back-tracking and looking for alternate routes, and manage to find some, but it turns out they all lead absolutely nowhere as well… “which is interesting”. [Copyright LB]  

It’s only when I engage serious puzzle-mode that I start spotting things that don’t behave the way I’m expecting them to, and that scares me a little because up until now I had a very clear mental model of what I was dealing with… exploiting some of those discoveries leads to a wonderful “A-Ha!” moment, and with a little more chicanery you can remove the nut entirely and see exactly why things don’t behave quite as you expect them to…

And if it all stopped there, this would be a pretty darn good puzzle – and if it was called Maze Bolt, that would probably be it… only there’s a little plus at the end of the name and that little plus really puts the cherry on the cake – and makes this an excellent puzzle.

Sure, there’s heaps of pedigree in the design(er) – but this one doesn’t rest on those laurels in the slightest – it earns respect and provides delight – Roger is back!

If you’re interested in acquiring one of these for your own little hoard, I’m afraid you’re going to need to be patient as they won’t be available until Q2 next year… at this stage there are literally only four prototypes around and it’s going to take a while to produce these big old lumps of brass and aluminium. They’re also not going to be particularly cheap. (You saw the bit about them being big old lumps, right?) You know who to reach out to if you want one…