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
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!>
…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
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
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: