Sunday, 9 May 2021

Brass Monkey Four

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to be given a prototype copy of Brass Monkey Four in a little care package from Ali and Steve (along with a whole bunch of 3D printed puzzling goodness – but that’s another blog altogether!).

The lads were pretty sure they had it all sussed and they were keen to inflict it on a tame puzzler, so I got to have an early play with it.

Big grin time.

This one looks more or less just like all of the others in the series – look closely at the ends and you can tell them apart, but a casual glance might let you think there were a bunch of identical puzzles on the shelf…

The first one was a pretty standard burr – just nice and big and heavy. Number Two was different. Number Three, it turned out, could bite and grew a bit of a reputation for requiring a little respect – definitely the mark of a good puzzle.

…and Number Four – well, let’s just say that we left plain old burrs behind a long time ago! This one has a delightful subtlety that may well elude the most motivated of puzzlers for quite a while – but when you do find the first little figurative thread to start tugging gently on, it provides the loveliest of “A-Ha!” moments…

…but the smiles keep growing as you wander through the solution, for wander you must – and if you aren’t smiling broadly by the time you solve this puzzle, there’s most certainly something wrong with you.

The lads have put something special into this puzzle, and then disguised it to look just like all the other puzzles in the series so far… that takes a holy trinity of cunning and craftsmanship and fine engineering.

This one’s definitely my favourite in the series – there’s enough challenge to feel that you’ve earned the solution, but not so much that you feel you want it all over and done with – this is one you want to savour and solve and re-solve… it’s excellent!

After I’d solved it the lads pointed something out to me on the prototype that seriously wouldn’t have bothered 99.9% of the puzzlers out there, but the lads are perfectionists, so they were tweaking the design again to make sure it was absolutely rock solid in anyone’s hands… and now it’s ready for everyone – over here.

Get one.

You will thank me.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

Basket redux

After spending a goodly while solving Akaki’s Picnic Baskets over the Easter weekend, a few more have arrived to keep me amused.

First off, Eric Fuller made up a mini set of picnic baskets with pieces for Egg, Sandwich and Wine. The basket is beautifully made in Zebrawood, with a floating Maple bottom, and as you’d expect from the wood-meister, the tolerances are sublime – so sublime in fact that I made a rather embarrassing discovery.

When the puzzle arrived, I set about assembling the three different challenges, assuming that, as I’d already solved these in the 3D printed versions that Ali and Steve had sent over, this would be a walk in the park… and indeed Egg and Sandwich were relatively straight-forward after I’d managed to summon up the appropriate little grey cells and spotted some vaguely memorable combinations of pieces.

Sub-consciously I’d left Wine for last because that one had given me so much trouble the last time around. Fortunately all of that effort had left the solution well-ingrained in my mind so I stepped through the process smiling a little smugly as I went – until I got to the last piece, which didn’t quite behave the way I was expecting it to – I was pretty certain I remembered how that final piece went in, and it just wouldn’t on this copy…

At this point I start thinking that there are three possible reasons for this:

  1. I’ve misremembered something along the way – UNLIKELY given the pain it extracted on the first solve – it took me ages!
  2. Eric’s got his tolerances wrong – see above – deemed IMPOSSIBLE.
  3. I’ve cooked the solution on the 3D printed copy by unwittingly flexing something… bugger!

OK, so go back to basics – first of all establish whether there’s an alternate possible layout of the pieces… and rather swiftly deduce that there isn’t… so turn attention to orientation and order of insertion… and promptly spend almost as much time again on trying to come up with a different way of putting those same pieces into the same basket… but I do manage to find a very different approach to the one I was pursuing, and there’s (another) excellent little “A-Ha!” when I finally click.

Akaki’s Wine Basket definitely kicked my butt.

Next up is another pair of 3D printed baskets courtesy of Steve and Ali – thanks Lads!!

Nachos was a set of pieces designed by William Hu after playing with Akaki’s Picnic pieces and feeling like he could up the ante a little, and perhaps give Akaki a bit of a challenge in his own backyard. (I may well be making some of that up!)

The pieces on Nachos stand out from all the previous pieces because some of them have diagonal-cut half cubes, which is interesting…

Finding a potentially viable assembly isn’t too challenging – but finding a way to get the pieces inside the basket, is. I found myself going through several cycles of “Hang on. Perhaps there IS another assembly because they definitely won’t get in there in this assembly,” only to end up back where I’d started just trying even harder to find a way to get those pieces inside the basket.

It's definitely worth asking yourself why those pieces are shaped that way… for some of them the answer will already be obvious, but it was while thinking about the others that I found a promising vein of ore to mine… and the eventual little dance of the pieces inside the basket is really interesting, and rather rewarding.

Peppermint Basket is Akaki’s mic-dropping response to Nachos. This one pares back the problem to three simple pieces – sure there might be some half-cubes in there – but three pieces?! With that few pieces, there really aren’t a lot of ways that you can build something that will fit in a 3*3*3 space with a complete top surface. You could literally count them on one hand, really easily, even if you’re a clumsy woodworker!

Given the restrictions you’ve got from the pieces, there are some obvious moves that sort of present themselves, even though they’re rather novel and you probably won’t have seen them before… which sort of took care of two pieces for me and I knew where the third one needed to be, I just couldn’t see how the heck to get it there.

I am embarrassed to admit that I did wonder at one point whether the “rule” about the top surface being complete might not be required for this one, but thought that someone would surely have mentioned that if it had been the case… so I persist.

And I come back to it several times over the course of many days… until I find something almost inelegant that opens up a new line of attack, and that’s the breakthrough I need… 

Peppermint is definitely the pièce de résistance – solve that one and you can call yourself a proper puzzler!

 

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Virtual MPP 4

With the world still either firmly in the grips of a global pandemic or beginning to emerge from one, depending on where you currently find yourself, there was zero chance of holding a physical meet-up, so last weekend we hosted our fourth Virtual Midlands Puzzle Party – an opportunity for friends from around the world to have a chat about puzzles and enjoy a few hours together.

Some elements of the established routine for VMPPs remained – we still had three two-hour sessions over the course of the day to allow folks from around the world to join in for at least some of the day without having to get up in the middle of the night – but we decided to flip the program around a bit so that folks who weren’t able to join the evening session could be subjected to enjoy our infamous Pu(b)zzle quiz and the evening folks could have some gentle chit-chat about puzzles they’re currently enjoying.

We kicked off the first session at 10am and it didn’t take long for us to have about 25 puzzlers from around the world – including a few from the US and Canada – in spite of the fact that it was quite literally stupid o’clock over there. Tyler, Robert and Ken were surprisingly spritely given that most mortals are fast asleep at 4 or 5 in the morning!

First order of the day was a guided tour of Michel’s new puzzle cave. Having recently moved into his new home (across the street from the old one) he's been able to set up a dedicated puzzle cave and was keen to show us around. The tour started out front with a view of his old house and the massive trek of probably 20 metres he’d undertaken to move house – and a quick peek at the pentomino house number designed by George and printed by Oskar. A quick stop in the living room showed Michel’s favoured puzzling spot, complete with several partially solved puzzles, before heading off into the puzzle cave itself.

Michel gave us a nicely-paced tour of his various puzzle cabinets and sets of map drawers showing how various bits of his collection are organised either according to designer (there’s a BIG selection of Oskar’s in there) or type (similarly, Michel’s clearly a massive fan of n-ary puzzles – he has four copies of the Hexadecimal puzzle) or maker (there’s a serious collection of Thinkfun puzzles!).

One thing that caught my eye was a number of cast concrete puzzles (cubes, burrs and assembly puzzles) by Albert Meijer that looked really striking – Michel says the pieces might be a bit brittle so best played with carefully, but they look really unusual.

After the tour and the inevitable Q&A we saw the return of Frank’s ever-popular (well that’s what Frank says) Pu(b)zzle quiz – this time with even more puzzle puzzles, including an anagram round that brought us the delights of BILE CUTTLER and TOMBOY SWANKERS and a maze round that had us doing mental arithmetic badly along the way… and in the end seeing our resident maths teacher Mike taking the laurels.

After the quiz Tomas treated us to an impromptu tour of his shop and a bit of a chat about how a small town in Finland can support one of the only dedicated puzzle shops in the world. (Spoiler: the internet helps a bit.) There were comments about the seemingly unobtainable copies of things like Popplocks just sitting there on his shelves waiting for a puzzler to take them off his hands… and then he brought out some classic Strijbos puzzles that have been selling for silly money in auctions over the past few years all currently in stock at Sloyd.fi.

The morning session ended with what looked like Ali’s house on fire – except it wasn’t – he was barbecuing for the handful of puzzlers that had gathered – well-distanced – in his back yard to enjoy our VMPP together… I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who was highly jealous of the lads’ BBQ!

The afternoon session started with some chatter about the pandemic and vaccines, with Pantazis telling us of an as-yet undocumented side effect of the vaccine: he’d developed a liking for physics! Pantazis also did a fabulous job of generating interest in visiting Kastellerizo, offering his services as the island’s only official guide in case the lure of visiting one of the few puzzle museums in the world wasn’t enough. There was a bit of chat around 3D printing and that’s probably identified a need for a future session on different perspectives in 3D printing puzzles – which seems to be getter ever more accessible.

Jane Kostick was the main attraction for the afternoon session. She started with a talk on the relationships between John’s stars and her various wooden designs – showing how each is effectively a model of the other, even though they look totally different. Jane has a wonderful knack of making the geometry of the different designs all make perfect sense and I love the way she can explain the relationships between them and actually show you how each relates to the other.

She spent a while showing us how the stars are assembled from individual wires in a wooden jig – showing us all of the different symmetries along the way and describing the different jigs she uses. She made it all sound wonderfully straight-forward but if my experience of trying to assemble them in her living room a few years ago was anything to go by, that level of expertise comes from a lot of practice!

After the theory, she took us down into the basement to show us how she cuts the wires for the stars and then gave us a live demonstration of solderwelding the ends of the stars – definitely the most dangerous demo we’ve ever had at an MPP – Jane wrestling with an oxy-acetylene torch while chatting to us on a precariously perched iPhone with just a pair of sunglasses for protection. (Thankfully no iPhones or craftsmen were harmed in the making of that video!)

After the solderwelding demo, she showed us a bit of the finishing process for the stars, starting with a barrel of wonderfully dangerous looking (there’s definitely a theme here! :-) ) acid. Then there was a bit of multi-stage polishing before the final product is packaged up ready for shipping around the world.

From there Jane took us into her workshop out back and talked us through her process from big boards down to little sticks, including whipping up a quick perfectly dimensioned stick with several jigs along the way to get the angles and lengths exactly as she wants them. There’s a huge collection of jigs on a shelf set up to do a couple of things each, very precisely. Something I found interesting was the fact that Jane also uses some of the Byrnes Model Machines for a number of the stages in her process – something she shares with Brian Menold.

There was a demo of the press fitting of the magnets she uses and a bit of a chat about the need for microscopically different drill sizes depending on the type of wood she’s fitting the magnets into in order to get a strong enough grip without splitting the wood in the process. There’s clearly a lot of experience going on in there…

During the walk around the woodshop Jane was keen to point out the wood from friends’ trees and from her own yard that she’s been curing so that she can incorporate it in a future project – making something beautiful out of something special.

I really enjoyed seeing Jane talking so animatedly about the classes she runs for kindergarten children to teach them about some of the more interesting shapes she uses in her designs, getting them to make up moulds with magnetic assemblies and the fill them with plasticene to see what the internal shapes are.

The evening session was literally just a couple of hours for us to chat about puzzles and puzzling. Everyone took a turn to tell us what they’d been puzzling on recently and anything that they particularly recommended. I got a fair amount of stick over the fact that I’d made zero progress on Jack’s Tippernary Mystery Tour. Meanwhile Goetz was raving about it…

Tyler didn’t have any new puzzles to tell us about, but was quite excited at the prospect of having just ordered a couple of Byrnes Model Machines so there should be a steady supply of new puzzles in his future once he gets those dialled in nicely.

Marc admitted to being stuck on Space Case, but wasn’t ready to accept any assistance yet so he just received a bit of sympathy. Tamsin was enjoying Blinded II and Louis was keen to sing the praises of Akaki’s baskets. Frank proudly announced that he’d managed to return Geneva back to a pile of separated pieces – something he’d been struggling to do over the past few weeks – we’d been “encouraging” him on our weekly games night chats.

Haym couldn’t say enough good things about Chiral 2+2 – one that I need to spend some more time on – I cannot come close to seeing how the heck I can weedle a fourth piece into that frame…. Ali also admitted to really enjoying both Akaki’s Baskets and getting to grips with a recent print of Stewart Coffin’s Slot Machine – another cracking puzzle. Michael showed us some early results of his experimentation with Altekruse pieces – I like the fact that he’s doing his experimenting in the real world rather than in BurrTools – proper old school analysis.

Toward the end of the session we had a bit of a philosophical discussion about our VMPPs and their future – I mused that we’ve been on a bit of a journey since the first one when we tried to cram as much puzzling into the three sessions as we could, and then over the next few we almost stepped back from that a bit, and it seems that folks still enjoy them just as much – and selfishly there’s a lot less pressure on the organisers to find stuff to fill the sessions – it seems that puzzlers really appreciate the opportunity just to hang out with their friends and chat… and while in the UK we might be starting to imagine that we might be able to come fully out of lockdown around the middle of the year, there might still be a place for these VMPPs from time to time – it seems there’s still a bit of a demand for them so we’ll need to make a plan for something more permanent I suspect.

A massive thank you to Michel, Frank, Tomas, Jane who helped make this a brilliant day with our puzzling mates. 

For anyone who wants to see recordings of the sessions, they're available on Youtube over here: 

Morning session              Afternoon session               Evening session

Monday, 19 April 2021

Akku

This one stood out for me from the latest Pelikan Workshop update.

From the ever fruitful (and somewhat devious) mind of Volker Latussek, we get Akku – the now familiar slightly lipped acacia box now comes with nine V-shaped maple pieces to be placed inside said-box, below said lips. Simples!

If you’re wondering about the name, akku is short for the German word for a battery, and you’re trying to put 9 V’s into a box – or make up a 9V battery – cute!

As you’d expect from the Pelikan-folks, this puzzle has excellent tolerances – put things in squarely and they slide neatly into place – try any unintended rotation or get things a bit squiffy and they’ll jam up on you nicely… don’t do it! The pieces and the box are pretty much rock-solid – which is super-helpful as I discovered!

The lips on the sides of the opening are about two thirds of a unit wide, which means there’s plenty of space to insert two pieces next to one another, but three won’t fit through at the same time… and there are nine V's to get in there…

Time to strategize – think about what needs to happen right at the end – what would things need to look like for that to happen and how you could possibly get to that point in the middle.

I spent quite a while working on that, and then trying increasingly adventurous ways of getting things to happen, and at some point I made what I came to think was probably a fatal error – I pushed a piece a little too hard and found it clicked neatly into the spot that I wanted it in… only I couldn’t get it out of there… cue mild panic, visions of having to break a piece or one of the lips off, or even worse.

I spent quite a while trying to “encourage” (my favourite new puzzling descriptor!) the pieces out of the box and realised I was getting absolutely nowhere… realising that pushing things in is a lot easier than trying to pull them out, this teaches us all a great lesson, folks – don’t use (ANY) force!

Now if the universe was a fair place, I’d be gubbed right now and I would actually need to break something in order to get back on the ole puzzling trail – fortunately for me, the universe decided that it was my lucky day and it smiled briefly upon me… and as I was idly fiddling around with the pieces now well-and-truly trapped inside the box I noticed I could change the arrangement subtly, which opened up some new moves and I found I was able to extract them rather neatly, with no force whatsoever.

Retracing those steps put the pieces back into the box with zero force and actually had them exactly where I wanted them for the final few moves I was hoping would be possible, et voila. Solved!

Now let me state for the record that I did not deserve to solve it. I did a stupid thing and instead of the universe punishing me for it as it normally does, it smiled gently on me and showed me the way. It showed me some really interesting piece moves that I probably wouldn’t have thought to try if I hadn’t found myself in a totally impossible situation – they’re really interesting and make use of all of the space that you have.

Nine simple pieces to pack into a box with virtually no restrictions whatsoever – yet it’s a lovely challenge that rewards some Think(c)ing – what’s not to like?

…now I’m off to buy a lottery ticket in the hopes that the universe is still smiling on me.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Easter Baskets

Most of my puzzling time over the Easter long weekend was spent packing baskets – which seemed entirely appropriate! There was also quite a bit of chocolate (puzzle-solving fuel) around that weekend and as a result, plenty of baskets were packed.

First off was 5L Basket – designed by Koichi Miura and made by MINE… a combination that has already provided some excellent puzzles in the past so my hopes were set high. The family resemblance to 4L Basket (2019 Puzzlers’ Award and Jury 1st Prize Winner) is immediately obvious from the looks of the box and the pieces – albeit this one’s a bit wider and doesn’t have the slots on the sides.

With the restrictions inside the box (which MINE respectfully asked us not to show), there’s going to be just enough space for the 5 trominoes to fit inside the box – and if it weren’t for that pesky handle right down the centre of the box this would be a rather simple, possibly even trivial exercise.

It’s pretty straight forward to get most of the pieces in there, but there’s always one left that you can’t quite finagle in.

It won’t take you long to realise that some form of rotations will be required – and then the fun really starts.

I spent ages trying to doing some way complex things, found some very tight moves (don’t!) and then thought to myself something along of the lines of “wouldn’t it be great of you could get some pieces like this, and then just do that…” – and that turned out to be a rather neat little means of significantly reducing my search-space and with that new focus, finding a neat, legit way of getting all five L’s into the basket was obvious.

The rest of the weekend’s puzzling came courtesy of Ali and Steve.

Ali’s been getting into the delights of 3D printing recently, and knowing that I don’t have a 3D printer of my own, he’s been offering me copies of the stuff he’s been printing for himself that he thinks are particularly worthwhile puzzles. Most recently that has involved a number of picnic baskets courtesy of Messrs Ustjuzhanin and Kuumeri. Andrey’s designs have been on Ishino’s wonderful site and Akaki has placed all of his designs on Thingiverse for all to print and play for free – nice! As a result these baskets has been cropping up all over social media and even made an appearance on a highly reputable puzzle blog (so they must be good) – although the clincher for me was Ali’s recommendation – he’s never been wrong!

Ali duly printed me off a set of pieces and some baskets, Steve packaged them all up and shipped them over to the Midlands and over the course of the Easter weekend I enjoyed working my way through them.

I started with the three Mushroom baskets designed Andrey Ustjuzhanin – it seemed like the sensible thing to do given that they’d been Akaki’s inspiration for the subsequent designs… and I think they serve as a great introduction to the series. They allow you to gently get to grips with the sizes and shapes and help you learn about the general interactions of the different sorts of pieces in the basket.

Essentially, you’re only really dealing with a 3*3*3 space, with a restriction outside of that space. The handle hovers one unit above the target space and is one unit wide, but importantly for later, significantly less than one unit deep. The baskets are all identical for these puzzles so you could really re-use the same one with each set of pieces… and it should be said that all of the designs (now) require the top surface of the basket to be complete. (One of the earlier versions had a little hole in it – that’s been “fixed”.)

The three Mushroom Baskets don’t require rotations and actually provide a nice little introductory challenge… in fact I found it really interesting that seemingly similar shapes of pieces between some of the challenges require totally different solutions… “which is interesting” as my friend Laurie used to say.

Having dispatched the three Mushroom Baskets, I attacked Akaki’s offerings. I’d watched his videos introducing the designs (well worth a watch for his wonderfully dry sense of dead pan humour!) - here and here - I knew that he’d been inspired by Andrey’s designs, but wanted to add a twist to them and make them a little more “interesting”, and a little less pliable to BurrTools’ wiles.

I started with the lower numbers, thinking that they might sort of increase in difficulty and quickly found myself coming rather unstuck! So I skipped a few and tried my luck with some of the higher numbers and seemed to find a bit of mojo, so I kept at it until every now and then there be one I’d need to put to one side and come back to a little later…

On and off over the course of the weekend I’d pick up a few puzzles and then either add them to the slowly growing pile of solved baskets, or add them to the (slightly smaller!”) pile of shame… until I was left with just two, rather stubborn baskets, which I’ve subsequently learnt are the Vegetable Basket (I hate vegetables!) and the Wine Basket (mutter, mutter). I found those two really challenging and they ended up taking me significantly longer than the rest of them… which is interesting, very interesting. ;-)

So far, I’ve been through thirteen of Akaki’s designs and what absolutely blows me away is that every single solution needs something different – none of them is the slightest bit “samey” – think about that: they all use exactly the same basket and you’re packing a 3*3*3 space with a few pieces – but they’re all individually interesting and challenging… I reckon that is quite an achievement!

A definite doff of the cap is earned, Kuumeri-san.

A couple more designs have been recently added to canon – one by Will Hu and a riposte by Akaki – hopefully I’ll get a chance to have a bash at those in the near future.

Oh yeah, and if you don’t have a 3D printer of your own, or a really generous friend with one, Akaki has an Etsy shop where he’ll sell you his own prints.

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Juno's Crooked Six-Piece Burrs

Somewhere around the tail-end of December Juno released a few new puzzles on Pluredro and I wasn’t quite quick enough to pick up a copy of each, but I did manage to get a pair of the Crooked 6 Piece Burrs… which I thought was great.

Juno had released a remake of his original Crooked 6 Piece Burr along with a slightly souped-up pinned version…

 and while they may look alike, there is really no comparison between them at all.

The one is a polite, genteel puzzle that rewards some analysis and behaves like an absolute gentleman throughout the entire solving process. The other is a wolf in sheep’s clothing out to mug you and take your last shred of dignity – you’ve been warned.

The original one is the gentleman here. Taking it apart is a nice, predictable affair, and scrambling the pieces provides a gentle, relaxing solve. The piece shapes may be more than a little confusing – it certainly took me a while to get my head around how things were inter-related, but once you’ve mentally switched gears and got yourself thinking around corners, you’ll be fine!

There’s a little analysis of the pieces and then some logic required to decide how you’re going to try and reassemble the little guy – but pay it enough respect and it rewards without a lot of protest…

As I’ve said, it’s a delightful puzzle.

The pinned version is a different kettle of fish altogether.

Start playing around with the pinned version and it’s immediately clear that it ain’t going to come apart nearly as easily as the original version… those little pins in the name are there to claw on for dear life as you try and take the little guy apart – and while it isn’t tremendously tough to work out how to take it apart, it will absolutely kick you in the teeth in the process.

No matter how carefully you proceed, this little illegitimate child (see, PG friendly references!) is going to fly apart in a million pieces when you really don’t want it to. I was warned, and I proceeded carefully, and I still made use of some rather colourful language when it all let go rather spectacularly and gave me a messed-up pile of pieces.

And that’s the easy part… 

... the really hard part is putting the thing back together again… this time you’ll literally be finding those pins fighting you all of the way, trying to keep the jolly pieces apart – it is uncanny!

Playing with the original version is like a gentle game of chess with an old friend.

Playing with the pinned version is like the wildest rollercoaster ride you’ve ever taken – heaps of adrenaline along the way and you’re really glad when it’s all over!

Choose your poison carefully.

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Triple Chocolate Box

George Bell has a knack for designing mean puzzles that mess with my head – admittedly I’m setting a low bar here – but I suspect that his love of playing with spheres and truncated octahedra manage to confuse some others as well.

My latest puzzle from George’s Etsy shop was Triple Chocolate Box – his entry in the 2020 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design competition. This puzzle makes great use of George’s new 3D printer to produce the three black and white boxes adorned with your favourite brands of chocolate. Your task is to pack the 24 little (slightly wooden) chocolates into each of the three boxes in turn, so that their lids are fully closed. Of course George has helpfully joined those 24 little balls into six sets of differently shaped pieces, just so you aren’t bored to death by a trivial packing task.

Clearly the boxes presented provide a basic round, triangular and square shape for the packing, but the boxes are all slightly different heights… which is interesting.

When the puzzle arrived, the pieces were all snugly inside the Lindt box, and George’s helpful note suggested tipping the pieces out blindly before playing – and that’s great advice, but let me assure you, gentle puzzler, that even if you catch a view of the pieces as they come tumbling out, it will help you not a jot, because they do tumble rather chaotically and then lie there on your desk mocking you, of perhaps that was just me.

I started off with the round box and it took quite a while of fiddling and experimenting for me find some almost-solutions – and then some more experimentation to find an actual solution – and by now I’d found that I’d started getting the hang of how the different shapes interacted among layers of the packing and I actually felt like I was beginning to understand things with the first one solved…

…which is probably exactly what George was hoping, because when I moved on to the triangular box, I found that most of what I thought I knew, was pretty useless. Try as I might to get things to work in the second box, they wouldn’t… until I literally went right back to basics – and that really helped. So I built up a while new model of “how things worked” and managed to squeeze them all into the second box.

At this point I’m probably feeling a little smug and I dive into our old friend the Lindt box… after all, I’ve got two different packing schemas available to me so it’s just a case of finding the best one for the job and bashing through it…

Of course George strikes again – and soon enough you realise that neither of those is any use at all… so you head back to the drawing board yet again… the final box is pretty mean and the first two do a great job of gently leading you up the garden path before the third one positively crushes you. You’ll need what you learned on the first two, but you’ll need to find an altogether different approach, yet again.

It does provide an excellent sense of satisfaction when you finally find The Third Way and you can drop that final little piece neatly into place… what I love most about this puzzle is the fact that George’s three boxes force you into totally different ways of packing those little spheres together – each of them seemingly pretty compact, and all of them recycling the same set of pieces. 

It’s a great set of packing puzzles.

Saturday, 27 February 2021

The (even more) self-indulgent post...

Health Warning: this post is going to be significantly more self-indulgent than usual. There may not even be much talk of actual puzzles. This blog post is about this blog –I reckon I’ve earned the right to be a little more self-indulgent since today is the tenth anniversary of my first blog post – scroll down, it’s still there… and I’m rather proud of that. So indulge me, if you will…

Allard’s Puzzling Times started back in February 2011 – it had to be Allard’s Puzzling Times because Puzzling Times already had a taker on Blogspot at the time. Back then I was reading Brian P’s blog with great envy, Oli’s blog with much amusement and I was in awe of Rob’s amazing collection all over the web.

I decided right from the start that my blog was selfishly going to be about stuff that I like – and I’ve stuck to that over the years, and that’s why you won’t see me moaning about puzzles in the blog, because life’s too short for that! I just choose to write about the ones that I’ve enjoyed, ergo – if I am writing about a puzzle, it generally means I think it’s worthwhile – of course YMMV.

I also like telling stories about puzzles, like where they came from, how they were created or designed, who introduced me to them and so on – I suspect the very first one was that Elusive E story about Oli – it seems that Oli features rather often in my funny stories.

We all know that spoilers are a major no-no in a puzzle blog, and I think that I’ve managed to avoid them so far – well apart from the picture that may have spoiled the Elusive E in the write up on the very first MPP – which I was asked to remove quite quickly by someone I still haven’t met ten years on… but hey, he was polite, so I took it out. Having stressed the need to avoid spoilers, I try really hard to put things into my descriptions that people who’ve solved the puzzles will be able to identify with, without giving anyone who hasn’t, a hint… it’s a very fine line I try to tread.

From the beginning I thought that pictures were important and I’ve tried over the years to stick to the same standard white background (although the light tents and what-have-you have changed over the years as I’ve sought easier set-ups) and used the same £2 coin to give an indication of the size of the puzzles – well except for that one time, but I think I got away with it. ;-)  As a result, I can usually recognise my pictures whenever anyone “borrows” them – like the time when a re-seller used one of my pics on their web shop and hadn’t even noticed that the variant of the puzzle they were selling wasn’t actually the same as the one in my photo they’d swiped… they aren’t around anymore.

I really enjoy engaging with people through the blog – it’s a way of keeping in touch with old friends and for making new ones. I try and reply to most of the comments and generally didn’t have much of an issue with spam comments, until a bot wandered across my blog plastering adverts all over the comments, forcing me to moderate comments on posts older than a month or three. That cut down a lot of the spam, although there’s been a recent recurrence of spam-bots plastering what I assume is defamatory comments about someone in Italian on the current posts – I normally manage to delete those fairly quickly… I got trolled once, anonymously of course – although oddly they were even ruder in that comment about another blog, so I just suppressed it and moved on… if that’s the worst thing that’s happened in 10 years, I reckon I’m doing alright!

Over the past 10 years, there have been a total of 2 posts not written by me: Gerard gave me a write up on his Goblin’s Door that Shane had made for him, and Matt wrote about his Bernoulli Chest… every other blog post has been mine… all 654 of them (655 if you count this one). When I started, I hoped to average about one blog post a week, and some quick mental arithmetic says that I’ve managed to keep that up now for 10 years – something I’m probably quite proud of.

The blog has chronicled our Midlands Puzzle Parties over the years and how they’ve grown from a few guys in my dining room starting our own puzzle party because we weren’t worthy of getting invited to the International Puzzle Party(!) – through to having a huge bunch of international puzzlers joins us on their way to the London IPP – that was pretty darn cool. Of course, with a global pandemic having its way with us, the last three MPPs have all been via Zoom… progress! It’s also chronicled my trips to DCD, EPP, King’s Day at Wil’s and of course the IPPs we subsequently got invited to.

I’ve been running a Christmas challenge since the first Christmas on the blog – most of them were simple(!) guess the puzzle collages although more recently I’ve extended them a bit by adding a layer or two of puzzle on top of the simple identification… and this year I had the biggest ever selection of correct entries at 13 – shows you that puzzlers in lock-down need a puzzling fix!

Most of you won’t know this, but I indulge myself once a year and get a hard-copy printed of the previous year’s blog posts – as a physical reminder for myself of the things I’ve written about – they look nice on the shelf, and at least one visiting puzzler has worked his way through them all and seemed to enjoy them so they aren’t a total waste (I tell myself!).

Dave H will no doubt tell me that I’m doing it totally wrong, but I literally only ever put a single post on my FaceBook timeline when I put up a new blog entry – with one exception: I reposted the write-up for VMPP3 in the MPP group so I could tag Brian… I’ve never tried to drive any traffic at the blog – remember it’s my selfish pleasure – writing about the stuff I like, and if anyone else finds it interesting, that’s a bonus! There’s no monetisation on the blog anywhere – there are no affiliate links to suppliers’ sites with a kick-back for me and there are no ads on the blog – because that’s how I like it. In spite of that people still seme to find it and it’s been wonderful over the years meeting some of the puzzling greats and hearing them say that they enjoy my blog – I’ve really got a kick out of that.

So here we are after 10 years and the blog has had just north of a million page views all told (I’m a lightweight – see above!) and it currently gets around 20,000 page views a month. That’s increased in recent times, I suspect as a result of the recent renaissance with so many new folks being introduced to mechanical puzzles through YouTube. For interest: the most popular puzzle searches that end up at my blog are for Casino, Pachinko Box and Revomaze and the three most-viewed pages on the blog of all time are all Wil Strijbos puzzles: Revenge Lock, Lotus and Pachinko Box. (I reckon that says a lot about Wil’s designs!)

Thank you for indulging me… normal service will probably resume in due course.