Just over a week ago now we held our third virtual Midlands Puzzle Party – unable to get together in person, we invite our puzzling friends from around the world to join us on Zoom and either just chat about puzzles, play along with some vaguely puzzle-related activities (spoiler alert – some of those are really tenuous!) or just listen in to the banter – whatever floats your boat.
This time we stuck to more or less the same formula again for the morning afternoon and evening sessions, and Steve pointed out that we should probably consider playing around with the batting order a bit if we run another of these things so that the guys who can just about stay awake during the morning session get a go at the Pu(b)zzle Quiz next time and the folks who can only join us in the evening get a chance to have some general chit chat. We’ll probably stop short of judging the competitions before we release the challenges, although I’m not convinced that will necessarily change the ultimate winners given Big-Steve’s approach to scoring.
Helpfully I remembered to record the first session, so the recording of the morning session is over here for anyone who missed it.
At the end of the session we told folks about our Limerick competition – launched complete with rules in limerick form from the Big-Nick himself:
"There once was a puzzler called Nick",
Is how you must start your lim-rick.
Be clever, not crude.
And try to include...
Something puzzling or oxymoronic.
Nick and Steve had also pulled together a bunch of rebus puzzles for folks to try their hands on between the first two sessions – the full file is available over here for anyone who wants to have a bash at them.
Each page should clue to a puzzle designer and a puzzle name – for example:
…clued to STEW / ART / COUGH / INN / (a) WOOKIE / HOLE – so Stewart Coffin’s Wookie Hole. Some of them are wonderfully groan-worthy and Big-Steve did a fantastic job of guiding the afternoon audience through a live solve of them all – complete with some loud groans interspersed with some truly hearty guffaws. (Thanks to Nick and Steve for compiling those!)After the rebus solve, we handed over to Brian Menold for the main event: a talk about his puzzle-making and a tour of his workshop. Brian talked us through his beginning in puzzle-making back in 2007 when he was producing a gentle stream of puzzles, until something weird happened a few years later when all of a sudden he found his sales seemed to sky-rocket overnight - it turned out that one N Hutchison happened to write about a puzzle he’d recently acquired from Brian’s Wood Wonders store on his blog – and all of a sudden a bunch of puzzlers who hadn’t spotted Brian’s shop yet descended all at once in search of a puzzling fix… and the rest, as they say, is history! In spite of the fact that it’s registered as a business, Brian still runs Wood Wonders very much as a hobby – he’s doing what he enjoys… he doesn’t enjoy doing the same thing over and over and over again, so he only makes small runs of puzzles. He really likes working with beautiful looking woods, so he spends hours poring over the supplies available at his “local” suppliers (half a day’s drive away!) to pick the best-looking pieces of wood he can find… and its clear from listening to Brian describing all this that he really is enjoying crafting his puzzles. After a brief chat about the background and his approach, Brian took us outdoors to his workshop to show us around and talk us through the various stages from getting raw planks of lumber, through to smaller, neater planks, through to beautifully finished, expertly crafted puzzles. (I might have skipped a couple of steps in between, although Brian showed us all the way through, complete with a bin-to-bin tour of the process. Brian loves a good process. And bins for sorting and keeping things straight.)
All the way through the tour, Brian took questions from the assembled puzzlers, patiently describing how he prefers to do things and showing us all the tools along the way. What surprised me most of all was the little Byrnes Model Machines model maker’s saws that we uses for cutting all his bits and pieces – with Brian joking that some of his mates refer to his Barbie table saws – but you cannot fault the quality of the stuff he produces – Barbie tables saws or not…
It was at about this point on the day that I realised that I had blundered, royally – I had not hit the record button on the Zoom session, so there is no recording of Brian’s fabulous session, or indeed of Big-Steve’s group solve of the rebii – that’s the plural of rebus, right? ;-)
The evening session started off with an announcement from James about the future of his amazing puzzle collection. After years of trying to find a collector or an institution who will take it off his hands and keep it all together in a way that keeps it available for puzzlers, Rox and George have stepped forward and agreed to take on this massive responsibility. Rox then showed us around the extra house they’ve bought to house the collection and talked to us about their plans for the collection – including how they’re going to make sure that it’s definitely accessible to puzzlers to play with! George and Rox: May your endeavours be wonderfully successful!
Nick sportingly did a great job of judging the limerick competition, based on the opening line “There once was a puzzler called Nick”. (NO prize for guessing that he hadn’t chosen the opening line!) Several people had a go, although some clearly didn’t really understand the traditional structure of the limerick – opting more for what could most generously be described as “free verse”. The winner, one A Morris, had no such trouble producing the wonderfully forgettable:
There once was a puzzler called Nick.
A collector and true fan-a-tic
Misidentified as Nico
Though some say he’s Chico?
His knowledge is “très magnifique”
…managing to introduce several of our beloved MPP memes and including a magnificent final French rhyme in there!
I feel that the other Brass Monkey also deserved calling out for his excellent introduction of a dubious final phrase with a perfectly innocent build-up.
There once was a puzzler called Nick
Who could not solve disentanglements in a tic
When he got in mess,
He called a fellow named Hess,
Who turned out to be a right clever Dick
Nice one Monkeys!
Frank then amused us all with a(nother) great a Pu(b)zzle quiz. Once again there were questions about puzzles and a number of wonderfully random subjects – a section on pretty weird comparisons and even a series of timed maze solves – complete with the imperative trick questions along the way – greeted with the regulation amount of audience groans!The lead changed hands several times and somehow, I contrived to end up winning the thing, although nobody would have known that as I was competing under the catchy name of “Just another Nick, nothing to see here” for some reason.
We really enjoyed ourselves over the course of the day and I need to thank Frank, Steve, Ali, Nick and Louis for contributing to the puzzles, the planning, running things on the day and grabbing stacks of screenshots while I was rabbiting on. Cheers guys!
…and finally if you want to see the recording of the evening
session, here it is.