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.

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