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!


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