Sunday 28 November 2021

Gear Box

A couple of months ago I’d asked Wil to send me a couple of things off his latest update and at the end of my note, I’d asked him if there was “anything else that I just had to buy at the moment…” He duly replied to tell me that he did indeed have something that I ought to buy and by coincidence it didn’t have a name yet, so he’d decided that it would be called the “Anything Else Box” – and as Wil has never once given me a bad suggestion, I added it to the order and eagerly awaited its arrival.

A few days later I found a handsome box with twelve intriguing gears on the lid – there are three rows, with each row having four meshed gears – and a set of connectors ensures that the navigating pins are ganged together between the rows – so the pins in a specific column all need to move up and down in unison… which is great because it dramatically cuts down on the possible moves at any one point in the process… and it also means that you need to go through quite a few moves to find a solution…

It seems pretty clear that this is a box, and that by manipulating those gears and their connectors, you should be able to unlock the lid… in its fully locked state, the connectors are in a position that allows the acrylic lid to slot neatly into place – ensuring that if you want it neat and tidy, you’re probably at the furthest possible state from being able to actually open the thing… nice touch!

Remove the lid (– that’s not supposed to be part of the puzzle, Nick!) and begin to fiddle with those gears – given the paths through the gears, it looks like you’ll be wanting to get all of the gears pretty much to the opposite ends of their travel… and that you’ll need to both rotate them and manipulate those connectors… however, being meshed gears within the rows, they will obviously move in opposite directions to their neighbour – which means you really need to keep a cool head when you’re trying to work out which way you’re wanting things to go at any point… and you will need to think about that quite a lot in my experience.

I’m pretty sure those paths and the order of the gears are constructed to confuse – I found myself going backwards and forwards several times as I thought I was heading in the right direction only to find that I should have done something else before this particular set of moves to release a later move, so I’d need to backtrack and try again…

…and there was a whole lot of backtracking because I kept finding myself up against a position that couldn’t be improved from where I was…

…and in spite of all that backtracking, I still didn’t find myself getting into that normal Zen-space of mindlessly navigating an n-ary puzzle – this one kept me on my toes all the way through and it almost felt like you were having to work things from first principles the whole time…

When you do finally get to where you think you want to be, there’s a sneaky little step at the end that might leave you confused for a while once again until you finally release the locking mechanism and open the box – and at that point you really do need to admire Jean-Claude’s impressively efficient design that puts all of the mechanism inside a really slim lid… which leaves LOTS of space for putting something surprising inside the box for the next puzzlist to discover.

A damn fine recommendation from Wil that’s now more widely available as the Gear Box – it’s always going to be the Anything Else Box for me though…

Saturday 20 November 2021

Window Lock

Several weeks back at our last Virtual MPP, Peter Hajek told us about a new puzzle lock from Dick Hensel called the Window Lock. Peter had been chatting with Dick  through some of its development and wanted us all to know that Dick would shortly be ready to begin selling them if any of us were interested.

He gave us all Dick’s contact details and encouraged us to reach out, so shortly after the session ended, reach out, I did… and a couple of weeks later I had a copy of Dick’s latest wooden creation in my grubby paws.

Window Lock is about the same size as his previous puzzle locks, but this one really stands out for it’s deep red (padauk?) colouring and the fact that there’s a large window covering the front of the lock. Seems kinda generous, almost -putting all of the gubbins inside on fairly clear display… and yet in spite of that, it’s a really fun puzzle!

The window gives you a clear view of what’s stopping the shackle from opening, and you can see what’s blocking that in turn... A little manipulation will get things to begin moving and then it gets interesting, because there’s no apparent way to do what you want to do… and there are some spare bits and pieces inside that lock that don’t appear to perform any useful function… 

Welcome to Window Lock!

That’s where your puzzling fun begins – you’ll need to work out how to use all those things together, and what order to do things in in order to finally release the shackle. 

I found myself going round and round several times before I really had a clear picture of what I needed to do.

It’s a delightful sequence that literally uses every single little feature inside that lock – take my advice, don’t be too eager to jump to the end because I guarantee you’ll miss something along the way and be forced to go backwards…

Saturday 13 November 2021

Maze Bolt+

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year or so, you’ll be aware that Roger D has been coaxed back into making puzzles again – so after years of puzzlers chasing a limited number of copies of Roger’s classic puzzles – and their price spiralling ever-skyward on the usual auction sites – Wil has offered them for sale at eminently reasonable prices, and has pretty much serviced all the pent-up demand that was out there – much to the delight of puzzlers everywhere (hey, I managed to plug a hole in my little Roger collection) and no doubt the absolute dismay of the flippers keen to make a quick buck.

And it was good…

But then a couple of weeks ago Wil reached out to me and offered me something rather unexpected – a totally new puzzle from Roger… so I mortgaged a kidney and soon enough a well-packaged lump of aluminium and brass was delivered to my doorstep.

Wil explained that Roger had been working on this design some time ago but hadn’t quite managed to get to the point where he was happy with it… until a recent collaboration with Jean-Claude Constantin provided the necessary breakthrough and Maze Bolt+ was born.

A short while later four prototypes had been produced for testing and, thanks to Wil, one of them ended up on my doorstep... and I get to play with the first new Roger D puzzle in many years! <Cue stupid big grin!>

First impressions: this is a big aluminium bolt – it stands about 7.5 inches tall and it’s a heavy brute. Do. Not. Drop. This. On. Your. Toe. (Or indeed on any piece of furniture you’re rather taken with.) There’s a chunky brass nut that spins freely at the base and an obvious maze cut into the shaft of the bolt, and finally a little RD logo inside a hexagon on one of the bolt’s six faces. Paying a bit more attention to the maze shows that it should be pretty simple to navigate through it with four potential exits apparent at the end of the bolt…

So far so good… but I’m quite the curious sort so I spend a while examining the bits of the maze I can see even further, and I can’t find any evidence of foul play so I dive in and find a way into the maze, spinning the nut around the shaft and then through the maze… which seems even more elementary than I’d thought it was and without almost any effort at all, the nut is right up at the top of the bolt, only it won’t come off… my smile widens – game on!

I spend a while back-tracking and looking for alternate routes, and manage to find some, but it turns out they all lead absolutely nowhere as well… “which is interesting”. [Copyright LB]  

It’s only when I engage serious puzzle-mode that I start spotting things that don’t behave the way I’m expecting them to, and that scares me a little because up until now I had a very clear mental model of what I was dealing with… exploiting some of those discoveries leads to a wonderful “A-Ha!” moment, and with a little more chicanery you can remove the nut entirely and see exactly why things don’t behave quite as you expect them to…

And if it all stopped there, this would be a pretty darn good puzzle – and if it was called Maze Bolt, that would probably be it… only there’s a little plus at the end of the name and that little plus really puts the cherry on the cake – and makes this an excellent puzzle.

Sure, there’s heaps of pedigree in the design(er) – but this one doesn’t rest on those laurels in the slightest – it earns respect and provides delight – Roger is back!

If you’re interested in acquiring one of these for your own little hoard, I’m afraid you’re going to need to be patient as they won’t be available until Q2 next year… at this stage there are literally only four prototypes around and it’s going to take a while to produce these big old lumps of brass and aluminium. They’re also not going to be particularly cheap. (You saw the bit about them being big old lumps, right?) You know who to reach out to if you want one…

Sunday 7 November 2021

Happy Birthday Frank!

One of the really great things about almost sharing a birthday with another puzzler is that you have a brilliant excuse to do puzzling stuff about the same time every year… and so it is that we’ve come to gather oop north at Frank’s for a Northern Puzzle Party at the end of September / start of October each year.

A few weeks back was the designated weekend so a bunch of us trekked north, and some locals rocked up, and Louis and Wil joined us from The Netherlands… our first actual in-person puzzle party in absolute blimming ages… it would be a massive understatement to say that I was looking forward to it!

I was one of the last to arrive – the Dutch crew had flown in the day before and pretty much everyone else had clearly left earlier than I did to get there and get some puzzling on… when I arrived Frank began plying me with caffeine and I set about saying hello to folks I literally haven’t seen in person for more than a year and a half – saying hello and shaking a hand felt reassuringly normal… it didn’t take long to fall into our old habits of handing out puzzles we thought people might enjoy and then “encouraging” (or more accurately: goading) them into solving it. Oh, and there might have been a bit of banter around as well…

Ali and Steve gave Frank and I each a 3D printed Happiness cube #27 – on the grounds that together it produced our age… Steve explained that whenever they order their filament they always get a small sample of some other colours and they’ve been storing up these samples for a while now and that’s what they’d used to print our splendidly colourful Cubes of Happiness – so it hadn’t actually cost them anything… however I suspect that rather discounts the many hours of endlessly swapping filaments they (Ali?) must have gone through… in the end I think there might be a shed-load of effort that went into producing those cubes… thanks guys! I really appreciate the care and effort that went into that!

They also gave both of us an airhorn… it’s a long story. :-)

I made sure that I thrust a copy of Croissant at a few people after it had given me more than a good run for my money… and the smiles eventually cracked when they found the right way to get everything in without bending anything along the way…

Louis gave me a copy of Siebenstein’s Laby Box – a cube-ish box with four sliders around the edges and a central core with four mazes for the sliders to navigate through… only the mazes themselves are hidden inside the box until you start to extract the central core. Some strategy is helpful here or you’ll find yourself having to retrace large portions of your steps, which can be tiresome.

I’d taken the set of Holonomy Mazes along in case someone was interested in having a whizz around them… Steve spent a while pretending he couldn’t solve them and then did – just like that!

Frank gave me a copy of a Kumiki easel that our friend Lixy has commissioned – it’s a really neat little construction that’s just the right size to display a bunch of the Asobidea puzzling postcards. The pieces are neatly machined and they go together beautifully, holding together rather nicely and forming a reasonably serviceable little display easel.

Lunch was a massive affair, dwarfed only, as it turned out, by dinner, as Jo had laid on an incredible spread for us…

Ethel had brought over several crates of puzzles for re-homing and several of us had a good old rake through them to find some new treasures. Amy picked out quite a few lovely little puzzles and I managed to buy a copy of Stew Coffin’s Grizzly Burr which I’d been after for a little while now. The best bits from those crates will soon be finding their way to a puzzle auction site near you, courtesy of Steve… good man!

Mike had a bash at Jigsaw 16 – not bothering with the stated goal of “merely” putting the sixteen jigsaw pieces into the frame – he opted for the potential challenge of assembling a complete square of those pieces even though none of us knew if it was even possible… and he spent quite a while coming up with almost-solutions, but persevered until he had produced a perfect little blue square, impressing all those around him… now we know it’s possible – not easy, but possible!

I’d taken my copy of Kamei’s Hot Miso Soup along in the hope of getting “someone” to open it for me… I’d had it open once or twice, but latterly I couldn’t get one of the early moves to work properly so I reckoned one of the box-savants would get it opened for me in no time. Sadly both Louis and Oli gave it back to me solidly locked and we decided it would probably need to go on a little trip for some repairs… and then when I got home the weirdest thing happened – I opened it! I suspect that the general encouragement the lads had given it over the weekend had somehow loosened it up to the extent that when I gave it one last try before sending it off to Japan, it magically opened… consistently – so thanks chaps!

Wil put me out of my misery on Lutz – I’d been struggling for ages and I’d quite literally convinced myself this one really was impossible… only for Wil to show me it wasn't… he’s a pretty decent puzzlist is Wil!

Mike had asked me to bring along a One-Piece Packing Puzzle or two… so I took him the original Nightingale exchange version (aka Clive Box), Eric’s original Cubic Dissection version, Eric’s Improved version and a copy of Simon’s One-Piece Packing Puzzle – Mike was happy for a short while. (It didn’t take him long to work through them all!)

Several of us stayed over at Frank’s while some spent the night in a local Airbnb. Frank was up bright and early and cooked us all blueberry pancakes with his own fair hands… serious treat! After breakfast we tidied up all of our puzzles and popped everything back in the cars and then headed off to Preston for a couple of actual in-person escape rooms – again, something most of us haven’t done in eighteen months. In spite of our lack of match-fitness both teams managed to escape their respective rooms with plenty of time to spare… we celebrated with some leftover sandwiches from the day before (still delicious!) before we headed off down the motorways to various points south, with my sat-nav seriously earning it’s keep routing me off the main motorways a couple of times to skip over some serious snarl-ups.

Thanks Frank (and Jo!) for a brilliant weekend – and happy birthday mate!