Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Juno’s Card Case

Fair warning: this is going to be a weird blog post… of necessity – because there’s not a lot I can really say about this one without giving things away…

I can say that it’s a bit divisive – like Marmite, which some people love and… well, some don’t… although in this case I think most people like it and in that sense, it’s weird because some like it for being a serious challenge, and some like it because it’s less of a challenge.

I just love it. Full stop.

It made me laugh, after I thought I was going to cry. Then it made me wonder, a lot, before it made me smile again.

The craftsmanship is excellent. The wood choices are lovely. It presents as a wonderfully honest puzzle, even giving you a view of the “joys” to come. It is classic Juno… and somehow he’s produced a design that is going to appeal to all sorts of puzzlers, no matter what their particular taste in puzzle styles and desired level of challenge may be – that is exceedingly admirable!

Kudos Juno!

Sunday, 4 September 2022

MPP XLii

I’d been looking forward to last weekend for a long time: not only was it our second in-person MPP since lockdown, we were also going to be having puzzlers around to stay for the weekend… a proper full-on puzzling weekend!

Brian and Sue wended their way up from London and Frank and Jo braved the traffic from up north and they all arrived within about half an hour of one another on the Friday afternoon. We spent a while catching up on the last couple of years and then the puzzles came out!

Brian had shipped over a bunch of puzzles to sell or give away at MPP and he wanted to check on a couple of things, so we had him set up on the dining room table solving, resetting and occasionally adjusting his way through about a dozen puzzles. Once he was satisfied that they were all in good condition, he allowed Frank and I to select a copy to buy each and then wrapped the rest of them all up again for the MPP gang.

I got the BBQ out and ceremonially burnt some meat (you can take the boy out of Africa…) before we enjoyed dinner outside in what could only be described as a wonderful English summer evening. There was plenty of wine, some excellent banter and of course wonderful company. Things got quite competitive when Jo brought out a new game she’d acquired specially for the trip down. A couple of rounds of Corks brought plenty of merriment, lots of hilarity and only a couple of small scars.

Given all the travelling that day, it wasn’t a particularly late night as we were all keen to be able to enjoy Saturday fully.

On Saturday morning we managed to get everyone fed and watered before the boys headed off to the village hall and the girls headed off to a music festival in Worcester where Gill’s choir was singing.

We got the hall set up, I laid in cold drinks and biscuits (lots of biscuits!) and folks began arriving from all around the countryside. Dale arrived first, followed by a car-load from London and a really tall bloke from Edinburgh in a really tiny car… Pretty soon it was all a blur, and the usual happy buzz of puzzlers getting (re)acquainted and occasionally picking up a puzzle to play with, took over.

Emily dropped Ed off for his more-or-less supervised day out with the puzzlers, and I made full use of the opportunity by first giving him some of my new Karakuris to whizz through (yup, he did whizz through them!) and then giving him my copy of Menace which had been eluding me thus far… I’d got the first half done but the second have was befuddling me. Having left him alone with it for a while, he duly solved it and then gave me a couple of hints enabling me to finally get through to the end of it…what can I say, the boy is pretty good at solving puzzle boxes!

Brian had set up a satellite Mr Puzzle shop and did a fairly brisk trade while giving everyone in sight a free copy of Frank’s F puzzle – a puzzle I hasten to say I’d solved last year in the run-up to Christmas and could not now, for the life of me, solve. (I managed it a couple of days later… it’s a good ‘un.)

Chris and Matt from MW Puzzles joined us and had kindly bought along a few copies of their wares for both perusal and purchase, so I took the opportunity to pick up a copy of lib-ORB-rate. (I’ve fiddled around with it a bit and pretty much got nowhere yet!)

It was great to meet Fraser of Discord-fame – he of lanky frame in a tiny automobile all the way from Edinburgh. He’d travelled down the night before and needed to head back up the road on Saturday, so didn’t get to spend much time at chez Walker after MPP, and missed out on the traditional fish supper. Hopefully next time he’ll be able to spend some more time with us…

Andrew Coles had come up from the south and gave a couple of us the chance to play with his latest design…which totally baffled me for ages back at my place that evening and several people told me it was excellent, having solved it in a mere fraction of the time that I didn’t.

Around lunchtime we all did the usual decamping to the room next door after finding ourselves some lunch – there were plenty of pig buns this time so Steve and I probably didn’t need to sneak out conspiratorially the way we did… After my pig bun I headed up to the house to check up on the hounds who’d probably only just noticed that the house was empty. Having made sure they were happy, I headed back down the hill for more puzzling, finding everything pretty much as I’d left it down at the hall.

Adin and Sophie brought young Oren and he had a fab time showing a stream of puzzlers his favourite puzzles that he brought along for others to share – the Gravity Mazes and Tangrams appear to be a big hit at about 4 years old in case you’re wondering. Oren is a super-sociable little chappie and he got to do his fair share of playing with others’ puzzles too… and was well-chuffed when Big-Steve gave him a giant Rubik’s cube, setting up what has to be the cutest picture of the day: Oren in his car seat holding the massive cube totally passed out after a day’s puzzling and meeting new puzzlers. The force is strong with this one…

There were a couple of copies of Big Ben in the room - paying homage to their creator no doubt – and several folks spent a while working their way through them… Tamsin did an excellent job of getting through it with pretty much no help and I think she was reasonably proud of herself as a result.

I’d taken along a set of Andrew Crowell’s three-piece TICs and several folks had a go at working their way through them over the course of the day… they make a great set of puzzles, sort of graduated in terms of difficulty and each presenting a very different challenge… Kevin and I ended up spending quite a while chatting as he worked through them, with some (#6) putting up rather more of a fight than others (#4).

Eric’s Taco Cube was also a big hit- everyone enjoyed the co-ordinated motion in that solution.

Somewhere around 5:30pm we packed everything up and headed back up to the house for some more puzzling, a fish supper and several rounds of Corks – this time with a serious table-full of folks – there was a LOT of raucous laughter during the game while I failed miserably to solve Andrew’s new lock on the side-lines… the next day I discovered that some folks hadn’t necessarily been playing with a full deck, as it were. Everyone had a great time of it though!

By the end of the evening we had a few puzzles that needed solving and reshelving, but on the whole everyone seemed to manage to stay ahead of the puzzles… there was one small casualty that Brian helped me sort out a day or two later – nothing like making your house guests work for their board!

Everyone headed off at a fairly decent hour (given they pretty much all have really long drives to get home) leaving Frank, Brian and I agreeing that it had been a pretty good day. 

Sunday, 21 August 2022

Psycho Disks

I’ve written about a few of Phil Wigfield’s puzzles in the past and alluded to a couple of other that I hadn’t done a full blog post on – one of those was a lovely little puzzle called spinning tumblers.

Spinning Tumblers is a little barrel-shaped object apparently made up of a number of stacked brass disks that are resolutely fastened together. Sometimes the disks will spin freely and sometimes they will be locked… it’s weird… and makes for a fun puzzle.

Eric Fuller got hold of a copy of Spinning Tumblers and decided it should be “improved”, and by improved, of course he means made a whole lot harder! He’s added a few little twists to the design that will have you doubting your sanity – you know what you want to happen and sometimes that very thing will indeed happen, and sometimes it won’t – no matter how many times you try and make it work.

He's also made the start of the puzzle a lot harder… on Spinning Tumblers you can always work out where you are in the maze, so to speak, whereas Eric’s isn’t quite that considerate – at times it appears as if you are in fact nowhere at all… which can be a little disconcerting!

So Eric’s managed to make not only the beginning, the middle, and the resetting more difficult – he’s also given it a new colour-scheme by precision machining most of it in aluminium, with a couple of brass accents as a nod to its forebear. (He’s also given it a handy backdoor for resetting quickly or indeed reconfiguring the maze, just in case you want something a little sneakier.)

Psycho Disks definitely ramps up the puzzling challenge over Spinning Tumblers – about as much as the difference in names suggests – this is not a trivial puzzle – probably best inflicted on other puzzlers, especially those you don’t really like. ;-)

 

 

Saturday, 13 August 2022

5L Bin

If you like n-ary puzzles, you’ll love fiddling with this one… I’d almost hesitate to call it a puzzle, once get the hang of its n-ary-ness it is very much a satisfying fidget toy.

Eric has done a fantastic job of bringing Goh Pit Khiam's design to life through a walnut bin and some well-machined aluminium L’s. (Yes, that is the correct number of i's in there.) The notching on the L’s enforces a strict set of sequential moves to either insert or remove a piece.

It’s a handy size for sittin’ and fiddlin’ and I’ve spent quite a while just going forwards and backwards through the gears, releasing the first piece and then getting everything back inside the bin again. (Once you release the first piece, they can all be removed…)

It makes for a great executive toy (we’re all executives in our own little worlds, right?) and really looks the part thanks to Eric’s awesome quality.

…and if you want an extra little twist, try a suggestion from the Discord folks: running through the sequence holding the bin with one hand and using only gravity to move the pieces – it’s interesting to compare the feel of doing that with the usual two-handed process of pushing the pieces around inside the bin – of course you’re effectively doing the same thing but you wouldn’t know it!

Another lovely little n-ary puzzle for the hoard! (...and as I write this they're still available over here!)

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Bananas

I feel like I need to start this blog post with an apology – I’ve been a bit scarce around these parts lately… I went through a month or so of dealing with a massive head cold – just about getting over that and then, after having managed to avoid COVID for two and a half years, it took out Gill and I for a couple of weeks. For quite a while after that the brain was somewhat foggy and I didn’t feel able to muster a blog post for about a month … but that has changed – not only have the little grey cells coalesced a little, I also have an awesome puzzle to write about.

Jon Keegan took orders for his next serious sequential discovery puzzle quite a while back and he’s been teasing us with emails showing progress and giving us updates on the manufacture and final assembly process. A couple of months ago he started sending out copies and after a bit of a false start that saw UPS sending my copy right back to Jon instead of sending it across the pond, my copy arrived about 10 days ago…

Jon had gone to a HUGE amount of effort to make sure that Bananas arrived in good condition – not only was it wrapped in microfibre cloths and sitting inside a cute laser cut packing crate, that was in turn cushioned inside a form-fitting expanded foam package – all of which meant that the little wooden crate literally couldn’t move amongst all of its cushioning… so Bananas arrived in Barnt Green in perfect condition – ready for some puzzling.

Bananas is the little Lego monkey currently captive inside the one and a half kilogram (mostly) aluminium cage. He’s hanging patiently on the bars waiting for you to release him and give him a healthy snack – presumably his namesake.

At the start of the puzzle, there’s a lot to explore – from a big round column peeking out of the top of the cage, through a number of interesting looking protrusions on the way down to the spring-loaded floor in the base. The cage’s bars all appear to be connected into a single unit, but it is very solidly retained! There are lots of little things rattling around inside and it’s hard to work out where you should be focussing your attention initially… at least that was what I thought!

I spent a good while trying this, that and every other thing I thought might be helpful only to end up with a whole pile of nope! On one of my Sunday evening calls with the lads I was idly fiddling with the lump when something different happened and I had no idea why and I certainly wasn’t brave enough to do a “Louis” and immediately put back the thing that had become unlocked so that I could properly understand why it had just done something that it wouldn’t do for the previous day or two…

Armed with my new tool, I grinned broadly and proceeded to do the obvious, finding even more wondrous little things to play with… and some of the source of the rattling… and here, dear reader, I hit the next wall, for it was almost a week before I managed to make much further progress…

Gill’s been up in Scotland visiting the Crumblies so I had some time on Saturday to play, and play I did… I discovered all manner of helpful little clues that I’d missed the week before and experimented with managing all the little things, I’ll call them tools, I’d found already…

The next stage took some proper Think(c)ing and a little experimentation to release a major sub-assembly and promptly hit another brick wall… for quite a while. The bit I’d just released clearly wasn’t going to do anything for me and I’d already exhausted all of the other avenues on the rest of the puzzle… definitely time for more of a Think (c) – and a remember… and then a very broad smile (yup, not just a grin this time!) as something magical happens and we have even more tools to play with…

The final part of the journey is really delightful – the new tools turn out to enable the sorts of things I was hoping I’d be able to do and soon enough the final section is opened and a healthy snack is indeed spilled onto the table… elation and disappointment ensues! Elation at cracking this puzzle and finding Bananas’ reward, disappointment that it’s all over… it’s been such a wonderful journey I don’t want it to end.

Resetting the puzzle isn’t trivial, but once you’ve seen the innards – including the mechanism behind that fiendish first step – you can work it out without too much trouble – and get it ready for the Banana’s next new friend.

The workmanship on this puzzle is exceptional and the puzzling elements are inspired… word to the wise: trust the designer – he’s always given you what you need to proceed, even when you think he hasn’t – you just haven’t looked at things the right way if you find yourself in that position… and when you have nothing… well, Think (c) ;-)

If you managed to get a copy, you know what I’m talking about – if you didn’t, borrow a copy from someone, you won’t regret it – it is an AWESOME puzzling journey!

 

Thursday, 7 July 2022

Undercover

Phil Wigfield’s latest creation is excellent. If that’s all you wanted to hear before buying a copy, you can stop right here, head over to his shop and grab yourself a copy… when it comes back into stock. (It will, trust me!)

Assuming you wanted a little more on the topic, here are some of my thoughts, however, keeping within my avoidance of spoilers (IMHO) and my normal predilection for popping comments into my blog posts that folk who’ve already solved it will recognise and (hopefully) resonate with – this blog post might need to be a little shorter than usual. ;-)

I managed to grab a copy from Phil at MPP a couple of weeks back – it was a little covert – I gave him a pile of notes and helped myself to another neat little wooden box from Phil’s crate of them… and then spent several days of picking it up and trying something new I’d thought of… having pretty rapidly exhausted all of the usual sorts of things I expect to try on a puzzle that looks like this one…

You can see how big it is in the pictures, but if you’re one of those strange individuals who’s never seen a Two Pound coin in the flesh, I can tell you that Undercover is about 0.000462299 furlongs in length. (You’re welcome!) 

It’s a neat little puzzle that you can fiddle with all day without picking up a repetitive strain injury - and that might be useful as I suspect that some folks are going to spend a very long time “solving” this one… or rather, not solving it. <insert slightly evil grin here>

I had a lot of small spurts at trying to solve this one and found a lot of ways to not solve it… I was starting to have flashbacks to the first time I encountered a certain feature on the Silver Revo – and that was giving me chills.

It was only after a week or two that I happened to ask my mate Ali a very specific question and he was kind enough to give me an answer that didn’t spoil things for me, but it did make me think… differently… and that was the key I needed.

From there I managed to make some decent progress and soon enough I was looking at Phil’s rather neat handmade innards… he does take a lot of pride in his work – and he deserves to be proud of not only his workmanship, but of this design as well. He had me guessing and second-guessing for weeks and then when I did find the proverbial key to unlock it all, I didn’t feel let down at all – if anything it gave me even more respect for this puzzle…

I really like it and I hope that Phil has many more good ideas to come…

Sunday, 26 June 2022

MPP XLii

Last weekend represented a massive leap back toward “normal” for me… after two years of virtually no in-person puzzling get-togethers, I finally had a few puzzlers visiting for the weekend and a bunch of them threatening to rock up for our first real-world MPP in the village hall in two and a half years. The stars were aligning once more…

I collected Dick Hess from the station on the Friday morning and we just picked up exactly where we’d left off the last time we’d seen one another – around three years ago… the journey from the station to my place was a quick catch-up on health in the intervening period (pretty good!), vaccinations (Dick won hands-down!), the tennis, and of course puzzles and other interesting diversions.

We had a lovely afternoon of chit-chat and dad jokes. Dick gave me a puzzle lock in the shape of a tortoise from his collection – he’d bought it years ago from a bloke at an Australian market who assured him it had been made in Nepal… it certainly looks the part – Thanks Dick!

He also gave me a set of his Wire Puzzle College Selection – a graded set of his wire puzzles that actually teaches some techniques along the way, generally only to lull you into a false sense of security when you realise that that subtle little variation in one of the later puzzles means that everything you thought you knew is now totally useless and a new approach is required.

While I was (slowly!) working my way through them under Dick’s encouraging eye, I mentioned that I’d been struggling with a Jan Sturm disentanglement that I’d picked up at Wil’s place a few weeks earlier. When I showed it to him, he pointed out that it was an easier version of the final puzzles in his college course… and then promptly solved it in a matter of seconds… pointing out why his version was harder along the way, and in fact the solution to Jan Sturm’s version was not going to be any use whatsoever in solving his…

It took me a few hours but I managed to struggle through the College course with some suitable encouragement from Dick along the way… a major achievement for someone who knows he can’t do disentanglements!

Late afternoon Dick and I headed out to the airport to collect Louis and Wil from their KLM flight. Plenty more catching up in the car on the way home and then pizzas out on the deck at the end of the uncharacteristically warm day. There was a lot more puzzling out on the deck until we decided to call it a night… except for Louis who churned his way through a bunch of things I needed solving… and some he just wanted to have a bash at.

Next morning we polished off breakfast and Dick handed out a gift puzzle he’d put together especially for MPP XLii – noticing there was an intended outcome as a result of one bit being a different shape to that intended, Louis and Dick set up a small production line on the breakfast table to get them suitably adjusted… and no-one was any the wiser (unless of course they read this!). After all that excitement, we headed down to the village hall to get things set up ahead of the arrival of what we hoped would be a whole bunch of puzzlers, some of whom we’d be meeting for the first time in real life!

Shane pulled into the parking lot pretty much as soon as we opened the gate – good to know he was keen! We got the tables and chairs more or less laid out, put up the signs to guide any newbies into the hall and I stocked up on soft drinks and milk for the large quantities of tea and coffee we usually go through at these things…

While all that was going on people were arriving from all over the countryside. Frans and Ethel had to stay at the local Premier Inn due to the Walker’s B&B already having more people staying than we had spare beds (Louis was on an air mattress in the second puzzle cave!).

We had fairly-local-Lewis-from-the-discord whose missus had reached out to me on Facebook because he’s allergic. He seemed to fit into the general banter and mild abuse that always seems to permeate these things, so hopefully he’ll be back.  

Dan had managed to successfully navigate his way down the road from his AirBnB – getting bonus points for choosing to walk down, even though it was raining! He didn’t look like a drowned rat for that long!

Yaccine managed to navigate the vagaries of air travel and taxis and get himself to the hall direct from France on Saturday morning. RESPECT. Phil managed to join us and meet a bunch of us he’s been chatting to on-line or via email for a while now. James made the trek up from Honiton (his longest journey since the beginning of the pandemic!). I managed to be incredibly rude to Tamsin when I met her for the first time in real life after seeing her on several VMPPs by not recognising her at all…. and then compounded that later on by forgetting to open the gate for her when she was trying to leave that evening. (SORRY!)

All the old guard were there – Ali’d brought a car-load up from London – great to see Oli and Rich for the first time in ages… and Mike Q had brought some souvenir puzzles for all of us proclaiming he was only here for the fish supper. (True to his word, he stayed for the fish and chips afterwards. :-))

Shane had brought a complete collection of Popplocks and had a steady steam of folks rotating through there all day trying various locks they’d been wanting to solve for ages, all under the expert eye of the master locksmith… it was great to hear the huge buzz in the hall when there was a bunch of happy puzzlers trying to solve their own puzzles while winding up all of those around them. I’ve missed that.

I managed to mis-time the call for lunch and as a result we missed out on pig-rolls from Warwick’s – everyone still managed to find something suitable with several of them opting for some monster kebabs – it must be a tradition or something. Lunch was the usual convivial affair in the side room with banter and puzzle-solving-fuel being taken onboard.

After lunch there was a lot more solving – Mike T’s Xenia Table getting a lot of attention from several folks during the course of the day. One of The Monkeys behaved himself and the other brought much hilarity… actually no that’s not quite fair – they both brought hilarity, just in slightly different ways… but I said I wouldn’t blog about it so I won’t.

Speaking of the Monkeys, they’d brought along a crate-full (literally) of 3D printed give-aways – I helped myself to one of them – a little four-piece cube assembly that I got to play with the following day – and it is brilliant! Steve reckons it’s called “Mrs Butler” – or that might be an answer to another question altogether – either way – it’s worth hunting down and getting yourself a copy – it’s a wonderfully confuzzling little thing – and did I mention there’s only four pieces!?!

James had brought along a bunch of things that needed reassembling and I think that the gang managed to get pretty much all of them back together again… for the most part I watched and provided words of encouragement – that’s my role – that and bring the coffee.

Frank and Jo arrived around the middle of the afternoon having had to make a bit detour on the way down due to a family emergency – Gill, Jo & Ethel then promptly disappeared off to the new cafĂ© in the village for a catch-up & some cakeee – nom nom nom… and we entertained Frank with the odd puzzle.

Dick managed to catch up with all his old friends during the course of the day, and no doubt made a few new ones along the way – it’s hard not to like Dick. (Don’t!)  


We wound everything up at the hall somewhere before six and pretty much everyone just decamped to chez Walker for more puzzling and some fish and chips. It’s been a while since I’ve had to call in such a big order to the chippy and I suspect that I caught them off guard a little – they delivered in fine form as usual and the fish suppers were excellent!

There was a LOT more puzzling that night before folks began drifting towards homes and hotels… and it was somewhere around that time that we realised that Yaccine wasn’t going to be able to get to Cambridge by train that evening… so we bundled him off to the Premier Inn with Ethel and Frans – I haven’t heard from him since so hopefully he did manage to wend his way off to Cambridge to meet up with Mikael before heading back to France.

When everyone had left we turned the puzzle caves back into temporary bedrooms for the Dutch contingent and spent a bit more time puzzling…

Next morning after a spot of breakfast I took Dick to the train station for his trip back to London, only to find that there weren’t any trains running to Euston and there was a bus replacement service running – sorry Dick! At least I do know that he managed to get back to London in time for the meet up with the Millers, fresh off the boat, that evening.

Back at home I pulled out a few more puzzles that Louis needed to play with – including my newly built copy of Architecto – which seemed to perform reasonably as a puzzle – it’s hard to judge when you’ve built the thing and know how all the mechanisms work and interact. I also managed to spend a little more time playing with a couple of the goodies that I’d acquired from Phil (got nowhere!), Wil (made some progress but not a lot!) and Steve (solved – but wow, she’s a great puzzle!).

After lunch I dropped Wil and Louis at the airport in plenty (probably too much!) time given all the horror stories about queues for security checks and the like… in the end I think the lads probably had a bit too much time to kill there, but I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if they’d missed their flight!

…all of which left me somewhat wiped out, but really happy having spent several days with good friends, lots of puzzles and plenty of great chat – it was, as they say, another grand weekend – thank you all!