Monday, 28 February 2022

VMPP IIIX

This past Saturday saw our seventh virtual Midlands Puzzle Party, or VMPP IIIX in my tradition of messing around with Roman Numerals. (It started out innocently enough…)

Pantazis had come to my rescue offering not only an updated tour of his puzzle museum on the idyllic Greek island, but he also wanted to treat us to a lecture on the recent discoveries from his research into Archimedes’ Ostomachion. I split those two events events across the morning and afternoon sessions, with another of Frank’s Awesome Quizzes (FAQs?) slated for the evening session. (It’s traditionally the latest session to allow Frank as much time as possible to come up with enough questions…)

We kicked off the morning session with some gentle greetings and Pantazis showing us a few new combinatorics designs he’d been working on... two of which made my head hurt just thinking about how hard they would be. Once he’d mastered the wonders of technology Pantazis took us on a tour of his puzzle museum – starting at the front door proclaiming that the house was built in July 1887(!). The sympathetically restored dwelling now houses a puzzle museum where the aim is to encourage people to play with the exhibits… several of which are highly collectible.

Pantazis walked us around the rooms pausing to show us the odd extremely rare puzzle, or point out some of his particular favourites. It’s fair to say that some of the puzzles just waiting to be played with are probably unique… and most would be highly sought after by serious collectors – but for Pantazis, it’s clear that he just wants people to be able to enjoy them.

Several times during the tour he entreated the listening puzzlists to plan a trip to his idyllic little island with promises of walks in the beautiful surrounding countryside, swimming in the gorgeous warm ocean (without any creatures that wanted to kill you, unlike those in Australia - that seemed to come up quite a bit in the latter sessions – for the record, Brian just smiled).

Pantazis' enthusiasm and delight at telling us about his (now) annual puzzle event is part of the local festivities is plain to see – he’s clearly on a mission to win friends for his puzzles.

After the tour we launched into our first round of 2 Truths and a Lie (2TL, ‘cos I’m lazy!) – we asked three volunteers to tell us three “facts” about themselves, one of which was a lie, and then invited the audience to quiz them in the hopes of uncovering the lie… after the interrogation a quick Zoom poll and a final confession would establish what proportion of the audience has been successfully misled and we had ourselves a little competition.

Brian kicked us off and performed (too) respectably, with most people spotting (or guessing his lie).  Clive went next and had us all literally crying with laughter – you really do need to watch it yourself as I won’t be able to do it justice in a family-rated blog post – but please be warned: don’t watch this in the workplace or indeed near anyone who’s moderately easily offended… you will laugh yourself silly though. Clive was clearly better at telling porkies than Brian.

Next up was Steve, and we played his round a little differently – he’d given me some truths and I gave him the lie at the same time as everyone else saw the statements for the first time, and then expected him to defend them all under a veritable barrage of interrogation. It’s worth teeing up the video just to hear about his trolley-flying antics – how he didn’t kill himself I don’t know… Gill’s favourite bit: hearing about the dog’s name being spot, and his other pet being a rabbit called Stu. Sadly I fear I may have put Steve at too much of a disadvantage judging by his score… but we all had fun and frankly, that was the intention!

The afternoon session started with a couple of quick puzzle recommendations before we headed into the main event - Pantazis talking about his research into Archimedes’ Ostomachion. For those of you not familiar with it, it’s an ancient dissection of a square that has a number of solutions and some interesting properties…

Pantazis’ research has combined his love of mathematics with his keen interest in Ancient Greek – something he needed regularly to makes sense of the historic texts and fragments he ended up researching and comparing in order to understand the puzzle. It seems there are a few different versions of the dissection, some of which appeared to be pretty arbitrary – leading Pantazis to posit an alternative dissection that satisfies all of the constraints described in the ancient texts, but produces a “cleaner” set of pieces which dispenses with the arbitrary nature of some of the cuts… which is interesting… (©LB)

The bit that really grabbed my attention was when Pantazis introduced a means of measuring difficulty of the solutions based on the number of maximal cuts visible in the solution… with the hardest solution having no maximal cuts… I thought that was a really clever way of thinking about difficulty in this context…

Given the mathematical bent of a number of folks on the call (where else is there going to be a serious discussion of "your favourite equation" going to make perfect sense?!) and Pantazis' clear enthusiasm for the topic, the talk went down really well – Thanks for sharing a bit of your clear passion with us, Pantazis!

After the lecture we lowered the tone with another round of 2TL, giving Nigel, Mike, Pantazis and Marc the opportunity to lie to their friends around the world. This time we heard about Nigel getting knocked down by Muhammad Ali, Mike’s gourmet gobbling buddy, Pantazis’ Hoff-baiting exploits and Marc’s cruciverbalist streak… once again – all good for a laugh!

The evening session started with four more pants-on-fire puzzlers in the shape of Rik, Steve, Haym and Ali. This time we had to contend with someone shaving the mayors’ nuts, driving across Europe with a broken arm, serving Bill Gates a Diet Coke and trying to get a push from the police when way too young to drive. Perhaps it was the time of the day, or the inspiration of earlier competitors, but the standard of lying had definitely clicked up a notch in the evening session, with scores being dramatically better until Haym was crowned the best liar of the bunch – you’ve been warned: don’t play poker with the man!

After declaring Haym the winner (mental note: must send him a prize!) we handed over to Frank for the eagerly anticipated quiz. As always Frank had not only come up with some great new rounds, he’d put in a huge effort on the questions.

Round one was a Wordle-style challenge where the clues were given Wordle-style and you had to work out what the answers were from the letters you could and couldn’t use… fiendishly good!

There was a round of place names where the simple question was "Is this place in the USA, the UK or in New Zeeland?" (in deference to Steve’s current position…) – I think I managed to score only slightly above the expected level of 33% for that round … and then I did very badly in the dad-joke round – but somehow I managed to come in second place to the Nick-ster – so I immediately disqualified myself on the grounds that I’d actually seen one of the questions beforehand when Frank needed an opinion on whether a question was too hard – I managed to solve it so he made it slightly harder! :-)

After the quiz there was a little wind-down chatter and some more last-night-in-the-pub-at-IPP-vibes where it seemed that folks didn’t really want to say goodbye… which was kinda nice to see – it’s almost like we done a good thing here…

Thanks a stack to Pantazis for all of the presenting and enthusiasm he imparted, and to all of our 2TL contestants, and a huge thank you to Frank for FAQ!

 [I couldn't resist sharing my favourite Wordle-style puzzles from Frank...]

Links to the recordings of the sessions: 

Morning Session

Afternoon Session

Evening Session



Monday, 21 February 2022

Wine Not

 Last year Gill managed to track down an incredible surprise for my birthday – she colluded with friends of ours to get me a copy of Brian’s 1998 limited edition Wine Knot. (Yup, she’s amazing!)

Over the years I’ve been trying to plug some of the many gaps in my collection of Brian’s puzzles, but there are some that really don’t come up for sale very often… Wine Knot is one of those! Hardly surprising given that he only made a dozen copies, and that was about 23 years ago!

Wine Not is Brian’s riff on a two-dimensional design in EM Wyatt’s classic Puzzles in Wood. Wyatt’s version consisted of a pair of interlinked squares called Locked Links. Brian’s trades the squares for cubes and results in a structure that looks remarkably like a wine rack, unless you look at it closely, at which point you realise there’s actually no place for the wine bottles to go, given the overlap between the cubes…

The puzzle starts out as a fairly large pile of sticks – neatly a dozen in Queensland Walnut and another dozen in Queensland Silver Ash… examining the sticks shows your that there are definite sets of similar pieces and some of there are a little unusual which provides a bit of a clue as to how the structure goes together…

Decide on a strategy and begin to piece things together, and as long as you’ve thought things through properly, you should find you can end up with a pair of neatly interlocked cubes without having to resort to bending the pieces. [Spoiler Alert: Brian’s bits don’t bend!]

Definitely a statement piece in the collection now. This one stands proud among most of Brian’s creations – not just because of it’s size. :-)

Thanks Gill and Sue for all the collusion and spoiling me rotten for my birthday last year!

Monday, 14 February 2022

Axes and Hammer

Let me start by making one thing absolutely clear: I am rubbish at disentanglements!

Yet, for some reason, I decided that I rather liked the looks of Axes and Hammer when it was entered in the 2020 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition. Some time later I reached out to the designer and managed to acquire a copy… albeit the wonders of the pandemic and its impact on the international postal system meant that I had to be a little mor patient than usual while it wended its way from China to little old Barnt Green – but wend, it did, and I was delighted with the quality of this little guy.

The axes have a nice shape and profile and the hammer is pleasingly solid – marry that with the not insubstantial chain, and you have a puzzle that is not going to allow you to do anything that you absolutely shouldn’t be able to…

At first glance, Axes and Hammer looks like a standard disentanglement – do something where you wouldn’t normally expect to do it, and Hey Presto, the ring’s free! Although knowing that it’s been accepted into the design competition lets you know immediately that it’s not going to be nearly that simple!

And it isn’t… in fact it’s rather tricky – and relies on the puzzler noticing a few little details made possible by some neatly designed features and pretty good tolerances… in fact, there’s one part of the solution that is very fussy indeed – if you don’t approach things absolutely perfectly, you’ll be convinced it’s not going to work… and duly shift your attention elsewhere.

This one’s definitely a puzzlers’ puzzle, in my humble opinion… one for someone who thinks they know what to do and is open to a little lesson in humility from a talented designer… this one doesn’t suffer fools and demands you pay attention to the details, or you end up going round and round in circles. (Yup, got that t-shirt!)  

 

Friday, 4 February 2022

Loki

I was one of those folks who signed up for Boaz’s announcements so that I’d know as soon as Loki was available… and ordered one as soon as it became available… and it arrived soon afterwards.

However, since it took me virtually two months of trying to solve it, on and off, this blog post is only seeing the light of day now… well after most people will have bought it, and solved it, and told everyone else they liked it… but here I am anyway, ‘cos it earned my respect… lots of it!

Boaz has impeccable pedigree when it comes to puzzle locks – his dad is almost certainly the undisputed king of modified lock puzzles – everybody rates them by how they compare with the Danlock. Boaz himself has produced some excellent modified lock puzzles using some wonderfully imaginative ideas in the form of BLock and BLock II… so when he announced that he was particularly proud of Loki, we all expected something a little special.

Boaz did not disappoint.

Loki is indeed the very king of tricksters – fooling you at literally every turn – never letting you make much progress without dropping another massive roadblock in your path… and even when you might be tempted to think you’re done, you’re only halfway, trust me!

I suspect that like most folks I made a bit of progress quite quickly – and that little bit had me impressed from the get-go. There is some very classy machining involved here. From there I hit a roadblock that literally stopped me for more than a month… I had some theories about how I needed to progress, but I couldn’t work out how the heck to make them work… until a massive “A-Ha!” struck, ironically as I was describing what I wanted to do to a fellow puzzler – Nigel’s a patient listener!

Finding how to execute that plan, with all its little tricks took another week or two and that gave me what felt like a massive step forward – except Loki’s tricks baffled me once more and it took another few days before I finally had the shackle out!

Hurrah! Cue sense of achievement and victory photographs…

…only to be thoroughly crushed when I tried to reset things, and realised that they wouldn’t work the way I wanted them to…

Fast forward another week or two or experimenting this way and that, including making life very difficult for myself in search of a feasible reassembly path… so I did me a THINK (c) and simplified things, and found a way through the morass and had everything back where it had started… leaving me with a profound respect for this little trickster and the cunning man behind it.

As a puzzler you might have seen one or two of the ticks somewhere else, but there are several you’ve never seen anywhere before, and you have absolutely never seen that many of them all in one neat little NABOB-sized package before.

Boaz, you are your father's son and you ought to be extremely proud of this puzzle.