Monday 28 February 2022


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

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