Sunday 30 October 2022

DCD 2022

I didn’t make it to last year’s DCD, but I was damned if I was going to miss this year’s event… and it turned out to be one heck of a weekend!

It started on Friday afternoon when Ali, Steve, Rich and I met up in London for a couple of escape rooms to get us in the mood for a puzzling weekend. We’d congregated at the hotel we were all staying at before heading up toward Camden for a quick bite to eat (fab burgers!) before our first escape room: Codebreakers at Mission Breakout. Housed in the basement of a tube station, it is very atmospheric. We ended up spending quite a long time on the first section, and then managed to somehow rush through the second bit, albeit we made a bit of a meal of the transfer between the two sections… Steve took a while to recover from that. The puzzles were really well-implemented and fitted the theming very well, and if there was a complaint to be had, it would be that things were very linear, but without a lot of signposting of what came next, so we often found ourselves wondering where to go next. We were happy to complete it and our gamemaster told us that we were one of the fastest teams she’d ever seen at rifling through the desk drawers – so there’s that…

Fresh from our victory we headed up to Cluequest where Steve had thoughtfully booked us into their hardest room, cQ Origenes. We made a quick pit stop at a convenience store for some chocolate and soft drinks and then plunged into our next adventure, having agreed that when our gamesmaster asked us if we’d done any escape rooms before, the honest answer would be “Not in the last 45 minutes.” This room was excellent – our only possible slight grumble was a difficulty reading some markings under a blacklight where they’d been rubbed off by previous players – nothing a little magic marker won’t fix… there was a lot to do in that room and the theming was really excellent – definitely recommended!

After we’d finished the second room we wandered back to the hotel and took up station at the bar for a couple of libations before I headed off to bed - leaving the lads at the bar, until that closed and they headed off to a nearby night club… I got a good night's sleep.

Next morning bright and (very) early we walked down to St Pancras to grab the Eurostar across to Amsterdam – with the monkeys lugging some incredibly heavy looking suitcases filled with brassware. Sod’s law dictated that my luggage was pulled for examination – it turns out that big shiny antique locks from Morocco look quite suspicious. (You’re welcome, Frans!) If that wasn’t sufficiently ironic, Steve’s big case of brass went through fine but his hand luggage needed searching as he had a single brass Gobstopper in there – presumably it resembles a nuclear detonator or something.

Once we were on the train, the puzzles came out and we played pass-the-puzzle. Steve gave each of us a copy of a new design he doesn’t plan on making again, having christened it something that cannot possibly appear in a family friendly blog. When Rich took his apart and then tried to reassemble it, it was very clear where the name came from – it’s another 6-piece co-ordinate motion puzzle with extra protuberances inside that make alignment absolutely critical – the name is a direct quote from every single person who ever has the misfortune of having to assemble one. (Yes, when I was reassembling mine this afternoon, I said exactly that…)

During the course of the journey I had a little play with Ali’s copy of Bruns’ Bomb Destroyer Puzzle – which went through security without so much as a second glance – and got absolutely nowhere – and I made a mental note to give it some respect when my copy arrived.

At some point we had a chat about the fact that if we got off the train in Rotterdam, we’d get to The Hague about an hour earlier, and much as we were enjoying the train ride, we decided that would be sensible, so we got off at Rotterdam and navigated our way more or less successfully to the right station in The Hague – close to our hotel for the weekend.

Louis met us at the station and took Ali, Steve and a couple of metric tons of brass over to the DCD venue so they could set up their stall while Rich and I headed to the hotel to check-in. The lovely folks at NH Den Haag let us both check in early so we got to sort out our shirt(s) and freshen up a bit before meeting the others and heading off to Rob’s place for the traditional pre-DCD-bash.

For someone who’s just about to move out of his flat, Rob still has a shed-load of puzzles in cabinets, although in fairness, there were many piles of puzzles neatly packed in banana boxes and his main puzzle cabinets had already been dismantled. We spread ourselves out around the dining room table and duly brought out the puzzles for everyone’s amusement (or torture, depending on the puzzles in question). I’d taken along a few of the tray packing puzzles I’d been unable to solve (it’s a strategy of mine to get my tougher puzzles solved – don’t knock it!). There were also a few of the new Kickstarter Clueboxes. Rich spent a while working through Box of Celts and Yaccine manfully attacked Rob’s Cricket Bat. As usual there was a LOT of laughter, interspersed with the occasional triumph over a puzzle or two… and there was a lot of food, thanks to Rob’s most excellent of catering.

Somewhere around a vaguely reasonable hour we headed back to the hotel in the snug Coolen-mobile – Rich, Ali and I got to know one another quite well while Steve stretched out in the front seat.

Next morning after breakfast the Coolen-mobile dropped us off at the school for DCD-proper which was reassuringly familiar, in spite of the fact that we didn’t have the speed-cubers in tow this year as they were holding their competition on a different weekend to allow for some social distancing… their space was instead taken up by a couple of tables running the length of the hall with copies of all the 2022 Nob Yoshigahara Design Competition entries… available for all to play with – I mean we’ll miss the speed-cubers, but give me design competition entries any day!

The first order of duty was to say hello to my friends I haven’t seen in person for a few years – and then on to browsing through the various stall already set up and ready for business… the lads had mentioned that Marcel had a bunch of good stuff worth raking through and he was keen to show me a few special things at remarkably reasonable prices – I did end up picking up a few small items from him. 

Jan Willem had several lovely things on his table, and truth be told I could probably have blown all of my allowance on his table in the first ten minutes, but I summoned some restraint, from where, I know not. Wil had a stupendous selection of goodies and I came and went several times during the course of the day, finding new treasures each time… I managed to pick up a copy of CUBI from around 1985 and a copy of the Anchor puzzle box that I’d played with at Frank’s place – purely to stop anyone else from having to buy and solve it… I’m nice that way.

It was great to see Michel had been able to make it even though he wasn’t on top form. George and Roxanne were their usual whirlwind-selves. Given the pictures of their fully-loaded car afterwards, I suspect they took the prize for largest DCD-spree. 

Tony Fisher's table was sublime as always - showcasing his twisty puzzle chess set where each piece is a unique individual twisty puzzle - if you haven't seen his Youtube videos on them yet, go here!

The afternoon saw a lecture on Uwe Meffert and then Rox and George did a double act showing us their Puzzle Castle and adjoining hotel in Panicale and telling us about their wonderfully ambitious plans for the complex.

After the lecture I spent a while playing with a few of the Design Competition entries and generally hurling encouragement / abuse at the others trying to do the same… I’m nice that way.

When things began to wind down, we pitched in and helped pack up the hall and return it to canteen style for the kids on their return. Louis carted all the luggage (brass remains and puzzle purchases) back to the hotel and we navigated our way reasonably successfully back to the hotel – although Steve and I failed miserably in our attempt to get the others to do a 540 around one of the roundabouts on the way.

By the time we got back to the hotel we realised that we’d acquired quite a few folks joining us for dinner, and the restaurant we’d planned to head off to was closed… so we gathered everyone at our hotel and headed up the hotel restaurant where they were looking forward to a quiet evening until 16 of us rocked up unannounced… they did well in the end, even if they needed to ask us to please restrict our menu choices to something that the single chef on duty might be able to bash out in a sensible time. The grub was good and the chat was better… with Nick showing up Amy and solving the puzzle that had eluded everyone but Ali up to that point (he’s a machine is Ali!).

After dinner a few of us spent a while in the bar with something cold with the US Grand Prix on the telly in the background – thankfully given the number of Dutch fans in the bar, Max took it in the end.

Next day I dragged the lads into The Hague city centre in search of a Longchamps bag for Gill – only to find it wasn’t in stock, so we headed off to a toy shop and bought some puzzles before doing a lightning tour of the Escher Museum…

We collected our bags from the hotel and headed back into town for a train to Amsterdam (we didn’t fancy our chances of being allowed onto the train at the wrong station on the way back). Some rail disruptions gave us a leisurely trip up to Amsterdam where we had plenty of time for a burger before grabbing the Eurostar back to London…

…which brought more puzzling, both on our respective purchases from the day before and on an envelope full of challenges <The Corporation from Puzzaroo, if you're interested> that I’d bought a while back and hadn’t found an excuse to bring out yet - that passed a couple of hours quite well – and we managed to solve it with very few hints… definitely a good hive-mind in operation – I shouted encouragement from the side lines.

When we hit London we said our goodbyes and I sprinted to Euston to grab a train on the ever-decreasing West-Coast service back to Brum where Gill was waiting to take me home… what a weekend. 

Thanks a stack to all who made it such a grand puzzling weekend!

Friday 21 October 2022


A design from Oskar van Deventer brought to life in heavy metals by the Two Brass Monkeys?


Why not?

Enter Tetrahedrane... a close relative of Oskar’s 3D-printed Screwballs, and confusingly Screwballs Too, that doesn’t actually have any balls – rather it has rhombic dodecahedra at each of the tetrahedron’s vertices. In that sense Tetrahedrane might well be called Screwballs Tree... and somewhere along the path from 3D-printed plastic to brass and steel the name got an upgrade to reference a mythical hydrocarbon of the same shape.

My copy arrived in the mail some time back, slightly ahead of its public release so I could take some pics for the lads’ website... and if you look at said website you’ll notice there are only pictures of the fully assembled puzzle, as it arrives... that’s not because I didn’t have enough time to take it apart, or because my copy was somehow magically jammed up, it was simply because I was too scared to take it apart in case that was how it would end up staying for quite some time.

After staring at it on my desk for a couple of weeks I decided that the time had come and I should face my fears, or at very least, take my copy of Tetrahedrane apart. It took a little backwardsing and forwardsing but once you’ve got three of the ends off, the rest is pretty straight-forward. And that leaves you with a little pile of parts – far more compact, but not nearly as good-looking!

At this point I pause to think about things a bit: this is an interesting puzzle, as in theory, if there was zero tolerance, you’d need to manipulate all sides at the same time – I’m not giving anything away here – all of the descriptions of the puzzle and its predecessors tell you the sides screw into the balls / rhombic dodecahedra / sorta-cylinders – so you’d need to expand or contract all of the sides at the same time for anything to come apart / go together.

So in theory this is a very tricky puzzle for anyone with only two hands to assemble... in practice, the theory doesn’t get in the way all that much – as we’ve seen in some analogous two-dimensional puzzles. Sure it’s a bit tricky and you need to be patient about things, but patience and a methodical approach will take things apart for you...

When you have a pile of pieces, it’s worth thinking about things and taking stock of exactly what you have – you’ll probably find some things are all identical and others are all different... and that is sufficient to derive exactly how the different bits need to be connected to the identical bits.

Solving it in theory is one thing, but solving it in practice isn’t too much harder, just a bit fiddlier.

Am I embarrassed that I didn’t just disassemble it straight away?

Yes. A little.

...but then this blog post would have been a lot shorter!

Friday 14 October 2022

NPP ‘22

Around the start of October each year Frank invites a bunch of us up to his place for a Northern Puzzle Party…. and it’s become a damn fine tradition!

I was still on leave after our trip to New England but still battling the effects of jet-lag while I tried to get some birthday presents printed out for Frank in the days running up to NPP – in the end I managed to get around half of the puzzles printed so the personalised drawstring bag Gill had made for them wasn’t going to be totally empty. He got an IOU for the rest…

I headed up on the Friday afternoon through some Noachian rain showers which saw the motorway grind to a halt on a regular basis. Following the wise counsel of my sat-nav I headed off the motorway and onto some far more scenic roads, which were all actually moving – bonus! A couple of hours later than originally planned I decamped at chez Potts and was made to feel thoroughly welcome as always!

I relayed the sad story of my inability to complete my one and only task that week – print Frank some presents – and handed over the ones I had managed to complete to my really gracious host. A short while later the London mob arrived having checked into their Airbnb and the merriment began in earnest.

Jo and Frank had put a bottle of scotch into a locked steel cage with clues around the side for opening the padlock as a gift for Shane, who duly glanced at it and while he was chatting to all of us proceeded to pick the padlock without even looking at it… in about twenty seconds. (There’s a good reason we like having Shane in escape rooms with us!)

Jo and Frank produced a massive dinner for all of us before Jo headed off to the train station to collect the Dutch contingent. More puzzle chatter ensued until someone noticed it was almost midnight and most folks headed off to bed or at least back to their Airbnb. (I think the Dutch contingent might have carried on puzzling for a while after that!)

Next morning our most excellent hosts rustled up a feast for breakfast before the rest of the gang arrived for a full day’s puzzling.

Will had brought along a couple of new goodies from JCC, including one thoroughly bonkers puzzle box that I stood absolutely no chance of opening without Louis’ help – and with a fair amount of encouragement from him, I managed to navigate the red herrings and operate the wonderfully ingenious mechanism – leaving me able to confidently say that I have never seen the likes of that in a puzzle box and that I would never manage to solve such a beast. Louis reckoned he’d managed to fluke it somehow and then had to spend a while reverse-engineering what he’d managed to do… as even locking it when it’s open with the mechanism laid bare is a non-trivial exercise.

Mike gave Frank and I each a puzzle card to solve and I did my usual thing of trying to massively overcomplicate stuff before realising the error of my ways and managing to crack it properly. Thanks Mike – some really fun mechanics built into a reasonably unassuming birthday card.

Ali and Steve had cooked up a new design called Splatter Wok in honour of our birthdays – a three-coloured rhombic dodecahedron that just looks like it wants to be spun… so spin it I did on Frank’s kitchen floor – that same one that had seen some carnage 5 years earlier thanks to the glitter filled orbs they’d given us back then. This one spins apart merrily and doesn’t deposit a large amount of confetti on Frank's floor, which is a bit of a relief!  While I’m trying to reassemble it Steve casually drops the fact that it’s a six-piece co-ordinate motion assembly – yes, there are only six pieces, but they all need to be expanded and contracted together to assemble the little bugger… thankfully it turns out to be less tricky than I imagine it to be from his description… thanks lads!

Amy spends a while taking Big Ben apart and then reassembling it, with just a little encouragement on some of the tricker patches…

I’d taken my copy of Keep Locked along and several folks had a go at it over the course of the day – most of them under Shane’s watchful eye as he gave folks a nudge here and there when they needed it… I’d managed to spend a little while playing with it before the weekend but had only got about two thirds of the way through solving it so I managed to avoid spoiling it for myself and I still have that challenge to look forward to… :-)

While Frank was otherwise occupied, Steve cooked up a new slant on the old Hide-the-tongue-depressors game that we perfected at Nigel’s place – he called it Hide-the-Kumiki puzzle. Anyone who know Frank knows that he has a fearsome collection of Kumiki puzzles… so Steve had donated some of his own Kumiki puzzles to the cause and encouraged us to hide them somewhere around the house in the hopes of being responsible for the very last rogue Kumiki puzzle that Frank found – fame and adulation will surely follow, right?

The game progressed fairly well with folks scurrying around whenever Frank was distracted somewhere else – something that happened from time to time, mostly unplanned…

In order to improve the chances of the dastardly deeds going undiscovered, some folks also snuck into the Kumiki-cave and did a little rearranging of Frank’s carefully orchestrated collection – apparently the camels HAVE to be near the pyramids – who knew?

Something went slightly awry later that evening when Frank discovered one of Steve’s secret notes with the game instructions on his desk… which sort of tipped him off that something was afoot, and then not long after that he discovered the (rogue Kumiki) elephant in the (dining) room… I don’t think he discovered any others before we left, so hopefully he’ll enjoy playing Find-the-Kumiki for a while. (I helpfully suggested that he check in the toaster – we all know how that could have played out…)

There was a huge spread for dinner again – pizzas galore and a massive pot of chilli – everyone had more than enough!

After dinner Jo produced a birthday cake with some impressive pyrotechnics. (No ceilings were damaged in the course of the performance!) Steve demonstrated his uncanny ventriloquism skills with his hand shoved up a banana and there was a lot more puzzling… before everyone grudgingly headed off to their Airbnbs to crash.
Sunday morning after breakfast (another serious spread at the Potts’) we all met up to play through some escape rooms in Rawtenstall – having played one of their rooms digitally during lock-down it was great to see that their rooms are just as good, if not better in real life. We played Treason (a take on Guy Fawkes) and Dragon Heart (a boy-wizard theme) and being the competitive bunch we are, the two teams were keen to compare times – we all agreed that Amy’s team won…

Thanks to Frank and Jo for hosting another awesome NPP!! – That were brilliant!



Saturday 8 October 2022

Boston Puzzling

 <…fights his way through the tumbleweed toward the dusty keyboard…>

Yeah, I know, it’s been a bit quiet around here lately… but there’s a good reason for that – we’ve been off travelling and spending time with puzzlers – so I guess the deal is that I should tell you what I’ve been up to…

A couple of weeks ago Gill and I headed across the pond to spend a week in Boston with Saul and Paulette… we’d been wanting to go on a New England cruise and as we didn’t have an IPP to worry about this year, it seemed like a good idea to knock that one off the list… and if we’re going to be starting and ending in Boston, it would be silly to miss an opportunity to spend some time with Saul and Paulette… so off we went.

Our hosts collected us at the airport and shuttled off to Beverley where the puzzles came out almost immediately and the girls settled into their knitting and spinning, and of course catching up on the last four years…

I’d taken a couple of 3D-printed puzzles for Saul (lord knows I can’t make anything out of wood, and if I had, it would be like taking colas to Atlanta!). There was a set of Andrew Crowell’s three-piece TICs and a Button Box that I thought was a fun puzzle to fiddle with. I also took a representative spread of Akaki’s baskets to tempt him into something a little different. He in turn showered me with an embarrassment of his own handiwork over the course of the week – including a bunch of puzzles “for the cruise” – in honour of Stew, who would always have a few spare copies of his designs, including “Cruiser” to hand out to folks on the cruise who might just be interested in trying their hand at a puzzle or two…

On Tuesday Saul and I visited Tim while the girls all headed off to a couple of fabric and fibre shops. Tim gave us the grand tour of his extremely well-organised collection. He’s got a couple of beautiful cabinets with his most precious and pretty puzzles and then the vast majority of his collection is organised into plastic containers by IPP-year and by maker… Saul was chuffed to see that he had his own (rather full) container!

After the tour and some time admiring his collection of adjacent books, we settled down at the dining room table where I proceeded to make my way rather slowly through Tim’s lovely collection of trick penknives. I’d literally only seen one or two of them so Tim literally blew my mind when he unrolled a couple of large rolls of the things and encouraged me to have a go.

During the course of the day I manage to make my way through most of them, but some of them took a lot longer than others, and as a result ended up looking rather greasy from my grubby paws, giving Tim quite the clean-up job after I was done… although he wasn’t slowed down by any of the trick mechanisms like I’d been. The sheer variety of tricks was tremendous – and trying to see where the tricks had been hidden on some of the seemingly open and honest structures was a real lesson in ingenuity… and when we were all done, Tim gifted me a rather handsome looking trick knife – thanks Tim!

In between all the organised outings, there was plenty of time to sit and chat puzzles with Saul, read through his massive collection of puzzle-related books, play with his various creations and we even managed a trip in the basement of wonder for a little spot of making… something for the girls.

On the Thursday we made the pilgrimage into Brookline to visit David’s shop. He’s moved a couple of doors down recently and has a heck of a lot more space now, both upstairs in the shop and downstairs in the basement(s). David showed us around his new equipment for making custom-printed jigsaw puzzles – bring in a flash drive with your favourite picture and leave with a 1000-piece jigsaw of it!

He's using the extra space for even more jigsaw puzzles, mechanical puzzles and games of all descriptions – it’s well-worth a visit if you’re anywhere vaguely close by - where else could you wander into a puzzle shop and pick up a copy of the latest from Two Brass Monkeys or a Pachinko Box. I managed to pick up a couple of multi-challenge puzzles to play with on the boat: a copy of Manifold II and Smart Games IG Circuit provided many hours of puzzling fun on the cruise the following week… especially when we found ourselves in the neighbourhood of Hurricane Fiona!

After a proper tour of the shop and all of the basements, David treated us to some of the best sandwiches out there from Michael’s Deli around the corner – that place is worth the trip as well – phenomenal food!

Saul had organised a puzzle party at his place on the Friday and folks began congregating form around 11am – just after Gill and I had managed to get our certified COVID tests that we needed for the cruise…

Rosemary and Nancy had driven for hours to spend the day chatting crafts and playing puzzles and I got to meet John Bottoms and chat about codes and the meta-verse. (I tried to keep up…) Tim and John Partridge joined us and remembered to bring along a puzzle I’d ordered off his web-site a little while back. David brought Chris and then John and Jane (& Teddy!) joined us a little later.

There were plenty of puzzles on the dining room table and plenty of crafting-chat in the sun room. David had brought along an advance copy of a new puzzle that few of us had a go at – and even though I solved it reasonably quickly, I’ll definitely be buying a copy when it comes out…

At one point there was a fair amount of hilarity when Chris, Saul and Tim had a bash at solving Nightingale’s Six-Handed Burr – successfully in the end – albeit there were a couple of false-starts in there.

I spent a good amount of time trying to solve the puzzle John had brought along for me… I was pretty sure I knew what I was expecting it to do, but try as I may, I couldn’t get any magic to happen… so I eventually asked John if I was on the right track – he took the puzzle and tried a couple of things and then announced it was a little too tight – and needed a little more fettling, so swapped it for another copy which instantly flew apart when I tried the same thing on it… much to my relief as I was beginning to think I’d lost the last remnants of my puzzling mojo.

The three-piece TICs amused a few folks during the course of the afternoon, with some achieving the satisfaction of seeing the cube lock neatly together… I really love how these designs make it absolutely obvious where all of the pieces have to go, but make getting them there a nicely unique challenge across the set – damn fine designs from Andrew C.

Somewhere around 5pm everyone decamped down the road to the burger joint in Beverley where we had a super meal with just a bit more chat about puzzles and life in general… it’s good spending time with puzzlers. :-)

Thanks a stack to Saul and Paulette for putting up with us for a week and finding so many superb ice cream joints for us to try... I know that would have been tough on you!