Having promised we wouldn’t just stop our Virtual MPP get-togethers once we managed to start getting back together in the hall for actual
in-person MPPs, we organised VMPP IIX (Yes, I butcher Roman Numerals for fun,
I’m a bad person!) for about a week ago.
We stuck to the established schedule of a morning, afternoon
and evening session so we could include folks from all around the world, and
this time we had a major drawcard for the afternoon session, well, almost as
big as Frank’s legendary Pu(b)zzle Quizzes.
The morning session was billed as literally just some puzzle
chat and a scavenger hunt because those have gone down pretty well in the past
and they give people an opportunity to show us their puzzles, something that
seems vaguely appropriate for a puzzle party.
Dor showed us a copy of Boaz’s new Loophole lock – one that
got several thumbs-up from around the virtual room – I’ve already told both of
the folks who read my blog that I’m a big fan. Louis admitted to be somewhat
puzzled by JCC’s Sun Box – one that I’ve had partially opened on my desk for
months now – at least I’m not the only one making heavy weather of it – I’m in
good company if Louis isn’t just bashing through the solution.
Goetz recommended the Pocket Change set of trapped coin
puzzles from Puzzled by Piker and Dan showed us his copy of Mikael Simo’s
Pooplock which was being readied for solving. Nigel gave a big shoutout to
Bruns’ Bomb Destroyer Puzzle and Frank told us how much he was enjoying his
Exit The Game Advent Calendar – we’ve been comparing notes and both been really
enjoying the mini challenges presented daily – the team who create these games
are really inventive.
Ken was happy to share his copy of the Craighill Wavelinks
Kickstarter and we all agreed that “Rod dun good” on that one! Brian admitted
to being somewhat puzzled by the copy of Pennypincher that he picked up at MPP
earlier in the year. Peter showed us a new Window Lock from Dick Hensel that
sounds like it’s definitely going to be worth keeping an eye out for when
Dick’s decided that it’s ready for public release – he’s still tuning and
tweaking a couple of things at the moment to incorporate some of the guys’
From there Ali and Steve took over and ran a bunch of
lightning rounds of scavenger hunts, starting with an Eric Fuller puzzle, then
a pair of puzzles starting with “E” & “F” respectively, before heading off
into some wonderfully esoteric territory including “A puzzle that Steve knows
the name of” and then the obvious corollary “A puzzle that Steve doesn’t know
the name of”… each round included special rules, some of which were announced
up front and some of which may have been made up on the spur of the moment. In
one round you scored double if others had the same selection as you and in
another round that meant you scored nil… there was a fair amount of fun, some
actual scoring and even an announcement of a winner and some losers. Dan came
in first place, Nigel came in second last and I managed to take the wooden
spoon – which probably served me right given my selection for the “Puzzle Steve
knows the name of” round – you’ll need to watch the video for that one (about
1:42 and a bit in…) – this is a PG blog… I may have been crying with laughter
at that point so coming last didn’t seem like the worst thing in the world.
We combined our afternoon session with Nick’s announcement
of the winners of the 2023 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition, lending a massive amount of credibility to our normal gathering of the
rabble. Nick was up bright and early West Coast time and ran the traditional
slideshow showing all of the entries, revealing the designers’ names for the first
time while folks joined the call. The lure of the announcements was indeed
great, and it was great to see a whole bunch of the designers and makers themselves
joining to congratulate the winners.
Before launching into the announcement of the winners, Nick
paused to pay tribute to Eric Fuller, noting that his IRMO Box had won a Jury
First Prize Award in the 2008 Puzzle Design Competition.
Between Nick and I we managed to tee up most of the designers
and got them to say a few words by way of an acceptance speech. We worked our
way through the Top Ten Vote Getters before singling out the three Jury
Honourable mentions and then the three Jury First prize winners. Mittan was a
popular Jury Grand Prize Winner for Juno and Brian took the Puzzlers’ Award for
Once all of the winners had been announced, we took the opportunity
to talk to the designers about their puzzles and their design process. Theo surprised
us by telling us that his unusual packing designs in conjunction with Symen all
relied on old-fashioned manual design and didn’t use any fancy software they’d
cooked up between themselves. Peter Canham talked about how he started out
designing his puzzles to stump his kids and how he’d managed to find the wood
that went into making his Ripple box. Brian told us where the idea for the main
mechanism in Abraham’s Well had come from and then went on to talk a little
about his next sequential discovery puzzle.
There was a great question from Stefan on prototype failure
rates and how to get through to a successful puzzle in the end, and another
from Gary on the ideal size of the finished puzzle – which resulted in some
interesting thoughts on the various constraints and the importance of
playability. It was a great opportunity to learn from the mass of design
experience in the virtual room.
From there we went on to remembering Eric Fuller, sharing
stories about him and talking about some of his epic puzzles over the years. Gary
recalled always being next to Eric at the puzzle exchange given the proximity
of their surnames and surprised a few of us when he told us how much Eric
enjoyed opera – if you ever needed proof that Eric was one-of-a-kind…
A couple of the gang were coaxed into talking about the time
that Eric hauled out his one-wheel in the hotel lobby in San Diego and managed to
convince a few people to have a go on it after telling them it was as easy to
ride as a Segway… while there were no broken bones that evening (I suspect alcohol
may have relaxed the fallers!) there were some bruises and strains that lasted
quite a while.
There was a common theme about just how thoroughly unselfish
Eric always was in a few of the stories – from setting up Cubic Dissection as a
platform where others would be able to sell their puzzles to encouraging new
designers and makers. It was great to be reminded of the gentle goading Eric
got to encourage him into having a go at making Greg Benedetti’s NOS burrs late
one night in the design competition room – and then recalling the utter perfection
that he produced that series with.
Eric was truly wonderful, unique individual. His skills were
legendary and his prices were always lower than they should have been. He cared
deeply about making sure that all of his customers were happy with his work – aggressively
fixing anything – even things that weren’t his fault. The puzzle community has
lost a wonderful soul.
The evening session was a pretty select affair, coinciding as
it did with England meeting France in the semi-finals of the footie world cup.
There was very little chat about said football, especially after Yaccine told
us the French were 1-0 up…
There was chat about puzzles currently on the to-be-solved
pile – I admitted to having Fermat meets Fuller in that place for several
months now and Marc confessed to being similarly confused by Roger’s Bolt.
There was some invaluable shopping advice from Steve hidden
among all the puzzle chatter but frankly it’s not worth hunting out...
Frank’s latest Pu(b)zzle Quiz did not disappoint! There was
plenty of Christmas trivia (where I discovered I know very little about
Christmas, and trivia), the obligatory dad jokes seamlessly(!) woven in, some
words that Frank made up and lots of questions about the Puzzle Design Competition
over the years after he discovered there was a search function on the Competition
website… along the way there was plenty of banter and even a joke or two.
At the end of the quiz, one Harry Kane was triumphant
(although sadly his namesake wasn’t later on that evening), with Michel and Sam coming in
second and third. I think I managed tenth spot… a decidedly sub-par performance,
but I had a good laugh along the way!
After the quiz, things went downhill a little, especially when
“some people” (Steve!) realised that Nick’s search engine would let you find
naughty words in the design competition entries… so we were regaled with the
number of male chickens and letters before “S” among the competition entries.
Nick immediately turned safe-search functionality on…
Bizarrely at one point there was a semi-mass-waving-of-hamsters
for no apparent reason… before Tomas told us all about the planned Finnish
Puzzle Party in Vaasa on the second weekend in June next year… mark your
calendars and reach out to Tomas for details.
All in all, another fun day with puzzling friends from
around the world… thanks for joining us and contributing to the fun/mayhem.
Thanks to Wil who lurked in the background all day long and
supplied all of the screenshots for the blog post!
[Oh and we promised we wouldn’t mention that Tamsin fell
asleep in the afternoon session… ]