Saturday 24 December 2022

Allard’s Christmas Puzzle 2022

I didn’t want this to be the first year without a Christmas puzzle on the blog – so here you go.

To be honest, I don’t expect anyone to solve it, it hasn’t been checked and there might well be gremlins in there. Sorry if there are any snafus – I’m sure you’ll work it out, you are a metagrobologist after all… hope you have fun!


<Link to a hi-res version of that doc


Usual arrangements: email me your answer to allard *DOT* walker ~AT~ gmail &DOT& com -  if anyone gets it right, there'll be bragging rights - puzzles for the first one past the post and a random draw from all participants. 

... and I'll publish what I thought the answer was at the end of the year.

Saturday 17 December 2022


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’ feedback.

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 Abraham’s Well.

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!

Morning Video

Afternoon video

Evening video

[Oh and we promised we wouldn’t mention that Tamsin fell asleep in the afternoon session… ]

Sunday 11 December 2022


Boaz has serious pedigree when it comes to puzzle locks, so when he announces he has a new puzzle I always pay attention… I also usually pay up and end up getting puzzled.

When Boaz announced the launch of LoopholeI did what I always do and soon after I had a neat little black bag with the usual logo sitting on my desk begging me to play…

Inside there’s a somewhat doctored NABOB padlock with a key attached to the shackle for safe-keeping. Removing the key from the shackle (that part isn’t meant to be a puzzle – whatever you do, don’t ever admit you found that bit challenging! ;-) ) enables you to insert it into the locking barrel and simply turn the key to open the padlock… YEAH RIGHT!

OK, you CAN insert the key – but for the life of you, you won’t get that key to turn….

Time for some closer observation – there’s one rather obvious modification on the face of the padlock: there is a hole going right through the darn thing! The first “O” in Loophole is fresh air(!) … which is interesting, as Laurie was always minded to say.

Next up there’s another dirty great hole in the side of the thing… and when you shake it, it rattles. It’s all rather confusing.

When you do approach it properly and with some deference, it will begin to give up its secrets – you’ll find some even more interesting things, and then possibly even begin to postulate on interplay. There are a couple of things to think on and a really interesting challenge to befuddle.

Find a suitable strategy and you’re laughing – laughing, and unlocking the padlock.

Once you’ve solved this little guy you really do have to marvel at not only the ingenuity, but also just how well all that “stuff” has been disguised and camouflaged.

Bravo Boaz!

Saturday 3 December 2022


I first noticed Amulet when Radek posted some stunning pictures on Facebook – I liked the look of the minty green puck inside the steel cage with vibes very reminiscent of the Cooksey Maze – even if this one was inside out and appeared to have twice as many interfering bits… oh, and the maze is twisted forty-five degrees, but apart from that, it’s just like the Cooksey Maze! 

(OK, it isn’t…)

Amulet is the result of a collaboration between Radek and James Stanley. They’ve taken a maze and wrapped it around a cylinder and given you a puck with two (almost! - thanks Michel!) perpendicular rods that engage with the maze. Each rod will move back and forth and at each extreme, will disengage from one of the sides of the maze, giving you an extra degree of freedom.

Using that technique will allow you to manipulate the little green puck up and down and roundabout while the little rods go backwards and forwards… simples!

…only it isn’t – it’s more than a little disorientating having the maze offset at forty-five degrees – it took me a while to get comfortable with which way I wanted things to go on the front and on the back – I kept finding myself trying to push against the steel walls – that doesn’t go well…

Once you get your bearings, there are some obvious paths to follow, and some of them do indeed seem to take you almost all the way to where you want to be, only you’ll find you aren’t near a usable exit…

Ah well, maybe it’s time for that old left-hand-rule … except you’ve got four hands and two of them are reversed because they’re on the back of the maze… there’s nothing for it but to just keep your wits about you… and maze on.

Find your way through it all and you’ll release the little green puck and meet your final challenge – which is really cute and the less said about it in here, the better!

Amulet is really well made – the steel cage looks like it’s been tumbled to within an inch of its life to get rid of any sharp edges, and the puck is a beautiful object all on its own – it’s a cool fidget toy and a great little puzzle.

Nice one, Radek!