Saturday 21 January 2023

Keep Locked

I counted myself exceptionally lucky to be able to purchase a copy of Robert Yarger’s thirty sixth numbered puzzlebox – The Keep Locked. Truth be told it arrived several months ago, but I haven’t been able to blog about it until just now…

It arrived a couple of days before Gill and headed off to Boston for a couple of weeks so I managed only a little bit of playtime on a few of the evenings before we flew out. In that time managed to make a little progress but I could see that I was nowhere near completing this E.P.I.C. solve, so I reset it all back to the start position and went off on holiday… and then a few jet-lag-riddled days after we got home, I was heading up to the Northern Puzzle Party, so I made sure that I took the little fortress along with me for others to play with.

Shane ended up supervising several solvers as they wended their way through the solve and I managed to avoid spotting too many spoilers as I really wanted to have a good go at it myself, safe in the knowledge that I was going to really enjoy it.

I deliberately left it alone for a while on my desk and then ended up taking it to an MPP where a few more folks managed to solve it… and then it sat on my desk, sort of in pride of place while I furiously avoided playing with it until I knew I had enough time to really enjoy it… and that time came this afternoon – I had literally an afternoon free, and I wanted to be puzzled – kismet.

This isn’t a small puzzle – it’s more of a statement puzzle – it defies you to have a go – a bit like the 1998 hit from The Mekons. The Keep has four turrets – each colour-coded to the padlocks hanging down from them – I’m guessing that’s not a coincidence. On the front there’s a handsome lion above the heavy doors and portcullis. Around the back there’s a round Stickman logo dancing in the dawn…

I’d seen Rob’s wooden padlocks in the past but these raise the game even further – four locks in different woods – all looking a little different – waiting to be challenged. A few months ago my experience had been limited to fiddling with the locks, so I dived in there again…

Each lock literally has a personality of it’s own, some are polite and formal and others shout and kick… and once they’ve all been dealt with, there are lots of bits and pieces to keep track of.

From there on it was all new territory, and I can definitely say that things get a bit extreme from there on in… there are some seriously funky things that happen along the way, there are times when you’re up a creek without a paddle and you need to pay close attention to find the paddle that Rob’s carefully stashed for you behind some rocks.

As always, there’s a generous sprinkling of tools around and if you’re paying (very!) close attention, it’ll be clear what you need to do – a few times I found myself wondering where to head to next and only when I took stock, did I realise that the answer was right there in front of me all along…

This solve is an EPIC journey – another classic Stickman.

Friday 13 January 2023


With the success of Radek’s recent collaboration on Amulet comes a fresh collaboration with New Zeelander Douglas Menzies to produce Ziggy – a goofy-looking little guy who seems to have misplaced his smile.

Your mission, for surely you must accept it, is to help him find his smile…

Ziggy starts out looking more than a little lopsided – with a couple of bolts for eyes not exactly well-matched… and a confused looking half-grin. He appears to be machined from aluminium with a healthy gold coat of anodising, a handsome logo on the base and a wonderfully creative use of the dovetail on the side to provide the “Z” in Ziggy – nice touch!

There’s probably an obvious place to start fiddling and that leads to the discovery of a really handy tool which in turn provides more progress…

..and then you may well find yourself up against a bit of a brick wall… with nary a smile in sight.

Time to think (c) :-)

The next bit is rather clever and something not seen in many puzzles – it will reward careful observation and a little thinking outside the box, and once you’ve got that bit cracked, you’re rewarded with a wonderfully happy Ziggy.

An excellent little puzzle guaranteed to make puzzlers smile, first at the major “A-ha!!” moment, and then at the sight that greets you at the end of the solve.

A(nother) excellent collaboration from Radek!

Friday 6 January 2023


…that was George’s comment on my blog post about Nine Balls a couple of weeks back... and at the time I happened to be printing some of George’s recent designs, that he calls Octaballs, so it was only fair that that became the blog title.

George has designed some really interesting interlocking puzzles and spent a while a few years back doing an exhaustive analysis of possible Pennyhedrons with Chinny. More recently he’s switched gears and changed geometries a bit, and then wrapped them in a shape that’s a cross between a ball and an octahedron – which is why George christened them Octaballs.

I spotted them on my favourite 3D Printing site (George has made the designs available for free for anyone to print their own copies! Top man!!) and thought they looked interesting so threw some G-code and a pile of filament at the puzzle-making-machine and a short while later I had four identical pieces that assembled into an Octaball… and I was hooked.

Assembly isn’t trivial, but it’s pretty clear what you need to do and it’s reasonably straightforward to get everything properly aligned and Octaball one is assembled.

Octaball two was available in two flavours – the first uses two pairs of pieces and, while it’s a bit trickier than number one, it isn’t that bad an assembly challenge. (It also has a neat expand-and-contract action when you push on opposite triangles.) The alternative assembly swaps out one of each of the pairs for another piece and I like that one even more – it really steps up the “interest” factor.

Octaballs three and four are both made up of four unique pieces, although they do share some pieces with one another and indeed with some of the other designs. These guys are sods to assemble – in fact George’s maker’s notes warn that they might seem to be impossible and not to give up.

Those last two provide a serious assembly challenge as the shapes of pretty much every single piece requires the other three pieces to be virtually completely disassembled in order to introduce the final piece… George’s warning is not there for nothing – I reckon these things will reduce seasoned puzzlers to quivering wrecks… you’ve been warned – they are indeed dia-BALL-ical!

Nice one George!!


Sunday 1 January 2023

Allard’s Christmas Puzzle 2022 – the answers…

Happy New Year Puzzlers!

Traditionally I give everyone until the end of the year to submit their answers before I publish what I think the answers are, so I reckon it's about time...

First of all a massive thank you to everyone who had a bash at my puzzle this year – it hadn’t been play-tested and I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to get through it… but a few hours after it got published, I had my first correct entry, so I guess I needn’t have worried too much…

As I write this, I’ve had 7 correct entries, most of which came in on, or fairly soon after, Christmas Day – haven’t you folks got anything better to do!?

Here's what I thought the answers were:

First off you were presented with some rogue underlining in the opening text – if you noted all the underlined letters, you were rewarded with the wonderfully witty “this is not a secret message”… it goes downhill from here…

There were some random encoded phrases floating around the page which ended up saying silly things like “hamsters rule”, “ where is Chico” and “he’s behind you” – I was bored and figured I’d trot out some of the old MPP memes… none of that helped you solve the puzzle.  The “lorem ipsum dolor” in pseudo-plaintext was also my idea of a laugh… I told you it was going downhill.

There were three puzzles numbered [a], [B] and [c] and then some crossword style clues that I’d wittily referred to as Angry-word(s) – did I mention it went downhill?

[a] was a simple set of semaphore letters that decoded to “habe yiu triet llowiny on it? – which is either really sloppy semaphore, or the spelling mistakes are what’s really interesting… hopefully you spotted the similarity to that oft-quoted really helpful phrase to throw at fellow puzzlers “have you tried blowing on it?” – and the spelling mistakes give you “bitly”… which is useful.

[c] is a simple optical trick – stand well back and it clearly says “2022” – look at it closely and it’s a table with bad formatting…

[B] was the puzzle I liked most of all this year – you have some partly coloured-in wreaths (Yay, Christmas activities!) in a three by two arrangement where the [B] is clearly lying on it’s side… so if you had the “B” upright, you’d have a two by three arrangement, and the colours might give you some indication of what was on and what was off … sort of like a Braille letter? Now if only there was some way of knowing what order to read off the Braille letters, this would be simple – and it is when you realise that everybody universally knows the order of the colours on the rainbow – so the Braille decodes to “allard”, e.g. in ROYGBIV, red is used only in top left-hand corner, which gives you an “a”... and so on.

Okay, so you have answers for [a], [B] & [c], now what – in case you hadn’t already figured that out, the Angry-words tell you what to do… the answers in order are: CON, Ca, TEN, eight, ABC – notice the full stop after line 5 – that indicated a break – 6 clued to PUNCTUATE – another full stop, and the final clue was Go For IT! … which then collapses into CONCATENATE ABC. Punctuate. Go For It!

Following those instructions you derive which linked you to the familiar assortment of pictures and some instructions “I want a designer… (not the inspirer).” and “time and titles (at least initially!) are crucial, eh blogger boy?”

You had seven pictures from various blog posts over the years and if you identified the pictures, noted the publication date (clued by time – sorry I went with the slightly misleading “time” for alliteration rather than “date”) and the title of the blog post – and then considered just the first letters of the blog posts, ordered by date, you got “WINENOT” – or with the usual spacing: Wine Not – which if you read the blog post, or Brian’s web page on the puzzle you’d know Brian Young designed it after being inspired by EM Wyatt’s original two dimensional puzzle.(Hopefully that bit confirmed your answer!)

Final answer: Brian Young.

….and the first correct entry arrive in my inbox a little over 4 hours(!) after the puzzle was first published – massive congratulations to Brendan Perez for being the first across the line again this year!!

Not long after him came St Nick, Stefan and The Rammer and after a respectable break we also had correct entries from Mike Q, Chris P and Mike W – well done all of you – you’ve earned bragging rights!

I'll be reaching out to Brendan (our WINNA!) and Mike W (my random draw) very shortly.