Saturday 22 April 2023


Back in 2018 Rod Bogart’s Wavelinks puzzle was a popular entry in the annual Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition – it was one of the 10 most popular puzzles among the assembled puzzlers. There was much discussion about the potential for the design to be cast in metal by a particular manufacturer, it seemed that was everyone’s first thought on playing with it… but sadly that would not happen as they felt some of the overhangs in the design wouldn’t suit their manufacturing process.

For a few years, the only way to get a copy was to grab a 3D-printed copy off Shapeways, and don’t get me wrong, they’re fabulous to play with in sintered nylon… but they could have been so much better.

Flash forward a couple of years and the good people of Craighill decided to collaborate with the Buck Bros of Art of Play to run a Kickstarter campaign to produce them in steel… and a lot of us joined the queue to order a copy.

My copy arrived toward the end of last year and it is fabulous – I opted for the ever-so-slightly psychedelic version over the black and silver copy so it looks a little trippy. The packaging is second to none so it presents almost as beautifully in an unassembled state as it does fully assembled.

The accuracy on the pieces is stellar, and they slide together wonderfully – but if things aren’t lined up, they will refuse point-blank to move.

Colour aside, you would normally have four identical pieces – given my colour choice, mine literally are identical! Any pair will slide together to form a torus (mathematicians’ doughnuts!) but what you’re really after is to assemble a pair of interlinked torii… something simpler said than done.

I find this design really messes with my head whenever I pick up a copy… and I’ve had a copy for years and solved it many times, but I still struggled when I picked up this copy for the first time. There’s a lovely heft to these pieces that invites fiddling and playing – so fiddle and play!

Finding the right combination, the right starting point and the right combination of movements produces a pair of interlinked torii – it does seem more than a little magical when they slide together.

A brilliant design that’s been perfectly rendered in solid steel…

Saturday 15 April 2023

QuizBrix’ aMAZEing PuzzleBox

Funny story: a couple of months ago I had a polite email from a young man called Peleg offering me a free puzzle in return for a blog post. I thanked him for the offer, but declined on the grounds that I only blogged about puzzles that I wanted to blog about… now here I am having bought a copy of the puzzle and I’m choosing to blog about it! 

Hopefully that tells you something about this puzzle already…

In the interim I'd spotted someone who’s opinions I rate rather highly posting on Facebook that he really liked this puzzle – so I immediately set about ordering a copy and a few days later one duly arrived, well-packaged, in Barnt Green. It comes with a handy little card telling you the rules of the game and warning you that this is a Lego puzzle and you should really try and avoid the urge to take things apart (because you can literally disassemble the entire thing!).

I started with the obligatory poking and prodding of pretty much everything, then progressed to trying to slide various bits and pieces around and at some point I managed to retrieve a somewhat handy tool… which when applied to some suitably shaped orifices, made things happen…

I was thoroughly hooked at this stage… and then things got even better.

More tools arrived and even more opportunities opened up. The eagle-eyed will have spotted a couple of transparent bricks in the sides and these will give you just enough of a hint of where to concentrate at the appropriate time.

There’s some really clever design in this puzzle – which makes tremendous use of the Lego bricks and their interactions. There’ll be things you want to try and do up front that won’t work, and then you’ll find yourself unlocking them later on… ultimately there’s a wonderful sequence of discoveries that leads to releasing not only the gold bar you're trying to find, but also a handy QR code that takes you to  the reset instructions and also a video of the complete solve – nice touch.

This really is a terrific puzzle and I’m glad I spotted Jim’s glowing recommendation on Facebook and took the plunge myself. Peleg’s done an excellent job of creating an entertaining puzzle that will make you think, and then make you smile. Well worth the price – especially at their currently discounted levels!

Friday 7 April 2023

Free the Washer

Phil’s crushed it again!

Phil Wigfield, aka MetalPuzzlesUK, let me know that he had a new puzzle available for sale at our last MPP – I’d taken cash and duly left with a puzzling chunk steel and brass.

Free the Washer gives you a pair of chunky brass disks held apart by a number of steel bars – which seem to penetrate the disks  - and the top and bottom have been nicely machined giving it a very handsome look. Inside the cage there’s a slim brass washer with a little segment removed from it… (un)helpfully the bit that’s been removed is smaller than the smallest of the steel bars – and even if it wasn’t, I’m not sure that would have helped anyway. The floor of the cage has Phil’s stamped signature and a serial number… so get the washer out, eh?

I ended up spending an hour or so during the course of Sunday fiddling around with it and I did manage to find some interesting things… unfortunately I could not get those interesting things to do what I wanted them to do, so I ended up fiddling around and around and pretty much getting nowhere.

That evening Frank goaded me into more action by announcing that he’d solved it at MPP the day before, becoming the first person to officially Free the Washer.

On Monday, I tried harder. And I tried different. (It’s almost like I’m starting to listen to my own advice…! Almost…) Having tried unsuccessfully to get the mechanism to do one thing on the Sunday, I admitted that my theory on what was going on inside there might not quite be right after all – so I tried a couple of other avenues and then realised I was able to do even more than I’d been able to the day before.

From there I developed an entirely new theory, and this one actually turned out to be helpful – freeing the washer a few minutes later.

Free the Washer has been very well made – it hides some wonderful subterfuge perfectly and it’s clear that the tolerances are spot-on – even the final act of freeing the washer is a delight to behold.

If you like your puzzles heavy and metal, I suspect you’ll like this one, a lot.

Great work Phil!

Free the Washer should be available on Phil’s Etsy shop shortly – form an orderly queue. 


<After solving Free the Washer I traded a couple of emails with Phil and found out just how much work had gone into making this puzzle... trust me, it's a bargain!>


Sunday 2 April 2023

Prague Puzzle Party 2023

A couple of months ago there was some chatter on the interweb about a possible puzzle party in Prague… a few of us had a chat about it one Sunday evening and we kind of liked the idea of having a weekend trip to Prague so we expressed our interest and when the dates were nailed down, we committed… and then planned a few days around the puzzle party.

Steve took care of the flights and hotel booking, making great use of the very latest in AI technology to find a hotel with a statue of a brass monkey at reception – Yup, ChatGPT will literally find you a hotel in Prague with a brass monkey in reception…

We flew out of Stansted last Thursday evening and got into Prague in the early evening. A high speed taxi dropped us off at our hotel where we all took turns to have our photo taken “appreciating” the brass monkey – much to the receptionist’s amusement. We dumped our stuff in our rooms and headed out in search of some dinner – by now we were all pretty hungry! We managed to find a few restaurants whose kitchens had already closed before chancing upon a trendy place with lots of young people eating and drinking so we went undercover and hid behind Lily, Ali’s daughter. They not only let us in but fed us royally…I’m very glad we brought the responsible adult along.

Next morning we were supposed to be doing a couple of escape rooms back-to-back at Endorfin, but they needed to bring the first one forward an hour or so to free up the place for “a private photo shoot”… so we got there for the earlier slot and took on Titanic… escaping in about 31 minutes. It was Lily’s first escape room, although Ali, Steve and I had no excuses. The room was excellent – staging was superb and props all worked flawlessly – there was always enough information to pause, think and work out where you needed to go next and we thoroughly enjoyed Titanic.

Given the “private photo shoot” needed us to be out of the way for a couple of hours, we headed into town and ended up wandering the streets more or less aimlessly and looking at the architecture. Getting around town on the tram system was really simple – we’d all got a three-day pass so we could just hop on and off all the public transport.

We headed back to Endorfin for our midday date with their Star Wars room where the “private photo shoot” was just wrapping up… it turned out to be totally PG – blokes in suits getting headshots against unusual backgrounds, no doubt for a company website – just as well, given our responsible adult in tow.

We laboured quite a lot in the Star Wars room, eventually getting out in just under an hour – literally seconds under… we found ourselves getting lost in a lot of the detailed information that abounded in this room, and totally overlooked some things that we could actually make progress on, instead choosing to work on things we didn’t have all the information for yet…  there were some lovely toys to play with, and Star Wars enthusiasts will almost certainly enjoy this room.

From there we headed across town to find our next challenge at The Chamber - with just enough time to not only meet up with Louis who was arriving from The Netherlands but also grab some lunch – so we met up with Louis at the nearest KFC – which was the clue we gave him while he was in the taxi from the airport… being the consummate puzzler he is, he found us at the right spot in plenty of time to grab a bit to eat with us…

Opus Magnum was the afternoon’s challenge and I’d have to say it was EPIC – definitely the best escape room we played in Prague. The setting was absolutely superb and the puzzles flowed beautifully… with not a single padlock or combination lock in sight. There was only one spot where our gamesmaster felt the urge to offer us a nudge – and as she started, we got it immediately and made swift progress from there… we really enjoyed this one and we were literally all buzzing after we finished it.

From there we headed back toward the KFC where there was a full flung food market on the go and we all ended up grabbing a thoroughly delicious slice of cake/pie to fortify us. We got the tram back toward the hotel so that Louis could rub the monkey and check in before heading back into town to find Ivan and the gang for the city tour. Doog and Laura introduced themselves to the motley crew sheltering from the rain and we made Mattias’ acquaintance before Ivan arrived with his friendly historian, Pavel. We waited a few minutes beyond the hour in case there were any stragglers before heading out in the rain (Sod’s Law – it had been dry all day for us!) 

Pavel did an awesome job of telling us some fascinating stories about the history of Prague – as a fist time visitor it was brilliant to get shown around some of the less touristy bits. Pavel clearly knows the city like the back of his hand, often taking us through courtyards and alleyways that only a few of the locals seemed to be aware of. Loved seeing the meteorological observation station that’s been in continuous operation since 1775(!) in one of those alleyways. By the time we hit the Charles Bridge some of us were flagging badly, having walked about 15km before the city tour started – we agreed on finding a restaurant on the far side of the bridge where we settled in for a little food and beer and puzzling. (Of course there was puzzling!)

After dinner we navigated our way back to the hotel on the trusty trams and then pretty much crashed – next morning Ali told us we’d walked a half marathon on the Friday – no wonder we were knackered!

Saturday was all about the puzzle party so after breakfast at the hotel we headed off to the Gallery of Steel Figures for our 10am start. Klaus found us outside and he introduced us to his father-in-law who was joining him for the puzzling. Just before 10 the whole gang turned up and we headed inside past all the life-size steel creations – picture bits of junk metal welded together into your favourite movie characters, cars and motorbikes – all rife for instagramming! It’s clearly quite a popular place and there was a steady stream of folks wandering past our puzzling tables all day long, although we didn’t managed to interest anyone in having a bash at our puzzles.

The party started with a quick round of introductions – Hi I’m Allard, I collect puzzles, write a blog and occasionally organise a puzzle party in the Midlands. I’m looking forward to meeting new puzzlers… and puzzles! Then the puzzles came out and the usual puzzle party atmosphere of light banter, occasional “A-Ha!s” and rounds of coffee ensued.

On one particular coffee run, Steve came down to help carry some coffees and ended up with a cup of coffee in each hand trying to scan his ticket to get back into the exhibition with the ticket in his mouth…it all looked very funny and Klaus managed to capture some of it on camera before a helpful assistant rushed over and insisted on helping Steve through the turnstile. Not quite as good as the Oliver-Soos-French-Metro-Disentanglement-Puzzle, but close…

After several years of buying puzzles from Radek, it was great to finally meet him in person – he’d brought the full range of his wares along for folks to play with and several made good use of the opportunity. Alex Magyarics had also brought along a huge collection of his designs, both old and new and it was lovely to meet the man behind some the excellent puzzles from Pelikan that have stumped me for absolute ages!

Dusan introduced himself to all of us and told us about his planned puzzle party later in the year in his local town a little way outside Prague… Jan Sturm had brought along a couple of his classic disentanglements which ended up stumping most puzzlers.

I’d taken along a few sets of George Bell’s Octaballs 2 – and printed some extra pieces so we could take puzzlers through assembling four of one piece, then four of another piece, then mixing two of each of those… it gets a bit harder there! And then finally giving them one of each and two other pieces and letting them assemble that – pretty much everyone managed it eventually… best story on that puzzle definitely goes to Mattias who’d struggled with the final assembly at dinner on Friday, and then promptly assembled it on his walk back to the hotel that evening – they are seriously fiddly little things so doing it on the road after a couple of glasses of wine was impressive!

Doog had brought along a swathe of seriously challenging puzzle boxes as well as a few little proofs of concept for some potential puzzle box mechanisms… I spent a while on a few of them and managed to make some progress on some of the individual mechanisms, but it took a bunch of help from Louis to make much progress on any of Doog’s boxes… it was great to sit and chew the fat with Doog about his boxes and how he started making them. If you enjoyed Ziggy, I think you’re going to like what Doog and Radek cook up next…

The puzzle party pretty much sped by – we stopped for a coffee at one point, and snacked on the stroopwafels that Louis had brought along for all of the tables.

Sometime after 2pm the gang began to thin out a bit, but a hardy few of us hung around until about 4pm when we needed to head off toward The (other) Chamber for Zodiac Patres, our Saturday escape room. Mattias joined us for this one and we ended up getting there a little early so we waited patiently outside until our gamesmaster was ready for us. The lead-in to the game was excellent and the set was superb, unfortunately we had a couple of issues with some bits not being properly reset so some clues and some tools not becoming available which meant we ended up getting hints from the gamesmaster and having to (figuratively!) brute-force a puzzle or two… some of the mechanics were really nicely themed with some things being in front of your face the whole time and you hadn’t realised it… overall not a bad experience in spite of the reset issues.

From there we high-tailed it up to the micro-brewery for dinner where there was plenty of meat and beer – great beer in fact! Given we’d effectively skipped lunch we were all pretty hungry, something that Steve decided to rectify by ordering a meal for two, which he duly polished off, save for the small loaf of bread that came with the large pile of meat… and some beer – which was great! So great, that I even had some!

Several hours, some beer, meat and puzzles later, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel after thanking Ivan, our host for the weekend, profusely…

Louis left first thing the next morning and managed to get home before we’d even managed to get into our Sunday escape room – they’d had a bit of an issue and we needed to start an hour later so we killed some time by wandering around the Illusion Art Museum – where we had a brilliant time with all of the optical and other illusions.

Around noon we headed back to the reactor where we spent a while chatting to our host and playing Mastermind for some reason. (We were glad we had…) The room was pretty good although we found ourselves labouring on a couple of aspects – probably more our incompetence than their design! There were several wonderful surprises – a couple of which were sort-of jaw-dropping. The final puzzle was beautifully done and we really got a good sense of achievement conquering that one. From there it was back to the street food market for some lunch before the four of us piled into a little Golf and screeched out to the airport – isn’t Bolt great?!

We had quite a while at the airport before our flight left anyway so we commandeered a row of chairs and rested up before the short flight home to Stansted at the end of an excellent weekend in Prague. Thanks to Ivan and Jarda for hosting the puzzle party, Ali and Steve for the amusement and to Lily for being the responsible adult in the group.