Monday 31 July 2023

Dial Case

Juno’s sequential discovery puzzles are legendary – so much so that recent releases have pretty much sold out instantly – sometimes leaving some long-term supporters and collectors disappointed. As a result Juno has recently introduced a new idea to ensure that his long-term supporters can still access his new sequential discovery puzzles: in the week running up to the release he invited folks to send him a picture with three or more of his previous sequential discovery puzzles currently in their collection and that would allow them to effectively reserve a copy of his new release…

The announcement mentioned he was expecting to have around 180 copies available, so there was every chance that a significant number would still be available for sale at the appointed time for those with nimble fingers and fast broadband.

Being older and less nimble, I made use of the preferential route, with my copy making it to the sunny climes of Barnt Green in double-quick time…. where it duly sat on the desk mocking me for quite some time: there’s a pretty obvious first “move”, although I hesitate even to call it that… but the second step eluded me for a long time…

I wasn’t unhappy mind you; it does look gorgeous on the desk. Juno is a magician when it comes to picking stunning bits of wood to craft into puzzles –and the silky oak on the top of this one is dreamy.

I spent a long time exploring the way that big dial would spin and spin and spin, and ever so occasionally for some reason, not spin. It was only when I spotted something super subtle that I managed to scrabble together the tiniest bits of a brainwave and then manage to make some serious progress.

That pretty much opened the flood-gates for some serious dismantlement (which actually seems to be a word!) and my play area was soon strewn with oddly shaped little pieces of puzzle that had previously managed to totally confuse me… but there was more to do.

At the start of this journey you have a rectangular block with a pair of knobs on the top, what seems to be a large dial embedded in the case and a strange recessed (possibly a?) drawer on the one end…

Having dismantled a goodly proportion of the puzzle, at least one of those elements is still there, and mocking me – I can feel Juno grinning somewhere and urging an aspirant puzzler to Think (c) just a little more.

That final locking mechanism is truly classic Juno – imaginative and ingenious – with a delightful “A-Ha!” when you crack it.

Even when you get to the very end, Juno still has the last laugh with his little treasure telling you to go all the way back to the start again. Really cute touch.

Another sequential discovery gem in Juno’s ever-increasing canon.

Sunday 23 July 2023

The Lost Vault of Jesse James

I held back when this puzzle was first announced as it seemed pretty steep for a 3D printed puzzle box… sure it was designed by Jesse, and I’ve always loved his puzzles, but this one was going to be 3D printed…

And then I started seeing pictures of it in the wild, and it looked phenomenal – especially the metal-infused version – the weathering on the outside looked absolutely stunning…  so I kept an eye on the auction sites and bided my time, letting a few of them go as the prices went beyond what I wanted to pay, and then this one came along and while I paid a bit more than retail, I was happy with the price… and delighted when it arrived in the original well-padded shipping box that Jesse sent them out in.

I’ve already mentioned in another blog post that I had a bit of an issue with one of the locks which Louis managed to finagle open and then fix for me, so I’m not going to talk any more about that, and just talk through the puzzle as it ought to be (and is now!).

Any talk of this puzzle has to start with its looks – it is gorgeous! 3D-printed it may be, but there’s been a shed-load of post processing on those bits to add weight inside the panels and to weather and add rust to the outsides – it looks like an old rusty safe that could well have belonged to the James brothers. There’s an obvious combination lock on the front and an old brass lever to open the door – yup, it’s locked up good. There are a few decorative panels on the sides, with some brass bars across the top of them giving you a tantalising view inside the safe… and on the back there’s some sort of decryption device that maps letters to numbers…

Jesse (B) tells us that our goal is to open the safe and retrieve the ill-gotten loot (and memorabilia) of the infamous 'James Boys' band of outlaws.

He describes this puzzle as not too challenging, but it’s anything but trivial!

Finding a way into the puzzle in the first place took me ages – some of the “features” are so well disguised that you could stare at them for ages and not spot a tell. The first stage in the solution shows you just how well made and hidden the puzzle elements are going to be.

From there, there’s some old-school puzzling and translation before heading on to the main event – now smooth as butter!

Once inside there’s plenty to explore – and to read – with that old bit of newspaper (painstakingly weathered by Jesse’s sister) that teased you from behind the bars (don’t be tempted to try and drag it out between the bars – that’s just being silly, and greedy!) now available. There’s an obvious next goal, only you can’t quite get to it… time to Think (c).

There’s plenty more to be done in there, more little relics to find and then ultimately the final treasure itself – you’ll definitely know when you’ve reached the end on this puzzle – your final treasure is beautifully presented and expertly detailed.

Solving this puzzle feels like a romp through the old wild west – the puzzle elements are brilliantly integrated into the theme and despite my initial apprehension – this thing is stunningly well made and it will be proudly displayed next to my other boxes from Jesse.

An excellent collaboration between Jesse, Christina, and Benjamin.

[...and yes, I've learnt my lesson, trust the designer and don't be a snob!] 

Saturday 15 July 2023


When I spotted pics of Stella on Facebook, I immediately followed the links to the new Demonticon website - the family resemblance to Ziggy was obvious, and it had been posted by Radek, so it could only mean one thing: Radek and Doog have a new puzzle out in the wild. Sadly the website was still under construction, so I took a chance and headed to Radek’s normal shop window and was delighted to spot Stella already proudly displayed for sale, so I immediately snapped up a copy.

The next day Radek was in touch to let me know that he was changing couriers and that my puzzle should be with me the next day- WOW! – which was awesome, only I was away on a business trip. Luckily Gill was at home so Stella wouldn’t have to wait on the doorstep for my return. I ended up getting home a day later than planned so last weekend I finally got to play with Stella. (Sorry if that sounds slightly naughtier than I was intending.)

Stella and Ziggy are definitely cut from the same cloth, so to speak – they’re both squat cylinders and Stella is even goofier than Ziggy was. Stella comes with a neat little stand that makes her look like a little meeple – tres cute!

Stella’s backstory tells us that she’s “always been passionate about astronomy, but lately she has had a whirlwind romance and fallen in love,” and then it challenges us to “get inside her head and discover what she’s thinking about…”  All-righty then…

At first sight Stella's head appears to be a tale of two halves, with the split handily providing the “S” in Stella – there’s a tiny bit of a wiggle in there, but it’s obvious there’s something locking things up, so we start with the obvious things and we’re rewarded just a little… and then progress dries up.

Thinking a bit more obliquely yields a little more progress, but again, not a lot…

At some point you need to go full-on MacGyver / NASA engineer to move forward- and Radek’s machining skills are going to impress you.

Blessed with more tools than you know what to do with, you’ll find yourself once again up against a proverbial brick wall and this one’s an absolute doozy. The final lock easily took me the longest to defeat and had me spending a while trying to imagine what on earth could potentially be at play here. It’s an excellent final boss before levelling up.

Once inside Stella’s head, there’s some lovely decoration, and of course that final lock in full view…

At that point I thought I was done and congratulated Doog on a super design and Radek on some excellent craftsmanship - and I was delighted.

And then Doog reminded me of the final bit of the challenge and that put me right back into puzzle mode – and I ended up totally over-engineering my solution until the answer finally dawned on me… it’s a super puzzle – a compact interesting design that’s been beautifully executed.

IMHO Stella is Stellar.

Chapeau Doog! Bravo Radek!


Saturday 8 July 2023


There’s always an MPP on the weekend before Wimbledon starts, just in case Dick’s in town. It turns out he is, and he duly arrives in Brum at a sensible time on the Friday morning. We spend the morning catching up and sharing puzzles back and forth. He’s concocted a gift for everyone at MPP that he’s called Walker’s Worry and he gives me an early bash at a copy. When I manage to struggle my way through it, he decides I need a proper puzzle and he gives me what could only be described as Walker’s Worry on Steroid – there’s an extra “complication” in the centre that still has me confused a week later – disentanglements really aren’t my strong point – in fact I’m beginning to wonder if puzzles in general are!

He also shows me a puzzle he’s cooked up in Wil’s honour called “Easy off, Hard on” because it’s easy to remove the shuttle, and less easy to return it to the start position. I manage to confirm the first part of the name isn’t too way off base, however a week later I’m suspecting that the second part of the name may well be apt as well.

Somewhere around lunchtime George and Roxanne arrive having driven from Panicale (over a few days). We manage to enjoy lunch outside in the sun without the hounds stealing too much of the food, and then settle back into some more puzzling and banter.

Late in the afternoon Dick and I head off to the airport to collect Louis and Wil, and George and Rox head off to their hotel to check in and freshen up. By the time we all meet up back at the house Gill’s arrived home and we sit outside in the early evening sunshine (I know that’s the second time I’ve mentioned it already, but you need to remember that it’s pretty unusual in this part of the world!) enjoying a pile of pizzas while we catch up on everyone’s news.

Wil had brought along copies of the Duck Puzzle for everyone and there was much laughter and confusion as folks sought to clarify the rather direct translation from the original Japanese instructions. Wil had given Dick a copy to play with in the car on the way back from the airport so I heard all the backwards-and-forwards and Dick’s thinking out loud (including there’s not enough material to make the same size duck, so it must be a scaled down version – which wasn’t that helpful!). By the time I got home I had an idea for the solution and I was delighted that when Wil gave me a copy, I was able to verify the answer within a couple of minutes… and I love it – definitely worth getting a copy from Osho or making one up yourself – the details are clear(!) in the pics.

George and Rox told us all about their latest adventures and the travails of getting the world’s largest puzzle collection out of customs in Rotterdam – you can imagine the conversation, can’t you: “Yes, those containers are a personal collection of puzzles…” – “Puzzles?” – “Yes, mechanical puzzles, you know, like a Rubik’s cube” – “ALL of those containers are full of Rubik’s cubes…?” – Ah, fuggedaboutit!

We puzzled and chatted into the night until we felt the need to head up to bed / back to hotels. I dropped Louis and Wil at a local hotel as there was no place at the inn for them, and then crashed myself – until the hounds got me up first thing in the morning.

After breakfast Dick and I headed down to the village hall to start getting things set up while Gill collected the Dutch contingent and dropped them off at the hall… where a couple of puzzlers had already arrived so we were able to get set up pretty quickly – and by the official off at 10am, we were all good to go!

The Millers had had a good rest in their hotel and managed to navigate their way to the village. George set up shop at a corner desk and appeared to hold a number of surgeries with interested puzzlers over the course of the day… including setting BurrTools to solving Vesa’s Pythagoras Puzzle that Wil had sold to a bunch of us. You get two coloured sets of jigsaw pieces and your goal is to successively make up a 2*2, 3*3, 4*4 and a 5*5 square. (And a whole bunch of other challenges…) The first couple aren’t too challenging, but the final one is a monster – albeit one that BurrTools managed to crank through in about 5 minutes. (I’m not sure how much optimising went into George’s modelling for that one!)

It was great to spend some time chatting with Andrew Coles – he’d brought along a whole bunch of prototypes and experiments and was interested in getting some feedback so I spent a goodly while battling my way through a few of his latest creations – including a particularly epic one that probably won’t ever go into production because it is just plain bonkers – and all inside a standard padlock that looks literally untouched.

I’d printed off a copy of a few two-piece TICs from Andrew Crowell and presented them to Dick on Friday as he thought they might be interesting, and then foisted them on a number of folks at MPP on as well – generally presenting folks with an unruly pile of pieces and inviting them to assemble them into cubes… everyone seemed to enjoy them so my conclusion was that they represented a really nice balance of interesting enough so as not to be trivial, but not brutal so you don’t end up not enjoying them… which makes them an excellent puzzle to hand around to folks, IMHO.

Shane also had a couple of prototypes that he wanted playing with, so I duly had a play, and then made some very encouraging noises and I’m hopeful that one or two of those will definitely see the light of day.

It was great to see Ed again after a bit of a break – we had a few Karakuri boxes there for him to try, but he ended up bashing through them really quickly. The man is a machine…

Speaking of machines, Rich spent what seemed like several hours attempting a particularly tricky assembly of a 1980’s toy consisting of multi-coloured plastic C-shaped pieces – Space Cubes. He’d get to the second or third layer quite consistently and then there’d be a familiar crash of pieces falling to the table… so familiar that it almost got to the point where we considered not laughing with (honest, gov!) him every time it happened.

At one point there was a really serious presentation from Frank – Jo had bought Steve a really thoughtful gift and Steve quite literally had a tear in his eye when he opened the box – a very touching moment. (There may be some debate as to whether Jo thinks she bought it for Steve, and where that tear in Steve’s eye really came from…)

Ali had brought along his collection of Lego puzzles for folks who’d missed the last gathering to have a bash at and they duly went down just as well as they had on the previous occasion.

Mikael had brought along his vlogging gear and proceeded to film a semi-impromptu round of “Are you a Puzzlemaster?” around the hall – I can’t speak for all the questions, but I suspect that we got slightly easier questions than he normally inflicts on his guests. I did have to laugh when he hit up Shane for one of the questions – I’m sure once all the colourful language is bleeped out there’ll be something left! (Maybe… actually, subtitles might be a good idea…)

Several of us were very pleased when we discovered that the deli was serving pig buns and having established this fact, and avoiding the queues, we told the rest of the gang in the hall that pig buns were available… and the rush ensued. Once again, the little room proved a great lunch venue with plenty of munching and banter taking place far away from the precious puzzles.

It was great to see Amy, especially as family responsibilities are probably going to make it trickier for her come along to our next few meetings.

James had made the trip up from Devon and brought a box full of things that needed re-assembly. I’m not sure what the final score was, but I think we managed to get more than a few of them properly assembled for him so his trip wasn’t entirely wasted. For a man who’s not collecting puzzles any longer (as he keeps telling me) he still keeps acquiring some really interesting puzzles, including some absolutely stunning old antique chests (with plenty of puzzling elements!).

Gill ferried Dick back to the train station while we packed up the hall and headed up to the house after the obligatory puppy safety briefing. Rolo’s definitely getting more used to having a big bunch of puzzlers around and settled down fairly quickly before taking herself up to her bed under the hall table upstairs… while the puzzlers spread themselves out around the house – with several puzzling outside until the rain arrived.

Peter’s Pan provided the usual excellent fish suppers, although I totally failed to remember to pick up something gluten-free for Fraser – must do better next time or he won’t come back!

The puzzling continued until somewhere around 22:30 when folks realised they still had a three-hour drive and should probably start heading back London-wards… so we wound up the party and deposited the Dutch contingent back at their hotel.

Next day was a lovely relaxed puzzling affair with Louis and Wil – I got the chance to talk about some puzzles that I’d been struggling with and got some valuable advice, and I got Louis to crack open my Lost Vault which wasn’t behaving itself properly. The combination lock element wasn’t working, so Louis managed to open it using the wrong numbers, then diagnosed the issue and duly fixed it with a little judicious sanding. (There was a spot of glue on one of the pins which meant it randomly dragged the next wheel when it shouldn’t have.) Lost Vault now works perfectly! Thanks Louis!

Somewhere after lunchtime I dropped the boys off at the airport so they could head to AMS and I headed home to chill…

Another awesome MPP weekend in the books – thanks to everyone who came and made it memorable!