Tuesday 29 August 2023

IPP40 (part 2)

Tuesday is exchange day: I grab a quick breakfast with Sabine, Stefan and Zack before retrieving the heavy suitcase of puzzles and dragging it downstairs where Louis and I build an impressive pyramid of brain food. There are six of us with matching comedy shirts with plenty of hamsters, bananas and of course our exchange puzzles… we all pretend we’re shocked to see anyone else wearing the same shirts as us. Steve and Ali have done an awesome job on my exchange puzzle and I’m really proud to be giving them away this year- it’s a brass burr set with multiple challenges for 9-piece burrs and then an option to build a bunch of 6-piece burrs as well… Louis is my incredibly capable assistant cum wrangler, he gets me pics with everyone and lugs piles of puzzles around the room for me. Thanks Louis!

The number of exchangers is a bit lower this year so we manage to finish our rounds before lunchtime and end up having a leisurely boxed lunch in the room while chatting about the morning’s fun…

Steve’s exchange routine involved plenty of hokeying and pokeying with Frank and was another highlight this year. There are some stunning puzzles waiting to be played with when I finally get the chance.

We have a couple of hours to spare before the lectures, where Guy teaches us to fold an origami puzzle and we’re amazed with a couple of talks about blindfold solving of sequential movement puzzles and co-ordinate motion puzzles - I feel very thick…

I dish out a few more copies of my exchange puzzle before typing up some notes for the day while Gill has a shower before the evening’s banquet…

While we’re queuing for the banquet I manage to give away a couple more of my Three Triangle Test giveaway and a couple of my exchange puzzles to some greenhorns I haven’t gotten to yet… the doors swing open right on time and everyone enters politely (it’s not always like that!) There’s some jockeying around to make up tables with friends and invariably we find ourselves making friends with folks we haven’t spent much time with yet. There is a pretty epic spread of food and a couple of queues at a pair of serving stations mean that even if you do join when there’s a queue, it doesn’t take long to get your food… and there’s plenty food for everyone- Israelis can cater! I find myself trying a bunch of new things I hadn’t previously tasted - nothing disappoints.

After dinner we have an entertaining local mentalist - he kept reminding us that English wasn’t his first language, but boy did he know his way around it and his (English) patter was superb… Steve ended up donating a 100 shekel bill to the entertainment cause but did end up with a lovely lemon-scented memento of the evening’s fun.

I had a very intense conversation a new friend about how some of the effects might have worked. (She disagreed strongly with my theories on the methods being employed on a combination of book tests and ended up heading up onto the stage to quiz said entertainer about how he performed his miracles.)

Dessert after the show was every bit as good as the main event and then the room dissolved into a tangled mess of puzzlers catching up and chatting while puzzles were being handed around for others’ amusement.

Wednesday is puzzle-party-proper day, the chance to pick up copies of some seriously lust-worthy puzzles that literally aren’t available anywhere else… my first stop is always at Perry’s table to grab a copy of his latest creation - this year the Puzzled Guy Bakery brought us a slice of wedding cake - he took my money. :)

From there I made a bee-line to Boaz’s table to grab a copy of his Design Competition entry, Picolock - I’d spent a while working on it in the Design Competition room and got literally nowhere so I needed my own copy to fail on at home too!

Next stop was the Gaby Games table where Philippe DuBois’ daughter (the Gaby!) was arranging the sale of the last of her dad’s works… Nick was advising all-comers on which bits he thought everyone should have a copy of… I selected one or two and then over the course of the day kept returning to see what new wonders had been unpacked and put on display… in the end I made three trips to that table to pick up something else… so I now have a few Philippe DuBois puzzles in the stash. #HappyPuzzler

Brian was selling his latest sequential discovery puzzle, Brian’s Big Bolt, so I can now write about one of the best puzzles I got hold of last year before they’d been more widely released.

William Waite literally had over a hundred puzzle designs available for sale on his table and there’s an entire row of tables with Russian puzzle designers selling their wares. Ethel has some absolute treasures for sale next to the Two Brass Monkeys who’re doing a brisker than expected trade in shirts(!).

I ended the day with more money left than I’d anticipated, but didn’t feel like I’d passed up on anything that I specifically wanted… although there was plenty more available!

I did enjoy several long chats with various puzzlers during the course of the party, including a long session with Bram teaching Louis about some relatively new developments in Sudoku and some of his new (Sudoku) designs - I tried really hard to keep up and almost managed!

After the party a few of us got sucked into the coolth of the bar and ended up getting trapped in there and missed the afternoon lectures… managing to escape its steely grip just in time for a quick shower before the Awards Dinner.

We snagged a table up front with the cool kids and enjoyed seeing the results of the Design Competition getting announced and guessing who the final award winners were from the ones who’d picked up the runners up prizes… glad to see some of my own picks getting a mention and realising I owned quite a few of the award-winning puzzles already.

Hamster for scale
Yael’s host gift was presented to her by Stefan Baumegger who amused us by recounting his heart attack when he realised that Yael’s surname had changed when she recently got married after he’d spent a while custom-designing a puzzle around her maiden name - she seemed chuffed to bits anyway!

There was a literal standing ovation when the organising committee was acknowledged and presented with their thank you gifts… they’d gone through a lot of ups and downs over the past four years trying to get this IPP to happen, and it really had been a massive success - thank you and well done to Yael and her whole team.

After all the ceremonies (and food) things wound down and there was a lot of hanging around with folks keen to make IPP40 last just a little longer by lingering… when I crashed there was still a stack of folks hanging around and chatting and I’ve no doubt things moved off to the bar for another (really) late-night sesh…

On Thursday we’d opted to skip the organised tour and had a leisurely start with a late breakfast before heading out to Mahane Yehuda as I wanted to see it for myself after hearing Gill’s enthusiastic descriptions… it was truly a feast for all of the senses.

We headed back to the hotel and chanced upon the Coolen’s and the Monkeys lurking in the lobby waiting for their respective taxis. We all had an excellent laugh when Steve appeared carrying two boxes of puzzles and told Ali that they weren’t quite as completely packed as they thought they were and then proceeded to virtually spill the contents of his entire suitcase on the lobby floor… it all ended well and they got their cabs.

Gill and I grabbed lunch by the pool and managed to finish almost half of our portions before heading up to the room for some packing prep and a short nap.

We met up with Brian and Sue and took the tram out to the Jaffa Gate a couple of hours ahead of our final tour so we could grab a bite to eat for dinner. We found a neat little joint just inside the Armenian Quarter where our friendly host sorted us out with some excellent grub and some really interesting knaffa for dessert. It had to be done… what also had to be done was the round of ice creams while we waited for the start of the evening tour - a walk along the ramparts of the city wall.

We met Zev our big bear of a tour guide just outside the gate and he proceeded to entertain and educate us in equal measure for several hours as he led us up and down the city wall as the sun was setting (at the start of the walk) and into the early evening. Seeing the sights and the sounds of the city beneath us, including the bustling fair and the joyful screams of the kids playing in the fountain and a trio playing local tunes up on the ramparts… all really memorable - it felt a real privilege to get to do some of this sort of stuff all around the world…

We ended up needing to wait a while for the bus to collect us and had a prime opportunity to analyse the Israeli approach to “queueing” for public transport - they seem particularly keen to get on the bus before anyone has been able to get off it - no one was seriously hurt so it was all good!

Back at the hotel we started saying some our goodbyes as we weren’t sure who we’d see the next morning before we headed off to the airport. It’s always a bit of a downer having to say goodbye to friends we’ve just caught up with again, but hopefully it won’t be another three years before our next get together!

Next morning we slept in rather successfully and then found Nick and Anne had just arrived so we ended up joining them for breakfast and one last chat. After the final bit of packing we checked out of the hotel and grabbed a cab to the airport courtesy of the front desk… something I certainly won’t trust in the future - let’s just say there was a fair bit of abuse, but I didn’t get ripped off.

Security, check in, security and passport control were all relatively painless, but Steve had warned us that his bags had all been unpacked and “repacked” for him en route, so who knows what we’ll find when we retrieve our baggage at Heathrow - we’ll look out for the dreaded yellow stickers and steel ourselves for the results as I suspect they won’t be quite as careful as Gill was (re-)packing all my puzzles.

We grab a light lunch in the lounge while jotting some more notes on the last couple of days before I forget what we got up to, and then we’re joined by Peter, who, it turns out is not only on the same flight, but sitting right behind Gill and I... perhaps IPP40 hasn’t quite ended yet after all.

One final Thank You and Well Done to the IPP40 team - you did great!!



Tuesday 22 August 2023

IPP40 (part 1)


We fly into Ben Gurion airport where a wall of heat greets us as we get off the plane, and it feels good. Customs and immigration turn out to be a breeze, although it takes an hour for our baggage to arrive on the carousel, with several long passages of total inactivity and one bout of baggage getting jammed in the chute and causing things to come to a grinding halt for a while.

The cab ride to the hotel is interesting - it turns out we went through Palestine, which explains a lot of the razor wire along the sides of the road and several checkpoints along the way. We get some really interesting perspectives from our taxi driver, along with the obligatory COVID conspiracy theories.

We check in and find we have a super view of the building next door, which turns out to be the other wing of the hotel.

When we try and rustle up some dinner we hit a bit of a snag - this is Jerusalem, on Shabbat, ergo no food available outside of the Shabbat meals, which we don’t feel comfortable joining for fear of offending folks deeply. Google comes to the rescue with a restaurant half an hour away that’s actually open so we grab a cab and find it. It turns out to be a trendy joint with plenty of locals - always a good sign! They find us a table and feed us some wonderful grub - that good that we immediately book a table for the next evening and enjoy a lovely stroll back to the hotel in the early evening coolness, passing hundreds of families enjoying the fresh air in Sacher Park.

Back at the hotel we find Wil in the lobby, which is interesting as he’s staying in the hotel next door - we catch up on things before heading our separate ways - it’s been a long day… we have an early-ish evening.

Saturday’s breakfast buffet provides plenty of interesting choices and I manage to solve both the orange juice (spoiler alert: looks like a beer tap) and the coffee puzzles (ditto: large nondescript brown crate with a tap on the end of it. Breakfast is already littered with puzzlers in spite of the fact that most of the gang are still in Tel Aviv until Saturday evening.

After breakfast we head off toward the botanical gardens that should be open, but we can’t find the entrance(!) so we head up a hill and through the park to the Israel Museum where we spend a few hours in the a/c… and seeing some stunning modern art and old relics.

We’re lazy and it’s hot as hell so we spring for a cab back to the hotel where the cabbie literally refuses to charge us, so I insist on giving him a handsome tip anyway.

We have a swim and probably significantly raised the average age at the pool in spite of there being a shed-load of others at the pool already…

We chill and then head out to dinner at Menza again. While we’re waiting for our Gett taxi, Dor and Yael arrive with a car load of kit for the IPP office, so after dinner (great, again!) we head up to the IPP office and I help fold a hundred or so shirts while Gill gets the briefing on the Fabric and Fibre tour arrangements from Yael.

Briefing and folding complete, we head off to the bar and find some of the usual reprobates who duly entertain us for a while. I share my gift puzzle with a few folks and thankfully nobody just solved it straight off the bat!

Somewhere around midnight I give up and leave them all to it…


…is Fabric and Fibre day and after a proper Israeli breakfast (it’s not Shabbat!) the girls (and a couple of guys) meet up in the lobby for a day of fabric and fibre shopping – plus an excellent presentation from a gent running a long-established family business selling very exclusive handwoven fabrics - and the obligatory ice cream stop.

Once the girls have left, I join Nick to help set up the Design Competition stuff and within about an hour we have it all ship-shape, so a couple of us make an early start on playing with the puzzles while Nick’s off at a meeting - we tell ourselves it’s what he would have wanted!

Brian P arrives and soon enough is starting to make inroads into his solving agenda - he tries to literally solve every single puzzle in the design competition during IPP - this year there are 62 of them…!

I make use of the morning registration slot and get the usual swag bag of goodies, along with a couple of shirts, but I’ve passed on the Israeli sun hat as there’s not much call for them in the UK, although they would be indecently useful on some of the subsequent walking tours around Jerusalem.

A bunch of us end up having lunch in the hotel lobby restaurant…mainly so that we don’t have to brave the heat…. speaking for myself of course!

During the course of the afternoon a bunch of familiar faces arrived and soon there were plenty of Boys at the Bar (we missed you Tomas!). We started out with good intentions of going to the market for a street food dinner (highly recommended by the gang who did it the night before) but in the end we opted for dinner in the same restaurant that we’d had lunch in… only this time there were eight of us and we were in full swing having an excellent time, so they hid us away in a closed off wing of the restaurant where we duly had a brilliant time and some pretty good grub too!

A couple more hours in the design competition room finished off an excellent day…

Monday was our tour of the old city with Zev, our excellent tour guide. We started out at the Lion Gate and headed along the via Delarosa, stopping to take in the view from the Austrian Hospice rooftop. Lunch at a little tourist trap whose main attraction was their a/c (spot the theme!). After lunch we headed down into the tunnels from the Western Wall retracing our route back up to the start of our day, albeit underground along the interconnecting tunnels that showed you foundations of the old city… really well exposed for us tourists to see with Zev doing a super job of describing what we were seeing and how they’d built it all back in the day - really glad we did that tour as I probably wouldn’t have spotted the tunnel tour…

We headed back to the hotel on the tram before grabbing a quick dip in the pool to cool off, a shower to clean off the grime and headed off to the Founder’s reception.

The Founder’s reception is at a venue (Olmaya) with a superb view across the city so we get to watch the sunset and the lights around the city come on and gradually change the scene - it is stunning.

There are clumps of people chatting, making new friends, playing with puzzles and enjoying the warm evening. Just when things are feeling really sedate and civilised, a herd of goats careens through the peaceful garden encouraged onward by a young goatherd on a donkey… pursued unsuccessfully by some folks from the venue trying to stop him from running through the centre of the crowd – we all think it’s hilarious and no damage is done…

When the formalities begin, Frans gives an introduction to the video message from Jerry before introducing Gaby, Philippe du Bois’ daughter, who talked about growing up with her dad’s passion for puzzles and ending with a pic of her son, the next generation of puzzlers in the line.

Frans gets all the greenhorns to come up and introduce themselves and they all seem pretty happy to be among their tribe - my description for the evening.

We chat and laugh and play a bit until the buses take us back through the traffic to our hotel. Where I fade…

Tuesday 15 August 2023

Brian’s Big Baffling Bolt

Several moons back Brian asked if a couple of us would mind playtesting part of a puzzle he was developing – OF COURSE, we’d love to – and a little package with an oversized brass bolt duly appeared in the post. The accompanying note invited us to remove the washer that was sandwiched between a pair of brass nuts (insert own inappropriate joke here – it’s all about knowing your audience). It also said that Brian was worried it might be too simple...

The following weeks showed Brian he needn’t worry about it being too easy... I spent about a week solving it, or so I thought, before I passed it onto the next volunteer... and so it proceeded with most taking a week or more before they passed it on... with all of us giving Brian some feedback along the way...

Fast forward a month or two and Brian and Sue arrive to spend some time with us and attend an MPP and Brian opens up the box he’s posted over to himself and produces a few advance copies of his Big Baffling Bolt for sale - I throw cash at him to secure my copy and then watch at MPP as the available copies are eagerly hoovered up by puzzlers desperate to test themselves...

I don’t get to play with it until a couple of days later while Brian’s still visiting... the bolt (and attachments) all look very much like the prototype I thought I’d solved, only it now rests on a rather handsome Papua New Guinean Ebony base.

The solve starts off pretty much as I remember it, but after a little while I find myself facing a bit of a brick wall that I hadn’t encountered previously and I notice that Brian is grinning at me – turns out I’d fluked an important part of the puzzle and the designer in Brian had been deeply offended – to the point that he had designed out any chance of ever fluking that part of the solution again... what a nice man!

I spent a long time on that little bit of the solution until Brian reminded me of something and a little while later I’d retrieved the washer from between the two nuts. (Don’t...) 

The rest of the puzzle was totally new to me and I rather liked that bit... but I need to say that the first series of challenges is truly sublime – definitely worthy of its place as a celebration of 30 years of all that is wonderful about Mr Puzzle. 

Happy Anniversary Mr Puzzle! 

...and now that Brian has more formally released his Big Baffling Bolt at IPP40, I feel like I'm allowed to tell my story, so there you go.

Sunday 6 August 2023


I spotted Cogas on Discord a little while back and some folks said some good things about it, and it looked cute, but for some reason I didn’t feel I had to get a copy. That changed significantly for me when Louis held up a copy on one of our weekly video chats and announced it was excellent!

As luck would have it a few days later I spotted our local puzzle purveyor (JPGames) had them in stock so I immediately ordered a copy… TLDR: Louis is right!

Designed to resemble a pill bottle, it does, albeit a shiny aluminium and brass pill bottle. It’s about the right size and for complete accuracy, it has a lid that refuses to come off! I suspect that’s the puzzle…

At the start of the journey, there’s a pretty obvious button on the top of the lid that you can play with, and what seems to be a tiny hole in the side of the bottle just below the lid, although nothing interesting ever seems to happen in there.

A little experimentation leads to a discovery and possibly even a tool or two – but for the life of me I couldn’t find a use for anything I’d found so far… and thus I spent a few days not solving it and cogitating just a little.

When I’d spent a while wallowing and not solving it, I went back to basics and challenged all of my assumptions, only to find that one of them had indeed been a little over zealous and all of a sudden a whole new world opened up for me… and that little discovery generated a lot of respect for the designer and maker, Garrett Mathias – serious RESPECT, sir!

Fresh with a new discovery, the rest of the solve didn’t take very long, but it was hugely satisfying… you’ll definitely know when you’re finished as you can see all of the mechanisms that have amused you along the way.

 It may look fairly unassuming, and it may come from a relatively new name on the puzzle scene, but take it from me (and  Louis!) – it is excellent!