Sunday 24 December 2023

Merry Christmas

 ...all you get this year is a rather janky-looking Christmas card - and of course my very best wishes for a lovely Christmas. 


Thursday 21 December 2023

Free Me 5 – Tartarus

Sometimes I feel like a puzzle really needs a shout-out – this is one of those times…

I really enjoyed Free Me 5 when I got my original Joseph Turner copy from the Coolen clan several years ago - I enjoyed playing with it, I wrote about it and several visiting puzzlers have enjoyed it over the years…

…so when I spotted mention of a shiny aluminium version courtesy of a new collaboration between Joseph and Jon Keegan (the Bananas guy!), I politely asked if I could purchase a copy and a few days later one was indeed on its way to Barnt Green.

It’s every bit as good-looking in real life, with a “genuine” doubloon waiting patiently to be released. It’s pretty much the same size as the original wooden version, has all of the same visual clues on the outside and it actually plays almost identically to the wooden version, but I love this version. It’s rock solid and there is zero chance of anyone managing to damage it… and judging by the number of times it’s come out to play with various puzzlers, I’m not the only one who thinks that way.

An excellent production from Tartarus Puzzles: great design from Joseph Turner and superb implementation by Jon Keegan – a winning combination. 


Friday 15 December 2023

Hokey Pokey

Hot on the heels (Hey, he’s been busy!) of Hokey Cokey in 2018, Steve Nicholls brought us Hokey Pokey in Jerusalem earlier this year. Apparently, half the world was somewhat confused by the Hokey Cokey and couldn’t quite bring themselves to sing the right words, insisting that it was the Hokey Pokey, so in order to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, Hokey Pokey was born, and duly exchanged at IPP40.

The handsome packaging (replete with encouraging hamsters!) provides the goal: Remove the shackle and Identify the pun. It cradles a brass padlock and a keyring with some of the strangest items you could possibly imagine. Apart from the pair of keys (not that strange I grant you), there is a cork and a wine stopper with a large 40 on top of it… now in fairness the hamsters on the top label are imbibing a good red, so perhaps we’re being encouraged to partake as well? (There is no wine in the packaging – I looked…

The lock helpfully has the name engraved across the top so you’ll always be able to tell you Cokey from your Pokey (DON'T!), and that cork has the name on it too, so you can’t get the keys mixed up… not that the keys seem to be of any use at all – Steve appears to have given us a couple of keys that don’t do anything at all: inserting them into the keyway and turning in the traditional manner confirms that Steve might have given us the wrong keys… quelle surprise!

OK, so if the keys don’t work, what else can we do?

We can tug on the shackle and see it move a tiny bit… but no more. We can take everything off the keyring and examine them, yup, that’s a wine stopper with a big fat forty on top of it (it was exchanged at IPP40 remember?) and the cork can be removed from its eyelet – weird, but not unusual, at least not for Steve…

The first part of the puzzle turned out to be fun and a little surprising and I was dead chuffed when I had the shackle open…

The second half of the puzzle was somewhat more elusive and I ended up spending months toying with various bits of wordplay, trying to work out how all those weird things on the keyring could possibly be described and what to make of some of the other bizarre discoveries that I haven’t mentioned in here for fear of spoiling a surprise… I literally had lists of words and I spent ages trying to combine them and squeeze something funny out of them as Steve had told me I’d know when I had found it…

It turned out I needed a fair amount of nudging on a rather long train trip with Steve before I groaned big time and admitted he’d outdone himself… the pun is definitely worth hunting for – you’ll love it and hate him for it at the same time – it’s perfect!

Chapeau sir!

Sunday 10 December 2023


Doog and Radek recently launched their third Demonticon, Ziggy’s dad named Zak… I pretty much ordered one as soon as I saw them go up on the website and a few days later my copy duly arrived in Barnt Green... literally two days before the last MPP.

My first attempts at finding Zak’s secret dreams were pretty pathetic – I spent a while staring into his somewhat googly eyes, pondering his melancholic looks and wondering how on earth I was going to find out what he was dreaming of…

There was one little gimme, and while it changed something, it didn’t seem particularly helpful at all…

The next day I managed to get in a little bit of playtime before the MPP gang descended from the airport… and that was what I needed.

I managed to work out what that gimme really did and how it might be useful and then I managed to look past those googly eyes and imagine what was going on deep inside Zak’s soul… and opened him right up.

To be fair, I surprised myself when it opened as I thought I’d tried that very thing a few times already, but when I saw what was going on inside, I realised it would have been pretty easy to mess things up and undo any good work one might have done along the way. Zak is a delightfully subtle puzzle with a song in its soul. Several folks had a play with Zak at MPP and he didn’t disappoint, jealously guarding his secrets against all but the most dedicated solvers!

As you’d expect from Radek, the machining on the puzzly side of things is sublime and the aesthetics are gorgeous – everyone is going to love those googly eyes!

I’m definitely looking forward to the next Demonticon…

Sunday 3 December 2023

Smack-N Moles – Stickman #37

Chinny’s exchange puzzle at IPP40 was the stand-out for me – and not just because I’m a massive Stickman-fan-boy!

This little walnut box has a bunch of pesky critters poking out of the top of the box and a handy mallet attached to the side of the box for pounding on them – what more could you want for an afternoon’s entertainment? 

And pound on them you can, but they invariably pop up again and taunt you when you pound their mates into submission… you can chase them around in circles, attack them randomly and even try and find that elusive sequence that leaves them all submissively in their little mole holes… well you can try…

Stepping back for a moment - that mallet is attached to a steel cable that’s not quite long enough, if you know what I mean, and the cable is seriously well-attached to the side of the box with a rather large bolt. A careful examination of the box shows what might be a lid and you can confirm that it is indeed those little moles that are keeping it from opening…

If only there was some way of getting them all back down into their little holes…

I ended up spending several hours finding things that definitely didn’t work on this puzzle – occasionally I found little things that moth possibly be helpful, even to the point of finding what I thought might be helpful tools, only finding something useful to do with those tools seriously eluded me… until something really weird happened one day and a little part of the world opened up to me.  

It was a wonderfully unexpected little thing, but it obviously meant something useful had happened… OK, at least something had happened!

From there, with some new things to explore, places to go, people to see and stuff to control and do… and then ultimately a lid to remove and expose all of the little bits inside that have had me chasing my tail for many, many hours.

I love the fact that Rob’s left his elegantly simple mechanism open for all to see and I’ll wager quite a lot that I’m not the only one who has totally overengineered things in my own little head and then been amazed at Rob’s clever design.

Thanks to Chinny for bringing this little bit of joy into our lives this year and for Rob for coming up with the goods yet again!