Sunday, 26 June 2022

MPP XLii

Last weekend represented a massive leap back toward “normal” for me… after two years of virtually no in-person puzzling get-togethers, I finally had a few puzzlers visiting for the weekend and a bunch of them threatening to rock up for our first real-world MPP in the village hall in two and a half years. The stars were aligning once more…

I collected Dick Hess from the station on the Friday morning and we just picked up exactly where we’d left off the last time we’d seen one another – around three years ago… the journey from the station to my place was a quick catch-up on health in the intervening period (pretty good!), vaccinations (Dick won hands-down!), the tennis, and of course puzzles and other interesting diversions.

We had a lovely afternoon of chit-chat and dad jokes. Dick gave me a puzzle lock in the shape of a tortoise from his collection – he’d bought it years ago from a bloke at an Australian market who assured him it had been made in Nepal… it certainly looks the part – Thanks Dick!

He also gave me a set of his Wire Puzzle College Selection – a graded set of his wire puzzles that actually teaches some techniques along the way, generally only to lull you into a false sense of security when you realise that that subtle little variation in one of the later puzzles means that everything you thought you knew is now totally useless and a new approach is required.

While I was (slowly!) working my way through them under Dick’s encouraging eye, I mentioned that I’d been struggling with a Jan Sturm disentanglement that I’d picked up at Wil’s place a few weeks earlier. When I showed it to him, he pointed out that it was an easier version of the final puzzles in his college course… and then promptly solved it in a matter of seconds… pointing out why his version was harder along the way, and in fact the solution to Jan Sturm’s version was not going to be any use whatsoever in solving his…

It took me a few hours but I managed to struggle through the College course with some suitable encouragement from Dick along the way… a major achievement for someone who knows he can’t do disentanglements!

Late afternoon Dick and I headed out to the airport to collect Louis and Wil from their KLM flight. Plenty more catching up in the car on the way home and then pizzas out on the deck at the end of the uncharacteristically warm day. There was a lot more puzzling out on the deck until we decided to call it a night… except for Louis who churned his way through a bunch of things I needed solving… and some he just wanted to have a bash at.

Next morning we polished off breakfast and Dick handed out a gift puzzle he’d put together especially for MPP XLii – noticing there was an intended outcome as a result of one bit being a different shape to that intended, Louis and Dick set up a small production line on the breakfast table to get them suitably adjusted… and no-one was any the wiser (unless of course they read this!). After all that excitement, we headed down to the village hall to get things set up ahead of the arrival of what we hoped would be a whole bunch of puzzlers, some of whom we’d be meeting for the first time in real life!

Shane pulled into the parking lot pretty much as soon as we opened the gate – good to know he was keen! We got the tables and chairs more or less laid out, put up the signs to guide any newbies into the hall and I stocked up on soft drinks and milk for the large quantities of tea and coffee we usually go through at these things…

While all that was going on people were arriving from all over the countryside. Frans and Ethel had to stay at the local Premier Inn due to the Walker’s B&B already having more people staying than we had spare beds (Louis was on an air mattress in the second puzzle cave!).

We had fairly-local-Lewis-from-the-discord whose missus had reached out to me on Facebook because he’s allergic. He seemed to fit into the general banter and mild abuse that always seems to permeate these things, so hopefully he’ll be back.  

Dan had managed to successfully navigate his way down the road from his AirBnB – getting bonus points for choosing to walk down, even though it was raining! He didn’t look like a drowned rat for that long!

Yaccine managed to navigate the vagaries of air travel and taxis and get himself to the hall direct from France on Saturday morning. RESPECT. Phil managed to join us and meet a bunch of us he’s been chatting to on-line or via email for a while now. James made the trek up from Honiton (his longest journey since the beginning of the pandemic!). I managed to be incredibly rude to Tamsin when I met her for the first time in real life after seeing her on several VMPPs by not recognising her at all…. and then compounded that later on by forgetting to open the gate for her when she was trying to leave that evening. (SORRY!)

All the old guard were there – Ali’d brought a car-load up from London – great to see Oli and Rich for the first time in ages… and Mike Q had brought some souvenir puzzles for all of us proclaiming he was only here for the fish supper. (True to his word, he stayed for the fish and chips afterwards. :-))

Shane had brought a complete collection of Popplocks and had a steady steam of folks rotating through there all day trying various locks they’d been wanting to solve for ages, all under the expert eye of the master locksmith… it was great to hear the huge buzz in the hall when there was a bunch of happy puzzlers trying to solve their own puzzles while winding up all of those around them. I’ve missed that.

I managed to mis-time the call for lunch and as a result we missed out on pig-rolls from Warwick’s – everyone still managed to find something suitable with several of them opting for some monster kebabs – it must be a tradition or something. Lunch was the usual convivial affair in the side room with banter and puzzle-solving-fuel being taken onboard.

After lunch there was a lot more solving – Mike T’s Xenia Table getting a lot of attention from several folks during the course of the day. One of The Monkeys behaved himself and the other brought much hilarity… actually no that’s not quite fair – they both brought hilarity, just in slightly different ways… but I said I wouldn’t blog about it so I won’t.

Speaking of the Monkeys, they’d brought along a crate-full (literally) of 3D printed give-aways – I helped myself to one of them – a little four-piece cube assembly that I got to play with the following day – and it is brilliant! Steve reckons it’s called “Mrs Butler” – or that might be an answer to another question altogether – either way – it’s worth hunting down and getting yourself a copy – it’s a wonderfully confuzzling little thing – and did I mention there’s only four pieces!?!

James had brought along a bunch of things that needed reassembling and I think that the gang managed to get pretty much all of them back together again… for the most part I watched and provided words of encouragement – that’s my role – that and bring the coffee.

Frank and Jo arrived around the middle of the afternoon having had to make a bit detour on the way down due to a family emergency – Gill, Jo & Ethel then promptly disappeared off to the new cafĂ© in the village for a catch-up & some cakeee – nom nom nom… and we entertained Frank with the odd puzzle.

Dick managed to catch up with all his old friends during the course of the day, and no doubt made a few new ones along the way – it’s hard not to like Dick. (Don’t!)  


We wound everything up at the hall somewhere before six and pretty much everyone just decamped to chez Walker for more puzzling and some fish and chips. It’s been a while since I’ve had to call in such a big order to the chippy and I suspect that I caught them off guard a little – they delivered in fine form as usual and the fish suppers were excellent!

There was a LOT more puzzling that night before folks began drifting towards homes and hotels… and it was somewhere around that time that we realised that Yaccine wasn’t going to be able to get to Cambridge by train that evening… so we bundled him off to the Premier Inn with Ethel and Frans – I haven’t heard from him since so hopefully he did manage to wend his way off to Cambridge to meet up with Mikael before heading back to France.

When everyone had left we turned the puzzle caves back into temporary bedrooms for the Dutch contingent and spent a bit more time puzzling…

Next morning after a spot of breakfast I took Dick to the train station for his trip back to London, only to find that there weren’t any trains running to Euston and there was a bus replacement service running – sorry Dick! At least I do know that he managed to get back to London in time for the meet up with the Millers, fresh off the boat, that evening.

Back at home I pulled out a few more puzzles that Louis needed to play with – including my newly built copy of Architecto – which seemed to perform reasonably as a puzzle – it’s hard to judge when you’ve built the thing and know how all the mechanisms work and interact. I also managed to spend a little more time playing with a couple of the goodies that I’d acquired from Phil (got nowhere!), Wil (made some progress but not a lot!) and Steve (solved – but wow, she’s a great puzzle!).

After lunch I dropped Wil and Louis at the airport in plenty (probably too much!) time given all the horror stories about queues for security checks and the like… in the end I think the lads probably had a bit too much time to kill there, but I wouldn’t have forgiven myself if they’d missed their flight!

…all of which left me somewhat wiped out, but really happy having spent several days with good friends, lots of puzzles and plenty of great chat – it was, as they say, another grand weekend – thank you all!

Sunday, 22 May 2022

King’s Day 2022

After a two-year hiatus, Wil sent out an invitation to his King’s Day Puzzle Party and it didn’t take long to decide to sign up for it – it’s been ages since I’ve seen most of my puzzling mates and it felt like the pandemic was beginning to let up, so the decision was made. Plans were made on a couple of our regular Sunday evening calls and soon enough it was the appointed Saturday morning and my alarm was waking me at some unearthly hour so I could spend an hour queueing until I could use my Fast Pass through the airport security queue… from there it was all a walk in the park!

The short flight across the channel to Schiphol was uneventful, if a little strange with everyone wearing the obligatory face masks.  And customs and immigration was absolutely painless… Brexit hadn’t brought massive immigration queues this time at least! After sorting a few connectivity issues and some help from my local travel fixer, I found the right train and headed toward Eindhoven, avoiding some holiday rail works.  

Louis met me at the station and whisked me off to his place for some lunch and a couple of hours puzzling until the Two Brass Monkeys’ train arrived. We met them at the station and headed to the hotel to check in and dump our bags before some more puzzling at Louis’.

I had a great time working my way through Coremods’ Ice Box – I really liked the number of totally different mechanisms that have been incorporated into a neat little puzzle – and if you don’t smile when you’re “presented” with your treasure, then there’s something wrong with you! (I liked it so much I bought myself a copy a week or so later when a new batch went up on the Coremods Etsy shop.)

I had a lot less success with Pair-o-Dice – I spent ages on it and got precisely nowhere – even after Louis pointed out that one of the bits had broken and it actually just fell out if you held it in the right orientation… he ended up giving me another nudge and that just left me stuck in a different place… in the end he put it in a bag and told me to take it home and solve it (and a few weeks later it’s still testing me, albeit I’ve made a fair amount of progress in the interim at least – and how the heck I’m going to get that thing back together, I have no idea!)

Late afternoon we headed out for a time-travelling escape room in a nearby town – we started off in a large room with rock paintings and some puzzles to solve and having done that unlocked a time machine that we all crammed into. Once we’d solved the obligatory puzzle we leapt forward in time and headed through into another room. This one slowed us down a bit until we worked out what we were supposed to be doing and then it was back into the time machine… except the doorway between the second set of rooms and the time machine is quite small, and some of our team are somewhat larger than life so there were some groans from one of our number when we realised we were heading back to the time machine… little did he know we’d be visiting that room more later.

This time when we were released back into the first room, it had changed totally – apparently all of the walls had been replaced while we’d been time travelling… a process that got repeated again and again as we skipped through time – quite a fun mechanic – all implemented manually by the proprietor while we were trying to solve the next set of puzzles.

One of the funniest puzzles involved catching rubber chickens as they were released from the ceiling – with everyone needing to catch their chickens before they hit the floor. That part took a bit longer than it could have as one of our number kept missing his chickens… until about the third round when he was so delighted that he'd finally caught his first one that he promptly totally ignored his next one due to the ongoing celebration of his first catch… it did make us wonder if rubber chickens were the next tongue depressor/hamster/meme thingy.

We managed to get out of the escape rom with a few minutes to spare and then enjoyed sitting at the bar watching the footage of the bunch of us bumbling around in the room mostly looking pretty clueless and squealing when the hooded monk put in an appearance… really unusual escape room with bonus points for the multiple re-use of all of the rooms.

After ordering some pizzas we headed back to the Coolens’ for dinner and, you guessed it, some more puzzling. Somewhere around 11pm I started fading badly and Louis dropped us off at the hotel for some rest before the main event on Sunday.

I met the Monkeys for breakfast and then Louis collected us and drove us through to Venlo where Wil gave us a massively warm welcome. Familiar faces began arriving and soon there was a great buzz around the place as people who hadn’t seen each other in ages caught up and told one another what had been puzzling them recently.

Oskar set out a table-full of newly printed designs and delighted all comers with stories about each of them – how they were designed, what was particularly interesting about them. He had a small copy of Jacobs’ Ladder with an unglued key piece that allows it to be assembled and demonstrated without the move-count getting way too high to return to its starting position and he tells us how AJ Jacobs copy of Jacobs’ Ladder got its final dimensions: it’s the largest standard shipping dimensions for ordinary packages – and that’s what determined the level of the generational puzzle designed for The Puzzler. That’s interesting?

Oskar and the Monkeys spent a little while checking out the nice brass prototype the lads had made up from one of Oskar’s designs and the conversations looked fairly positive so hopefully there’ll be another puzzling lump of brass appearing at some point in the future.

The Monkeys had also brought along some stock of their current wares, as well as a number of copies of Six Hookers – making their world debut at Wil’s King’s Day Party.

It was super to see Rik and Maria, Chris and Michel and to meet a couple of new puzzlers. Lovely to be able to catch up with Jan Willem again – emailing isn’t quite as good as a chat in person.

As usual Wil totally outdid himself on the catering front – with a massive selection of fruit tarts on offer pretty much the whole day, and a huge spread of scrumptious goodies for lunch as well… it just kept on coming.

I did my usual of alternating between sitting and fiddling with an interesting puzzle while chatting to someone, and raking through Wil’s hundreds of crates of puzzles – in search of new treasure. I managed to pick out a couple of Karakuri boxes that I rather fancied and put them on one side.

One of the puzzles I randomly picked up and failed to solve was a simple-looking disentanglement puzzle from Jan Sturm – after quite a while of unsuccessfully solving it I raked through the Sturm crates to pick out a copy, unsure if I already have a copy (in which case I’ve probably solved it at some point – and in that case I now have two copies of an excellent puzzle – ah well…).

Later in the afternoon, as folks began heading home and the numbers subsided it was lovely to spend some time chatting with Wil and just catching up – he’d had a picture book made of some of his Facebook posts and presented me with a customised copy that even Gill will like – the picture on the back of it came from my first visit to Wil back in 2011 – so we recreated the shot in the same spot in Wil’s lounge, this time with the book cover… and Steve kindly took eight or ten shots of the scene, and a couple of videos – most of which had his finger in front of the lens… thanks mate! :-)

In the early evening, the remaining souls decamped into the village for dinner at a wonderful new restaurant on the river as our usual Chinese restaurant wasn’t open as they’ve been having difficulty finding a suitable chef due to the pandemic. Wil  treated us all to a fantastic dinner and then we loitered down at the river for a while enjoying ice creams.

Back at Wil’s there was time for some more chat and fiddling with puzzles and when Wil fortuitously stumbled across a copy of Roger’s Mastercard variant he remembered that he’d put aside for me and duly presented me with it.

Before I left he also gave me a copy of a prototype of a new box from JCC which I’d been fiddling with unsuccessfully at both Louis’ place and at Wil’s… and I’ve now been fiddling unsuccessfully with it at my place as well… there’s a wonderful symmetry in not being able to solve puzzles anywhere.  

It was quite late when we finally headed back to Eindhoven where I more or less just collapsed in a pile on my hotel bed… I’d get everything sorted for the return trip in the morning…

…which duly came around a lot quicker than I’d hoped – I met  Steve and Ali for breakfast and decided to join them on the train out of Eindhoven in the hope of getting to Schiphol in plenty of time for my flight that afternoon. We had about an hour together on the train before we headed off in different directions – nice to be able to chat about a great weekend we’d been able to spend together, catch up with friends, oh, and play with puzzles.

I’m glad I decided to get to Schiphol early as I ended up spending two and a half hours queuing to get into security – it seems that airlines may be flying, but airports aren’t quite ready for the people yet…

In spite of all the queueing it was a thoroughly wonderful weekend – Wil put on a fantastic puzzle party, and it was lovely to be able to catch up with him after so long. Louis, as always, was an absolute rock-star, keeping the visitors royally entertained and carting us around all over the show. Thanks guys – that was awesome!

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Six Hookers

…from the blokes who brought you The Joy of Hex – it seems fitting!

Back in 2001 Lynn Yarborough’s entry in the IPP Puzzle Design Competition was called Trinity. It consisted of 6 linked square sticks positioned on the diagonal. It was subsequently produced and sold in reasonably large quantities by Bits and Pieces… 

Interestingly, the original patent for the puzzle [US 6,203,015] listed an alternative design with hexagonal sticks rather than square sticks – and the Two Brass Monkeys know hex, so they’ve produced a hex variant of Trinity and called it Six Hookers – obviously they’re fans of crochet.

In its assembled form, the rods are quite solidly held together, albeit there’s a fair amount of wiggle and play available – but in the tradition of some of the very best puzzles, something that feels like it’s about to just fall apart, will resolutely resist any attempts at disassembly.

Fiddle around with it and learn relationships between its bits and you’ll be able to gently take it apart and convince yourself there is indeed no monkey business whatsoever, and you’re dealing with six identical pieces of nicely machined brass.

Assembly is a nice little challenge for the slightly dextrous – it’s not too bad, but you’ll need to respect the rather fine tolerances and keep things neat and tidy if you’re going to stand a chance of getting things back into that loose, but rather-well-held-together assembly you’re aiming for. Along the way you can’t help but admire just how neatly all those tolerances and angles work together to allow you do what you need to…

I may be biased, but I reckon it looks (and works) even better in hex… 

... coming soon to a website near you - some are already out in the wild as the lads made them available at Wil's King's Day Party a couple of weeks ago.