Sunday, 27 November 2022

Nine Balls

Another superb puzzle from the mind of Koichi Miura, brought to life by Mine.

You’re presented with (there’s a clue in the name!) nine balls joined into three pieces and invited to simply place them into the supplied frame, which is clearly large enough for the nine balls in a three-by-three layer. One of the pieces has a red dot on one side and a blue dot on the other and you’re politely asked to insert the pieces into the tray with the blue dot showing and then the red dot showing.

The only slight wrinkle is the placement of the two holes that allow the pieces entry into the frame – one on the centre of a side, and one in the middle of an edge on the top of the frame. There are also a few little holes around the corners allowing some scope for manipulating the pieces inside the frame – and no, that’s not a spoiler – you’ll work that one out for yourself in around three seconds flat – and if you didn’t, you might want to consider another hobby.

Once you start experimenting with the pieces you’ll find ways to get them all inside individually, but it’ll take a little A-Ha! moment to get them all in with the blue dot showing…

Getting them all in with the red dot showing is a little more challenging and definitely requires some outside-of-the-box-thinking.

I really loved the solution to this great little puzzle – it’s not one you’re going to spend hours and hours mulling over, but it will definitely put a smile on your face and give you a nice sense of achievement when you slot the pieces into the frame with the red dot uppermost.

For me this is definitely another puzzle that deserves to be called “delightful”!

(…and I managed to get through that without a single double entendre!) 

 

STOP PRESS

This just off the interweb: some bloke called Nick has discovered an alternate solution for the blue challenge that makes things more interesting... go on, get your copy out and find the other assembly - you know you want to... and yes, I did! :-)

 

Saturday, 19 November 2022

MPP XLiiii

I’ve just about lost track of my butchered roman numerals, but I reckon this was somewhere around the 44th in-person MPP – it seems they’ll never learn so we’ll need to carry on having these things…

This one started on the Friday for me – I’d taken the day off work to get some organising for the weekend done and get some puzzling in myself – generally the weekends can involve a fair amount of running around and getting stuff organised, so some personal puzzling time is a bonus.

Stefan arrived late afternoon and Louis arrived early evening and once we had both of them back at the house, we polished off a couple of pizzas before heading for the puzzles. Stefan gifted me a (superbly) 3D-printed copy of Rick’s Keyhole Cube with a beautifully designed stand which I got rather a kick out of assembling – I’ve probably solved it once or twice in the past, but it’s still nice to come up with a strategy and get it assembled.

Louis made short work of a tray-packing puzzle that Stefan had brought along – and in spite of that, I failed spectacularly to get anywhere near a solution. I called time somewhere around midnight and left the lads still puzzling…

Next morning we had a bit of breakfast before packing up some puzzles and heading down to the village hall to get things set up… Louis and Stefan did pretty much all of the heavy labour while I sorted out the drinks and treats and by the time I’d made my normal trip to the shops to pick up the milk and some sodas, the rest of the gang had already begun arriving.

Louis had brought along a selection of the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition entries and laid them all out along the back wall for anyone to have a bash at… a brilliant initiative that saw not just the IPP members who’d be voting in the Design Competition being able to fiddle and play with at least a selection of the entries, but also meant a heap of non-IPP-ers got to experience some of the designs as well – Nice one, Louis!

It didn’t take long for a decent gang to appear and the puzzling and banter kicked into full swing. I collected Ed from the station and got him set up with some puzzles and puzzlers to amuse him – I’m still not sure whether the former or the latter were the main source of amusement. John managed to wend his way from Boston, via London with a little Uber assistance on the last leg and duly joined the fray – settling into things as though he been to every other MPP in spite of this being his very first one.

Steve had brought along a bunch of wooden copies of Mrs Butler that Vinco had made up for him and he duly showered them on all and sundry – and I’m happy to report that it is just as fun in wood as it is in 3D printed form. Ed seemed to really enjoy playing with Mrs Butler(!) and particularly enjoyed the final part of the tricky assembly process. (Great job, Ed!)
Sometime around midday we headed off for the de rigueur pig rolls and kebabs, with only one or two folks opting for the healthier alternative of a packed lunch from home. Simon arrived while a bunch of us were having lunch and a couple of helpers duly unloaded several crates-worth of puzzles that Simon had brought along for sale – he was doing his usual generous charity donation to Oxfam for any puzzles that anyone wanted to take off his hands – a great initiative that saw several folks acquiring some pretty unusual, often rare puzzles, all for a great cause!

I headed back to the station to collect Peter fresh off a train from London and managed to swing by the house to collect a puzzle that Brian had left at my place for Simon a couple of month’s ago. Back down at the Hall there was a reasonably orderly throng around Simon’s crates as folks trawled through the crates piled with commercial puzzles, new and old, and too many IPP exchange puzzles to count. I managed to pick out a few interesting disentanglements, including a pair of nice Rick Irbys - definitely worth raking through!

Steve had brought along a copy of one of the Lazels laser-cut micro jigsaw puzzles in many, many pieces… we all took one look at the tiny, tiny pieces and the tweezers required to manipulate said pieces and told him he was nuts – Rich on the other hand is always up for a challenge and duly sat down and completed the puzzle for Steve, who then very carefully packed it up assembled before any of us reprobates had a chance to disassemble it for him so it would fit better in the tube.

Come to think of it there wasn’t an awful lot of mischief this time around – there was some reminiscing of happiness-based mischief-past, but no new mischief was visited upon anyone - including Kevin- despite what he tells anyone! ;-)

Somewhere around five-thirty we packed everything up and I got a call from Rob to say that he was waiting outside the estate so we all headed up the road to chez Walker for the obligatory fish supper. We found Rob at the gate – it’s a long story that involves mixing up dates but he made it in time for the fish supper, and of course for most of a day’s puzzling at my place.

While we were getting dinner organised we discovered that Ed’s train, and indeed Peter and John’s, had been cancelled due to the delights of Avanti’s inability to make pea soup in a brewery. As a result a fair amount of reorganisation ensued and shortly after said fish supper, Gill took the three intrepid travellers off to Birmingham International in order to catch an earlier train – which from the sounds of Ed’s IMs, including the unforgettable “Train is stopped. There is now discussion of postmen delivering dildos. V v loud discussion.” – which I can only assume had been spiced up considerably by autocorrect. They did get home safely that evening.
There was a fair amount of puzzling fairly late into the night, but before all of that, there was also cake – birthday cake for Ali who’d celebrated his birthday the day before – Happy Birthday Ali!

With most of the folks safely en route home, Gill and I set about turning puzzle cave number two into a bedroom for Rob for the night – the sound of which seemed to entice the final knot of puzzlers to leave, presumably so they wouldn’t have to take a turn on blowing up Rob’s aerobed!

Sunday was a lovely relaxed day of puzzling with Stefan, Louis and Rob, before the shuttle service to the airport kicked in to get the lads off to their respective flights…

 

…another damn fine weekend’s puzzling with good friends… thanks folks!

Tuesday, 8 November 2022

Bomb Destroyer Puzzle

I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a pacifist, but somehow I just instinctively don’t like to be around guns or other sorts of weapons… and yet recently I found myself wanting to buy a little bomb-shaped puzzle to show my support for Engineer Bruns – a peace-loving, puzzle-making guy from Ukraine. Bruns’ videos of making his puzzles always made me smile, he has a great sense of humour and it really comes through in his videos…

…but then his country got invaded and his videos were absolutely gut-wrenching, his pain was clear and visceral, and I wanted to show some support for him, because, quite incredibly, he’s continued to make puzzles and even cranked out a new design with a nod to the invasion – Bomb Destroyer Puzzle.

I ordered a copy, happy to wait for as long as it took – but it really didn’t take long to arrive at all.

It’s a neat little cartoonish bomb – with a brass nose and an aluminium body… some bits spin around, but nothing seems to do anything useful at all.

Your mission is to find the Skynet coin from the future… and it is a great mission, with several very distinct steps to be traversed. The first is well hidden, the second confusing, the third is my favourite: a clever mechanism that is perfectly executed with some excellent workmanship, and the last is a wonderfully tactile experience…

…and the Skynet coin from the future is always a great reward – I love this puzzle, even if it looks like a bomb, because it speaks of defiance against tyranny and the hope of a little puzzle bringing joy against the grim misery of encroaching war.

My wish is that the puzzles will always win.

In Bruns’ own words: “I wish peaceful skies to all of you, and I want that you can see war only in fantastic movies or virtual games.”

Sunday, 30 October 2022

DCD 2022

I didn’t make it to last year’s DCD, but I was damned if I was going to miss this year’s event… and it turned out to be one heck of a weekend!

It started on Friday afternoon when Ali, Steve, Rich and I met up in London for a couple of escape rooms to get us in the mood for a puzzling weekend. We’d congregated at the hotel we were all staying at before heading up toward Camden for a quick bite to eat (fab burgers!) before our first escape room: Codebreakers at Mission Breakout. Housed in the basement of a tube station, it is very atmospheric. We ended up spending quite a long time on the first section, and then managed to somehow rush through the second bit, albeit we made a bit of a meal of the transfer between the two sections… Steve took a while to recover from that. The puzzles were really well-implemented and fitted the theming very well, and if there was a complaint to be had, it would be that things were very linear, but without a lot of signposting of what came next, so we often found ourselves wondering where to go next. We were happy to complete it and our gamemaster told us that we were one of the fastest teams she’d ever seen at rifling through the desk drawers – so there’s that…

Fresh from our victory we headed up to Cluequest where Steve had thoughtfully booked us into their hardest room, cQ Origenes. We made a quick pit stop at a convenience store for some chocolate and soft drinks and then plunged into our next adventure, having agreed that when our gamesmaster asked us if we’d done any escape rooms before, the honest answer would be “Not in the last 45 minutes.” This room was excellent – our only possible slight grumble was a difficulty reading some markings under a blacklight where they’d been rubbed off by previous players – nothing a little magic marker won’t fix… there was a lot to do in that room and the theming was really excellent – definitely recommended!

After we’d finished the second room we wandered back to the hotel and took up station at the bar for a couple of libations before I headed off to bed - leaving the lads at the bar, until that closed and they headed off to a nearby night club… I got a good night's sleep.

Next morning bright and (very) early we walked down to St Pancras to grab the Eurostar across to Amsterdam – with the monkeys lugging some incredibly heavy looking suitcases filled with brassware. Sod’s law dictated that my luggage was pulled for examination – it turns out that big shiny antique locks from Morocco look quite suspicious. (You’re welcome, Frans!) If that wasn’t sufficiently ironic, Steve’s big case of brass went through fine but his hand luggage needed searching as he had a single brass Gobstopper in there – presumably it resembles a nuclear detonator or something.

Once we were on the train, the puzzles came out and we played pass-the-puzzle. Steve gave each of us a copy of a new design he doesn’t plan on making again, having christened it something that cannot possibly appear in a family friendly blog. When Rich took his apart and then tried to reassemble it, it was very clear where the name came from – it’s another 6-piece co-ordinate motion puzzle with extra protuberances inside that make alignment absolutely critical – the name is a direct quote from every single person who ever has the misfortune of having to assemble one. (Yes, when I was reassembling mine this afternoon, I said exactly that…)

During the course of the journey I had a little play with Ali’s copy of Bruns’ Bomb Destroyer Puzzle – which went through security without so much as a second glance – and got absolutely nowhere – and I made a mental note to give it some respect when my copy arrived.

At some point we had a chat about the fact that if we got off the train in Rotterdam, we’d get to The Hague about an hour earlier, and much as we were enjoying the train ride, we decided that would be sensible, so we got off at Rotterdam and navigated our way more or less successfully to the right station in The Hague – close to our hotel for the weekend.

Louis met us at the station and took Ali, Steve and a couple of metric tons of brass over to the DCD venue so they could set up their stall while Rich and I headed to the hotel to check-in. The lovely folks at NH Den Haag let us both check in early so we got to sort out our shirt(s) and freshen up a bit before meeting the others and heading off to Rob’s place for the traditional pre-DCD-bash.

For someone who’s just about to move out of his flat, Rob still has a shed-load of puzzles in cabinets, although in fairness, there were many piles of puzzles neatly packed in banana boxes and his main puzzle cabinets had already been dismantled. We spread ourselves out around the dining room table and duly brought out the puzzles for everyone’s amusement (or torture, depending on the puzzles in question). I’d taken along a few of the tray packing puzzles I’d been unable to solve (it’s a strategy of mine to get my tougher puzzles solved – don’t knock it!). There were also a few of the new Kickstarter Clueboxes. Rich spent a while working through Box of Celts and Yaccine manfully attacked Rob’s Cricket Bat. As usual there was a LOT of laughter, interspersed with the occasional triumph over a puzzle or two… and there was a lot of food, thanks to Rob’s most excellent of catering.

Somewhere around a vaguely reasonable hour we headed back to the hotel in the snug Coolen-mobile – Rich, Ali and I got to know one another quite well while Steve stretched out in the front seat.

Next morning after breakfast the Coolen-mobile dropped us off at the school for DCD-proper which was reassuringly familiar, in spite of the fact that we didn’t have the speed-cubers in tow this year as they were holding their competition on a different weekend to allow for some social distancing… their space was instead taken up by a couple of tables running the length of the hall with copies of all the 2022 Nob Yoshigahara Design Competition entries… available for all to play with – I mean we’ll miss the speed-cubers, but give me design competition entries any day!

The first order of duty was to say hello to my friends I haven’t seen in person for a few years – and then on to browsing through the various stall already set up and ready for business… the lads had mentioned that Marcel had a bunch of good stuff worth raking through and he was keen to show me a few special things at remarkably reasonable prices – I did end up picking up a few small items from him. 

Jan Willem had several lovely things on his table, and truth be told I could probably have blown all of my allowance on his table in the first ten minutes, but I summoned some restraint, from where, I know not. Wil had a stupendous selection of goodies and I came and went several times during the course of the day, finding new treasures each time… I managed to pick up a copy of CUBI from around 1985 and a copy of the Anchor puzzle box that I’d played with at Frank’s place – purely to stop anyone else from having to buy and solve it… I’m nice that way.

It was great to see Michel had been able to make it even though he wasn’t on top form. George and Roxanne were their usual whirlwind-selves. Given the pictures of their fully-loaded car afterwards, I suspect they took the prize for largest DCD-spree. 

Tony Fisher's table was sublime as always - showcasing his twisty puzzle chess set where each piece is a unique individual twisty puzzle - if you haven't seen his Youtube videos on them yet, go here!

The afternoon saw a lecture on Uwe Meffert and then Rox and George did a double act showing us their Puzzle Castle and adjoining hotel in Panicale and telling us about their wonderfully ambitious plans for the complex.

After the lecture I spent a while playing with a few of the Design Competition entries and generally hurling encouragement / abuse at the others trying to do the same… I’m nice that way.

When things began to wind down, we pitched in and helped pack up the hall and return it to canteen style for the kids on their return. Louis carted all the luggage (brass remains and puzzle purchases) back to the hotel and we navigated our way reasonably successfully back to the hotel – although Steve and I failed miserably in our attempt to get the others to do a 540 around one of the roundabouts on the way.

By the time we got back to the hotel we realised that we’d acquired quite a few folks joining us for dinner, and the restaurant we’d planned to head off to was closed… so we gathered everyone at our hotel and headed up the hotel restaurant where they were looking forward to a quiet evening until 16 of us rocked up unannounced… they did well in the end, even if they needed to ask us to please restrict our menu choices to something that the single chef on duty might be able to bash out in a sensible time. The grub was good and the chat was better… with Nick showing up Amy and solving the puzzle that had eluded everyone but Ali up to that point (he’s a machine is Ali!).

After dinner a few of us spent a while in the bar with something cold with the US Grand Prix on the telly in the background – thankfully given the number of Dutch fans in the bar, Max took it in the end.

Next day I dragged the lads into The Hague city centre in search of a Longchamps bag for Gill – only to find it wasn’t in stock, so we headed off to a toy shop and bought some puzzles before doing a lightning tour of the Escher Museum…

We collected our bags from the hotel and headed back into town for a train to Amsterdam (we didn’t fancy our chances of being allowed onto the train at the wrong station on the way back). Some rail disruptions gave us a leisurely trip up to Amsterdam where we had plenty of time for a burger before grabbing the Eurostar back to London…

…which brought more puzzling, both on our respective purchases from the day before and on an envelope full of challenges <The Corporation from Puzzaroo, if you're interested> that I’d bought a while back and hadn’t found an excuse to bring out yet - that passed a couple of hours quite well – and we managed to solve it with very few hints… definitely a good hive-mind in operation – I shouted encouragement from the side lines.

When we hit London we said our goodbyes and I sprinted to Euston to grab a train on the ever-decreasing West-Coast service back to Brum where Gill was waiting to take me home… what a weekend. 

Thanks a stack to all who made it such a grand puzzling weekend!

Friday, 21 October 2022

Tetrahedrane

A design from Oskar van Deventer brought to life in heavy metals by the Two Brass Monkeys?

SURE!

Why not?

Enter Tetrahedrane... a close relative of Oskar’s 3D-printed Screwballs, and confusingly Screwballs Too, that doesn’t actually have any balls – rather it has rhombic dodecahedra at each of the tetrahedron’s vertices. In that sense Tetrahedrane might well be called Screwballs Tree... and somewhere along the path from 3D-printed plastic to brass and steel the name got an upgrade to reference a mythical hydrocarbon of the same shape.

My copy arrived in the mail some time back, slightly ahead of its public release so I could take some pics for the lads’ website... and if you look at said website you’ll notice there are only pictures of the fully assembled puzzle, as it arrives... that’s not because I didn’t have enough time to take it apart, or because my copy was somehow magically jammed up, it was simply because I was too scared to take it apart in case that was how it would end up staying for quite some time.

After staring at it on my desk for a couple of weeks I decided that the time had come and I should face my fears, or at very least, take my copy of Tetrahedrane apart. It took a little backwardsing and forwardsing but once you’ve got three of the ends off, the rest is pretty straight-forward. And that leaves you with a little pile of parts – far more compact, but not nearly as good-looking!

At this point I pause to think about things a bit: this is an interesting puzzle, as in theory, if there was zero tolerance, you’d need to manipulate all sides at the same time – I’m not giving anything away here – all of the descriptions of the puzzle and its predecessors tell you the sides screw into the balls / rhombic dodecahedra / sorta-cylinders – so you’d need to expand or contract all of the sides at the same time for anything to come apart / go together.

So in theory this is a very tricky puzzle for anyone with only two hands to assemble... in practice, the theory doesn’t get in the way all that much – as we’ve seen in some analogous two-dimensional puzzles. Sure it’s a bit tricky and you need to be patient about things, but patience and a methodical approach will take things apart for you...

When you have a pile of pieces, it’s worth thinking about things and taking stock of exactly what you have – you’ll probably find some things are all identical and others are all different... and that is sufficient to derive exactly how the different bits need to be connected to the identical bits.

Solving it in theory is one thing, but solving it in practice isn’t too much harder, just a bit fiddlier.

Am I embarrassed that I didn’t just disassemble it straight away?

Yes. A little.

...but then this blog post would have been a lot shorter!

Friday, 14 October 2022

NPP ‘22

Around the start of October each year Frank invites a bunch of us up to his place for a Northern Puzzle Party…. and it’s become a damn fine tradition!

I was still on leave after our trip to New England but still battling the effects of jet-lag while I tried to get some birthday presents printed out for Frank in the days running up to NPP – in the end I managed to get around half of the puzzles printed so the personalised drawstring bag Gill had made for them wasn’t going to be totally empty. He got an IOU for the rest…

I headed up on the Friday afternoon through some Noachian rain showers which saw the motorway grind to a halt on a regular basis. Following the wise counsel of my sat-nav I headed off the motorway and onto some far more scenic roads, which were all actually moving – bonus! A couple of hours later than originally planned I decamped at chez Potts and was made to feel thoroughly welcome as always!

I relayed the sad story of my inability to complete my one and only task that week – print Frank some presents – and handed over the ones I had managed to complete to my really gracious host. A short while later the London mob arrived having checked into their Airbnb and the merriment began in earnest.

Jo and Frank had put a bottle of scotch into a locked steel cage with clues around the side for opening the padlock as a gift for Shane, who duly glanced at it and while he was chatting to all of us proceeded to pick the padlock without even looking at it… in about twenty seconds. (There’s a good reason we like having Shane in escape rooms with us!)

Jo and Frank produced a massive dinner for all of us before Jo headed off to the train station to collect the Dutch contingent. More puzzle chatter ensued until someone noticed it was almost midnight and most folks headed off to bed or at least back to their Airbnb. (I think the Dutch contingent might have carried on puzzling for a while after that!)

Next morning our most excellent hosts rustled up a feast for breakfast before the rest of the gang arrived for a full day’s puzzling.

Will had brought along a couple of new goodies from JCC, including one thoroughly bonkers puzzle box that I stood absolutely no chance of opening without Louis’ help – and with a fair amount of encouragement from him, I managed to navigate the red herrings and operate the wonderfully ingenious mechanism – leaving me able to confidently say that I have never seen the likes of that in a puzzle box and that I would never manage to solve such a beast. Louis reckoned he’d managed to fluke it somehow and then had to spend a while reverse-engineering what he’d managed to do… as even locking it when it’s open with the mechanism laid bare is a non-trivial exercise.

Mike gave Frank and I each a puzzle card to solve and I did my usual thing of trying to massively overcomplicate stuff before realising the error of my ways and managing to crack it properly. Thanks Mike – some really fun mechanics built into a reasonably unassuming birthday card.

Ali and Steve had cooked up a new design called Splatter Wok in honour of our birthdays – a three-coloured rhombic dodecahedron that just looks like it wants to be spun… so spin it I did on Frank’s kitchen floor – that same one that had seen some carnage 5 years earlier thanks to the glitter filled orbs they’d given us back then. This one spins apart merrily and doesn’t deposit a large amount of confetti on Frank's floor, which is a bit of a relief!  While I’m trying to reassemble it Steve casually drops the fact that it’s a six-piece co-ordinate motion assembly – yes, there are only six pieces, but they all need to be expanded and contracted together to assemble the little bugger… thankfully it turns out to be less tricky than I imagine it to be from his description… thanks lads!

Amy spends a while taking Big Ben apart and then reassembling it, with just a little encouragement on some of the tricker patches…

I’d taken my copy of Keep Locked along and several folks had a go at it over the course of the day – most of them under Shane’s watchful eye as he gave folks a nudge here and there when they needed it… I’d managed to spend a little while playing with it before the weekend but had only got about two thirds of the way through solving it so I managed to avoid spoiling it for myself and I still have that challenge to look forward to… :-)

While Frank was otherwise occupied, Steve cooked up a new slant on the old Hide-the-tongue-depressors game that we perfected at Nigel’s place – he called it Hide-the-Kumiki puzzle. Anyone who know Frank knows that he has a fearsome collection of Kumiki puzzles… so Steve had donated some of his own Kumiki puzzles to the cause and encouraged us to hide them somewhere around the house in the hopes of being responsible for the very last rogue Kumiki puzzle that Frank found – fame and adulation will surely follow, right?

The game progressed fairly well with folks scurrying around whenever Frank was distracted somewhere else – something that happened from time to time, mostly unplanned…

In order to improve the chances of the dastardly deeds going undiscovered, some folks also snuck into the Kumiki-cave and did a little rearranging of Frank’s carefully orchestrated collection – apparently the camels HAVE to be near the pyramids – who knew?

Something went slightly awry later that evening when Frank discovered one of Steve’s secret notes with the game instructions on his desk… which sort of tipped him off that something was afoot, and then not long after that he discovered the (rogue Kumiki) elephant in the (dining) room… I don’t think he discovered any others before we left, so hopefully he’ll enjoy playing Find-the-Kumiki for a while. (I helpfully suggested that he check in the toaster – we all know how that could have played out…)

There was a huge spread for dinner again – pizzas galore and a massive pot of chilli – everyone had more than enough!

After dinner Jo produced a birthday cake with some impressive pyrotechnics. (No ceilings were damaged in the course of the performance!) Steve demonstrated his uncanny ventriloquism skills with his hand shoved up a banana and there was a lot more puzzling… before everyone grudgingly headed off to their Airbnbs to crash.
Sunday morning after breakfast (another serious spread at the Potts’) we all met up to play through some escape rooms in Rawtenstall – having played one of their rooms digitally during lock-down it was great to see that their rooms are just as good, if not better in real life. We played Treason (a take on Guy Fawkes) and Dragon Heart (a boy-wizard theme) and being the competitive bunch we are, the two teams were keen to compare times – we all agreed that Amy’s team won…

Thanks to Frank and Jo for hosting another awesome NPP!! – That were brilliant!