Saturday, 23 September 2023

Simple Lock 1

Simple by name… simple by nature?

Most definitely not!

I missed out on the first release of this puzzle a while back, but on Louis’ most excellent recommendation, I joined the waiting list and managed to grab a copy from a subsequent batch… and I’m rather glad I did.

It is an exceedingly handsome little beast – plenty of nicely brushed aluminium, a super-solid looking stainless-steel shackle and a conspicuously removable plate on the back. (The lock comes with a hex-tool and an instruction to only use it after fully solving the puzzle in order to see your serial number inscribed inside.)

The accompanying key actually fits in the keypath (great start!) and will actually turn (we’re two-for-two already!) and you may even be surprised when the shackle starts coming out (it’s all going swimmingly so far!), but there’s a rather large “but” in your pretty immediate future at this stage!

Roundabout now things go a little Pete Tong, and you may well find yourself picturing Ben, the creator of this little monster, having a laugh at your expense.

Somewhere along the obvious path you need to take, you will find yourself unable to turn around and head back for the safety of your starting position – game on… ready or not!

That whole bit of the journey takes mere seconds… the rest of it took me many, many weeks!

At various stages I had a shackle in one hand and a locked-up padlock with a key that wouldn’t budge in the other – in fact that was quite often the position.

There are some lovely discoveries and some very subtle little touches that had me barking up the wrong tree for an awfully long time. There’s a tool or two to be discovered (including some “where the heck did that come from?”!) and then a really long (‘twas for me!) journey of discovery to work out all of the steps required to get everything back to the starting position.

It's really an excellent puzzle from just the solve perspective - what makes it really mind-blowing IMHO is taking the back cover off and seeing just how elegant the innards are – there is zero over-complication anywhere. Every precisely shaped piece is there for a reason – some to allow you to do something, most to stop you from doing something.

Ultimately this puzzle’s design really earns its name – just don’t be fooled into thinking that the name will be descriptive of the solution in any way, shape or form!

Bravo Ben!

Saturday, 16 September 2023


(Yes, I know that’s not a real Roman Numeral…try and keep up!) 

MPP XXXXVIII was another rather select affair – a few of the usual suspects weren’t able to make this one and I ended up in the decidedly weird position of not having anyone staying for the weekend and heading down to the hall entirely on my own on the Saturday morning – it really felt quite weird!

I got there before anyone had arrived and set about getting the urn up and running, laying out the refreshments and setting up all the tables – I put up a couple of the traditional signs and then headed across to the shops to grabs some cold drinks and some fresh milk – good thing as Phil later discovered that the milk left in the fridge was somewhat beyond its best…

Sod’s Law dictates that while I was at the shops two loads of puzzlers had arrived, and George and Rox seemed to be packing or unpacking their luggage in the car park while Steve, Ali and Rich looked on – I didn’t ask and they didn’t offer… the mystery remains…

Inside the hall we unpacked some puzzles and began the usual banter, fiddling with puzzles, more banter and the occasional bit of friendly abuse, aka banter.

A couple of us had brought along a full set of our exchange puzzles so that anyone who hadn’t been at IPP 40 could experience our pain at not being able to solve quite a few of them; and perhaps solve one or two of them.

Dale had a rummage through the exchange puzzles and found a goodly number that interested him.

Kevin had brought along a huge number of recent Pelikan productions and several of us had a bash at some of them that we hadn’t had our grubby paws on yet. I reciprocated by encouraging him to have a bash at George Bell’s Another Broken Burr – a lovely little six-piece burr that might look like a “standard” diagonal burr when it’s properly assembled, a badly coloured diagonal burr when it’s not, and a really scary pile of pieces when it’s not assembled. It turns out there’s a sliding axis assembly for the wrong assembly, and the right assembly requires six pieces to be simultaneously assembled… Kevin loves a challenge after all… and after one or two false starts he was victorious, which is great because I can now store that puzzle assembled! (I’d had no luck trying to do that myself a few days earlier – so well done, and thanks Kevin!)

Kyle had brought along one of his new creations and Tamsin spent a while sitting next to me working her way through it – every now and then there’d be a delighted squeak as a new bit of progress was made – spoiler alert: she enjoyed it!

Phil had arrived with a few copies of his latest creation: a set of three dexterity puzzles beautifully machined out of chunks of brass – they had to be, didn’t they?! I’d already arranged to take a set and handed him some cash – mainly so that I could annoy visiting puzzlers – I’m really rubbish at dexterity puzzles and probably don’t stand a hope in all heck of ever solving them – especially after hearing how he’d struggled with them – Quigley will no doubt consider them all a mere child’s toy and complete them in minutes – in fact he may have even done that in the hall and completed them so quickly that I wasn’t even aware of him doing them. <I did subsequently try and solve them when I was taking some pics and managed to solve one out of the three… I’m going to have to try the other two again, not that I’m a proud man, but…>

Several folks enjoyed Andreas’ exchange, Swaptic by Andrew Crowell, before George tried to throw it at BurrTools and found himself asking a familiar question…

Quizbrix latest release, Vertigo, had several folks playing with Lego for a while – not a single bad word was uttered – everyone loves playing with Peleg’s latest design.

Several folks had a bash at solving Chinny’s Ze Tooth Fairy Puzzle – with some people finding some rather unconventional approaches to solving some of the steps and then finding themselves thoroughly out of sequence with things, finding tools with no apparent use having cooked an earlier step or two – Chinny’s puzzles never fail to put a huge smile on folks' faces – that never changes!

I embarrassed myself severely spending an absolute age totally failing to solve Ali’s copy of his Bolt From the Blue in front of him… only to be told that Mike had just solved my copy of the bolt without any issues – I’d been hoping my copy was somehow defective and that it wasn’t merely a case of the solver being defective – turned out ‘twas. Hey ho… onwards and… somewhere…

Being a smaller bunch – about 13 of us, I think – there seemed to be more time for chatting with everyone and chillin’ with puzzles – no that is not a euphemism!

I managed to disappoint Rox (and no doubt one or two others, including myself!) at lunch time when the deli had just run out of pig buns when we got there – mental note: must leave earlier for lunch next time! With my staple not being available I opted for a curry sausage roll, which turned out to be delicious, so all was not entirely lost! There was a smattering of some wonderfully unhealthy pickings around the various lunch tables – kebab-man I’m looking at you! – and even some really healthy choices – puzzlers are an interesting mix!

In the afternoon I spent a while watching Steve playing with Chinny’s exchange puzzle and seemingly trying to play a tune on some poor unsuspecting moles’ heads for some reason. Possibly it was just that he had the wrong tune, but the puzzle didn’t magically open – suggestions for the right tune on a postcard to Steve please.

I managed to give away a few copies of my exchange and the Monkeys had copies of their exchanges and one or two other recent goodies available for sale at most reasonable prices.

There was a fair bit of fiddling with Rik’s exchange, albeit not a lot of progress beyond the predicted first stage of the solve… I got lucky with that one and solved it during the preceding week – I had a line of thought and managed to make elements of it start working and then bashed through to the final solution – definitely a bit sneaky!

Dmitry’s Third Wheel got a LOT of attention across a couple of copies, and to my knowledge nobody managed a solve at MPP, although I’m pretty sure that Ali has subsequently solved it… the rest of us mortals struggle on… Nobody got anywhere at all on Brian’s exchange… that one’s going to go down in history as a mean bastard! (The puzzle…)

Somewhere before six o’clock we packed up the hall, bid some folks farewell and then headed off to my place for the traditional fish supper, only this one turned out to be a little less traditional: the weather on the afternoon was absolutely wonderful, so Gill was sitting out on the deck making one of her scrappy wreaths and a few folks ended up sitting around the table chatting with her… until pretty much everyone was outside around the table just chilling and chatting, with nary a puzzle in sight…

We had supper out there, and chatted some more and literally just ended up chatting and laughing out on the deck for the rest of the evening… until folks needed to head home – a really lovely end to a super day’s puzzling with friends, once again – thanks for another memorable MPP, folks!


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!!