Sunday, 26 July 2015

Singapore Puzzle Party (SPP)

Towards the end of June this year, Roxanne Wong got in touch with me to let me know that Oskar van Deventer was coming to Singapore for a business trip and had given Oskar my email to link us both up. I had met Oskar twice previously, both times very briefly at IPP33 in Japan and IPP34 in London, the latter during which we also exchanged puzzles.


Clockwise from left: Me, Goh Pit Khiam, Seung Ha, Lim Chen, David Chua, David Ang, Oskar and KangZZ
Since Oskar also knew puzzle designer Goh Pit Khiam, the plan was for the both of us to take him to dinner, play with some puzzles (I asked Oskar to bring his latest designs) and have a catch up. In the course of several email exchanges, I also got to know David Ang through Oskar. David runs CubeWerkz, a distributor of twisty (Calvin's) puzzles in Singapore, but I have never met him before. 

Not only that, I also found out, after calling and speaking with David the first time, that he runs Rubik's competitions in Singapore. Kinda of strange as Singapore is such a small country (5.2M population) and I have been puzzling and blogging for some years now, yet have never heard of David nor he of me! Well, then again, its probably because I am not a twisty collector, hence I don't really move in the twisty circles which he operates.

What was going to be a simple three men meet up now became an eight persons gathering, as David was bringing several other twisty puzzle/cubing enthusiasts. There were several others who were invited but were unable to attend. Until now, I always thought I could count puzzle collectors in Singapore with just one hand. 

Fast forward and we get to the evening of Saturday 25th July. Pit Khiam and I met with Oskar at his hotel and we took a stroll to the restaurant which was nearby. There we met David and his (young) twisty gang; two junior college students, one who was doing his stint in the army and a high school teacher.

Dinner commenced (and it was a pretty decent buffet mind you) but it was obvious that food was secondary. Well I should have known better that when puzzlers get together with lots of puzzles to play with, the world can suddenly be overrun by a zombie apocalypse and nobody would really pay any attention. 

As to be expected, no one wanted second helpings and everyone was just eager to get the dirty dishes out of the way. Pit Khiam and I were the only two non-cubers and each of us had brought a number of puzzles with us. David brought some new interesting twisties he was introducing to the Singapore market, and the rest of the folks had a puzzle or two with them. Oskar had the largest stash which he carried all the way from the Netherlands comprising some of his latest prototypes (which incidentally are available on Shapeways but at rather expensive prices).

Everyone got round to playing with each other's puzzles especially the new ones from Oskar and even a couple of cubers tried their hand at Pit Khiam's and my non-twisty packing puzzles. Our table was full of loud and animated conversation. The other diners in the restaurant gave us bemused looks as we passed our toys around. We were in a world of our own! I kept hearing words like "parity", "algorithms" etc; twisty speak of course. The evening ended rather early to the disappointment of everyone...the restaurant was closing and the staff politely asked us come back another day!

Well, enough from me; I will just let the photos do the talking from here on...





















This is perhaps the first Singapore Puzzle Party? And I was happy to have made a number of new puzzle friends from Singapore. Certainly it won't be the last...already I am planning on organising the second get-together after IPP35, now that I know there is more than just a few of us collectors around, twisty or otherwise.   

Thursday, 16 July 2015

A-Pack

There are packing puzzles...and there are packing puzzles. I have to agree with Eric Fuller, the maker of Terry Smart's A-Pack when Eric remarked that the A-Pack is an interesting packing puzzle with a unique and brilliant concept.


Terry has designed a large number of interlocking puzzles, of which thirty two have been published on PWBP to date. I am pretty sure there are many more which never got featured. The A-Pack, according to Terry, is his first attempt at a packing puzzle; a damn good one I might add. 

Why call it the A-Pack? Well, Terry tells me he wants to design more packing puzzles bearing the shapes of the entire alphabet. I had wanted to suggest to Terry that he call his puzzle "A Packing Puzzle"...with a play on the letter "A", but I guess it wouldn't be possible since he is going to use B, C, D and so on.


Construction, fit and finish of the A-Pack cannot be faulted. As usual, Eric has done a superb job of creating a puzzle that is beautiful and precise. My only remark (and I usually have nothing negative to say about Eric's work) is that I think the puzzle should have been made physically larger using half inch square units instead of quarter inch. Personally I find the pieces a bit small and rather fiddly to handle. Notwithstanding, the A-Pack is very cute to look at and pocket-able. In terms of materials, the frame and sliders are walnut and acrylic and the eight pieces are maple. 

The object (as the name suggests) is to pack the eight pieces into the frame. Unlike a traditional packing puzzle where you overturn the pieces out and scramble them before solving, because the puzzle came assembled, the first challenge is to remove the pieces. The first couple of pieces can be easily removed but as you progress, the puzzle gets difficult, as some of the pieces are interlocked with the two sliders held in place by the acrylic plate, but which can move within limits in certain directions.


"Unpacking" involves manipulating both the sliders and the pieces. It is not an overly difficult puzzle at this stage but the A-Pack does provide sufficient challenge for the unpacking. It would have been very difficult indeed if the puzzle had been shipped assembled. Most puzzlers (myself definitely included) probably wouldn't even know which piece to start with. While the design intent is a packing puzzle, in many ways it is also an interlocking burr of sorts....a hybrid perhaps...and we can call it a "Parr"? (Pack + Burr).

Having got the pieces out, its a matter of reversing to re-assemble. The hardest (and most) moves involve the first few pieces going back into the frame so once you navigate this portion correctly, the rest is very much more manageable. The trick is to remember the sequence and the moves, as this will help, yes...help a lot. Another trick is lay out the pieces in the order (and correct orientation) which they come out. No rotations needed here. If you can rotate any piece out, you are solving it wrongly.

Overall, "A" really neat and fun little puzzle (no pun intended). Something different from the usual mix. Definitely a must-have for both Packists and Burrists alike. Eric retailed the A-Pack for $64 each, which is not cheap, but value for money given the effort needed to make them. Unfortunately as of the date of this post, all have been sold out.   


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The Cut (Just Fit)

Almost all puzzlers in the community would generally associate Wil Strijbos with high quality and (usually very difficult) metal puzzles.


But surprise surprise, quite a number of years back, over twenty five years to be exact, Wil designed a wooden puzzle called Just Fit. Not only that, Wil's Just Fit also won the 1990 Hikimi Puzzle Competition for wooden puzzle designs.

Over the years, various puzzle craftsmen and manufacturers have produced "Just Fit" under different guises and names. The version I have is known as the "The Cut" and is also my first puzzle acquired from Thai online retailer Siam Mandalay

Siam Mandalay makes and sells more than just puzzles. Aside from a pretty extensive selection of over one hundred and forty wooden puzzles/brain teasers on offer at any one point in time, their website also retails traditional board games, novelties and furniture. I would consider them an online lifestyle retail store but with a strong focus on puzzles as well.

My copy of The Cut measures about 13cm square and 3.7cm high; a good size for the play as the pieces can be comfortably handled without being overly bulky or too small. The wood used is I am told, Monkey Pod wood and Tamarind. Construction, fit and finish is overall pretty decent. For about US$26, I wasn't expecting the level of craftsmanship from the Fullers, Menolds or Pelikans of this world but here the quality is good enough. The puzzle has a handmade sort of feel, which in fact it is, using sustainable materials. While it lacks the premium look and appeal of exotic woods serious collectors are accustomed to, I would say it is built pretty tough and can stand a fair amount of abuse; which is not something that the more pricey wooden puzzles can boast of. This is the sort of puzzle that you would have no hesitation whatsoever passing to your non-puzzling (or clumsy) friends to have a bash at. And for the amount of wood and work going into the construction, real value for money!



The Cut is a packing puzzle with sixteen pieces, object is to form a 4 x 4 checker-board pattern. Here my only wish was that there was a bit more contrast of colours in the woods to make the squares more distinct. The Cut is not an easy puzzle. No, not at all (trust Wil to come up with something so devious, even twenty five years ago!). Firstly as you can see from the photo, each of the sixteen pieces comprise of two blocks of different woods cut at different angles and glued together. To pack the pieces correctly, the sixteen pieces must mesh nicely forming two layers within the tray. 

I scrambled all the pieces out and for the next several hours attempted different combinations to layer the pieces, random and otherwise, trying this and that but without much success. I must have done it over a dozen times but each occasion, I came up short of just one piece, which couldn't fit. So close yet so far. In the end I threw in the towel and checked out the step-by-step solution offered on the Siam Mandalay site. The Cut is too tough for me! 

Those who like packing puzzles would love this one. Not your typical style packing puzzle in terms of design. Inexpensive and given the level of difficulty, definitely would get you your money's worth. 

  

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Closed Box

The guys at Pelikan Puzzles have outdone themselves again. In the last couple of years I have bought many puzzles from them and generally have been impressed by their quality and manufacture, not to mention value for money prices. 

But when I got two of their latest offerings, I was blown away! The two puzzles I received, the Closed Box (and Vauban H5) were just simply incredible; the level of craftsmanship has gone further up a notch or two.



The Closed Box is the design of Christoph Lohe. The woods chosen by Pelikan are Maple and Wenge; nice contrasting exotic woods. The usual way to do it is probably just to have made the cage in Wenge and Pieces in Maple (or vice-versa) but what makes the Closed Box stand out is the way Pelikan have combined the two woods to create a cage which adds to overall enhancement of the aesthetics of the puzzle. 

You have to look at the real thing to see for yourself. If you look at the photo (which doesn't really do the puzzle any justice), you will know what I mean. The attention to detail is amazing. Although the pieces are formed by gluing different shapes, the joints are so smooth you would think they were cut from a single block of wood.

Requiring a total of 23 moves (at Level 15.6.3), it is not a terribly difficult burr to take apart (but sufficiently tricky that its no walk in the park either). Christoph had this to say:-



"With just three sticks of length five, densely packed into a cubic
frame, the Closed Box is not the most difficult puzzle, but all but
trivial to solve. It requires 15 moves to release the first stick, and
it displays nicely with six closed sides. I am very happy to see it
made in a high-quality Deluxe version with outstanding wood
craftsmanship."



Given my poor record at solving interlocking burrs (beyond Level 6), I was actually surprised that I managed to take the thing apart. But unfortunately unable to reassemble without help. It takes focus and concentration (and of course a lot of time) to be able to properly remember the sequence for dis-assembly and re-assembly, which I seriously lack. For now I am happy just to get the first piece out of anything!  

For burr lovers, this is a must-get. For the level of quality and craftsmanship, the price of Euros 49 is reasonable. And did I mention that it also comes with its own stand (and name plate)? A really nice touch and functional addition. Great for display, but watch the very sharp corners!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Lock 14

The Lock 14 was Eckbert Waldleben's IPP34 exchange puzzle. When I first picked it up, I thought it was similar to the Lock 250 that I had played with a while back. But how wrong I was. Although both were designed Jean-Claude Constantin, the Lock 14 is really in a class of its own in terms of difficulty. 



Overall the Lock 14 is well made and fabricated with layers of precise laser cut wood, held together with steel screws. The object of the puzzle is to remove the shackle from the lock body. Like the Lock 250, the Lock 14 is also a N-nary type puzzle [I didn't know this and thanks very much to Goetz Schwandtner for pointing this out to me]. But unlike the Lock 250, the Lock 14's mechanism is hidden even tho it works on the N-nary system. The hidden mechanism holds the shackle in place. From the outside, you can see three ball bearings in their cavity via three peepholes, and those are just about all the clues given to get you going with the puzzle.  





The solving consists of manipulating three sliders inside the lock in a particular sequence to get the sliders to move to their respective positions which will then free the shackle. But because the mechanism is hidden and the ball bearings restrict the movement of the sliders, it becomes a very difficult task indeed. I struggled with the Lock 14 for quite a long time and finally asked fellow blogger Allard Walker for the solution. 

One look told me that I would not have been able to solve it on my own without help. Thankfully, the schematics and diagrams were well illustrated with step by step instructions, but even then, I missed a step or two along the way and had to re-start. I was quite glad when I finally got the shackle out and after taking my photos, proceeded to get it back into place. A real toughie! And do be careful here not to use force as the wooden parts are delicate and not built to stand abuse and rough play.

[Goetz has also mentioned to me that the lighter coloured portion of the shackle can also be opened but not removed!...hmm didn't know that; certainly not indicated in the solution]

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Supersymmetry

Here's another put-together puzzle that I got nowhere with. Supersymmetry is Stewart Coffin's #247 design and was Tom Rodger's IPP30 exchange puzzle in Osaka, Japan in 2010.


I saw the Supersymmetry during one of Nick Baxter's puzzle auctions and there were around seven copies available for sale. It looked really cool (and had such a cool name too!) being made of walnut, with its own plastic container and "appeared" quite do-able for me. After all, there are only 6 pieces and they didn't look like complicated burr pieces with multiple notches and grooves, so how tough could it be right? wrong, I should have know better that a Coffin puzzle would not be easy. So I went for it and made sure I won a copy.

Looks symmetrical, but is not and can't fit into the container

Well, when it arrived a couple of weeks later, I had problems from day one. While only 6 pieces consisting of equal length rods, the notches were cut diagonally. The object was to form a symmetrical shape and there were 8 solutions for this. I would have been happy to just find one solution, never mind it didn't fit into the plastic container. But unfortunately, I could not even get the rods to interlock together to form any sort of shape at all!


Burr Tools of course was no help for puzzles like these. But I happen to know that fellow puzzler and collector, Oli Sovary-Soos had a copy of the same puzzle (and Oli is quite a super-solver). So I promptly shot him a message for help. He very kindly responded with photos of the solved Supersymmetry from different angles. After quite a good number of days of on-and-off trying, I still got nowhere and asked if he had a step by step solution. The orientation of the rods and how they interlocked I just couldn't figure out from the photos. He sent a second round of photos, this time one photo showed a partial dis-assembly. With this I managed to get an interlocking puzzle, but still not a symmetrical one. Finally after several more tries, I got the right solution; which slipped nicely into the container.

Very difficult, even looking at photos. Trying to get the pieces just to come together properly (without force) is very hard in itself (and even Oli says he doesn't dare to fully take apart his copy). I doubt I will be removing and disentangling the pieces anytime soon, just happy to leave it in its container.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Visible Burr

This interlocking burr gave me a real headache! In fact I was "visibly" frustrated trying to assemble the thing after it arrived in pieces....all twenty four of them. More about this later.



The Visible Burr, designed by Bill Cutler is a handsome puzzle. With its size about 13cm x 13cm x 13cm, this thing is relatively large and displays really well. Made by Eric Fuller, the craftsmanship is excellent. All the pieces are precisely cut and  slide smoothly against each other with just the right amount of tolerance. Eric had chosen Canarywood, Purpleheart and Paduak which gives it a contrast of rich colours. 


Now what is so special about the Visible Burr? Well, for one, its a classic and dates back to 1978. It has been made by different puzzle craftsmen since that time. Here's what Bill said about his design...

"I like to design burrs which are difficult to take apart. This requires irregular notches in the pieces, and I usually like to hide these in the interior of the puzzle. With the Visible Burr, I decided to make all of the notches visible to the solver. Solution of this puzzle can thus be done by analyzing the notches, rather then by using trial-and-error."



While it may look extremely complicated, dis-assembly is humanly possible as Kevin Sadler can testify. He has gotten it into pieces and now (still) figuring how to fix it back together; good luck Kevin! On paper its not that difficult being a Level 7 solution with a total of 46 moves. But its apparently a real tough cookie! And I am not so sure about the re-assembly tho'

I thought with the aid of that savior of puzzlers a.k.a Burr Tools, I could get the twenty four pieces backed to the solved state in a jiffy but no such luck. I was in for a rude shock! It is very difficult to assemble even with Burr Tools. The fact that the pieces slide smoothly caused me the biggest problem, I could not get the early six or seven pieces to "stay put" together in my left hand while using my right to handle the assembly. Identification of the pieces is also not easy at all, given there are so many and looking similar (Hint-mark your pieces according to the numbering in Burr Tools; it will save you a lot of hassle later). 


Missed a step and had to back track...with only two pieces left to go

So what did I do?...ha ha, I allowed the pieces to stay outside of my dehumidifier puzzle closet in the open to let the pieces expand a bit so they would be more "sticky" against each other. For once, I was really thankful that Singapore has high humidity, 70-90%. Two days of exposure to the environment and presto... the pieces "held" themselves and I could concentrate on the fixing instead of the grappling. But even with this problem solved, it was still a very tricky task...the movements of many of the pieces are very subtle, tiny even. Miss one and you can get stuck for a while wondering what went wrong. I made it all the way with only two pieces left before I discovered I had overlooked a step (and a piece) and had to back track about 5 moves and start again. 

All in, I think it took me nearly three hours from start to finish. The most difficult assembly I have ever done for a burr, and mind you, this is with guidance of Burr Tools.

The Visible Burr is still available from Eric for US$109, fully assembled. Previously you had to top up another US$10 for an assembled puzzle.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...