Saturday, 13 December 2014

The World's Most Expensive Exchange Puzzle?

Is this the world's most expensive Exchange Puzzle? Probably...but we'll talk about the price later...

Sequential discovery puzzles don't come onto the market often. In fact the last one I played with was Wil Strijbos Angel Box over a year ago..

But when a new one comes along, it's usually a winner. The Big Ben is such a puzzle!

The Big Ben (a miniature replica modeled after the clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster), was John Moores' Exchange Puzzle at IPP34 in London this year. Without a doubt, it made ninety-nine Exchange participants (including me) very happy people, especially so when we later found out how much it was retailing for. It was jointly designed by John Moores, Junichi Yananose and Brian Young.

Made by Brian Young of Mr Puzzle, Australia, the Big Ben comprises of Papua New Guinean Rosewood, Western Australia Jarrah and Queensland Silver Ash, all native woods of Australia. The attention to detail is amazing and you really need to see the actual copy to appreciate the intricate design that has gone into the puzzle, not only externally from an aesthetic point of view but also the trick and mechanism of the internals. Quality, fit and finish is excellent.

The Big Ben retails on Mr Puzzle for a whopping A$385! Likely the most expensive exchange puzzle at retail price. However probably not, if you also consider aftermarket online auctions where exchange puzzles have attracted bids in excess of US$500 (thanks to Nick Baxter for this info). Even if it had cost John Moores A$100 to have each of these puzzles made (and I am just guessing here the price) it would have set him back a cool A$10,000 to use them for the exchange, since he would have needed a minimum of ninety-nine copies. But then again, John is from Monaco....  

As mentioned this is a sequential discovery (or progressive move) puzzle where you solve little sub-puzzles along the way (using tools that are part of the puzzle; but no other external tools permitted) leading to the eventual solving of the main puzzle.

The object is to find the "Big Ben" (in this case a tiny plastic bell, a miniature like the real one) hidden somewhere in the recesses of the clock tower. Along the way, another item, a representation of Queen's Elizabeth's crown can also be picked up.

Like any good sequential discovery puzzle, there are many things to do to solve the puzzle. In the case of the Big Ben, there are broadly four main challenges, each with multiple steps. I don't want to give away too much here since this is an expensive puzzle and one should have the maximum pleasure from the solve. 

The first challenge is the perhaps the easiest...for confidence building and getting one into the groove of things. Here you will discover some tools which are to be used later and are necessary. Didn't take me long to figure things out here. 

The second challenge is harder and IMHO, a lot harder than the first challenge. The main portions of the Big Ben has to be taken apart. I took a good half an hour or so to get through this stage. Once this was over, a sigh of relief, an a-ha moment to savour for a while.

The Big Ben and Queen Elizabeth's Crown found

The third challenge....which is the hardest and stumped me for a long time. Not that I couldn't solve the puzzle (ie getting the bell out of the clock tower); in fact I did solve it...only that I did it the unintended way!. Two other puzzlers solved it the wrong way too before finding out the correct method; one of them Kevin Sadler whom I approached for help for the right solution method after showing him how I had solved my copy, which proved to be incorrect. I tried the correct method and I must say that it is really quite an elegant solution and works well, but very subtle and tricky. As Allard Walker aptly puts it in his blog post, the solution requires "the detective skills of Poirot and the imagination of Heath Robinson". 

The fourth and last challenge is to put everything back together again AND including setting all the four clock faces back to the original 9 o'clock. I managed to reassemble everything back in place but was quite happy to leave the clocks in whatever facings they happened to end up. Didn't see the need to give myself any more extra work. The Big Ben looks just fine as it is!

Expensive yes, but loads of puzzling value for the money. Overall a really fine puzzle from the puzzling perspective. Difficult yes, especially the last part, but gradual and manageable most of the way with a-ha moments thrown in. A puzzle that you probably won't want to put down once you start.

Oh...and John, if you are reading this, we puzzlers would love for you to continue to participate in future IPP Exchanges with puzzles just like your Big Ben!!!

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