Monday 28 September 2015

Love's Dozen

What a very cool name for a puzzle! Love's Dozen is my first puzzle from puzzle craftsman Jerry McFarland. I have heard of his excellent workmanship over the last several years but never had the chance to buy one of his works until at the last IPP Puzzle Party in Canada. There he had a table showcasing some new prototypes and selling a small selection of puzzles he had recently produced.

Love's Dozen was designed by Bruce Love nearly thirty years ago in 1987. It is a six piece burr with the classic burr shape in the solved state. My copy is made of three different woods. Each pair of pieces comprise of Bloodwood, Jatoba and Ramin, giving the puzzle a contrast of light, medium and dark colours. Construction, fit and finish is excellent and I like the way that each piece has slight beveled edges making the pieces very smooth and comfortable to hold. The puzzle measures about 7.5 cm all round, a very good size that is neither too small nor too large for ease of handling.  

As far as the solving goes, I didn't have too much trouble taking the puzzle apart as it is not a very high level burr and a bit of experimentation here and there did the trick. It is a level 12 solution at the hardest. Unlike other burrs, this one does not possess a unique solution. According to the accompanying literature, Love's Dozen has 90 solutions and 154 assemblies. What's unique is that the 12 moves required here to remove the first piece from the burr is the highest possible for a 6-piece burr. And the 12 move solution also happens to be the only one which all pairs of parallel pieces are of the same wood. In a way, if you specify the requirement that each pair of parallel pieces must be of the same wood, then Love's Dozen may be considered to have a unique solution. Currently the highest level for a 6-piece burr with a unique solution is 10.

Re-assembly is altogether a different kettle of fish. And of course I had a lot of problems trying to put the thing back together again. Thankfully I didn't have to resort to configuring Burr Tools since Jerry provided a printed solution. 

Tuesday 22 September 2015

CCC-1 & Diamond Engagement

Over the weekend, I played with another two IPP35 Exchange Puzzles, of which only one I was able to solve.

Well I will start with the unsuccessful one first, which was the CCC-1 ("Coffin-Cutler Collaboration"). This was Bill Cutler's exchange puzzle and it was designed in collaboration with Stewart Coffin and based on Coffin's Design #177A. The CCC-1 was made by Coffin.

It's a packing puzzle and the object is to fit the 5 polyminoes (ranging from 4 to 6 units) into the tray. The puzzle came with its accompanying literature/explanation. I think both Cutler and Coffin knew that this was no easy puzzle so they also including a note containing a clue on how to solve it. But even with the clue, I was hopelessly lost and had to asked fellow Sinaporean puzzle collector/designer Goh Pit Khiam for help. 

Goh is quite an expert on these sort of packing puzzles having designed many of them himself including the IPP33 award winning Dancing Shoes. Goh had earlier borrowed the CCC-1 from me and solved it rather quickly.

Like always, only with the benefit of hindsight after seeing the solution, I felt perhaps I could have done better with the CCC-1. Very difficult puzzle indeed (at least for me) and I think the solving aid provided is probably quite necessary. Definitely would be of much interest to packing puzzle enthusiasts, and since its a Coffin/Cutler puzzle, a great addition to any puzzle collection. If the CCC-1 could be made with exotic woods, even better still. As far as I can tell, the CCC-1 is not available commercially so the only source is from Bill Cutler.

Diamond Engagement

I had much better luck with the Scott Elliot's Diamond Engagement Exchange Puzzle. Last year his exchange puzzle was "Join The Club". This year his exchange puzzle borrows the same theme as Join The Club with a similar solving method. Scott produced his puzzle via 3D printing. 

Although the puzzle consists of only 2 pieces, getting them together still required some effort and experimentation. But once you find the correct " entry" point, the pieces slide themselves nicely into each other. The solution is actually quite easy once you figure out what to do and the solving becomes very repeatable; ust a couple of seconds is all it takes. 

Diamond Engagement is one of those highly pocketable puzzles that you can easily take with you anywhere and have a play while waiting for someone, travelling on public transport etc to keep your fingers occupied. it is available for sale by PuzzleMaster of Canada for CA$24.99.

Diamond Engagement solving bears similarities to the Hanayama Cast Dot. The Cast Dot came out mid 2016.

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Open Lock

I have been after Gary Foshee's Open Lock for some time now, having missed one of Wil Strijbos' puzzle sales a couple of years back. Fortunately during IPP35 while I was exchanging puzzles with Gary during the Puzzle Exchange, I casually asked him if he had any Open Locks available and he said "go ask Wil". I didn't wait. I stopped my exchange temporarily and rushed over to Wil to quickly reserve one. In situations like this, time waits for no puzzler. Lucky for me I was one of the first, because that same night, he had sold out all the Open Locks he had.

Gary's Open Lock (also called the Transparent Lock) is just what the name says; its a naked lock with everything (well almost everything) showing. Its a pretty large lock measuring about 12 cm from the bottom to the top of the shackle and roughly the body is about 2 cm thick. The lock is made of aluminium while the shackle is forged steel. Gary doesn't make many of these because its very difficult to manufacture and so the numbers available are usually very limited and consequently, very expensive as well. In case you didn't know, the Lunatic Lock, which is commercially available was also designed by Gary Foshee.

The Open Lock can best be described as a "sequential discovery" puzzle. Meaning that you have to open the Open Lock (no pun intended) with nothing else but tools and implements that come with the lock. No external tools are permitted. In the case of the Open Lock, there is only the T-shaped hex key, instead of a key. 

The Open Lock shows its insides (of course it does!). And you will note that the shackle is locked in place by two horizontal bars, a thin one nearer the top (visible in the bottom photo) and a thick screw threaded rod at the bottom. It is obvious that these two rods must give way for the shackle to be pulled upwards and freed.

Here is where the sequential discovery part of the puzzle is. The solve is not difficult (certainly not the level of difficulty of the Popplocks), but tricky with some surprises (and A-ha moments). One has to use whatever tools available and do various tasks along the way to finally get the shackle unlocked from the body. Although it takes about seven steps to remove the shackle, it still takes a fair amount of time to complete the entire solve and to re-assemble everything.

Overall a very fun and entertaining puzzle lock which does not disappoint. Experienced puzzlers would have no problem with it. Unfortunately it seems that they are only available every couple of years and in very small numbers, very much rarer than Popplocks. So the only way to is to buy privately or through auctions, if at all they show up during the latter.

Sunday 13 September 2015

Helical Burr

The Helical Burr was Derek Bosch's second "cylindrical" burr design. Prior to the Helical, he had the Tubular Burr. Subsequent to it, he came up with the Hellical Burr which by various accounts is horrendously difficult and his fourth design, the W(h)orl(e)d Burr. Being in the puzzle community I was aware when each of them hit the market. I am lousy at burrs and since I am not even good at the normal square ones, I gave the miss on these cylindrical burrs at that time. But when I saw several of them being displayed for sale on Steve Nicholls' table during the IPP35 Puzzle Party and how beautiful and colourful they looked, I just had to go for one and chose the easiest of the lot, the Helical Burr.

Derek's Helical Burr also won him the Jury's Grand Prize at IPP33 in Japan in 2013. At that time, the competition puzzle was in prototype form made of SLS nylon and didn't look that great. But the copy that I have today was 3D printed by Steve and looks gorgeous in red and black. Not only that, its larger than the prototype, well made and feels very solid with a textured finish for better grip. In fact while playing with it, once I dropped it several feet onto my tiled balcony floor but nothing cracked or broke; 3D plastic is pretty tough! In terms of the movement of the pieces, while the sliding is not as smooth as wood for sure, the puzzle functions very well and I did not experience any jamming of any sort.

The Helical Burr comprises of four pieces. Two of the larger "spiraling" pieces (if this is the correct term) wrap around two internal "cock-screw" shaped pieces. Like a normal burr puzzle, you need to manipulate the various pieces to extract the first piece. And like a normal burr, you need to push and pull the different pieces to find out which piece makes the opening move. In this case, because its cylindrical, the pushing, pulling and twisting move the pieces up and down, instead of up/down and left/right. And because the Helical Burr does not behave like the latter, with spirals and rotations, it makes it even more confusing.

Is it difficult? Of course! But I tackled the Helical Burr by slowly studying the moves and trying to see how the four pieces interact with each other. My method was to use the ends, "notches" and various parts of both the larger outer pieces and internal pieces as reference points ie at which point the twisting should stop, where the ends of the pieces meet at which stage, how the first piece goes out/in first etc There is a sequence here. This is important especially during the reassembly which is in the reverse order. Without careful observation initially, chances are putting the pieces back together will really be very painful. Careful play at the take-apart stage will yield dividends later on. 

By my count, it takes about eleven moves (assuming one continuous rotation is one move) to remove the first piece. After that the rest comes out fairly easily. It is fortunate that Steve did not print all the pieces in a single colour otherwise I think the Helical Burr would have been an even more difficult puzzle. The two-tone colours not only add to the overall aesthetics but actually aids in the solving as well. There is also an alternative solution which is easier and I stumbled upon it half way, but I didn't try to experiment further with that path; the intended solution here is already tough enough to figure out.

An awesome puzzle I would say; incredible how Derek designed it cylinder shaped to function like a burr with multiple movements and dead ends if you get the sequence of the moves wrong. From Kevin Sadler's review of the other two later designs, and the Hellical Burr which takes over forty moves, I am not sure I want to try those anytime soon.

To get a copy of the Helical, Hellical or W(h)orl(e)d Burrs, you may wish to contact Steve through his site. Each puzzle being individually printed, he may be able to provide custom colours for you as well.

Thursday 10 September 2015

Co-Mo Cross & Little Box

These two puzzles came to me courtesy of Pelikan, from the Czech Republic. These are from their most recent batch of offerings and are available on their site. The Co-Mo Cross and Little Box were both designed by William Hu

The Co-Mo Cross as the name suggests is a co-ordinate motion puzzle. The puzzle is made entirely from American Walnut. Extremely well constructed as per Pelikan standards with fine attention to detail. Its so well put together that I had a very hard time finding the joint lines of the pieces which are completely hidden amongst the grain of the pieces. I only discovered them after I had played with the puzzle for a while. Incredible how Pelikan achieved this. Very snug fit yet when you co-ordinately slide the pieces, they move very smoothly against each other. Not a large puzzle by any means but comfortable to hold. It measures 6.4 cm x 6.4 cm x 6.4 cm.

As I said, it took me a while to detect which and how the pieces had to move; but once I got this, the four pieces slid apart quite easily. Re-assembly also took a bit of effort as the tight tolerance of the pieces requires one to get all the four pieces at their correct positions just right for them to slide back into position. Not easy this step and I had to fiddle for a while to get everything into the solved state.

William Hu states: "Co Mo cross was an attempt at making a very small and concise co-ordinate motion puzzle with very few slanted cuts - of which there are only two in this design. The shape of a 2x2x2 cross is made of two pairs of identical pieces (which are mirror pairs). The separating motion is a little unusual but pleasant."

The next puzzle is the Little Box. This one measures 6 cm x 6 cm x 6 cm and is made of eight exotic hardwoods consisting of Maple, Wenge, Cherry, American Walnut, Acacia, Mahagony, Padouk and Amaranth. Again everything is nicely constructed and this one has all beveled edges for each of the pieces.

Why is it called by such a name when it doesn't even look anything like a box? William had this to say: 

"Little Box is a very simple assembly puzzle intended for beginners, with a small hollow inside. Serially interlocking with a single, relatively easy to find solution, this puzzle is a nice introduction to non-cubic assemblies. The shape of the pieces is inspired by the rebated joint in woodworking.."

Right in the centre of the puzzle is the hollow which contains a surprise; cute little cube, which indeed surprised me when it dropped out after I removed the first piece. While it may be easy to take apart within six steps, reassembly is not as simple. I got some of the pieces mixed up a bit and had to backtrack a couple of times before finding their correct orientations with each other.

Both are wonderful puzzles from a great designer and comes with great craftsmanship. Not difficult puzzles for experienced puzzlers (and non-burrists) but definitely worthy to be in any collection. And did I mention they are superb value for money too?

Monday 7 September 2015

Quadrant I

Quadrant I is the first of my eighty-eight Exchange Puzzles that I am playing with since coming home from IPP35 in Canada last month.

This was Eric Fuller's exchange puzzle and was designed by Turkish designer, Yavuz Demirhan. At last count, he has 422 of his designs uploaded to PWBP.

Its made of maple, walnut and cherry and roughly about 7.5 cm square and 3.5 cm thick. Coming from Eric himself, the quality of construction and finish is top notch no less. Everything is very precise and all the pieces fit and slide smoothly with just a hint of snugness.

The object of Quadrant I is to disassemble and reassemble the four pieces, each of which comprises a sandwich of three blocks (rather similar to the Road Blocks in the previous post). But the pieces here go round and interlock with a square ring instead of falling into a box as a packing puzzle.

At level 6 with a total of 15 moves, this is not a difficult puzzle. Once you understand how the pieces move and are extracted, it is pretty manageable and when the first piece comes out, the rest follow suit easily. The small number of moves to take out the first piece also makes it relatively easier to remember the reverse sequence for re-assembly. No Burr Tools needed here...hooray!

For non-burrist like myself, the Quadrant I is a great puzzle and really appropriate as an exchange puzzle, with just the right level of difficulty. Experienced puzzlers should have no problem with this one.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Road Blocks

Road Blocks won the Jury Honourable Mention Award at this year's IPP35 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition in Ottawa, Canada. This design comes from fellow Singaporean puzzler Goh Pit Khiam, whose other entry, "Number Blocks" also won the same award....two exact same awards in the same competition, a rarity indeed!

My copy of Road Blocks was bought from Tom Lensch, during the IPP35 Puzzle Party. Made of Maple for the box and pieces comprising of Bocote, Indian Rosewood, Yellowheart and Canarywood, the construction, fit and finishing is excellent. Dimensionally its about 4 inches or so square and about one and quarter inch thick. Nice size! 

My copy came unsolved. The object of the puzzle is to fill the four (almost) identical shaped pieces into the box. Not really your usual packing puzzle as you will notice the inside of the box is surrounded by a channel and each of the pieces is formed by two squarish flat blocks of wood sandwiching a third which protrudes. It would be obvious that the blocks are not going to go in straight just like that into the box. Like a lot of Goh Pit Khiam designed puzzles, this is a packing puzzle which although looks relatively simple in appearance, is anything but. 

To solve this puzzle, careful study of the pieces and the inside construction of the box and how the pieces and the box interact is necessary. This will save a lot of unnecessary headache as randomly trying to insert the pieces won't work here. In some ways, the Road Blocks puzzle brings to my mind another puzzle, Bill Cutler's famous Blockhead. Somewhat similar principle but not quite; Road Blocks comes with an added twist to it!

The solution is here - Password "roadblocks". DO NOT click on the link if you do not wish to see it.

While it didn't take me long to solve, this puzzle isn't a breeze through either. 
An experienced puzzler would figure things out after a while but to the uninitiated, Road Blocks can prove to be very challenging. But it satisfies with a nice (and elegant solution nonetheless!

Overall a great (3D) packing puzzle and truly well deserving of the IPP Award. A must have for collectors and packing puzzle enthusiasts. From what Tom tells me, he will be making more copies in the coming months, so drop him an email via his site if you wish to purchase one.