Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Mike Toulouzas’ Three Chain Rings



I don’t make much of a secret about the fact that I really like Mike Toulouzas’ work, and whenever I get the opportunity to pick up one of his older pieces, I tend to find myself trying hard to acquire it… 

…so around the tail end of last year I managed to find a copy of the Three Chain Rings Puzzle, Mike’s entry into the IPP23 Puzzle Design Competition, and duly added it to the humble collection. 

This copy had been very lovingly looked after and it arrived in perfect condition, in spite of being 13 years old – it’s easy to describe in that there are three rings (there's a clue in the name, I guess!), each with a square cross-section (strangely, made on the diagonal) interlocking in the shape reminiscent of a traditional burr – did I mention it was thoroughly gorgeous?

The pieces are shaped so that there’s no space between them – which makes it look like a diagonal burr – albeit one with slightly extended arms that are closed off at each end – take my word for it, or just take a look at the picture!

This one kinda messes with your head a bit because when it starts to come apart, it generally does so in a manner that you aren’t necessarily expecting – or at least one that I certainly wasn’t! And it tends to come apart quickly, leaving you with a pile of unique pieces – and there’s very little chance of being able to keep track of where they came from…

What’s really interesting to me is how Mike’s taken a standard kernel for the puzzle and then layered on something really special – to produce a puzzle that looks like something else entirely and earns respect quickly. 

Solving it requires a touch more method than madness (so I’m at a distinct disadvantage immediately!) – but some experimenting and thinking ahead about how things will need to ultimately go together will lead you to the right combinations and ultimately to the solution…

It’s beautiful and it’s a super puzzle – what’s not to love?

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Karakuri Christmas 2016


I joined the Karakuri Club several years ago and I've never been disappointed, and I tend to encourage any other puzzlers I come across to join up. For a fixed sum per craftsman you get a set of wonderful presents just in time for Christmas... You never know what you're going to be getting, but you're pretty much guaranteed good value for money - and along the way you're providing the Karakuri guys with working capital for the year - I think it's a great deal for everyone.

Last year I opted for six out of the eight craftsmen knowing that I would almost certainly like their presents. 

Tatsuo Miyamoto brought us the Clown Fish box - a super colourful decorated box with an obvious break across the lid of the box. Exploring the lid yields some interesting movements and a peek inside at an animated clown fish. Very cute! 

Osama Kasho produced a Pelican this year, although I must admit that I took a while to work out what it was and spent quite a while thinking it was something akin to the rabbiduck ambiguous drawing ... Of course as soon as someone points out that it's a pelican, you can't unsee it... A reasonably simple opening with a huge storage space inside the big bird's bill, as you might expect!
 
Fumio Tsuburai brought us a new variant on the Coin Bank, which if the name is anything to go by is the 16th variant the Karakuri folk have brought us over the years. The mechanism for this reminded me a little of one of the other Coin Banks I have and one or two purists have been known to grumble about the need for an external tool...  

 
Twin 4 is a further development in Hideaki Kawashima's Twin-series. This is a great little puzzle box that uses all sorts of interesting movements and combinations to eventually allow you to find two large recesses... And the wonderful thing is that you still aren't finished at that point. All of the boxes have their maker's mark on them somewhere, usually on the inside... And if you've been paying attention, when you get to find the second recess, you still haven't found Kawashima-san's hanko- so you need to keep going until you find it... Really nice puzzle!

Akio Kamei gave us a String Box variant that looks pretty similar to some the earlier variants, only this one doesn't behave like them at all! In fact I had a lot of trouble with this one and ended up getting Louis to give me several large hints - it is a bit of a sod and requires a fairly deft touch... You should be able to work out what's going on and what you need to do, but it's pretty darn tricky!


The final puzzle in my Christmas haul was Bean Bag Drawer 3 from Hiroshi Iwahara - if Kamei's puzzle was tricky, this one's a beast! The drawer pulls out a bit quite easily, but it's clear that it "should" come out a lot more, and there's a red slider that doesn't seem to do a lot at all - and somehow you need to manipulate "things" in order to fully open the box. 

Like previous year's Bean Bag Drawers, this puzzle has a wonderfully delicate reset feature that I found myself triggering rather often. A careful inspection does yield some helpful clues as to what you're trying to do, but even then, it's rather tricky, quite fiddly, and then there's that darn reset waiting to send you right back to the start again... It took me a long time to open this one for the first time - Christmas was a dim and distant memory when I opened it on my own for the first time...

...as I write this blog I've just signed up for this year's Christmas presents. 

Go on. 

Spoil yourself!

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Seriously humbled…


…several ways! 

Shane’s been busy again… a while back he mentioned he’d had an idea for a variation on Stewart Coffin’s Three Piece Block puzzle – knowing it was Laurie’s favourite puzzle, we’d seen him work his magic on a rather obtuse variant at Peter’s place just after Christmas. He’d then gone on to tell everyone about a variation he’d discovered among my collection that he hadn’t seen before – I’d thought it was a bog-standard version only for Laurie to explain that it was subtly different and he wanted to know where I’d got it from… I pointed him at Brian Menold who hadn’t realised that he’d varied it slightly from the original – and Laurie duly commissioned a pair of variants from him… 


Seeing this, Shane decided he wanted to make a version in Laurie’s honour with some traditional Hales’ Secret Sauce, and a week or two later he sent me a pic of a locked up set of Three Piece Block bits and I duly shouted lots of encouragement down the old email tube… a few weeks later he was back on the blower offering me a special patchwork version in honour of something that Gill had organised for Laurie last year… somewhat humbled by the offer, and the thoughtfulness behind it, I was never going to turn it down. 


Last week I received the well-packed box from Hales HQ – a well and truly locked up set of familiar-looking pieces… except there’s a bath chain locking them together with a neat little padlock… and not a key or other suitable tool in sight anywhere… so I did the obvious and took out the packaging and raked through it carefully (nope, hadn’t missed anything!) and then re-read the accompanying Hales-doc (nope, no clues in there either) – so started puzzling… 


…and I duly puzzled for many a night, playing this way and that and not finding any way to unlock the padlock – I’d developed quite a lot of respect for this puzzle when I eventually sent up a flare to Hales HQ to ask if any external tools were required – let me tell you that I deserved every little bit of the slightly derisory reply I received – I needed a telling off… I redoubled my efforts and still got precisely nowhere!


Taking pity on me, Shane sent me a sideways hint and I found the vital step I’d been missing and I was truly humbled by this puzzle in a second way – this time in the proper “You’ve been PWNED by the puzzle” sort of way – Hales had TOTALLY caught me out and he deserves a right proper degree of respect for this one – it is brilliant and I am somewhat ashamed that I didn’t find it on my own… 


Unlocking the pieces leaves you with “just” Coffin’s Three Piece Block puzzle… which on its own is formidable enough for someone like Laurie to proudly list it as his favourite puzzle of all time…


Shane – you totally owned me with that one!


Thank you…

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Hales' Viper

One night last week I had a function after work so I ended up getting home quite late... to my surprise, there was a parcel waiting for me from my mate Shane... he'd mentioned that he'd been working on something "interesting" that he thought we'd like when I ran into him at Peter Hajek's EPP, and then followed that up a few weeks later with an offer email inviting us to opt out if we felt we might not be up to the challenge, along with a number of rather odd health warnings for folks with pacemakers and pregnant women - all of which sounded a bit strange, but hey, why not, eh? I'd duly opted in and signed away my life and then this package arrived... 

So I get home late, but he's piqued my interest and it's a new puzzle after all, so I can't resist the urge to open the package... inside is Shane's usual introduction for his Puzzling Agents (just call me 002!) and an interesting looking wooden object: a box with a square cross section and holes at either end, easily big enough to poke your fingers in but rather ominously covered with a brush like curtain that obscures all view of the insides... A signature on the bottom and the ominous Viper moniker on the top... 

I consider putting it aside until I can spend some quality time puzzling, probably the next evening, but my baser instincts take over and soon I'm fiddling around and exploring the outsides ... Nothing
Try and peek inside... Not much use at all... Listen for things moving around inside and yes, indeed, there's something in there that moves around when you tilt the box... Promising! 

Poke a finger inside expecting the worst... Not quite sure what I'm really expecting... Feel something inside moving but can't get it to do anything... 

Try the other hole - feels different and all of a sardine, it nips me! 

Somehow I manage not to fling it across the room by pure reflex and put it safely down on my desk and then calmly send the following email to Shane - it's titled "You bastard!":

....got home from a team dinner to find Viper #2 waiting for me... couldn't resist the urge and it duly bit me!

You bastard! :-)

I've put it aside until I can play with it properly...

I will report back in due course - when I get the new pacemaker fitted...

You bastard!

Thanks (I think...)

allard



...by return I receive a string of "Crying-with-laughter" emojis... It seems that Viper is working as expected and has claimed 002 as its first victim... 

I give up for the night and plot my revenge... 

The next night I'm home at the usual time and after a suitable stint on puppy duty I attack the Viper once again... 

This time, wary of its bite I'm a lot more circumspect - and it helps not a jot, I still get bitten, several times, while I learn about the innards... 

It's a slow and sometimes painful process, but the box eventually opens and yields up its secrets - including a truly thoughtful gift from the maker...  

Once it's open you have to smile at the wonderful elegant simplicity of it all - the locking mechanism is really straight-forward, yet thoroughly beguiling when you're trying to feel your way without incurring the Viper's wrath... 

My second email to Shane has a lot less swearing in it... 

Great fun and well worth the pain! 

Thanks Shane!


Read all about Kevin's experiences with his Viper over here.  (Glad I'm not the only sucker out there!)

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Nutty Bolt No.2


Back over here I wrote about Stephen Miller’s Nutty Bolt No.1…


Nutty Bolt No.2 arrived just in time for MPP XXXiii so several folks managed to get their puzzling paws on a copy in Shrewsbury – sadly(!) I was on a boat in the Mediterranean at the time so I had to wait a little while for the Royal Mail to deliver mine after I’d made it back to Brum…


The rather compact, extremely dense package duly arrived and I have to say that Steve’s delivered on his promises - #2 looks pretty darn similar to #1 – same size bolt, same name plate on the bolt head (‘cept this one says #2 instead of #1!) – even the nuts and washers look the same and they're in the same place – the only difference between them is the name plate and the two dimples in the shaft instead of the single dimple on #1… can you see a pattern emerging there?

Puzzle-wise – this one’s totally different to #1 – and it shouldn’t yield to random fiddling at all – there’s enough in there to make sure that you’ll be locking yourself up some of the time if you’re just randomly playing around…


For puzzlers with good memories and some wider experience, you’ll recognise the locking mechanism from a couple of other puzzles, including another bolt from quite a while back…


I like it as a puzzle and think that it’s going to make a great little set of puzzles… glad to have the beginnings of a nice little set of matching bolts courtesy of Pyro Puzzles.