Thursday, 23 June 2016

4L Co-Mo DD from Johan Heyns

A while ago Johan posted some pics on FaceBook of his experiments with variations on a triangular coordinate motion puzzle – he’d come up with a fiendish variant that made similar variants in my collection look rather tame by comparison – and it looked rather stunning, so I gladly signed up for a copy of 4L Co-Mo DD – a rather descriptive name if you can crack the code! [It stands for 4-layer coordinate motion with double difficulty… it’s all clear when you’ve had it explained to you…]

When it’s assembled, it resembles a wheel with an internal ring and an outer rim – closer examination shows that there are four layers to each of those rings, and that they all split apart into three pieces… offset on each layer so that the three pieces form a rudimentary spiral. The basic concept is common to a few coordinate motion assemblies and part of the trick is realising how you need to push or pull the various bits in order to get them to start coming apart…

This little monster has a nasty sting in the tale – it starts out reasonably predictably for these sorts of puzzles, but then as things start coming apart, it goes beyond the point where the first set of interactions hold it neatly in place and it all goes very sloppy … before the second set of interactions begin to bite.

This leaves you with a floppy set of loosely connected - but very much still intertwined - pieces, and a serious challenge to get them all properly aligned and interacting in order to allow the bits to finally come apart – the double difficulty part of the name is well-deserved!

Persevere and you’re rewarded with three separate identical (save for the wood choices!) pieces.
Putting things back together will require a lot of precision and more than a little patience… and a flat surface certainly helps, in my experience – as does a third hand.

It’s a great extension of a reasonably well-known standard, but Johan’s added several lovely twists to make it a serious challenge for even practiced puzzlists… and the stand, that enables it to be displayed semi-open is a master-stroke that makes it display beautifully and invites the challenger.

Skitterend Oom!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Pachinko Box

Wil Strijbos’ latest sequential discovery puzzle has been in the works for a while – it’s been prototyped, it’s been tested and it’s finally been perfected – and a couple of weeks ago it was unleashed on a community eager to be puzzled. 

Several painful seconds elapsed between receiving the email announcing the new puzzle and my sending the reply asking to be puzzled… and a couple of days later a friendly delivery man (yes, they do exist!) deposited a rather heavy box at Puzzling Times HQ. 

Sod’s Law dictates that on the first evening I only had enough time to remove it from its shipping box… admire the nice sturdy inner box, take it out and admire its shininess. 

The next evening I did get to play though…

It’s a solid, handsome aluminium box, similar in size to Wil’s Angel Box – the obvious distinguisher is the sprung plunger sticking out the one side of the box – think Pinball launch-mechanism, or indeed, if you’re au fait with them, a Pachinko machine. There’s a little window on the side that allows a view of the plunger trapping a shiny marble against an internal wall in the box. On the top of the box there’s another window through which a Russian 2 Ruble coin is visible… there are one or two tiny holes around the box, a T-shaped slot on one side and a single round hole in the bottom of the box – which looks about marble-sized. 

First order of business must surely be to play around with the marble and the plunger, so if you’re like me, you take a deep breath and release the marble and then immediately try and replace it back where it was, clamped in place by the plunger – if only so that you can convince yourself that you can get back there again if you find the need to… turns out that’s pretty trivial. So you may as well get a bit more adventurous… 

Peering into that first little window I spotted a potential exit for the marble, although it seemed, rather unhelpfully, to have something rather severely in the way… 

After a while I managed to navigate to another area and duly found the marble in my lap – that hole IS large enough it turns out… marble in one hand, (very locked-up) Pachinko Box in the other – what’s a bloke supposed to do? I’ve got the marble out, but Wil’s instructions were to remove the second coin – and so far I’ve only seen one coin. Clearly there is (a lot!) more to be discovered… 

Gingerly the marble goes back into the hole it came out of – and immediately check you can remove it again (confirmed! Tick. Move on.) before peering through the slot and the hole to see if there’s anything else interesting looking in there… nada, at least there’s nothing to be seen… and now the real puzzling starts! 

From there you’ll find a few tools and begin a wonderful little odyssey that slowly reveals the box’s innards – usually just a bit too late to actually be useful in solving that stage, but great to confirm what you thought you knew! 

Toward the end of the journey you're rewarded with a wonderful Strijbos touch: a tantalising view of the second coin… you just can’t actually do anything about it until you solve a few more aspects of the puzzle. 

It’s a really fun sequence of events that forces you to use your imagination and skills in some unusual ways – there’s a wonderful use of tools at one point that had me grinning like a Cheshire Cat – it is delightful. 

By the time you remove the second coin, the box is pretty much laid bare… there’s only one little piece of the puzzle that you need to imagine as it remains blocked from view…

…and as a bonus, resetting the puzzle for the next victim is simple and quick!

Another great puzzling journey from Wil.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Stickman #18 – Sphere Box

Toward the end of 2008 Robert Yarger made a run of 31 little round puzzleboxes – number 18 in his series of numbered designs, it was dubbed the Sphere Box. 

Upon first inspection, it looks like a ball trapped inside a wooden cage – so your first instincts might be to try and release the ball from the cage… and that would probably be useful, except the cage is pretty snug around the ball… and the ball has a few pins protruding from its surface which tend to get in the way of manipulating the ball around inside the frame… 


OK, so let’s look at this object in a little more detail: the frame appears to be built up of two layers of wood bonded at right angles – and reading Rob’s notes on the puzzle over here, that was deliberate to add strength – to the point where it was “so sturdy it can practically be stood upon” – and No, dear reader, I am not tempted to test that in any way, shape or form – I can vouch that the frame is pretty sturdy and will certainly withstand an enthusiastic puzzler’s handling. 

A couple of the rings on the cage have notches in them that look like they’ll allow those pesky pins on the ball through them – which is great, but there are only two of those notches – and there are three pins, so even if you line things up neatly, you still find a pin getting in the way somewhere…

As you might expect with one of Rob’s little beauties, not all is as it seems initially, and there are a few features to be discovered that will assist in freeing the trapped ball… although it takes quite a bit of manipulation and understanding of all the “features”, and sometimes exploiting them in unusual ways – do all that and you’ll be rewarded with being able to release the trapped ball – which turns out to be in two halves – with Rob’s trademark little Stickman logo inside it.

It looks unique – I’m pretty certain that you’d be hard-pressed to name another puzzlebox in the shape of a ball trapped in a cage – and if you could, I’d wager a lot that it wouldn’t be nearly as good-looking as this little gem.

You can read Neil’s thoughts, and even see a video of the puzzle in action (with some spoilers), over here.

Monday, 6 June 2016

PMPP 2016

I’d had a pretty rubbish week so I’d been looking forward to heading down to James’ for a while – and not even the extra two and a half hours in the car (apparently every single caravan in the country was heading to Devon on that particular Saturday morning!) on the trip down managed to put a damper on things… James’ annual Puzzle Museum Puzzle Parties are brilliant! 

There’s usually a wonderfully disparate bunch roaming the grounds during the course of the day, from mathematicians to puzzlers to jugglers – and even the (very!) odd magician.

Given all the traffic I arrived a few hours later than anticipated and found quite a few familiar faces already playing and puzzling – wee Steve had set up shop at the one end of the long table in the main puzzle room and after looking at his first batch of Nutty Bolts (#1) neatly packed in the box, I helped myself to a copy (and yes, I sent him some PayPal afterwards!) … several folks spent a while experimenting with the merchandise and I was a little amused to see some folks pick up a bolt and try to solve it, then swap it for another in the box and try that one instead… generally with not much more luck, but, hey, you never know…

I’d taken my copy of Jane Kostick’s delightful little packing puzzle that I’ve written about before and managed to entice Duncan into having another bash at it… along with one or two others – although sadly I don’t think anyone managed to find the incredibly satisfying elegant solution that puts twelve oddly shaped (identical) sticks and a cube inside the cubic interior of the triacontahedron box… pity!

I also managed to taunt one or two folks with my copy of Jane's “Phive” puzzle – I’ll never tire of seeing people’s faces when you show them the completed puzzle and then tip the pieces out into their hands – the pieces are really not what you expect them to be and sadly nobody conquered that one either during the course of the day…

As usual James and Lindsey had put on a fabulous spread for lunch – one of very few things that will draw a puzzler away from the puzzle room, let me tell you.

Sometime after lunch James herded everyone outside with the promise of some bangs, courtesy of wee Steve who blows things up as part of his day job (don’t ask!). We all formed a not so orderly line up against the edge of the garden and stared and some distant little green blobs in a small clearing in the field next door… turned out the little green blobs were watermelons (not so little after all!) and one of them had a small charge inside it connected to Steve’s wonderfully theatrical plunger box – which was ceremonially plunged sending one of the watermelons instantly into several thousand tiny pieces all heading skywards with a loud bang! 

Thanks to Steve’s prep and favourable winds, nothing rained down upon the assembled masses and the only by-product was that the cows in the field next door decided it might be worthwhile wandering off into the distance. Steve reloaded with the second watermelon and it too was dispatched heavenwards in about a million little pieces.

I’d also taken along my copy of Johan Heyns appropriately named 4L Co-Mo DD (because it’s a 4-layered co-ordinate motion puzzle, with double difficulty – and he’s not kidding!) – it looks brilliant on its stand and folks couldn’t resist playing around with it – of course once it comes apart, it’s an absolute sod to get back together again because there are two sets of rings to align perfectly between the three pieces, on both sides – or nothing goes together… strangely nobody managed to reassemble it all day!

A while later James brought out his second-most-dangerous-kids-toy-in-the-world (second only to the chemistry set with actual uranium in it! And no, we didn’t play with that.) – the Austin Magic Pistol. The instructions for the pistol were duly read out for the assembled masses – with James interpreting along the way – place some magic crystals into the chamber was broadly translated to shovel in some calcium carbide – introduce a drop or two of water – yeah, we’re not going to stick to just a drop, are we? Screw the cap on the chamber, place a ping pong ball in the barrel, wait a few seconds and then pull the trigger – ball fires out with a pop…  because the calcium carbide reacts with the water to produce acetylene gas (the stuff they weld with!), which the trigger mechanism ignites – what could go wrong?! 

Big Steve was teed up to fire the monster and had us in stitches as he got progressively more and more adventurous with his attempts to fire the thing. At first there were pleasant pops with the balls flying several metres – until we eventually had loud bangs and flames coming out of the barrel – and it will take a long time to forget the sight of Steve peering down the barrel with flames coming out of it and then calmly blowing the fire out, while the chemical reaction was clearly still going on inside the chamber… Steve, you’re a nutter!

After the excitement with the pop gun, Laurie entertained us all with a short magic show that had most of us thoroughly flummoxed. All was well out on the veranda watching the magic show until the heavens opened and we had to high-tail it indoors to avoid getting soaked! Thanks Laurie!

During the course of the afternoon, I managed to thoroughly humiliate myself with a couple of burrs that James suggested I would like – and I did like them, I just failed thoroughly at the solving part! At one point Big Steve and I convinced ourselves that rotations HAD to be required for a particular burr… starting from the (imagined) solved position, we’d established that there was no way that it could be disassembled without some form of chicanery – or at least the suspension of one or two basic laws of nature. We kept coming back to it between other bits and pieces but couldn’t get anywhere, so eventually I asked James for the solution (yes, such things do exist!) and sure enough no chicanery or even rotations were required – just a rather neat if unconventional way of assembling the pieces. I’d been thoroughly caught out by this de Vreugd beauty!

Several folks had brought along freebies to hand out to the other attendees and during the week that followed I had a great time folding up a few playing cards to assemble one of Tim Rowett’s Sunken Cube Octahedrons – just four cards with few folds on each – and a little bit of fiddling to get them all properly interlocked – great therapy for the hands and mind!

Donald Bell had sent along a puzzle for everyone in spite of not even being able to attend! He’s produced another fiendishly difficult symmetry puzzle using three “Hook” Hexiamond shapes… at least it wasn’t quite as hard as the previous one he’d dished out! (Thanks Donald!)

Gerard and few others had a grand old time working their way through James' “Birthday Cabinet” trying to find all of the hidden compartments scattered around this seemingly innocent looking cabinet… 

Somewhere around 7pm I decided I should probably head northwards and spent the next fifteen or twenty minutes saying good bye to everyone… before I loaded up the car and played my own little game of solo Rush Hour to get my car turned around and headed back up the track… except it had rained quite a bit after Laurie’s rain dance and I had a merry old time trying to do a three-point turn on James’ wonderfully steep track – until I relented and turned around inside his yard at the bottom of the hill… the rest of the drive home was pretty uneventful… :-) 

A brilliant end to a rubbish week – all thanks to James and Lindsey for hosting us, and the rest of the gang for the usual wonderful camaraderie and banter…