Friday, 2 December 2016

Dream of Zebra

As with quite a few lust-worthy puzzles, the first time I got to see and play with a copy of Iwahara’s Dream of Zebra was on a visit to James’ Puzzle Museum. It’s a gorgeous big ball of a puzzle and several of us had a great time playing with it that day…

The next time I ran into one was at my favourite puzzle shop in Hakone, after the crowds had left, when the proprietor emerged form the back room fiddling with a copy… and in answer to my pleading looks,  “Sorry, not for sale!” unfortunately.

Dream of Zebra won an Honourable Mention for Iwahara in the 2001 IPP21 Puzzle Design Competition… it’s been around for a while. Yet, if you look back through the historic records of the puzzles auction sites you’ll only see a few of them changing hands, most seem to have remained in the grateful hands of their current owners… and there’s a good reason for that… so when I was offered one recently, I handed over a small pile of cash, swiftly.

Back at home a couple of days later I finally got to enjoy it properly… it’s not that challenging as a puzzle – there is a fixed set of moves to be made, with no blind alleys or detours along the way… follow the path and the final panel can be removed, revealing the maker’s mark inside (the anglicised “Rockfield” in this case).

It’s a lovely item to play with and the fit and finish is stunning…something which must have provided a significant challenge to the craftsman is the fact that the twelve moving panels have been turned into the shape of a ball… and while I’m no expert on lathe-work, one of my (crazy Australian) mates is… and he’s afraid of the sort of wood-turning that would be required here – because there are gaps in the corners between the pieces that would be just begging to grab hold of a tool and throw it across the room rather violently…

Not just a beautiful object, one that required considerably more skill than usual to create in the first place – respect, Hiroshi Iwahara.

Sunday, 27 November 2016


MPPXXIV was a little different… Gill had fled to warmer climes and she’d left Ben in charge at home. Louis arrived on his customary flight on the Friday evening and by the time I crashed for the night, we’d nattered and puzzled for quite a while… and the next morning there was a row of solved puzzles on the desk showing what Louis have been up to while I’d been asleep… one of the solved puzzles included Eric’s latest Button Box – now opened with its little diamond prominently displayed… I’d been trying to open it for weeks!

After breakfasting on baked goods, Louis and I headed down to the hall to get everything set up ahead of the gang arriving… we’d pretty much got all the tables set up before the first random puzzler arrived – a Spanish refugee called Nigel! Having had enough of it pi$$ing down sunshine, he’d come back to his puzzling roots for an MPP top-up – and he had some unkind things to say about our English weather (Oh how quickly he’s forgotten!) which – to be fair - was being particularly English that day! Quick greetings in the carpark were followed by purchases of soft drinks and milk and we were all set for the rest of the gang to arrive… and arrive they did.

Caption competition anyone?
Wee Steve brought a Danish refugee called Taus along and Big Steve brought the Michael and Ali. Kevin and Shane rolled in on their own and Tim brought hundreds of antique and vintage puzzles along for sale…

Warm cup of coffee in hand, I set about catching up with folks I hadn’t seen in a while (Hey, it’s been almost a month since I saw most of them at DCD!) – sometimes with a puzzle in hand and sometimes with a biscuit – well, there was after all a handy supply of the best biscuits known to man!

Soon enough we settled into a pattern of puzzling, banter and the occasional warm beverage…

Wee Steve brought along his impossible half-brick-in-bottle and a number of puzzles for sale or swap – including a box-full of Nutty Bolt #2’s. I think he managed to maintain the distinction between those that were there for playing with and those that were there for sale / swap…

Shane had brought along a whole bunch of interesting locks and had a great time taunting several of us into trying our hands at them… one that remained stubbornly locked was a combination lock with the combination written onto the back of it (!) … I found the little gas meter locks fascinating – or more accurately, I found the keys for the little gas meter locks fascinating… :-)

Tim had his usual selection of Timeless Treasures for us to rake through – and we spent a while chatting about a stained glass puzzle window in a nearby church and a bunch of mythology around the Knights Templar and their holy loot – some of it apparently re-buried with some puzzling sign-posting somewhere around the turn of the previous century… I had no idea some of this stuff was literally right on our doorstep!  

I’d taken along a copy of the new Stickman Burl Tile Puzzlebox and I had the pleasure of seeing a few people solve it before me … I’d had it since earlier that week and while I’d made a few helpful discoveries, I hadn’t actually come close to opening it yet. Shane had brought along a copy as well, so several folks got the chance to play with a copy of the latest Stickman beauty…

NOT a spoiler!
At one point several of us were in stitches with Shane challenging Louis to a speed-solving contest on the new Stickman(s) – Shane’s technique (I use the word lightly!) was possibly best described as hubristic disassembly – paying scant attention to where any of the pieces came from until he had opened the secret compartment and had a fistful of pieces in one hand and a large pile of bits on the table in front of him… having said that, (a) I’ve never seen anyone solve a Puzzlebox faster than Louis before, and (b) it was a highly entertaining spectacle! (History does record that Shane’s copy was fully reassembled in the proper configuration shortly afterwards – partly by reference to Louis’ copy which had its bits laid out in a slightly more analytical manner.)

Lunch was the traditional combination of piggy buns and fish suppers (you chose your poison – nobody had both, although someone did manage more than one piggy bun!) washed down with those soft drinks I’d acquired earlier.

The afternoon saw some highly successful puzzling, as several folks successfully disassembled and reassembled the two old Mike Toulouzas creations I’d recently acquired, with everyone being super-complimentary about Mike’s wood crafting skills.

Hmm, not quite!
Chris was uncharacteristically slightly less than successful on Steve’s disassembled hex-sticks and dowels puzzle – he’s generally been bringing one or two along in bits to MPPs for a while now, and to date Chris has managed to defeat every single one of them – much to Steve’s delight as he thought they’d never see their fully assembled states ever again… this time either we didn’t give Chris enough peace and quiet, or it was too hard for him – I’m going to go with the former on the grounds that I may need his puzzle-solving skills again in the future… and he’d printed out a couple of copies of a puzzle especially designed for Gill by Stephan Baumegger.

Kevin had a couple of us thoroughly gob-smacked when Chris decided to get his own back on Steve for a piece of particularly amusing banter by scrambling a rather vicious looking twisty puzzle (Curvy Copter Plus?) he’d brought along… Kevin then calmly set about solving the thing, and talking about how it yielded well to a simple intuitive solving approach – you know: move something from here to there – if that moves something out of the way, then move it out of the way first and then replace it once you've done what you wanted… Yeah right! Steve and Kevin then blew our minds even further by demonstrating why this Plus version was even more horrible than even we’d realised by doing a series of 30 degree twists and shifting shapes something horrid – and then yes, solving it from there too… the boy’s a machine!

Louis had brought along a couple of new locks, including a remake of an earlier design and a new  wooden lock with a vaguely familiar ring to it… (we seriously hope that Dick Hensel will get around to making some of those!). The other one was a re-print of a previous design that we all liked, but now that Shapeways allows a little extra specifying of print orientation, they can be made to brilliant tolerances every time, and not require fettling after printing – they’re that good that it was catching me out the night before and I could actually remember the solution! That wooden one greatly entertained me the night before and several people at MPP had a play with it – with everyone saying good things about it… now if only we could get some manufactured… :-)

Nick’s Triangular Prism amused several people during the course of the day, and everyone had something nice to say about the Dream of Zebra.

Around 6pm we tidied up the hall and I invited anyone who was interested back to mine for a fish supper (quite generous of me, given that Big Steve and Ali ended up paying for it!). Several more hours of puzzling followed, and the next morning it took quite a while to re-solve and replace the puzzles that had been played with… another jolly great day’s puzzling with friends.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Sandfield’s Unlocked Drawer

Way back in October 2012 I wrote about Robert Sandfield’s Locked Drawer – I really liked it, you may recall. 

What I didn’t mention at the time was that it had a younger brother, also beautifully crafted by Kathleen Malcolmson, called the Unlocked Drawer… it’s taken me a couple of years to find a copy for sale, but earlier this year I was able to find a copy of Robert Sandfield’s IPP27 exchange puzzle, and I feel obliged to yabber about it on here…

Now when I saw it has a younger brother, there is a very clear family resemblance: they share the same external features, but they’re made of different woods. The Unlocked Drawer has a beautiful Lacewood exterior surrounding a rather similar looking drawer to the one in the Locked Drawer… and there’s a similar rattle when you shake it. 

You’re told your goal is to retrieve the Texas Quarter from inside the drawer… 

Unlike it’s younger sibling, however, this drawer doesn’t simply slide open and present the coin, in fact, a fair amount of coaxing and tugging will not encourage it to budge a mere millimetre. 

A very close inspection of the drawer itself doesn’t yield much at all – except that it is VERY firmly locked in place… there is literally no play on the drawer whatsoever.

As you’d expect, when you finally work out how to open this box, there are a pair of beautifully crafted dovetails keeping everything where it should be… did I mention that Kathleen presented a masterclass on dovetails in puzzles at IPP36? :-)