Monday, 22 August 2016

Diagonal burrs

A few months ago I treated myself to a pair of puzzles from Lee Krasnow: a matching set of a Diagonal Burr and Coffin’s Pseudo-Notched Sticks… I’d loved the idea of getting a pair of these to have lying around to demonstrate to non-puzzlers that what-you-see isn’t necessarily what-you-get with puzzles – in fact sometimes those darn puzzle designers try and use that against you.
(Shock! Horror! No, we’ve never been caught out like that, have we?!)

The standard diagonal burr is made up of six identically notched sticks that slot together in a standard six-piece burr shape except that the sticks are all on the diagonal instead of being flat against one another… pulling any set of adjacent pieces apart will almost instantly reduce the assembled puzzle back to the pile of pieces it started out as – and assembly is only slightly tricky as it needs to be built in two sub-assemblies that are offered up at the end.

Pseudo-Notched Sticks is another animal altogether – designed to look exactly like its simpler brother (aka ole Notched Sticks) when it’s assembled, there is no hint of familial resemblance when looking at the unassembled pieces… and indeed the standard approach of gripping adjacent pieces and pulling them apart sideways won’t help you disassembling this guy at all, in fact you’ll be pulling against yourself all the way!

Lee’s set comes beautifully presented in his customised boxes, with woods neatly matched between the two puzzles so that they actually look pretty darn similar when they’re assembled next to each other. As you might expect with Lee, though, the matching goes a lot deeper than just choosing bits of similar wood… while the standard diagonal burr is normally made of single sticks with notches cut in them (can you tell where the name comes from yet?!) Lee’s copies have the sticks made up of three separate pieces, so that when you examine the two puzzles next to each other there’s no visual clue as to which of the sets is Pseudo and which isn’t… a thoroughly bonkers attention to detail that deserves calling out!

One of the little delights of having a perfectly made set of matching pieces is the ability to put together some Franken-puzzles combining bits of both sets – and still producing a set of matching puzzles… neat, eh?

Variations on a theme

Having just written about the standard Diagonal Burr, I should mention a couple of variations on the theme from Mr Puzzle that turn the simple puzzle into a somewhat less simple one…

First up is a Stuart Gee design called Diagonal Twins that mates a pair of Diagonal Burrs along a shared axis – although you’ll need to think about the axis a little… a few of the pieces are a little unusual but most of them are your standard common-or-garden notched sticks… the number of non-standard sticks gives a pretty good clue to how they’re going to be used, but I still found I needed to think things through to find the appropriate assembly.

Brian Young’s Insoma Burr takes things to an all new level of complexity, however. On the outside it might look a bit like a stylised diagonal burr, and it certainly comes apart like a diagonal burr, the insides are nothing like a standard diagonal burr… each of the main pieces has a piece of a Soma Cube attached to its centre, with the final piece (because a Soma cube has seven pieces) free to be placed in an appropriate place. 
Now if you know your Soma cubes well you’ll know that there are 240 possible cube assemblies – however you’ll find that attaching them to the insides of a diagonal burr will restrict the number of achievable assemblies quite a lot – in fact it restricts them to a single solution… making this a very challenging somewhat distant relative of the standard Diagonal Burr… 
Not to be taken lightly!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Goblin’s Box

[Thanks to Gerard for offering this (my first ever!) guest blog post about a very special, unique puzzle... enjoy!] 

This is, I believe, the first guest piece on Allard’s brilliant blog. So I feel special and I also have something quite special to talk about.

By way of introduction, I’m Gerard, a puzzle collector (mainly puzzle boxes though I tend to stray into buying other puzzles on occasions - much to the distress of my credit card!), and I often use puzzles in creative thinking workshops which I deliver. You can hear more about these workshops if you’re interested here

First up, a bit of expectation management. The puzzle I’m about to describe is not available to purchase and was made strictly as a one-off. It will never be for sale as I’m never going to part with it. Given that it’s a one-off, there are a few spoilers below.

It was a gift made by Shane Hales, a relatively new burgeoning talent on the puzzle-making scene. Shane made it as a one-off and the look, approach and ideas were all his. Some more expectation management before we go on – I’m afraid that Shane doesn’t do commissions as he also has a full time job.

When Shane dropped me a line to say that the box was ready, to say I was pretty excited is a complete underestimate as I had heard rumours on the puzzle circuit that a lot of thought had gone into the box and Shane had teased a few people with some of his ideas. I had no real idea what to expect though was envisaging a typical small wooden puzzle box. We met in a café and following some pleasantries he passed over a large, beautiful, heavy, wooden box with an intriguing design. On the front was a locked hinged door with the words “Fairies keep out” scratched onto it. 

The waitress in the café saw it and immediately said “Wow, that is so beautiful”. The people opposite us in the café stopped talking and stared both curiously and impressively at the box. 

I was so taken aback by the box that I didn’t immediately twig that it had been made to complement Mike Toulouzas’ Fairy Door puzzle box. It was made with Mike’s blessing and has a bit of a ‘goblin’ feel about the design which makes it fun. Shane had the initial idea from the film ‘Beetlejuice’ a few years ago and then with Mike releasing the Fairy’s Door in 2015 it gave Shane the inspiration for the Goblin’s Door.

What was immediately very apparent was there was a huge amount of work put into the box and its creation and so I decided to take my time with it and spent the next few weeks exploring it, playing with it but mostly admiring it. In essence, it is a sequential discovery box combined with a few secret compartments and treasure to be discovered. All the things that I love about puzzle boxes brought into one.

The other thing I love to have is a solution. Ok, I know there are some members of the puzzle community out there reading this and putting me into the ‘feeble’ category of puzzle solving. That may be close to the truth but I have in the past broken bits of puzzles by forcing pieces that shouldn’t be forced or not solved them because whilst I thought that something needs to be yanked, I was just too afraid to do it in case it shouldn’t be and I end up breaking a piece. Shane obliged my request but rather than some hints written on a scrap of paper as I was expecting, he put together a comprehensive colour booklet giving step-by-step solutions with photographs to opening the Goblin’s Door. So whilst I might have a hunch that perhaps something pulls up or could be moved, before doing so I can check that I’m on the right lines and so avoiding potentially damaging anything. It meant that I could really enjoy the box and explore it with ease.

After some searching on the outside of the box, pretty soon I found some tools (though they were cleverly hidden) and then the first  challenge – using them to pick a lock. There’s a sense of achievement in getting through this stage and opening the door – particularly if, like me, you’ve never picked a lock before (honest). But of course having got the door open, I realised it only opens so far with a chain preventing it and a creepy hand poking out (yes really!) to warn you of what lies within. So, another challenge to overcome – open the door fully – if you dare. 

Once inside there is what I guess you might expect to find in a goblin’s home – an assortment of ghoulish items hanging up including a whip, a head of a goblin and oh, something that looks like a key – might be handy - need to get it but it’s screwed to the wall so must search for another tool. Each tool found has only one use and the steps are intuitive with one thing leading logically and creatively on to another.

More tools then need to be discovered as you explore the box, a mouse needs to be rescued, and the goblin’s hiding place revealed. Following a series of fun moves a back wall falls apart to reveal two excellent puzzles to play with: Robert Yarger’s Pirates Wallet Lock (very clever) and Luke Vandear’s Silver Eagle coin puzzle. I’ve never come across the latter before but suffice it to say it is amazing – a coin broken into tiny fragments of pieces that need to be put together like a jigsaw. Certainly something not to be done with bear hands.

The Goblin’s Door is a fun, highly enjoyable puzzling journey with lots of ‘aha’ moments and feelings of intrigue, achievement and discovery. It is also a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. It’s truly wonderful. My favourite aspects? Well the lock picking was especially fun (but rest assured I don’t think I will abandon the day job for a career in cracking safes just yet), the fact that getting the door open is only half the journey, and finding a mouse under some floor boards put a smile on my face.

Congratulations to Shane on a brilliant puzzle box and thanks Allard for letting me have this first guest review.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Blind Slot Machine

Eric Fuller produced a bunch of these about 10 years ago… he’d intended to produce a slightly harder version of Stewart Coffin’s Slot Machine which ordinarily has a clear top to the box. That bit went as planned, but when it came to cutting the slot in the top of his boxes, he inadvertently cut them on the wrong side, so he ended up with a Reverse-Blind-Slot-Machine – although he settled on Blind Slot Machine in the end.

This design is a classic Coffin puzzle – it looks straight-forward: you have to put a series of polyominoes into the box through a slot in the top to make up a 3*3*3 cube inside the box. There are seven polyominoes and each of the pieces can fit through the slot(!). There are only so many ways to may up a cube from the pieces you’re given and the shape and position of the slot will dictate which pieces can go in last and in what orientation they would need to be in… which narrows things down quite a lot…

So pretty early on in the solving process you find yourself knowing exactly which assembly you’re targeting for the cube, which orientation it has to be in and which pieces are going in last – should be a doddle from there, eh?

Remember I said it was a classic Coffin puzzle?

Well, it is … which means that it’s anything but simple – even when you know EXACTLY what you’re trying to do… in fact in the beginning of the solution there is a sequence that is thoroughly mind-bending – so few combinations yet so thoroughly boggling! Several times I found myself going right back to basics, convinced I must have missed something somewhere because what I’m trying to do is quite simply impossible…

…and you’re doing everything by feel, remember? Feel and logic. Because there’s no little window to peer through and your finger is going to be jammed through that slot in the top of the box for quite a while…

Hugely satisfying solve when you finally manage to execute that tricky little bit – well worth putting all the remaining pieces in just so that you can say you have…