Saturday, 15 November 2014

Tube It In

Recently I got rather lucky and stumbled across a copy of Wil Strijbos’ original steel Tube It In puzzle…

Finding a copy for sale isn’t all that simple these days – I’ve only seen a single copy pop up on Nick Baxter’s auctions recently, so when I spotted one for sale, I jumped on it … only to discover that there was another version for sale as well, so I ended up getting two versions at the same time – that WAS rather lucky!

Tube It In was Wil’s Exchange Puzzle at IPP21 in Tokyo back in 2001. It consists of a set of rectangular steel tubes and bands of various thickness's and diameters which all nest rather neatly inside the largest piece. 

In its solved state, it looks like a small steel box with a drawer in it … open that drawer and you’ll find a bunch more bits inside, in fact, if you aren’t careful you’re likely to end up with a lap-full of little bits of steel … almost all of which are different sizes and shapes. 

Spread them out on a table and you’ll be amazed to see that there are in fact fourteen separate bits of steel tube making up this tricky little assembly … and only two of the pieces are identical – all of the others are unique …. and somehow they all manage to fit inside the largest piece. 

The good news is that you can apply some logic to solving it and given the sheer amount of steel that you need to fit into the outermost tube, there isn’t much scope for obfuscation and general leading astray – so you can start at one end of the scale, as it were, and find an efficient way of doing things and you won’t end up wandering down too many blind alleyways. 

The previous owner had scribbled some letters on the sides of most of the tubes, and that might have given some clues to my puzzling mates, so I’ve cleaned off all the markings to make things more interesting. :-)

It’s a fun little puzzle and shows that puzzles can come from the simplest of sources if you keep an eye out for things like that – something that Wil is most certainly a past-master at!

Right … so I was pretty darn chuffed when I found that copy of the original version, but when I found a copy of John Devost’s 2006 wooden version, I knew I’d found something really special! It didn’t take long to decide I needed that one as well…

Absolutely faithful to the original design, John created a gorgeous version in wood – my copy is (I’m pretty sure, but I’ve been wrong in trying to identify woods SO MANY times now that I wouldn’t lay any money on it!) made in walnut with maple slip-feathers and in its solved state it looks to all the world like a reasonably plain puzzle box (albeit one with some lovely slip-feathers!) … in fact, when I first saw it, that’s exactly what I thought it was and paid it no more attention, until someone pointed out what it was … and from then on I wasn’t letting it out of my paws! 

As you might expect from John’s work, each of the layers of this puzzle fits perfectly into the next, and the combinations of tubes all add up just perfectly to the space available … lay out the two versions next to one another and the pieces are instantly recognisable between them and the solution is identical… but the wooden one is simply beautiful! 

A great pair of puzzles to stumble across – I suspect there aren’t that many wooden copies of Tube It In out there in the wild so I consider myself hugely lucky to have come across them both at the same time.

Monday, 10 November 2014

K-419 #47

Kim Klobucher makes highly desirable little puzzle boxes, many of which have rather high move counts to open or close them. He typically puts a batch up for sale a few times a year and he seems to sell out entirely in around ten or fifteen minutes – you snooze – you’ve lost out! 

I’ve tried to snag one of his boxes a couple of times in the past and never been lucky – one time I woke up at about 2am on a cruise ship in the Baltic in order to frantically hammer away at the on-board Wi-Fi trying to bag a box – and failed. 

I thought I’d failed in the last round as well when I hadn’t received a reply to my request sent within minutes of the update going live, until a PayPal invoice turned up from Kim a couple of hours later. Turned out I had been lucky but somehow the confirmation email went awry – so I was a jolly happy little puzzler, who duly received a lovely Tulipwood K-419 a little while later. 

Kim’s boxes are instantly recognisable, made from a patchwork of little wooden cubies; it’s usually not that easy to spot the sliders (except the first one or two) until you start working your way through the solution path. They’re usually decorated with a brass inlays that signify the puzzle’s design on one side and branded with the KCube logo on the opposite side. They all come in a neat protective drawstring bag along with a set of instructions cum certificate of authenticity. 

K-419 is one of Kim’s standard puzzle designs that requires 419 moves to open and to close the box, which holds a marble as treasure and reward for opening the box.  As you’d expect from the relatively high move count, there’s an n-ary action spread across a number of sliders that form part of various sides of the box itself. Each slider can be in one of four positions and the boxes are that well made that when you’re solving them for the first time you’ll often find yourself not knowing which part will reveal itself as the next slider to move. 

Solve them a few times and you’ll soon find yourself developing a comfortable grip that allow easy access to the sliders used most often and instinctively reaching for each subsequent slider as you progress through the solution. 

Strangely therapeutic, they’re fun to run backwards and forwards and the progression is reasonably predictable so you can pick up a partially opened box and deduce fairly readily what you need to do in order to either open or close the box from there. 

There’s a lovely little “feature” that will thoroughly lock the box up and prevent you from even starting the solve until you realise it’s there and make allowances for it.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Rotpack 1

My mate Adin has recently embarked on a bit of a journey into making and designing his own puzzles. Most folks who’ve bumped into me at a puzzle party recently will probably have been given a copy of his Symmple puzzle that is fiendishly difficult – he doesn’t do things in half-measures.

Similarly, when he started making puzzles in wood, he came up with his own design and made a beautiful copy which had me thoroughly stumped for the best part of one of his visits to me. 

(I managed to take it apart on his next visit … and promptly asked for a copy if he ever got around to making any more of them – it’s a very interesting design that looks nothing like a standard 6-piece burr – which is essentially what it is – it has a series of shoulders on the pieces which have different lengths on one of the axes and those shoulders remove many degrees of freedom and make for a really unusual solve.)

Anyhow, back to this story – Adin decided he wanted to make me a puzzle for my collection so he asked me what I wanted – cue brain going into overload and plenty of black smoke coming from the ears – what is the appropriate answer to an offer like that? We swapped a couple of emails and at one point I seriously embarrassed myself by asking for a copy of a particular Coffin cube that I was convinced I didn’t have, only for Adin to send me a link to my own blog reviewing said cube… suitably embarrassed I eventually settled on “something on Ishino’s site by Greg Benedetti” knowing that I only had a couple of his designs and Adin knew which ones I had (probably better than I did!).

Last week Adin arrived to collect a puzzle I’d brought back for him from DCD and he presented me with a copy of Benedetti’s Rotpack 1. Definitely one that I don’t have! It reminds me a bit of Tangler or Sun in that it consists of two pieces that combine to make the guts of a cube … and like both of those two, and several of Greg’s other designs – indeed referenced in its name, it requires rotations to assemble. (So long BurrTools!)

Adin had thoughtfully given it to me in two pieces with the comment that “it’s surprisingly tricky”. So I fiddled around with it while he and Sophie visited and played with some of the newer puzzles that I hadn’t packed away yet… predictably I got absolutely nowhere. Don’t get me wrong, there are only two pieces and only one way they can ultimately end up together as a cube – but how the heck they get there and where you need to start are indeed surprisingly tricky!

Some serious puzzling later I’d explored the potential starting positions (there aren’t a lot of “entries”) and begun to knock off the dead-ends – until I found the one true path and had a neatly assembled cube in my grubby mitts. The two pieces fit together perfectly and the tolerances along the way are pretty impressive – line the pieces up properly and you’ll be able to execute the required twists and turns – allow one of the pieces to be slightly off-kilter and the ability to twist or turn a piece vanishes.

I’m well-impressed at the quality of this puzzle – not just because it’s been produced by a friend who’s only admitted to making a handful of puzzles so far – it’s really first-class work – and the only imperfections on it are the two flattened corners where I dropped one of the pieces while I was taking the photos for this post (sorry Adin!). Thanks Adin.


On a slightly less puzzling note, Adin also dropped off a sheet of paper cunningly disguised as Yoda for me… he’d been experimenting with Origami well beyond my abilities when he asked if there was anything I wanted folded. Having tried and failed (spectacularly!) to fold a Yoda for myself a little while back, I suggested a Yoda might be nice – and when he asked which one I’d like I knew he was serious, so we agreed on a particularly handsome one … which he duly produced and presented to me along with Rotpack 1.

Thanks mate – it is SMASHING!

….and here’s a pic of my little Yoda next to the Origami burr he gave me a little while back…