Friday, 12 December 2014

I found one!

A copy of the Stickman puzzlebox #2, the 55-move box, that is.  

I’ve been slowly adding to my little collection of Stickman boxes over the past few years and it’s fair to say that this one has held a fair amount of attraction – and after watching a couple of them go for some very healthy prices, I was delighted when the latest one to hit Jacques Haubrich’s puzzle auction didn’t get quite as spendy as the others… so it ended up winging it way across the Channel to Barnt Green. 

A large part of the draw for this puzzle came from its looks on the one hand and Neil’s description of it over here. Any box where the opening sequence gets described as having a rhythm, and a rhythm akin to a classic Led Zeppelin track at that, can’t be bad. 
And it isn’t. 

It’s awesome.

If it’s not immediately obvious from the numbering, this is one of Robert Yarger’s early designs… he’d produced a couple of designs that hadn’t been given design numbers and when he started seriously making puzzleboxes, he began numbering the designs… so this is only the second design since he started taking the whole puzzle-box-making-malarkey seriously … and it deserves a huge amount of respect!

From Rob’s own description over here he only possessed a radial arm saw, a drill and some hand tools at the time that he made 45 of these boxes – out of scrap wood! Rob humbly describes them as looking a bit rustic, and they may, but mechanically this is a fantastic puzzlebox!

First off, going straight for the obvious lid of the box provides a little surprise: either it’s locked or there’s another way in… or a bit of both. This is not your average little decorative chest – the decorative bits tend to hide handy puzzly bits and when you start solving this box you realise just why it’s so darn popular among collectors around the world. 

The first few steps are reasonably predictable, but then Rob throws in a massive curve-ball! Once you get over that bombshell, you settle into the rhythm that Neil talks about and it is delightful – there’s a clear purpose to each move and once you get a mental picture of what you’re doing you can settle into that rhythm and watch things unfold in front of you.

Find your way into the first compartment and you’ll get that warm puzzling glow … but there are three more compartments to find before you’re done…

The next two come along fairly quickly, just like the proverbial London bus… but you have to work for the next one – which rewards you when you’ve realised why things worked the way they did earlier on in the process.

There’s a really good reason why 55-move Stickman puzzleboxes don’t come up for sale very often – puzzle collectors simply don’t want to part with them – because they’re brilliant!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Power Tower

This rather interesting puzzle first appeared at this year’s Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition. Designed jointly by Goh Pit Khiam and Jack Krijnen, the competition entry had four interfering sliders to produce a new incarnation of n-ary puzzle. The rounding across one of the corners produces a great lump of puzzle that fits easily in the hands and makes operating the sliders quite comfortable. 

Sadly I didn’t get to spend much time in the competition room at IPP34 and apart from a cursory fiddle, didn’t get to enjoy this puzzle at all … so when Jack mentioned he’d made a couple of copies I registered my strong interest and managed to collect a copy from him at DCD in October… only the new version is a serious development on the competition entry – the International Space Station compared to a Sputnik, so to speak. 
At first glance it looks as though Jack’s just given it a couple of extra sliders, which would have been nice on its own… but he’s gone and done a lot more than that! He’s introduced an optional magnetic stageblocker piece that can be used to block off one of the last three channels – pop this piece in place and you can select to have either three, four, five or six sliders in play… I don’t need to tell you what that means for move counts! 

Again, that little addition would have been pretty darn nifty! 

But wait, there’s more!

The puzzle arrives in a neat little wooden box to keep the main part and all the “spare” sliders together so you don’t lose them… which would be a little over the top if the only extra sliders were the few you weren’t using out of the set of six sliders you might expect… but here’s the real kicker! Jack supplied two sets of slider pieces – one binary and one ternary set… so you can choose to set it up as a binary or a ternary puzzle. [In fact Goetz has a copy with a quaternary set as well!]

…now all of that would make this a worthwhile puzzle, but the last little touch is what makes this thing awesome for me – the way they’ve designed the sliders, ANY combination of sliders can be used… so you’re not limited to having “just” a binary set or a ternary set – you can mix and match them in any combination… so you can choose a puzzle from 3 up to 6 sliders, any of which can be either binary or ternary … trust me, even if you know all of this, getting an unknown set-up courtesy of a fellow puzzler with a rogue slider thrown in there for good measure can really disrupt any sort of rhythm you might develop when trying to solve it. (Thanks Ali!)

To give it its full name, this is the mixed base, variable stage Power Tower. It is a great idea that’s been brilliantly developed to the limit to provide a super little tormentor’s puzzler’s kit for experimenting with n-ary puzzles. It’ll give you 120 different configurations and anything from 11 to 727 moves.

It goes without saying that Jack’s handiwork is simply superb, yet again, and he’s produced a puzzle that’s an absolute delight to fiddle with. 

Thanks Jack and congrats to you and Pit Khiam on the design – elegant and clever!

...and if you'd like to read more - there's a great article in the latest edition of CFF from Pit Khiam on The Design of N-ary Mechanical Puzzles... which features the development of the Power Tower.

Monday, 1 December 2014

A pair of empty Fuller boxes

I got my grubby mitts on a pair of older puzzle boxes from Eric Fuller recently. 

I picked up a copy of one of his Splined puzzle boxes from Wil Strijbos at IPP back in August. Originally offered for sale back in 2005, there were two variants in contrasting woods, and while they appeared to be identical from a design perspective, I’m pretty certain they had totally different locking mechanisms. 

I managed to find a lonely copy of the Wenge Splined box in one of Wil’s many crates at the puzzle party and decided to give it a good home. It’s a neat little box that looks pretty impenetrable – it appears to have a pair of floating panels on the top and the bottom of the box with four mitred sides being properly secured by a set of Sycamore splines…

Fiddle around with the box for a little while and you’ll notice a few interesting things to experiment on … and then with a little intelligent sleuthing you’ll probably get yourself to where the box is almost open, but something’s still in the way – and getting past that final hurdle is a lovely touch that unites all the design elements of the box into the solution. 

It’s a really cute box that makes use of all of the box’s features to provide an interesting mechanism and a fun solution. Locked up there aren’t many clues to the mechanism (just as it should be!) but it rewards exploration in the right direction by opening up new avenues as you progress… visiting puzzlers seem to enjoy it so I reckon it’s a fine little puzzle box. 

The second Fuller box came from one of Nick Baxter’s recent auctions – the 16 Move puzzle box is now more than 10 years old having been first offered back in February 2004. Eric says he took inspiration for this design from traditional Japanese puzzle boxes – but his design doesn’t use any of the traditional sliding keys and locks. 

His design relies on the absolute accuracy of his work, and ten years on, that accuracy still gives unwary puzzlers a really hard time. 

Finding the first panel to move is pretty straight-forward – making progress from there, isn’t. 

When I said this design relied on Eric’s superb accuracy I really wasn’t kidding – to make any progress at all, you need to work out what the central idea is and then use it to get any further forward… of course having done that, there’s a lovely patch in the middle of the solve that still confuses me sometimes.

The first time I played with it I found myself running round and round in circles and managing to clock up a lot more than 16 moves without opening the box… and just when I was about to start doubting all sorts of things, the lid came off… leaving me relieved, but thoroughly perplexed!

It took several more goes at it before I could more or less predictably open and close this box… and even now, if I leave it alone for a while, it confuses me all over again. 

It might look reasonably plain on the outside, but the design’s intriguing and the execution is faultless – and still behaves beautifully 10 years on…