Wednesday, August 21, 2019

A Decade of Puzzling - RPP 2019

RPP 2019, photo by John Rausch

Every year, shortly after IPP, several puzzlers converge on upstate New York to have a picnic.  This year’s Rochester Puzzle Picnic was held on 17 Aug 19.  Since some attendees travel 6 or more hours to attend RPP, people usually start to arrive on Friday and depart on Sunday in order to dedicate the entire day on Saturday to puzzling.  That’s a lot of picnicking!

At some point during the course of the weekend, we realized that this was the 10th annual RPP.  Our gracious host for 10 years in a row has been Jeff Aurand, who allows a motley crew of puzzlers bringing large quantities of puzzles into his lovely home for this grand puzzle extravaganza.  Vast quantities of food, vast quantities of drinks, and vast quantities of puzzles.  What could be better!



Friday is always a lot of fun catching up with friends, some of which we haven’t seen in a while, and setting out puzzles for everyone to enjoy.  This year, a table was set up with some of the puzzles that were in the IPP Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition.  Competition puzzles that were at RPP include:

Cast Slider by Vesa TimonenCast Slider by Vesa Timonen – Normally we see some of the design competition entries become Hanayama puzzles.  This is a case of a Hanayama puzzle becoming a design competition entry and it was a top 10 vote getter in the competition.  The object is to slide the two main pieces off the central holding piece.  However, they seem to get caught at the end.  Although this puzzle is rated by Hanayama as 3 out of 6 stars, it provided a challenge for several people that tried it.

Cover Up by George SichermanCover Up by George Sicherman – Four pentacubes required to completely cover a tetracube.  The version put out to play with was made by myself for others to play with.  I didn’t find out till later that Brian Menold had much nicer versions on hand for sale that we could have put out instead.

Outstandin' by Haym Hirsh – Haym has been putting out a flurry of packing problems for acrylic boxes.  This one is a ball packing puzzle with 3D printed pieces.

Hat Trick by Laszlo MolnarHat Trick by Laszlo Molnar – 6 L’s packed in a constrained opening box.  This puzzle was a top 10 vote getter at IPP39 and Brian had several very nice copies on hand to sell in different types of wood.

Multiball by Eric Fuller – Eric has recently stated that he will be developing many new puzzle boxes for the puzzle community.  Multiball is the most recent of these and someone was kind enough to bring theirs for others to play with.  This also sparked some conversations on the “official solution” vs another solution found by others.

Triagonal Pyramid by Kohno IchiroTriagonal Pyramid by Kohno Ichiro – 4 pieces with 2 half cubes each that make a triagonal pyramid.  Of course, this sparked a debate of what a triagonal pyramid was.  I brought a homemade copy of Triagonal Pyramid for others to play with, but it lacked the magnets that help hold it together.  I justified not adding the magnets since I didn’t know the polarity orientations used for the design.  However, if you acquire a copy of your own, make sure it has magnets.

Petit Ring by Osanori YamamotoPetit Ring by Osanori Yamamoto – Osanori has been making many interesting restricted opening packing puzzles and this was also one of the top 10 vote getters at IPP39.  You only have to pack 3 pieces in a restricted opening box, and has TWO openings!

Standing Egg by Osanori Yamamoto – The goal of this puzzle is to make a cube with one missing corner that can stand upright on the three points that result from the missing corner.   The one at RPP was beautifully made by Tom Lensch.

Rules of Attraction by Laszlo Molnar
Rules of Attraction by Laszlo Molnar – This is a beautifully made puzzle by Brian.  I was amazed at the amount of work that went into making these.  Each one of the cubes that comprise the pieces has an internal rare earth magnet embedded in it and each piece has a different set of orientations.  As painful as it was to make, I did enjoy listening to Brian’s stories of how all the pieces would move around the table and attack each other as he was trying to make them.

Somaa Cube by Hyam HirshSomaa Cube by Haym Hirsh – Haym has been designing a lot of Soma varients and Somaa is one based on using non-cubic rectangular parallelepipeds (or in English – cubes stretched/compressed by different amounts in each direction) to make the Soma-like pieces.  I believe that the X, Y, and Z dimensions of each of the blocks used to make the pieces are 1 of 3 values.  Since 3^3 is 27, I would guess that there is one block for every possible combination of measurements.   The Somaa Cube was made by Brian in a variety of exotic woods resulting in beautiful pieces and an even more beautiful cube once it was all put together.

TD345 by Chico Banan, photo by Nick BaxterTD345 by Chico Banan – This puzzle was described in the prior post, Chico Strikes Again.  Somehow Jeff managed to score one of the 2 copies that were made for the IPP design competition and, as expected, it was highlight of RPP 2019!  Enough said.

Tetra Spinner by Yasuhiro Hashimoto and MINE – This is a clever constrained packing puzzle with 2D tetra pieces sandwiched between 2 plates of plexiglass.  Each piece is a different color to help easily identify the individual pieces as you insert them in and move them around in the frame.

Puzzles in Play

In addition to these puzzle design competition entries, there was a large assortment of other puzzles brought by everyone, strewn upon the horizontal surfaces of Jeff’s living room, to entertain everyone.  Puzzles that I managed to solve that first night include:

Hat Trick – As previously mentioned, this puzzle, designed by Laszlo Molnar, was a top 10 vote getter in the IPP39 design competition.  After the competition entries were released before IPP started, I studied the entry online and worked out in my head how the solve would go.  Presented with the actual puzzle, I was able to verify my approach and quickly determine that I had accurately imagined it.  However, the actual puzzle was much more beautiful than my intangible copy.  Brian did a fantastic job making these and I took one home with me!

Cluster by Andrew Crowell
Cluster - Brian has been making several of Andrew Crowell’s puzzles and this is the first one of Andrew’s designs that I’ve played with in a while.  When I found it, it was disassembled.  The first thing that I noticed was that it didn’t appear to make a cube and it was quickly apparent that it was in the shape of a crystal.  The only reason that this puzzle doesn’t have TIC at the end of the name is that it’s not a cube.  It still has plenty of rotational moves for those that have come to expect that from Andrew’s designs.

Petit Ring – If the IPP wasn’t tired of giving Osanori Yamamoto awards, this one would have probably received one.  Only 3 simple pieces that have to be inserted within the frame such that each opening in the frame was completely filed.  I really enjoyed working on this one.  Not too difficult but a nice challenge.  Tom made this beautiful copy.

Somaa – You used to be able to refer to someone’s Soma variant by saying the designer’s name and Soma Cube.  Haym has ruined that approach by recently releasing several Soma Cube variants plucked from the Somaverse.   I didn’t find this puzzle overly difficult.  I convinced myself that I was following a reasonable procedure for deriving the solution that was a combination of identifying the best size block faces to match along with some backtracking.  Of course, I could have just been lucky.  Brian made the beautiful copy that was at RPP and I’m guessing that they will be available again at Wood Wonders in the near future.

Mushkila by Yavuz DemirhanMushkila – I’ve seen several references to Yavuz Demirhan’s Mushkila puzzle on Facebook and was looking forward to trying this one.  5 elbows and 1 straight piece packed in a constrained opening box.  This one is not that difficult and a good puzzle for new puzzlers.  The version at RPP was beautifully made but I don’t know who made it.

Wavelinks by Rod BogartWavelinks - Rod Bogart entered Wavelinks in last year’s IPP design competition and was a Top 10 vote getter.  When I saw it in the competition room, I thought that the design was brilliant.  I successfully took it apart but the room was closed before I could get it back together.  Now a year later, I had some more time to focus on it.  As with last time, I was able to quickly separate the red and blue rings and marvel at the motion required for separating them.  It was also easy to make separate red and blue rings that weren’t intertwined.  When I thought I had it all figured out and set the assembly into motion, I discovered that I had 2 red and blue intertwined rings.  A little tweaking, and I was back to a red and a blue ring that were intertwined.  The motion is so mesmerizing that I played with it some more and determined that there is more than 1 way to start the assembly process, with some easier than others.  A year later, I still think this is a brilliant puzzle and I hope that Hanayama will carry it sometime in the future.  It would look fantastic in 2 contrasting metal finishes.

Tetra Spinner by Yasuhiro Hashimoto and MINETetra Spinner – After seeing this in the list of IPP39 design competition entries, I was looking forward to playing with it at some point.  It looked like an innovative approach to a restricted 2D packing problem and the IPP39 participants agreed, making it one of the top 10 vote getters in the competition.  I enjoyed working on this one.  It is fairly straight forward and doesn’t really require a lot of convoluted moves.

All In by Hyam Hirsh
All In – Haym brought several restricted opening packing puzzles with acrylic boxes and 3D printed pieces and this was the only one that I had the time to tackle.  Reminiscent of the very popular Casino puzzle by Volker Latussek, which won last year’s puzzle of the year award in the IPP design competition, this puzzle requires you to pack 6 octagons in a box through a small opening.  Since this was a prototype, the pieces were 3D printed.  I enjoyed working on this one and liked it more than I did Casino.  Haym’s only disappointment with this puzzle, named by his son, is that his young son could so quickly throw out poker references.  However, it is an awesome name for the puzzle.

In between all that puzzling and talking, eating was also another popular activity.  Jeff grilled up some vegetarian and chicken shish kebobs that he and Sue skewered up.  It was accompanied by an excellent rice dish.  Jeff is an awesome chef and you could easily go there just for the food.

In addition to all the puzzles, a big thank you goes to Brian for bringing Wood Wonders T-shirts for everyone.


Unlock! Exotic Adventures – Scheherazade’s Last Tale

The main day had arrived and we started it with some fresh bagels and cream cheese that Jeff went out and procured.  After caffeinating up, it was on to puzzling and other related activities.

Every year, there are some breakout sessions involving multi-person games.  This year’s game, Unlock! Exotic Adventures – Scheherazade’s Last Tale, involved lots of team puzzle solving.  The game incorporated a cell phone app that contributed a background theme song to accompany the cards being used.  Its always fun listening to banter that accompanies the games progression.

Puzzling Happening HereAnother of the RPP highlights every year is the Peter Wiltshire magic show.  This year’s performance featured a beautiful box with 3 die, made by Peter.  He’d show the 3 die in the box, put the cover on, and shake it so you tell that they were all in there.  Then he could pull one out and then shake the box to verify that one was missing.  Then magically, the dice would appear or disappear from the box as Peter showed it to the spellbound crowd accompanied by gasps of “I can’t believe it”.

The HostFor lunch, Jeff barbecued some hamburgers, sausages, and chicken, Tom made a salad, and I made some guacamole.  That along with some other salads kept us going for the rest of the day.  Of course, most people brought some type of dessert, so there was plenty of that as well.

Another tradition of the RPP is the John Rausch give-away auction, where John brings puzzles that need to move on to someone else that can use them.  The collection of puzzles are displayed on a table and everyone picks a number from the hat.  People then take turns selecting a puzzle from the collection based on the number picked.  Since there were more puzzles than puzzlers this year, there were multiple rounds of selections.  I ended up with some very nice puzzles this year and applaud John for his generosity and the fun that it provides.

The Ladies
While all this puzzle madness was going on, the ladies slipped out to enjoy a peaceful lunch and do some shopping.  They didn’t come back with any puzzles, so I didn’t quite see the purpose in going.  Oh well.

XTic by Andrew CrowellDuring the day, I was able to tackle and solve several puzzles including:

XTic – Andrew Crowell part 2.  This was the second of Andrew’s puzzles, beautifully crafted by Brian, that he brought along.  This one was a lot of fun and I enjoyed the rotations and how the pieces traveled through the cube.  Andrew may be fairly new to the puzzle community but he has quickly dominated the Turning Interlocking Cube category.  I’m always looking forward to new designs that he has coming out.

Cluster Buster by Rex DwyerCluster Buster – Brian brought a prototype of Cluster Buster designed by Rex Dwyer that he made in Catalpa .  This puzzle is a Coffinesque geometric shape consisting of 6 pieces that is so intimidating that Brian brought a solid example of the final shape for reference.  Some of the deep triangular pockets are displayed on the outside while others get filled by points from other pieces.  I managed to solve this one, using experience from solving Coffin puzzles and a bit of luck.  It’s a very nice design and I’m assuming that Brian will be providing these in the near future.

Half Lid Box by Hajime KatsumotoHalf Lid Box – This beautiful puzzle, designed by Hajime Katsumoto, was made by Made by Eric Fuller and sold on Cubicdissection a year ago.  Although, I found this puzzle fairly simple, others had a more difficult time.  Sometimes you just get lucky!

Rectilinear – Tom brought a prototype of Goh Pit Khiam’s Rectalinear puzzle to get some feedback.  He brought a copy of the 4x4 board and a description of the puzzle including what the pieces looked like.  He apologized for not bringing any pieces, but that didn’t stop us from making some from cardboard.  The goal is to make a complete circuit between an identified source and destination using all the pieces with all the lines part of a single circuit.  It reminded me of Tom Cutrofello’s Lab Mice puzzles.  I could easily see this type of puzzle expanded and picked up by a company like Thinkfun.  For so few pieces, I found the challenges more difficult than I expected.  Unfortunately, I cannot provide any photos that would not give away the puzzle design.

Pack 3 by Osanori YamamotoPack 3 – This my favorite of Osanori Yamamoto’s packing puzzles made by Tom that I played with during RPP.  For only 3 pieces, I ended up spending quite a bit of time finding the solution to this.  It required an interested sequence of movements to get those 3 pieces in position and I liked it a lot.  If you could only get one of Osanori’s packing puzzles, I’d recommend this one.

Cribbage Dance by Tyler SomerCribbage Dance – Puzzle gatherings like RPP are a great opportunity to get feedback on new puzzles and Tyler Somer took advantage of this by sending 2 copies of his Cribbage Dance puzzle for people to try.  Tyler also pointed out certain issues that he was not happy with, and was soliciting potential solutions to what he considered a problem.  Needless to say, several puzzlers reviewed the puzzle and provided feedback, not all of it happy/glad/good job tidings.  The puzzle consists of a frame with 3 sliding plates and 2 burr pieces running through the plates.  On first glance, it looks like it would be extremely difficult.  When I see these types of puzzles, I assume that the difficulty goes up exponentially with the number of plates and the number of burr pieces.  3 plates is a warning for me and I usually don’t buy these types of puzzles with more than 2 plates.  However, in this case, all the plates are the same and their orientation is obvious, taking that out of the equation and putting this puzzle in the easy category as opposed to the hard category on my personal scale.  The puzzles were nicely crafted by Greg Davis.

Pack 012 by Osanori Yamamoto
Pack 012 – This was the easiest of Osanori Yamamoto’s packing puzzles that Tom brought.  Of course it was the last of the 3 that I worked on and maybe the mind was lubed to process these types of puzzles.  This was a top 10 vote getter in last years IPP design competition.  However, someone had to explain to me how it got its name - Duh!

Die Welle Jean Claude ConstantinDie Welle – Rich scored this Jean Claude Constantin N-ary puzzle from John’s auction.  I decided to go through the motions of moving the balls from the starting point to the ending point.  Not difficult, but a nice fidget type puzzle.  I though the best part of the puzzle was the design of the holes at the beginning.  The plexiglass is cut so that there is a springing movement to it, allowing you to push the balls in, but keeping them from popping back out.  Very clever!

Kawashima W Box
Kawashima W Box – You would think that from the puzzle descriptions, that RPP is a burr/packing puzzle party.  Au contraire, there are serious puzzle box aficionados in attendance at RPP including the host himself.  The only box that I tackled was the W box by Kawashima.  Not very difficult, but the craftsmanship was very good.

I wound up Saturday night by trying to solve the Harun Packing Puzzle by Dr. Volker Latussek.  This puzzle was made with Black Limba and Zebrano by Eric Fuller at Cubicdissection.  It consists of 6 identical 2x2x4 notched pieces and 6 identical 1x2x4 boards.  The object is to pack a 5x5x5 box with no internal obstructions and I was told that it has not 1 but 2 solutions, one supposedly hard and the other easier.  It looks quite simple but I was unable to obtain either of the solutions, unless one of the solutions is to leave a piece out.  I packed it in, myself not the puzzle, at 1am to get a few hours of sleep before attacking it again.

Haym's Table


Mortising MachineSunday morning, the topic of drilling square holes came up and Jeff took us out to his workshop to give an impromptu mortising demonstration.  I always like to go out and spend time in the shop even if it is only to look since Jeff has a very nice setup.  While walking around the shop, Jeff ran across some rejects of his Reversal of Fortune Box for the Apothecary Chest.  Of course, the term reject is relative and what Jeff considers a reject is leagues beyond what I can make on an exceptionally good day.

After some collaborative brainstorming, Jeff gave some of these non-operational copies a quick pass on the table saw to transform them into functional puzzle boxes at the cost of a slightly shortened top.  A few people were more than happy to take home a slightly modified and unfinished version to enjoy the wonderful mechanism of this unique and extremely limited puzzle box.

While sitting around chatting with the other puzzlers, I started to play with a copy of Bouquet by Christoph Lohe and made by Brian.  I didn’t have enough time to get too far into this one, but at 23 moves to remove the first piece, I’d have to dedicate some time to focus on this one.

I also spent quite a bit more time trying to find the solution to Harun without success.  After returning home, I had an epiphany and think that I know what is required to solve it.  Of course, epiphanies are cheap and I’ll have to wait for another opportunity to test my theory.

I brought a new puzzle that I designed after IPP called Broken Soma.  Several people tried it and 1 person was able to solve it.  Brian will be offering copies on Wood Wonders in the near future.

You may be thinking that this gathering is all about puzzles, but in reality, it’s all about the people.  That’s what makes it all worthwhile.  So find some people near you and have your own puzzle party!

Lots of Puzzling

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

I’ve Been Framed - Quadripole

Quadripole by Stéphane Chomine
Puzzles are a concoction of many things, and there are 2 things that when combined always excite me.  They are Stéphane Chomine and Brian Menold.  Combining these 2 always results in a winning combination.  They are great by themselves and even greater together.

This was once again confirmed with Quadripole from Wood Wonders.  It was designed by Stéphane in 2012 and made by Brian in 2018.  It is a level puzzle consisting of 4 pieces captured within a frame.  The objective is to remove the pieces and then reassemble them back into the frame.  The puzzle is beautiful with Pink Ivory pieces and a Catalpa frame.

There are several things that I like about the design.  The first is the simplicity of the frame.  There are no additional fixed cubes blocking movement within the frame.  It is the same on all sides, so the orientation of the pieces to the frame doesn’t make a difference.  I consider this more elegant than frames that have internal obstructions added to increase the level of difficulty.  I also like how the puzzle only has 4 pieces that get inserted within the frame.  It makes it seem innocuous with only 4 pieces (some puzzlers never learn).

Some of you may be saying to yourself: that puzzle was released by Wood Wonders a year ago, why is he blogging about it now?  There are several reasons for that and here is the short version of that story.  After ordering the puzzle, it joined the backlog of puzzles to be solved.  I have 2 types of puzzles in my collection: those that have been solved and those that have yet to be solved.  Both sides of my collection seem to be expanding. 

Shortly after receiving the puzzle, Brian sent out an email indicating that one of the pieces may be missing a cube and if it was, he would send a replacement.  Very kind of Brian to offer to make the puzzle potentially more difficult than it already is.  This is why I like dealing with people like Brian.  Not only do you get quality workmanship, but he stands behind his work.  This prompted me to take the pieces out and examine them and sure enough, I was missing that extra cube.

After receiving the updated piece, the unassembled puzzle sat on a shelf in the dinning room for several months.  This is not unusual in our home since I like to disassemble puzzles and let them sit for a month or 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5 or … you get the picture) to provide enough time to forget anything that I may have learned from the disassembly process.  For Quadripole, I successfully remembered nothing!
Quadripole Pieces
After enough brain cells died off, I sat down for several hours on several occasions attempting to get this puzzle back together.  Normally, when working with the pieces, I get a sense of how they interact with each other and can put those working relationships together to form a solution.  For instance, one of the pieces could only exist within the frame with 2 orientations, so there were only two sets of potential solutions to search through.

Unfortunately, I was unable to uncover the solution by examining the piece relationships and had to resort to a brute force look at all possible piece position/orientation combinations.  While doing this, I discovered some potential relationships that I have not noticed before and soon had the pieces back in the frame.  Solved!

But wait a minute!  It felt like one the moves that I used near the end, may have required a little tilting motion to insert the final piece.  It was so minor that I checked it several times to convince myself that it was indeed a rotation.  I didn’t remember seeing any reference to a rotation and checked the box that the puzzle came in.  The nice thing about this box is that Brian included a label with a picture of the puzzle along with a description.  Sure enough, no reference to a rotation.  I also noticed that the label indicated that it takes 22 moves to remove the first piece and I didn’t feel that it took me that many moves.  Sure enough, I checked my solution and not only did it have a rotation, but it only took 14 moves to remove the first piece.

It turns out that I stumbled upon the secret 2nd solution only encountered by the mystic puzzlers of …. After I finished daydreaming, I plugged the puzzle into BurrTools to verify the stated difficulty, and sure enough, it was quickly validated.

In the end, it looks like there are 2 solutions to Quadripole; a level 22 rectilinear solution and level 14 rotational solution.  I would have preferred that there wasn’t a second solution, but to be honest, I was in need of some level of accomplishment when I stumbled upon the rotational solution.

Thanks again to Stéphane and Brian for another fine masterpiece!

Quadripole II?

Beta Funzzle by Mr. Y Gong
Beta Funzzle PiecesAfter putting Quadripole back together, I felt compelled to pull the Beta Funzzle puzzle out of the to-do pile since various references have indicated that Beta, designed by Mr. Y Gong, is similar to Quadripole.  Puzzle Master, the exclusive distributor of Beta, indicates that it is a variant of Quadripole on their website.

Funzzle Beta is made from Bamboo and is attractive enough.  Puzzle Master rates it at a level 10, which is highest on their level of difficulty and well deserved.

So how do the designs for Quadripole and Beta compare?

Quadripole and Beta Funzzle Frames
Quadripole (left) and Beta (right) Frames
Frame – Quadripole has a frame that is open on top and bottom and pieces can move in and out of both sides.  Beta uses a box with only the top open for pieces to move in and out although it includes a hole in the bottom to help manipulate the pieces.  The box also includes a couple of internal obstructions and some half block notching on the lip trading off elegance for additional complexity.  I did like how the top of the box had an engraving of the piece locations although there are so many moves for assembly/disassembly, it may not be that useful.

Quadripole and Beta Funzzle Pieces
Beta (left) and Quadripole (right) Pieces
Pieces -  The Quadipole pieces are of length 4 and the Beta pieces are of length 3 although they utilize half cubes and notches, so you could say they are of length 6.  To be honest, if I hadn’t heard that one was a variant of the other, I wouldn’t have noticed a similarity.  Even after comparing the pieces, they seem dissimilar enough to me.

Complexity – As already mentioned, Quadripole has a complexity of, while Beta has a complexity of!  (No, that’s not a factorial).  That’s an impressive amount of moves to take out that first piece and it is an amazing process to go through.

Overall Design – I found the Quadripole design attractive due to the elegance of its design and at level 22, I believe that it is approachable to a large segment of the puzzle community.  Beta on the other hand trades elegance for complexity, but Oh what an amazing dance it provides.  At level 43, it may be out of the reach of many but well worth watching in Burr Tools.

I can’t recommend the mass marketed Beta puzzle because this Funzzle was not fun.  The pieces were fiddly and attempting to move them around was just frustrating.  I quickly gave up trying to solve the puzzle and entered the puzzle in BurrTools.  Even following the steps with BurrTools was frustrating with the quality of the pieces.  However, if a nicely working version ever becomes available, it may be well worth acquiring.

You can read about Kevin’s take on Beta here and Gabriels impression here.

Quadripole and Beta Funzzle

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Chico Strikes Again – TD345

TD345 by Chico Banan
Chico Banan has taken the puzzle community by storm.  His radical political posturing and TD proclivities have made him the most talked about and celebrated individual within the community.  Although he has recently become embroiled in medical supply shortage issues, his true focus has always been on serving the puzzle community.

Chico’s entry in the recent Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition was TD345.  This puzzle was the buzz at the competition and it was inevitable that it would be on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

This awesome puzzle was the overwhelming favorite in the competition and garnered the most votes of any puzzle in the competition by far.  In fact, it received so many votes that the vote counter rolled over and mistakenly put TD345 in last place.  Unfortunately, this oversight was not discovered until after the awards ceremony but Chico is looking forward to his trophy.

TD345 with the Standardised Puzzle Hamster
TD345 with SPH
As with most of Chico’s puzzles, the idea was born out of his tongue depressor advocacy (can you say fetish?).  To commemorate this special event, Chico used exotic tongue depressors made from Purpleheart.   These TDs were linked in two chains of different lengths with the short one making a 3x3, 2-layer square and the other a 4x4, 2-layer square.  After these 2 challenges have been met, both chains can be used together to make a 5x5, 2-layer square.  These escalating challenges provide a challenge for people at any level with a rare few being able to walk around with their chest puffed out proclaiming, “I’m a 5x5’er”.  Needless to say, they’re all squares.

The TD345 prototype used rivets to connect the TDs, but at the last minute, Chico decided to use fasteners to give the puzzle competition participants the opportunity to satisfy their urge to rip them apart.  His thoughtfulness towards frustrated puzzlers knows no bounds.

Chico vehemently denies that his flat articulated chains were influenced by the movie Snakes on a Plane although rumor has it that you could hear the puzzle design competition participants occasionally quoting the movie: “I have had it with these mothaf…ing snakes on this mothaf…ing plane!”

With this puzzle design entry, Chico has finally and definitively proved that the TD complete problem, “Does 32 + 42 equal 52,” is indeed true as most people had come to believe (even Pythagoras!). 

When asked what his next project would be, Chico humbly said that his vision is to inspire others to fix the Soma cube.

As a final warning, please do not put the TD345 puzzle in your mouth!  You think that this would have been obvious, but there were several sightings of purple tongues at IPP this year.

Many thanks to the Chico Banan fan club that unknowingly submitted the photos used for this post.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Puzzle-A-Month Challenge

To kickoff this new puzzling year, I’m proposing a challenge – A puzzle-a-month challenge.
  • It’s about keeping the mind limber by exercising the brain.  We talk about exercising the body at the gym, exercising our speaking and leadership skills here at Toastmasters, and now, exercising our problem-solving skills with puzzles.
  • It’s about having fun.
  • And it’s about providing exciting new topics for future speeches.

This was the beginning of my speech earlier this month at my Toastmasters International club, Freehold Phrasers.  The speech I gave was for a project on presenting proposals.  Since it was the beginning of the Toastmasters year, I decided to issue a puzzle-a-month challenge.  The challenge for willing participants was outlined as follows:
  1. I would collect $15 from each person that wants to participate.

  2. I would purchase a variety of puzzles equal to the number of participants.

  3. Each participant would be given a puzzle to solve.

  4. Each month, the puzzles would be rotated amongst the participants.

  5. After all particpants had a chance to solve each puzzle, each participant would get one of the puzzles to keep.

I explained that this was going to be a Puzzles 101 event and that I was not looking to pound anyone over the head with extremely difficult puzzles.  The goal is to provide puzzles with obtainable solutions that have an Aha moment when you finally see the solution.  If anything, I would be erring on the side of people complaining that they solved it in 5 minutes and then had to wait a month for the next puzzle.  In that case, I planned to carry some additional items from my own collection to tide people over in the meantime.

I acquired 6 willing participants, which is roughly the number that I needed to kick the challenge off.  With $90 in my pocket, I headed over to the online Puzzle Master store to chose from the thousands of puzzles that they offer.  I chose to buy the puzzles at Puzzle Master due to their large selection of puzzles, great pricing, and free shipping on orders over $100 CA.  Of course, I bought some puzzles for myself, so I was well over the $100 requirement for free shipping allowing me to apply the entire puzzle budget to puzzles.

I knew that my biggest challenge would be to avoid selecting puzzles that were not too difficult for non-puzzlers.  Puzzle Master ranks puzzle difficulty on a scale from 5 to 10 and I did my best to focus on the Level 5 and 6 puzzles.  The puzzles ordered were as follows (clicking on the names will take you to that puzzle on Puzzle Master’s website):

Two Keys by Jean Claude Constantine
Two Keys – I chose this puzzle to represent the maze category.  It’s made by Jean Claude Constantine and is a very handsome laser cut puzzle.  I chose this puzzle because it was not simply a single maze but has a maze on each side that needs to be solved simultaneously.  Since you can only look at one side at a time, it forces the user to stretch their awareness and envision what is happening on the other side as the pieces are moving.  I also chose this particular maze since it had the lowest difficulty rating of 5.  Reviews that I’ve seen are mixed concerning the level of difficulty.  The Puzzling Parts blog says that it's easy and the Gabriel Fernandes' Puzzle Collection blog says that it is harder than rated and "casual puzzlers will struggle to figure it out”.  The Puzzling Parts blog also offers an additional challenge by pointing out that the top maze section can be flipped over once removed and then constructed with it upside-down.  Thank’s Neil.

Symmetrick by Vesa Timonen
Symmetrick – Symmetry puzzles have become very popular in recent years and I wanted to include one in this challenge.  The choice was a no brainer for me.  Symmetrick was one of the Top 10 Vote Getters in the 2013 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition .  It was designed by Vesa Timonen and made by Sloyd.  I consider Symmetrick a classic and was very happy that it was available at Puzzle Master.  It’s only 2 pieces and yet it’s not trivial.  The objective is to lay the pieces flat on a table next to each other so that they form a single symmetric shape.  Very easy to describe, not so easy to solve.  There is a good description of the puzzle on Puzzling Times.  Looking back at what Allard had to say about the puzzle, maybe I bit off a little more than someone else can chew.  In my defense, Puzzle Master gives it a difficulty rating of 6.

Beginner Set with Heartbreaker, Handcuffs, and "A" Puzzle
PerseusBeginner Set – I was conflicted with which puzzle to provide for the disentanglement category.  I immediately thought of the Heartbreaker puzzle, which has a great Aha moment for new puzzlers and provides the first clue of what an exit point looks like in a disentanglement puzzle.  The other puzzle that I consider a classic in this category is the Handcuffs Puzzle (2 linked horseshoes with trapped ring).  This puzzle seems to have been around forever and is very clever.  Unlike the Heart puzzle, the solution is not as easy to see.  Lucky for me, Puzzle Master sells a set of 3 beginner puzzles that includes both of these puzzles allowing me to provide both as one entry.  And it comes with a bonus third disentanglement puzzles called the “A” puzzle.  This puzzle will provide a good next step challenge using the exit identification skills acquired solving the Heartbreaker puzzle.  Puzzle Master rates the Beginner Set as a Level 6 but individually the puzzles are rated: Heartbreaker - 5, Handcuffs - 6, “A” Puzzle - 7.  This one was a little over budget, but I thought that it provided a nice series of escalating challenges.  People may not solve them all but most will probably be able to solve the first one.

Perseus – I wanted to include a classic Stewart Coffin put-together puzzle and this was the closest that I could find.  Perseus looks like Stewart’s Pin Hole puzzle but I was disappointed that it was not identified as such on the Puzzle Master website.  That makes this one a bit of a wildcard.  The puzzle is made by Philos and Puzzle Master rates it at a Level 6.  The puzzle will be provided unassembled to the participants and I believe that everyone should be able to solve it.  You can find more information about Stewart Coffin on the PuzzleWorld website including electronic copies of Stewart's compendiums.
Six-T Puzzle
Six-T-Puzzle – Packing puzzles have become very popular of late and I wanted to include one in the challenge.  I chose Six-T since the Aha moment looked readily achievable by a new puzzler.  It also looked attractive for an inexpensive puzzle.  The puzzle was designed by Dr. Volker Latussek and made by Rombol.  Puzzle Master rates it at Level 6.  This would make an excellent choice for a 60th birthday gift.  The puzzle will be provided unassembled to the participants and I expect that everyone will solve this one.

Spring Time BoxSpring Time Box – How about including a puzzle box in the challenge?  The biggest puzzle box trick is to find something suitable within the puzzle challenge budget.  Fortunately, Gabriel Fernandes recently blogged about a puzzle box that caught my attention and I decided to include the Spring Time Box in the challenge.  You can read what Gabriel had to say about it on the Gabriel Fernandes’ Puzzle Collection blog.  This puzzle box is one of a set of 6 puzzle boxes with this one being one of the two larger boxes.  Although Puzzle Master rates this at a Level 7, Gabriel indicated that it’s really not more than a Level 6.  The important thing to remember here is that it’s Gabriel’s fault if it is too hard.  However, I am prepared to swap in another puzzle box that I have and know to be easy if this one turns out to be too hard.

Dynacube by Gabriel Songel and Gianni SarconeDynacube 1 – If you have been paying close attention, this is the 7th puzzle entry for the 6 participants.  It never hurts to have a spare and there is one person that showed interest but hasn’t committed yet.  I’m placing the Dynacube in the folding puzzle category.  It also has the property of multiple challenges instead of the one-and-done solving experience of the prior 6 puzzles.  The puzzle comes with a booklet of 60 target shapes that can be made by folding the pieces along their hinged edges.  I had some reservations about including a puzzle with multiple challenges since no one will probably do all 60 challenges and this may leave them with the feeling that it wasn’t completely solved.  That’s always a risk.  The Dynacube Puzzle were designed by Gabriel Songel (physical design) and Gianni Sarcone (pattern design) and made by Recent Toys.  Puzzle Master gives it a rating of 6.  Dynacubes 2 - 4 have the same physical design but different pattern designs. 

I would be interested in hearing everyone’s opinion of the puzzle choices made and what puzzles you would have chosen instead.  You can leave your feedback in the comments below.

I’ll provide another post after the puzzle challenge has completed with the results of what the participants thought of the experience and which puzzles they managed to solve.

As a final note, the puzzle pictures in this post were shamelessly lifted from the Puzzle Master website.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Where Do Great Puzzle Designs Come From?

Trifecta by Ken Irvine and made by Tom Lensch
Trifecta made by Tom Lensch
One of my prior design competition entries.
What can inspire metagrobologists around the world to produce new, innovative, and extremely clever delights for the puzzle community?  What about the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition held every year at the International Puzzle Party!

This competition has been held each year since 2001 in honor of Nob Yoshigahara, one of the founding members of IPP, and serves as an incubator that spawns many new puzzle designs each year.  New designs are selected by craftsmen, manufacturers, and shop owners.  This is only natural since the many participants are creating wish lists of puzzles that they would like to acquire copies of.  If you browse through the historical listings of past design competition entries, you will run across many now familiar puzzles that got their start as entries in the yearly competition.  Some of my own designs have been picked up in past competitions to be produced.

The puzzle competition room is organized with many tables, each supporting about a half-dozen puzzles.  Each puzzle is also accompanied by a description sheet identifying the name of the puzzle, some details of the puzzle including a photo, and the solving objective.  The backside of the sheet provides the solution to the puzzle if needed.

Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition RoomThere are always more entries than there is time to solve them all.  Unfortunately, this means that you have to prioritize the puzzles that you dedicate time too.  It also helps to keep an ear out for what other people like.  For instance, last year, Jigsaw Puzzle 29 was pretty low on my list because I didn’t think that I needed to spend any time on a jigsaw puzzle.  After hearing many people rave about the puzzle, I finally sat down, solved it, and discovered what a brilliant puzzle it was.  I could have easily missed out on that one.

Table in Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition RoomAwards are given for the best designs and the Design Competition Trophy is?  You guessed it - A Puzzle!  This year’s trophy was designed by Yavuz Demirhan and made by Tom Lensch, so you know it’s extraordinary.  Pin’s are also awarded for the Puzzlers’ Award, Grand Prize, First Place Prizes, and Honorable Mentions.  All prizes are awarded by a judging committee except for the Puzzlers’s Award, which is voted on by attending IPP members.  Certificates are also given to the top 10 designers that received the most votes.

This year, there are 61 entries in the puzzle design competition.  You can find the official entry list on the 2019 Puzzle Design Competition web page.  Since the design competition rules allow puzzles that have been released in the last 2 years, some of these entries are already available.  After reviewing the competition entries, I tallied 15 of them that I recognized before seeing the competition entries.  They are as follows:

1.    Brass Monkey Two – You can read about this puzzle at Puzzling Times and PuzzleMad.  It is available at Puzzle Master or the TwoBrassMonkeys Etsy shop.

2.    FantasTIC – This puzzle is a level requiring 30 moves to totally disassemble with 6+ Rotations in a 4x4x4 format.  I really love these Turning Interlocking Cubes and I’m looking forward to eventually playing with this one.  The ‘TIC man has been cranking out very high-quality designs at a rapid rate and they are all highly recommended.  My guess is that this puzzle will eventually show up on Wood Wonders.

3.    Hokey Cokey Lock – This puzzle lock, accompanied by a rather intricate and shameless presentation ritual, was a highlight of last year’s IPP puzzle exchange.  You can read about it at Puzzling Times, PuzzleMad, and Boxes and Booze.  You can acquire one from Mr. Puzzle, although it’s just not the same without the presentation.

4.    Jack in the Box – Videos of the creation of this puzzle box include Jack in the Box Part 1, Part 2, and Box Pieces.

5.    Logical Progression – This puzzle was included in the last release from Cubic Dissection.  If you missed out, Eric Fuller is planning on releasing another batch in September.

6.    Mazeburr L – You can read all about this puzzle at PuzzleMad.

7.    Multiball – This puzzle was included in a recent release from Cubic Dissection.   I wouldn’t be surprised if Eric released another batch of this puzzle in the future.

8.    PedanTIC - This puzzle is a level requiring 36 moves to totally disassemble with 10 rotations in a 4x4x4 format.  Wow!  I haven’t had the opportunity to play with this puzzle yet, but it looks like it’s all about removing that 4th piece.  26 moves is a lot of moves for releasing a piece from a 4x4x4 puzzle.  I expect that this one will become available at Wood Wonders in the near future.

9.    Puzzleduck Pastures - You can get some additional information about this sequential discovery puzzle from the Lumberjocks site.

10.    Slammed Car – This puzzle was recently released and still available at Pluredro.  You can find a good description of it on Puzzling Times.

11.    Slider – This is the most recently released puzzle from Hanayama.  You can acquire a copy from Puzzle Master.

12.    Somaa CubeWood Wonders has been releasing several Soma variants recently including the Somaa Cube.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see more copies of the Somaa Cube in future releases, especially with it being in the design competition.

13.    Venn Puzzle – This puzzle is the product of a recent kickstarter campaign and is currently available at Puzzle Master.

14.    Wave 5 – This designer has recently released a wave of new puzzles that have become very popular, including Wave 5.  You can try getting a copy at Puzzle Master, but as of the date of this posting, it was still sold out.  If you like this one, there is also a Wave 7, also currently sold out.

15.    Yosegi Pattern Box – You can read about this puzzle on Boxes and Booze.  You can also view a video on the box construction on YouTube.

If you are interested in acquiring a copy of Jigsaw Puzzle 29 from last years competition, it is available at Puzzle Master.