Over the weekend of the 29th June 2013, I traveled to Boston to join up with a few of my puzzling friends to take part in a 36 hour puzzle hunt. Put on by the GotoVision crowd, the even was themed around War Games and Tron hence the name WarTron. Given that I grew up with these movies, and have a love for puzzles, when the East coast puzzlers asked if I'd be interested in joining them I jumped at the chance.
The next few blog posts will track our progress over the weekend, and review some of the puzzles we completed. It's going to be a long journey, but I hope you enjoy it!
Back in March, myself, Nick Baxter, Jeffrey Aurand, Brett Kuehner, Ben Graef, Clayton, Brian Pletcher and his wife got together via the joys of internet telephony (Skype) and Google Spreadsheets to compete in the qualifier for the live event. The qualifier involved solving a number of puzzles which were hosted via an online telnet connection into a computer system much like that from the War Games movie. Inside the computer we had a number of programs we could run including Tic Tac Toe, Global Thermonuclear War and Chess. With some work, we found a series of keywords which led us on a merry chase to gain access to BigMac and the eventual solution to the puzzle. Having ranked #5 out of the competing teams, we were invited to the weekend even which is where this story starts.
I flew out to Boston on the Friday afternoon, and was picked up at the airport by Brett and Ben. We headed out to Brian's house where we spent some time playing with puzzles from Brian's collection before heading out for some dinner, and ice cream. Given that we were planning to be up for 36+ hours straight, we opted for a fairly early night, and headed to the hotel in Danvers, which was close to the start point for the weekend's events.
Before the event started, we were given some instructions on how to log in to the BUGMe system which would be our link to submit puzzle answers over the weekend. Logging into the system using the instructions provided gave us the output below:
With this information, we made our way to Peabody Park, handed in our waiver forms and received the arduino based device which would be our companion over the weekend. The part was a great starting location, with a pagoda that would have provided shelter if the weather had decided to be wet, a nice roomy grass area for us to congregate, and a pond as a backdrop, making for a great location all round.
We were the first to arrive, and had a rather rocky start. Having plugged our device into Brett's laptop, we got no response from the device. Laptop number two was tried, with no luck, before trying laptops 3 & 4. With no luck we went to a second B.I.T.E. device, which also didn't respond before going back to the first laptop, and a third device. We eventually had success thanks to Brett's experience with arduino devices. Each of the boxes was coded to a specific team so we still had to solve the problem of not being able to talk to our own box. Ross, from the WarTron team tried to connect to our B.I.T.E. using his laptop however he had no success either. At least it wasn't just us. As it turns out, a quick push of the reset button on the arduino thanks to a small gap in the case, and we were talking to our box, and ready to start.
Sadly we weren't the only team having issues, and it took a while to get everyone organised and able to talk to their devices. The team worked pretty hard to get everyone ready, and given the issues we'd been having, we were one of the last teams to be ready. Given our problems we were able to help a few other teams get their laptop's connected so it was a good way to get to know some of the teams we'd be playing with.
While we were getting setup, the female character in the black suit (below), known throughout the weekend as Professor Goto, was wandering round having a fake phone conversation. We thought it might be useful to see what she was talking about so while Brett and Ben were working on getting the laptop setup, I spent a few minutes wandering around behind her listening in to the conversation. Professor Goto was clearly having a bad day, perhaps because of the problems that Ross, her assistant pictured below, was unable to get the 'super secret high tech devices' working, and given that she had already fired someone that morning, was not looking forward to whatever was about to happen. So nothing particularly useful, but it was a nice way to set the scene, and start getting people into the mood.
At one point shortly after the photo above was taken, a rather heated argument between Professor Goto and Ross erupted, ending up with Professor Goto storming off, with Ross giving chase, trying to convince her that everything would be fine, he'd get the devices working, and she should stay. Having none of it, she was off and wasn't to be seen from again for quite some time. Scene set ...
Sarah on the left introduces herself, and welcomes us to the event before handing off to Professor Goto .... who of course is no-where to be found. In her stead, Ross is left to fill us in as to what's happening, and kick off proceedings. Around half way through his speech, he is rather rudely interrupted ...
... by the military! Despite his protests of innocence, he is escorted away for whatever he and Professor Goto have been doing. Brett gave chase in the hope that something useful would happen!
Although its a little hard to see in the photo, Ross threw out a number of pieces of paper which Brett duly scooped up, and the first puzzle was thrown at us. Quite literally!
With the slip of paper in hand, and a few guesses as to what to do, we quickly get our first taste of what the B.I.T.E was going to do over the weekend as it starts flashing the lights on its top, and beeping at us rather loudly. All the teams are in the same boat, so we quickly grab a seat, pull out the laptops and connect to the B.I.T.E using the code provided. Fortunately that silences the box, and gives us access to the information below:
There's a couple of fairly obvious paths to look at from the message we received, and clearly the sequences of words in the bottom left were our clue.
So what to do with this list? Well as seemed to be a bit of a theme over the weekend we started off in completely the wrong track. I'm not going to tell you how we started to solve this, however we found a way to index into the words above using the 'estonianevasive' which gave us the output GSECCSSH. Now the SSH part of that gave us some hope that we would have something useful since the BUGMe system was ssh based. Getting nothing from that, and seeking some help, it turns out there's an entirely different way to use the words above, and perhaps pairing letters could be useful. Seems that we'd found a rather unintentional red herring, and were heading way down the wrong path. The other hint that we're given is that there should be a ref in the B.I.T.E that could be useful.
As we're sitting working, the B.I.T.E goes off with an alert twice causing it to start beeping at us and flashing it's lights. Seems that BigMac was going to talk to us through the B.I.T.E. over the weekend and taunt us LUSERS while we tried to solve the puzzles and prevent Global Thermonuclear War.
Armed with that knowledge, we start again, and realise that there is in fact a useful pairing, and we get internet country codes out of the words. Taking the countries from each word, and tracing a path between them based on the order in the word, we're given semaphore codes, which give us letters, and after two passes of the words we end up with the Beach Boys song 'KOKOMO'. Success! Puzzle one solved, and we enter the keyword into the BUGMe System:
It may have taken us longer than we had hoped, but we were off and running now. Next stop, Patton Park to rescue Ross.
When we arrived, we found Ross and the military woman in a pagoda, where Ross was not allowed to talk to us, but did take away the B.I.T.E. to run some checks since they had been misbehaving for some people. We handed over the device, and were given an Army intelligence test to try to solve. Puzzle number two, and a completely different style of puzzle from the first one.
Here, had a series of images, which we had to match up, and a string of numbers down the centre of the page. The hope was that the numbers we crossed through would give us an index into the items, and another keyword to help us progress in the puzzle hunt.
We fared much better here, and solved this fairly quickly once we'd figured out what we were doing. A quick hint toward the end and we had the solution ... This time the keyword is 'CONTAINS'. Throwing that into BUGMe we get the useful information below:
While Ben and I distract the officer, the rest of the team talks to Ross, gets the B.I.T.E. back and also the keyword we need to get to the next puzzle. This time it's 'SEARCH'. Putting that into BUGMe we're given the following useful info and the location of our next puzzle. This one was going to be fun!
Arriving at the new location, we're escorted into a hotel room, and given directions not to remove anything from the room as Professor Goto gets angry if her things are moved, but to search the room for clues, and come out once we think we have everything.
Entering the room, we quickly spot some QR codes in plain sight, and start the hunt for more. In total there are 32 codes to be found, and working as a team we photograph all of them, note their location in the room, and also scan the codes. Some were pretty well hidden, including one inside the vegetable drawer of the fridge, one inside a pot in the cupboard, taped under tables, inside lamp shades, and even one in the bible.
After around 10 minutes, we're interrupted by a knock on the door, and we confirm we've found 31 codes. As it turns out we later realise we'd found all 32, but it didn't matter. We're given a pack which contains a copy of all of the QR Codes, a numbered diagram which links boxes with vowels, as well as a couple of blank QR code grids and given the suggestion that we have lunch nearby while we work on this puzzle. Given that it's close to 12pm we do just that.
One of the codes we scanned gave us the clue "This EUrO goes with square 0; match the pictures with the squares before using any of the outputs that you got when scanning the QR codes". This is our start point, and we start by identifying what is in each of the pictures, as well as pulling out excel to enter all the data we gather. As we've found in previous puzzle endeavors like this, having excel to sort lists, and perform indexing into words is hugely useful.
There's a few of the items which are a little harder to be 100% sure of the intent such as a dripping faucet, and a Combine Harvester. Is the intent that we use 'Faucet or Drip'; should we use 'Thresher, Combine or Combine Harvester'? Working through the puzzle, and again with a little nudge from Game Control, we find out that the images contains a set of all possible combinations of vowels, and the code sheet we have allows us to place the images into the grid.
When we scanned the QR Codes, we got input along the lines of
Once we had an order we had a fairly good idea that these codes would give us the correct location to fill in squares in the QR code, and allow us to create a new QR Code which would hopefully have the solution keyword.
Starting with the Euro QR Code as the initial location, we followed the connecting lines in our diagram to each box in turn, either adding of subtracting a vowel to give us the QR Code with the correct combination of vowels and the order we needed. With this knowledge, had an order for which line we would fill into the DIY QR code, based on what each scanned QR Code gave us as information.
As Ben, Clayton and Brian read out each series of X's and .'s I filled in the grid and eventually went back with a black marker to colour the boxes of our new QR Code. Nearing the end I had three members of the team hovering over me hoping that we'd have enough redundancy in the QR Code that it would scan and we could solve the puzzle. Finally done, we scan the code, and get 'NEFARIOUS' as our keyword. Success, and we're off again:
It's back into the car, and another 10 minute drive to the second hotel room. Having had a lot of fun on the last puzzle, as a team we're in good spirits, and looking forward to the next challenge. We're off to another hotel, and given that the last hotel had us tossing the room, we're hoping for another similar fun challenge. And we're not going to be disappointed!
Being greeted by two of Professor Goto's staff, next to the pool, we are told that we'll be heading into a hotel room, and we need to find the items to help stop BigMac. Professor Goto now realises that through our efforts, clearly something is going on and she is going to look into the issue.. Keep investigating, and see what we can find. Oh, and we're now locked in the hotel room until we solve the puzzle and get out!
Ben quickly spots a small circular coloured card with a number on it, and the rest of the team goes to work finding more. I find a tool chest with a padlock on it, as well as a couple of number cards, and the team find the rest of the cards, hidden under pillows, in the bathroom, under the ashtray (in this no smoking room). We don't have a key to open the box, until Brett spies it in plain sight hanging up on a coat hanger, right above where I'd found the box. Good job on observation there for me!
Opening the tool box, we have a smaller box inside with a combination lock keeping it closed. We've also found a code card, which has the GotoVision logo, where the O's are colour coded. Matching up the coloured cards, we have the combination for the master lock, and promptly open box #2.
Ok, so perhaps not so promptly, as I fail miserably to open the lock. My excuse is that I never had a locker in school, and as such never had to use one of these. Apparently they're common in the US. (It's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!)
So handing the lock to someone who knows better, we open the box, and find a third locked box inside, as well as another code card.
We quickly set about trying to open this new lock, flushed with success from having quickly opened the previous two locks, and of course found the progress to be somewhat more challenging.
While we'd been searching, this clue was hidden in plain sight on one of the beds. Seems like this might be a good time to use the clue! Thinking outside the lock, we attempt opening the lock by starting in the opposite direction you would normally start when opening a master lock (no I have no idea what that is!) and we have the lock open! Ok, so it wasn't quite that simple, and took three experienced Master lock openers to crack this one, but we did get there.
Inside this, we're given another two slips of paper, containing a cryptic puzzle, and after some tricky math, and I think we need to be honest here, some significant luck with a good guess as to what to do from Clayton, we've cracked the code an have ourselves another keyword.
Puzzle solved, we now have the next keyword 'JIMMY'. Anyone else starting to notice a puzzle themed keyword for each puzzle solved? entering this into BUGMe we get the next location:
So looks like we're off to a bead store for this one ...
Seems like we're in 8th place at this point although it's a little hard to tell for sure based on the way the timings were recorded, but we're having fun which is all that really matters! I'll leave you there for today. I'll continue with the next set of puzzles soon, so check back to see how we get on.
It's been a while since I managed to sit down and write anything new. Not that I don't have lots to write about, just seems that with a wedding coming up, and things being rather busy with the day job, I've not had much time. Anyway, that said, here's a nice Karakuri box to give you something to read about.
The Triskele is a puzzle box designed by Hideaki Kawashima. It's a beautiful looking puzzle, as you'd expect from the Karakuri group, and it hides it's secrets well. I spent quite a bit of time fiddling with this one, and seeming to make absolutely no progress on it.
Only 25 of these were made for an exhibition that Kawashima was taking part in, so I believe from the Karakuri site, that these are reasonably rare. Kawashima notes that the mechanism is not his design, and he's not made this style of puzzle until now. So what is this you may ask?
Well it's a cube, measuring 2.8" x 2.8" x 2.8" made from Birch, Magnolia, Wenge and Oak. As you can see from the image above the panels have been selected carefully to give a stunning external appearance, and the fit is so precise that it gives no hint as to how it will open.
Sadly for me, on finding out how the box opens, it's a simple Expanding box, using the same design as Stewart Coffin's Expanding Box puzzle. It's a beautifully made copy, don't get me wrong, but from a puzzling aspect, it's certainly not a new idea. The particular copy I have been playing with is incredibly stiff, and the humidity changes, have caused it to become very challenging to open, which if you didn't know how it opened would make it near impossible to solve.
It's a good looking box, but sadly it's not new, and unless you want a very good looking but costly copy of an expanding box puzzle, I'd say leave this one alone. Go have a look at some of Vinco's versions if you're just interested in the puzzle itself.
I've written in the past about the Karakuri Cube boxes, and the small box series. This latest addition to the Cube boxes comes from Hideaki Kawashima who's one of my favorite designers currently. He describes the box as a deluxe edition of the Cube series, and having enlarged the dimensions, adding a completely new mechanism, it's a box I was looking forward to playing with.
As with the rest of the Cube series, the outer design should look very familiar, however each box has it's own opening mechanism, and for me is one of the charms. It's interesting to see just how many different ways to design a mechanism with the same outer structure.
The box itself is made from Cherry, Purpleheart, and Cucumber Tree. Yes, apparently you can get enough wood from a cucumber to make into a puzzle. Ok, so it's not the plant we get the green salad vegetable from, and if you want to know more, read on.
Measuring in at 2.75" x 2.75" x 2.75", it is a reasonable amount larger than the other Cube boxes, but is still a good size without being too big. Interestingly, I'd have expected the Cherry to be the outer wood along with the Purpleheart, however Cherry is used for the inside mechanism, and is only visible once the box is open. The wonderful light white wood on the outside is the Cucumber Tree. I think I'll have to keep a look out for some of this wood myself, since it's a USA native.
As a puzzle, you'll not be surprised to know that this isn't overly challenging. There's only a small number of moves to get to each of the two compartments, and while the sequence isn't massively different for each compartment, the difference is small enough that once you've opened one, you'll have no issue with the other.
Kawashima's mark is found on the inside of the box once opened, and it's nice to see that the designer thought about how to arrange the two internal spaces. I've seen a number of boxes with this style of solution, where the second internal space is 'upside down' when opened, meaning anything inside would fall out, or the contents of the first space need to me removed, less you tip the contents on the floor trying to get to the second space.
Overall this is a great little box, and a good simple introduction to puzzle boxes with a sensible price tag.
I wasn't fortunate enough to be able to buy one of Junichi Yananose Tornado Burr's when it was offered by either Eric Fuller however I am lucky enough to have a puzzle friend who was kind enough to let me borrow his copy to have a play.
When Brian Young made copies of this puzzle, there were only 30 copies made way back in December 2008. And when you see how it's made you'll understand why. Each piece is made from a single stick, and while it may not be apparent at first look why that's such an issue, I think it will become apparent as you read on.
The first thing that hits you about this puzzle is the scale. At 6" x 6" x 6" this is a very large burr. Brian has taken a great deal of care when finishing the ends of the burr pieces, and each is beautifully detailed, with a fit and finish that you'd expect from a master craftsman such as himself. The fact that this was part of his Craftsman line is really no surprise. The only other person I know of to have attempted this puzzle is Eric Fuller, and having seen his copy, while much smaller, it's every bit as well made!
With a modest 12 pieces in the puzzle, while it would normally be considered a significant challenge, the Tornado is a challenge in an entirely different way. This is no conventional burr puzzle. As I soon found out, no amount of pushing, pulling or tugging on any of the pieces will help you to find the 'first move' that you normally need to get a burr puzzle started. So with that done, what's left? I don't recommend blowing on it, or spinning it as you'll quickly end up dizzy and out of breath. The clue to the puzzle is in the name.
"This ingenious burr was designed by Junichi in May 2007 with "head and hands; no computer". Junichi had the idea for a multiple rotational movement but did not get to finally apply it to a puzzle until he came up with the Tornado Burr. People often ask puzzle designers "What was going on in your head to design this puzzle?" What was going on in Junichi's head when he designed the Tornado Burr? Visualising things going up and down and back and forth at the same time is one thing, but things going up and down, back and forth and around as well is quite another! Junichi says the Tornado Burr "has very eccentric movements" and challenges puzzlers to "Try your luck, and stop this fierce tornado."
Needless to say this puzzle is not solvable in any computer program that we know of.
Eccentric movements indeed! As you can see above, this puzzle has rotations, although not like any you'd have thought about before playing with this puzzle. How Junichi came up with this is beyond me. It's an insane puzzle mechanism, that simply imagining the interactions and movements entirely in your head takes a special type of mind.
Coming back to my comments about the pieces all being solid and the significance of that fact becomes apparent. For the puzzle to work, it needs dowels rather than notches in the pieces. Each of these rods was hand turned on the lathe and has to be very accurately made. Not only that but it is turned on an off centre axis, making things just a little bit scarier! Having done a lot of work on the lathe recently myself, I can truly appreciate the work that goes into making each and every one of these pieces.
At IPP27 in Australia, this puzzle received an Honourable mention. Having had the opportunity to play with one, I can see why. Despite not being a burr fan, I'd not hesitate to add one of these to my collection if it became available. The chances of that happening though may be fairly slim.
I have gone through a period in my puzzle collecting and solving where I have felt quite good about packing puzzles, so when Brian Menold over at Wood Wonders offered copies of the Blockhead puzzle designed by Bill Cutler, I couldn't pass it up, especially given his choice of woods.
Blockhead is a four piece packing puzzle which at first glance looks pretty innocent. 4 cubic pieces put into a square tray, what could be simpler? Brian has made this copy using Pear pieces in an Oak tray with Paduak splines. It's a really good looking puzzle and it's a big puzzle too. Measuring in at 4.25" x 4.25" x 1.75" the pieces are big when you're playing with them, and the whole puzzle has a really solid feel to it.
By now you'll have realised that any time I state that something is simple, it couldn't be further from the truth. Removing the pieces from the frame having up-ended it, you'll quickly realise that the nice, square, regular appearance of the blocks in the solved state was rather misleading.
As you can see, the blocks are more like the type of saw cuts I made as a child playing in my grandfathers shed, than the type of absolutely square sides that puzzle makers strive for. Not only are the pieces anything but square, but the inside walls of the tray are also not square. They are as slanted as the pieces, and will clearly play a part in getting the pieces back into the tray. So now that you understand what makes this so puzzling, it's easier to see what makes it such a good puzzle.
This isn't an overly difficult puzzle, but will provide a good solving experience and there are some parameters which will help you narrow down the possible combinations, meaning it's not out of the realms of a determined person to solve before too long.
Brian's work is superb, and each new piece I buy from him, the quality seems to be better and better. Given the prices he asks for this work, even the limited run puzzles, you'd be hard pushed to find a better copy of many of these puzzles elsewhere. Not to mention that Brian also threw a copy of a diagonal burr into the box along with my order, so there was an unexpected pleasant surprise when I opened the box.
Seems that it's been too long since I sat down and wrote about a puzzle, but somehow life seems to have got int he way of puzzling. I've been getting ready for my wedding later this year, and making a batch of puzzles to have there, but I'll write about them later. For now here's another Vinco Puzzle that's available from has mass produced line, which Puzzle Master and others carry.
It will be no surprise to any regular reader of my blog that the quality of puzzles from Vinco is high. It's surprise, and really I'm not sure why I even need to mention it but this puzzle is no exception. The fit and finish is excellent, and Vinco's choice of contrasting woods makes for a great looking puzzle. This is a fairly small puzzle measuring 2.5" x 2.5" and is made from Plum and Maple. I now have a few puzzles in my collection made from plum, and really like the rich colour from it. Despite not being the most detailed grain, it is still a beautiful wood in its own right.
As you can see from the different views, the placement of the woods makes for some interesting patterning in the solved state. It does also help when you have the pieces separate and are trying to solve the puzzle.
With only four pieces, this isn't the most challenging puzzle, and given that it's not a coordinate motion puzzle, there's no tricky balancing of pieces needed when you're trying to get it back together. Finding the correct placement for your fingers to start taking this one apart though is a real challenge but makes for a fun if short challenge.
Given that this is a small and simple puzzle, it's a great one to have in a bag to give to friends to play with, and it shouldn't keep them stuck for too long making it a great distraction. I know I've said it in the past, but you really can't go wrong with a Vinco design.