Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
24Sep/140

A few Exchange Puzzles from IPP34

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series IPP 34

I know many of you out there must be wondering what's happened to me; I seem to have gone quiet again recently. I seem to recall doing the same thing after going to my first IPP two years ago. It's certainly not that I've had a lack of puzzles to solve, nor that I've not been puzzling because I have. So I thought it was about time I put down a few thoughts on some of the things I've been playing with. Having so many new puzzles from the Edward Hordern Exchange I'll try to give a few impressions, rather than a full review of each. I think if I tried to do a full review, it's unlikely I'd get through them all before the next IPP!

The first few Exchange puzzles I've played with

The first few Exchange puzzles I've played with

First up here's four of the puzzles I've played with and solved. From left to right we have "join the Club" by Scott Elliot, "TetraParquet" by Stan Isaacs, "Chameleon" by Pantazis Houlis and "Mixed Plate Burr" by Frans de Vreugd. Each of them is completely different from the others in this set, making them all a different challenge, and a very varied set of puzzles to play with. That's one of the great things I found with the exchange. There's a lot of different types of puzzler, and I know myself I tend not to buy certain styles of puzzle (Burr's being one of those), but here you get a great sample of all types and styles, and I've found myself trying and enjoying a number of puzzles I would normally have passed by.

Join the Club by Scott Elliot

Join the Club by Scott Elliot

First up is Scott's "Join the Club". A fairly simple but great looking two piece puzzle where the goal is to join the two pieces into a club shape. This is one of what I'd call Scott's signature propeller dissections of an object, which requires a little bit of thought as to how the pieces come together, and then some fun motion to assemble it. I've found this is a good "fiddle factor" puzzle, that I can sit at my desk and put together, then take apart repeatedly while I work on a problem. Fun puzzle, and definitely worth picking up a copy.

TetraParquet by Stan Issacs

TetraParquet by Stan Isaacs

"TetraParquet" by Stan Isaacs is a beautiful looking object. This triangular pyramid is made from six colour paired pieces of contrasting woods. Designed and made by Wayne Daniel, his mastery of interesting angles, and incredibly accurate (and fine) joinery is apparent. Coming apart with a co-ordinate motion, the goal is to disassemble, scramble and re-assembe the pieces into the pyramid shape. The mortise and tenon joinery inside is something to me marveled at, and it's this joinery which makes the puzzle. With some pieces having the mortise, and others the required tenon, arranging the pieces so all the slots line up with the tabs is a simple but satisfying challenge. And it looks great! Not a difficult puzzle, but a great showpiece, and a stunning piece of woodworking.

Chameleon by Pantazis Houlis

Chameleon by Pantazis Houlis

"Chameleon" by Pantazis Houlis which was made by the New Pelikan Workshop is an interesting idea. At it's core is a wooden cube which has been veneered with several different woods. Onto that cube a number of paper flaps have been attached with printed wood species, and the goal is to transform the cube into one of five woods, by hiding the flaps and leaving only the single species visible. In concept it's a nice idea, and it's a simple puzzle that will take you all of five minutes to solve each combination. It's certainly not the most visually stunning puzzle out there, but it is fun, and the idea is quite different. I doubt this will be to everyone's taste, but I am glad I was able to play with it, and the fact that there is a real piece of each of the woods used on one face is a nice touch, and adds to the value.

Mixed Plate Burr by Frans de Vreugd

Mixed Plate Burr by Frans de Vreugd

The last of the puzzles I'll touch on in this post is the "Mixed Plate Burr" by Frans de Vreugd. Now as I already mentioned, I'm not a huge burr fan, but I did pick this up and decide to give it a serious attempt. The pieces themselves are interesting, as they have been cut using a high pressure water cutter. Not my first thought for cutting wood, but it does produce a very accurate cut, making this type of puzzle repeatable at a reasonable scale. Something I find interesting as a woodworker is that looking at the edges where the water blade cuts, there are marks that could easily be mistaken for a saw blade. The Burr itself uses a mix of board burr pieces and standard burr pieces to make a standard six piece burr shape. Rated at 11.4 it's a reasonable level burr, but not too high that it's impossible. Where's the proof? Well I managed to assemble it without any use of Burr Tools. As I found out, Burr Tools would have been no use to me on this particular puzzle anyway, so it makes the fact that I put this together even more satisfying. Even if like me, you're not a burr man, take a look at this one. It's a little different, and while the Baltic Birch Ply is not a collectors piece, the puzzle itself more than makes up for its looks.

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29Aug/140

Ring & String, or perhaps “Something memorable from IPP”?

Hi all, it's been a good few weeks since I sat down and wrote anything, but then after a fantastic three and a half weeks touring the UK, catching up with friends and family; a wonderful long weekend with the MPP crowd soaking up the fantastic hospitality of the amazingly humble and welcoming Walker household; a week of IPP and many puzzle friends old and new, all mixed in with my one year delayed Honeymoon, it's good to be back, and probably about time I put a pen to paper, or finger to keyboard.

There's a good few puzzle bloggers out there who are writing about IPP, and all the fabulous conversations and events that took place over the week, so I'm not going to give you my account of what happened. But I do suggest you go read Allard's Assessment, Rox's Ramblings, and Jerry's Journey. They're all well worth reading, and will give you a good feeling for what a fantastic time was had by all. I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again, the people in the puzzle community are an amazing group, and I'm proud and humbled to know each and every one of you, and to be able to call so many friends. Thank you.

I will give one special mention to Allard and his wife Gillian (as well as their two dogs, Ben and Jerry) for welcoming my wife and I into their home, putting us up for 4 days, feeding us, making us so welcome and at home, and not accepting a single penny in thanks. You truly are great friends, and I can't wait to return the favour at some point. Fortunately no harm came of the dogs who decided to eat some of my green packing peanuts while we were all out. The only casualty with Allard's lap when one of them decided to throw up on him. (Sorry!)

Anyway, I do want to mention one great experience from my IPP. While there Dr Colin Wright was wandering around talking to people and showing us some interesting little tricks. Colin is a Juggler, magician and specialises in Communication. I spent quite a bit of time talking to him, given that I juggle, have done my share of magic over the years, and with all this writing that I do, I have to accept that I have something to do with communication as well. (Ed: So hurry up and get to the point!)

Colin was wandering around with a length of chain around his neck, attached to it there was a steel ring. At one point as I was wandering around talking to the myriad of puzzlers Colin had a group around him, and he was doing something interesting with said ring and "string".

"Now, hold it like this ...."

As you can see, being the curious chap that I am, I wandered over and listened in to what he was saying. Before I knew it, he's turned to me, and I have the apparatus around my hand, and with a huge grin have been shown how the magic happens, and have now done it for myself. Yes, I really did have a huge grin on my face, as Colin explained what was happening, and that he had analyzed the behaviour to work out exactly how things worked, and perfected the one-handed technique. A few other people commented that they'd seen it before, and even done this before but using other grips, two hands or even a table. (Ed: But what was it ... get to the point already!)

Well when I got back from IPP, I went to the local hardware store, picked up a couple of rings, some chain and made my own copy, and one for my son. I knew he would like it, and for a couple of dollars, it's a great toy to have. Anyway, the picture above surfaced on Facebook, and I was tagged. A few comments from confused readers later, and I find myself making a video showing what we were doing. (Ed: But you've still not told us what that was.)

Rather that try to explain, I'll just leave you with the video below. I am fortunate enough to have a high-speed camera now, so I took some footage at high speed showing what happens, and put that in the video. I don't show how to do this, but it's fantastic to see what's happening.

Now, I took this to work with me to show a couple of my colleagues as I knew they would appreciate it. What happened though was entirely unexpected. Rather than asking how to do it, I was relieved of the pieces, and the team started trying to work out how to do it themselves. (I'm and engineer, and this has become a problem to be solved). For me this was fantastic. I've now seen about 4 different ways that can reproduce the result, none as elegant as what Colin showed me, and none that are nearly as reliable.

So here's a challenge. Go get yourself a solid ring, a length of chain and try this for yourself. I'd love to see how you get on in the comments!

Until next time, when I'll be back to puzzles, enjoy the video.



11Jun/141

Lomino Cube 4

Back in 2012 I was fortunate enough to attend IPP, and during the Puzzle Party day where you can buy and sell puzzles, I was able to purchase myself a copy of George Bell's exchange puzzle "Lomino Cube 4". George is a regular reader, and often comments on my posts, so I'm waiting with interest to see what he thinks of this review!

Lomino Cube 4 by George Bell

Lomino Cube 4 by George Bell

So what is a Lomino? Well the puzzle pieces used are all "L" shaped, and were named "Lominoes" by Alan Schoen, or so George tells me in the introduction to the puzzle. Lomino cube 4 is a set of 13 polycubes which have to be packed into various 2D and 3D shapes. A complete set of lominoes of order n consists of all lominoes that fit inside an n x n square. This puzzle consists of two complete sets of order n=4 plus one extra L tetromino (of volume 4). In the accompanying booklet, George sets out ten puzzling tasks which he lists in roughly increasing order of difficulty.

The image above shows the state the puzzle is deliver in, with the two complete sets packed into the "accordion" grid with 4 gaps remaining. As I'm sure you can guess already, one of the challenges will be to put that last Lomino into the accordion along with all the other pieces. But that's not the first challenge!

The puzzle is made from laser cut parts which are all a good size. Each cubie is 3/8" and the pieces are cut from clear acrylic. As you will see in the photos, the clear pieces make for some amazing finished objects, and I'm sure if I had more time, you could create some really nice effects with the right lighting. The tray itself is cut from three 1/8" thick sheets of acrylic, and are joined together to give the striking sandwich appearance with the solution shape showing through in bright orange, against the royal blue of the rest of the tray. Of course it didn't need to be 3 layers thick, but George added a second solution shape on the back of the tray, adding to the challenges. And that's not all, there's a third solution tray shape on the back of the booklet. There's a lot of puzzling in these ten challenges!

One possible 8x8 solution

One possible 8x8 solution

The first challenge is to create an 8x8 square, using all the pieces. Given that there are several tens of thousands of solutions (814,732 in all), I don't really have a problem showing just one of them here. I have no doubt that any puzzler with a little time can find a way to fit the pieces into an 8x8 square. From there, the next challenge is a little more difficult. Create a 4x4x4 Cube.

One possible cube solution

One possible cube solution

Now, I may have exaggerated. There's over 3 million ways (3,391,045 to be exact) to construct a 4x4x4 cube, so again it shouldn't be too much of a challenge. This time it's a 3D solution shape and given the reasonably small size of the pieces, and their slick finish, you may find yourself knocking the pieces over as you work toward a solution. That may just have been me and my fat fingers though.

Another tray on the reverse

Another tray on the reverse

Another of the challenges is to fit all the pieces into the "quilt block" shape in the reverse side of the tray. Again there are hundreds of solutions (406 in total) so giving away just one isn't that much of a help. You'll have no real problems in finding a solution yourself. There are a few other challenges involving packing the pieces in various ways, the last of which is to create a 3D shape which looks like the Dome on the Capitol Building. George doing his part to help make the puzzle themed to the IPP destination that year.

Once you've solved all of those, there's a set of 4 additional challenges to really test you. I'll not spoil them, but it's fair to say that they will make you think, and really add to the challenges. One of the more interesting from my perspective is to pack all the pieces into various solution shapes, where no two identical pieces have touching faces.

Overall, given that I have found a liking for packing puzzles, the Lomino Cube is a very approachable puzzle, with many solutions to each of the challenges (mostly) so that you don't feel frustrated by not being able to solve one, and can easily lose many hours to the puzzle. It's also well designed that all the pieces can be fairly readily self-contained, and that makes it a good puzzle for traveling. If you don't have a copy, head over to George's website, and see if he has a copy available, you'll not be disappointed.



9May/131

Tornado Burr

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.

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

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!

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

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.

Tornado Burr starting to move

Tornado Burr starting to move

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.



8Mar/133

Lean 2

During IPP 32 last year, Dave Rossetti presented another Stewart Coffin tray packing puzzle as his exchange puzzle. Numbered #255 in Stewart's numbering scheme, this was isn't made by Stewart himself, but by the woodworking master Tom Lensch. Given that I have a number of puzzles made by Tom, and I thought I was getting better at these packing puzzles, it seemed like a good idea to pick up a copy of this one.

Lean 2 with the four pieces

Lean 2 with the four pieces

As you can see this is another simple four piece packing puzzle. The additional challenge here is that the tray is two sided, meaning twice the puzzling fun ... or frustration. Tom has crafted this using four different woods for the pieces, Zebrawood, Marblewood, Canarywood and Bubinga (I'm guessing on the Bubinga) with a Walnut framed tray. Measuring in at 5.5" x 5" and nearly 1" thick, it's a good puzzle to work on, and not too big that it can't be slipped into a bag and taken with you.

Given that I picked this up in August, you may ask why it's taken so long to write about. Well as it happens, I solved the first side fairly quickly. It took me several hours over a month or so as I'd pick it up and fiddle, then put it back down. I was fairly happy with that and feeling quite confident so moved on to the second side, and promptly failed to make much progress.

Lean 2's second side with the four pieces

Lean 2's second side with the four pieces

I was a little disheartened when a good puzzling friend sent out an email asking for people to send him all the solutions they'd found for this puzzle. The suggestion was that there were a couple of false solutions that could be made. Well I got back to it and kept puzzling. After another couple of months, and several emails back and forth with my friend, I'd sent him 4 invalid solutions to the second side, but seemed to be no closer to the actual solution.

After another month of puzzling on this one I have to be honest and let you know I admitted defeat and asked for help. I dropped an email to fellow blogger Allard who had already solved and written about Lean 2 and asked for his help. I wasn't looking for the solution, I'm not that much of a defeatist, but he kindly took pity on me and sent me a location for one of the pieces. I should note that I'd been sending Allard my 'solutions' and none of those I'd found worked on his copy of the puzzle, so he knew that I had given this one a fair shot.

With the hint in hand, I had the second side solved in about 2 minutes. Overall, this is a great puzzle, and kept me busy for many months. If you enjoy packing puzzles, then definitely pick this one up, it's well worth the money and will keep you busy for quite some time.



16Jan/132

Sandfield’s Banded Dovetails

Back in August last year at IPP, I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Sandfield and talking to him about his puzzles, as well as picking up a copy of his Banded Dovetails, and ReBanded Dovetails puzzles.

Sandfield's Banded Dovetails or is it the Locked Draw Puzzle?

Sandfield's Banded Dovetails or is it the Locked Draw Puzzle?

First up is his Banded Dovetail puzzlebox. Designed by Perry McDaniel, and crafted by the very talented Kathleen Malcolmson. Crafted from Mahogany, Alder and Prima Vera, I think you'll agree that this is a great looking puzzle box. As is the Sandfield brothers trademark, there's dovetails in there, with what looks like two bands which have been pinned to the outside of the box, creating an impossible joint. Of course, it wouldn't be much of a puzzle if it were impossible, but the impression is very convincing. The puzzle measures 3.2" x 2.25" x 1.5" so its small however I think the size really adds to the charm of the puzzle.

The goal is simply to open the box, but when is it ever simple when someone hands you something telling you it's simple? When you pick up the box you'll quickly find that shaking it will reveal something rattling around in there. Whether that's useful or not it's hard to tell, but any clue with a locked box is useful right?

This one took me a good hour or more to figure out. All the things I had thought of were entirely unhelpful and didn't get me any closer to solving the puzzle. Really the thanks for that go to Kathleen who's made this so well that there's no clues at all as to what's going on. I think it's made even more impressive when you realise how many moves are required to open the puzzle.

The bag for the Banded Dovetails

The bag for the Banded Dovetails

As well as being a great puzzle, there's also a bit of a story behind the puzzle too. If you have a look at Brian's review of the puzzle, you'll see he lists it as IPP 28 (Prague) from 2008. Allard's review lists it as IPP 29 (San Francisco) from 2009, and my bag has IPP 30 (Japan) 2010 listed and a different name for the puzzle! So what was really going on? Sadly I can't tell you, but it was an IPP 29 exchange puzzle. Both Allard's bag, and my info sheet which came with the puzzle list IPP 29, and have IPP 28 crossed out. Whatever happened, I'm glad that this one made it out as it was worth the wait.

This is a real gem, and if you can get your hands on one, don't hesitate!


Sandfield's ReBanded Dovetails

Sandfield's ReBanded Dovetails

During the Exchange, Robert's puzzle this year was the ReBanded Dovetails. When he exchanged this puzzle box, he mentioned that he'd had Kathleen remake the boxes as apparently some people had managed to open the Banded Dovetail, so this was to resolve that issue. A fun little story, and a nice way to present the new puzzle.

As you can see, the appearance is very similar to the Banded Dovetails puzzle. Made by Kathleen, and designed by both Robert Sandfield and Kathleen Malcolmson you know that there's going to be something clever going on. This one is made from Baltic Birch plywood, Walnut and Lacewood. Plywood isn't the sort of material that you'd expect to find in a puzzle box, but given the striking striped appearance and great finish, I really like the look of it. The wonderful snake skin like appearance of the lacewood really sets the box off nicely. Measuring 3.2" x 2.5" x 1.5" it's slightly larger than the Banded Dovetails, but only slightly. Of course the outer appearance is where any similarity ends.

Again when you pick it up, there's a rattling from inside, and if you've already solved the Banded Dovetails, you might think that this gives you a clue. Well, prepare to be disappointed! Requiring a few more moves than the previous puzzle this one is every but as well crafted. I managed to open this one far faster than the first, taking less than 5 minutes, but I enjoyed it every bit as much.

This is a clever and well made box, with a couple of nice tricks up its sleeve and the mechanism is very well hidden. Hat's off to Kathleen again there.

Both of these are great puzzles, and I'd say don't hesitate to add them to your collection if you get a chance.