Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Tel Arad

The 'Tel Arad' is perhaps one of the more unusual puzzles I have come across. Certainly its a category of puzzles you don't see everyday, although it does remind me of the snake cube/snake man type puzzle. 

This is the brainchild and creation of Yael Meron (Ms) from Israel, with whom I had to pleasure of exchanging puzzles with at IPP34 in London in 2014. 

The name of the puzzle (according to Yael) "is inspired by the ancient Israelite city of Arad, located west of the Dead Sea. The site is a Tel, which is a type of archaeological mound created by layers of human settlements over centuries"  For more info on Tel Arad, click here.

The puzzle which is produced by Yael herself consist of 9 acrylic squares (3 of each size) which is bound together by bands. The object is to stack the squares, one inside another in three layers. The puzzle in the solved state measures 5cm x 5cm x 2cm. Now these are not rubber bands that stretch, otherwise the puzzle won't be much of challenge but rather the bands are 'non-stretchable" and they hold the squares together (quite tightly) as shown in the photo.

The starting position is as shown per the accompanying instructions (and in the photo of the puzzle) and the puzzler must stack the squares as per the solved position. Stacking the squares would obviously require the folding of one square over another, the smaller squares going into the bigger ones and so on. Simple to say, but the puzzle is actually much more difficult than it looks. Initially I was pretty gentle with the folding and twisting as I was not sure how much stress the bands can withstand without breaking. After a bit of fiddling, I realised that if you don't apply brute force, the bands are actually quite strong.

Random trying here and there may help but some logical thinking will help you solve the puzzle faster and reduce the chances of wear and possible tear of the bands. 

Definitely a rather unusual puzzle indeed and one which results in an elegant solution that surprises, and also no undue force whatsoever is needed (although wriggling is permitted to turn the squares held by the bands). The difficulty level is just right for an exchange puzzle.

As far as I can tell, this puzzle being a private exchange puzzle, is not available anywhere except perhaps from the designer. PM me if anyone is interested to acquire one and I will link you up with Yael Meron.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Checking In

Steward Coffin's designs are typically not known to be easy and my puzzle of choice this weekend was no different.In fact it is probably one of the harder ones I have played with, considering the amount of time it took me to solve. This puzzle was Jerry Slocum's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle called "Checking In" and its Coffin's design #223.

Checking In was made by Brian Young of Mr Puzzle and comprises of Western Australian Jarrah for the tray and a combo of Jarrah and Queensland Silver Ash for the eight pieces. The puzzle measures about 10cm x 10cm x 1.5cm. According to Brian, this design has never been made before so its the first time design #223 has been produced. As usual, quality and construction is very good and the pieces with its two-tone colours looks fabulous.

The puzzle comes "semi-solved" and the goal is to fit one of the pieces packaged at the bottom of the frame flat into the tray together with the rest of the other seven pieces. Not only that but to also form a checkerboard pattern as well. Each of the eight pieces consist of dark and light squares and half squares (triangles) glued together. One look and it is obvious right from beginning that this one wasn't going to be easy. The pieces don't look like they can all fit into the tray. And the fact that its eight pieces already ups the the difficulty quotient by a few notches. 

I spent around two hours or so over several sessions trying to figure this one out. At first, random sort of packing, but usually this won't work when there are a large number of pieces. Then I tried logical deduction/reasoning, which I would say helps to some extent for this puzzle. Many a times, it was always the last one or two pieces that couldn't fit. But eventually the a-ha moment came when I adjusted the last few pieces and the tray accepted the last piece nicely...and in a checker board pattern too! A rather "interesting" solution I might add!

Not at all easy but not unduly frustrating either...although I would imagine that those who don't often play with packing puzzles could spend hours on Checking In and get no where. Mr Puzzle rates it a 6/10 for difficulty but I think it deserves a 6.5 or 7. If you are into packing puzzles (and given this is a Coffin design which is not easily available), Checking In should be on your must-have list. Available only from Mr Puzzle at a price of A$50/- 

For anyone who might want to take a look at the solution, please PM me via my blog email here.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Keys To The Kingdom

I am really hopeless at disentanglement wire puzzles, that's why I rarely, if ever buy any for my collection. However, now and again, I do get a couple during the IPP Puzzle Exchange. Occasionally I would look at the wire puzzles I have and decide if I should give one a go.

Well, Dick Hess' IPP34 exchange puzzle, Keys To The Kingdom caught my eye. And moreover, it didn't look that complicated and entangled, unlike some of the other string/wire puzzles I have come across. 

The Keys has not one but two (really four smaller separate) challenges. The first two consist of removing the two "key" from the upper squarish loop and the second is to join both keys into the lower circular loop.

Like many wire puzzles, the Keys at the beginning look like a bit of a jumbled mess impossible to take apart. But you know physically it is doable. But to my (pleasant) surprise, I actually managed to solve the first challenge of removing the two keys frustration free! Of course being lousy and inexperienced at such puzzles, I am am sure I took much longer than a seasoned wire puzzle expert. I was beginning to like wire puzzles already.

However, what took me about 20 minutes to solve the first challenge, I failed to replicate to the second task. Sadly I spend a good part of a whole afternoon without success. Finally I threw in the towel and referred to Dick's accompanying solution. However, despite the text and diagrams presented, which admittedly I did not fully quite comprehend, I still couldn't figure out how to link both keys to the bottom loop. I will have to drop Dick a note to ask for a better explanation.

No doubt I didn't solve the Keys completely, I still think it is a good wire puzzle to have because it not only provides two challenges but also allows a puzzler to have a couple of A-ha moments for the (easier) first challenge.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Dutch Souvenir Pack

This cute and quirky glass jar containing colourful clogs comes courtesy of Rob Hegge, who designed and produced the Dutch Souvenir Pack (DSP) as his PP36 exchange puzzle. 

The Dutch wooden clogs or Klompen are from the Netherlands and many are sold as tourist souvenirs. The jar is an ordinary looking glass jar with an airtight lid that locks; the type where you can fill it with jellybeans for kids. As far as the clogs are concerned, they appear to be those that can be easily bought off the street.

The DSP is a "3D" packing puzzle, if I can use such a definition and comes with 4 challenges, ranging from relatively easy to impossible:-

1. after removing the clogs and ball, place all 3 pairs of clogs into the bottle;
2. Same as above but close the lid
3. Same as 2 above but all the clogs must be below the lowest metal ring of the locking mechanism.
4. Same as 2 but include the rubber ball inside.

I solved challenges 1 to 3 but had absolutely no luck with 4. #3 was a tad more difficult since the the clogs had to occupy the correct position inside the jar below the lowest ring; hence some serious packing was needed, bu still manageable.

#4 was quite impossible for me! In fact it does look quite like an impossible object. I shall wait for the solution to appear in the IPP36 souvenir booklet to find out how to pack the ball in with the clogs.

As far as packing puzzles go, this one wins the prize for originality and aesthetics... and very appropriate as a (Dutch) souvenir, which doubles as a nice puzzle too!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The 3/4 Pack Puzzle

I have had several Dick Hess puzzles in my collection for some time now and he has designed and produced quite a number including both packing, sliding block and entanglement ones. I thought I would start off with something of his that is more manageable and the 3/4 Pack Puzzle fits the bill just right.

The 3/4 Pack Puzzle was Dick's IPP36 exchange puzzle in Kyoto last year. Its a 2D tray packing puzzle with six 3/4 discs. Manufactured by Walt Hoppe, it is made from laser cut Cherry wood and measures about 12.7cm x 9cm x 0.9cm. The tray and pieces are precision cut with tight tolerances. It even has a slot for one of discs for ease of storage when not in play

Typically for puzzles like this, where the fit is just right, I would place it in a dry box to make sure there is no expansion of the pieces due to the high humidity, which is what I did. One never knows if the inability to solve could have been due to expanded pieces which can't fit where it should.

The object is to place all six 3/4 discs flat into the square cavity. The puzzle comes with the solution sheet which shows that there are actually 8 ways to pack the pieces in. This explains why I didn't have too much trouble with this packing puzzle! But of the 8 ways 
(plus flipped pieces), only two are optimum (best) solutions and the rest go in descending order thereafter from 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th best solutions. I am proud to say my first attempt was actually one of the two "best" solutions!

The 3/4 Pack Puzzle is not too difficult and this is one of those packing puzzles that you can lay out all the pieces in the tray and slowly manipulate the pieces bit by bit to ensure every piece will fit inside. However, aside from the challenge perspective, I guess what's significant is also the math behind the design and the very precise manufacture of each and every copy to ensure that the puzzle works properly as intended. For those keen on the 3/4 Pack Puzzle or other Dick Hess puzzles, please PM me via my blog site email.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Loopy Box

"Loopy" in the English language means "mad or silly" or "having many loops". In the case of the Loopy Box puzzle, it is hardly the former (given its very difficult challenge quotient) but certainly the latter, as I shall try to describe below.

First off, its credentials; designed by Jean-Claude Constantin (now I haven't played with a JCC design for a long time, the last one in my hands was over 3 years ago; the Lock 250). It is also manufactured by him out of laser cut wood with the sides and bottom glued/screwed together to form a box. This puzzle was also Allard Walker's IPP35 Exchange Puzzle in Canada in 2015. 

The puzzle measures about 11cm x 10.5cm x 7.5cm and is essentially a box with a lid that is "locked" in place by a piece of thick rope (see photo). Quality and construction is very good, typical of the JCC standard. The object is to open the lid and solve a second puzzle inside, a modified Hanayama Cast Claw that has an extra U-shaped piece linking the two claws.

In the last few years Allard Walker has had this habit of making puzzle exchangers work really hard by exchanging not one but two puzzles at the same time (usually one contained inside the other; see Conjuring Conundrum and Baffling Bolted Book). Well, he is a gentleman of means and can afford it... and I for one is certainly not complaining, since I am getting two separate puzzles from him in one exchange! The second challenge after the box is open is to take apart the Cast Devil.

Now back to the puzzle; as one can observe, the only sensible way of opening the lid would be to remove the length of thick rope. But unfortunately this is hardly that simple as I found out. The rope passes through a hole in a vertical slat and holds the lid down. The rope itself is attached in some way to a dial (and what's underneath the numbers and inside can't be seen clearly if at all, I tried shining a torch but it didn't help). It would be obvious that the dial (which can turn in both directions) has something to do with the rope's release.

I spent an estimated three to four days trying to disentangle and release the rope and even read Kevin Sadler's experience with the Loopy Box hoping to find some clues. But Kevin, like all good puzzle bloggers gave little clues on his blog and his photos didn't indicate anything of use either. Nothing worked and after some more trying I gave up and asked Kevin for a clue. He said he was too busy during that time and he also had to find his copy from his collection of several thousand puzzles. Not forgetting, he is a busy doctor and also. has Mrs S (which I had the privilege of meeting at IPP34 in London) to spend time with too!), He did mention that it involved quite a bit of dexterity and that was all I had to go on. I left the Loopy Box alone. Fast forward to the present after several weeks, and I had a go at it again, but still no luck. After trying incessantly, I contacted Allard for help this time. Now why did't I contact Allard in the first place back then??

When I saw the solution from Allard I said to myself - damn!, now why didn't I think of it? The way to remove the rope is pretty clever (I am sure those disentanglement puzzle experts would have quite quickly figured it out) but the physical execution of the correct technique is more than fairly difficult (even when you know exactly what needs to be done). Everything was pretty fiddly and my only criticism is that perhaps the dial and other parts could have been made larger to accommodate bigger fingers! After more than several minutes, I finally freed the rope and opened the lid to face the second puzzle!

Nope - I didn't go on to the modified Cast Devil and decided I will leave it for another day. For all those interested, the Loopy Box is available from Puzzle Master in Canada for CA$52.99 and from Puzzle Shop in Germany for 35 Euros.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Cast Puzzle Vortex In A Bottle

Impossible object puzzles never cease to amaze me. They are really in a category of their own and generally, among mechanical puzzles, come far and few in between. Primarily because they are so hard to produce or "put together" into an impossible object. 

I always love it when I am able to get my hands on one. I have several really cool impossible objects in my collection including some "seemingly impossible" ones like the Puzzle Jam and 4 Street Elbows and the more "solvable" types like the Exchange Washington DC, Smiley In A Bottle and Coke Bottle #1.

This one here is the design and handiwork of Hiroaki Namba, who also gave us the Double Cast Puzzle Hook reviewed earlier. This impossible object was Mr Namba's IPP35 Exchange Puzzle in Ottawa, Canada in 2015. 

It consist of an ordinary bottle with a standard Hanayama Cast Vortex inside. I have never played with a Cast Vortex so can't comment on it, but it's rated 5 stars on the difficulty level quotient (meaning it's really very difficult) by Hanayama. And judging by the video solutions posted on YouTube, it looks extremely challenging to take apart just on its own, not to mention extracting it from a bottle.

No doubt of course Mr Namba would have found a way to twist and solve the Vortex into the bottle, and probably doing it in a very elegant way too! Inside the bottle, the Vortex cannot be taken out as it is obstructed by the narrow mouth of the bottle and the only way it seems would be to (partially) disengage the three parts before extraction.
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