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Friday, 30 September 2011

Popplock T5

Someone recently pointed out to me that I have managed to review all of Rainer Popp's Popplock Series......apart from one. Somehow I managed to miss the T5 out, so best get to it!

This is the Popplock T5, which is (unsurprisingly) the 5th puzzle lock in the well known Popplock Series by German designer Rainer Popp. It is the the largest and heaviest in the series. It stands at 11cm tall and weighs in at a whopping 900 grams. If you were to drop this on your foot I promise that you would notice! The main reason for this mahoosive weight other than the large size is the fact that the whole main body of the lock is milled from solid brass block, and the shackle is stainless steel. This is one of those puzzles that you know is expensive as soon as you pick it up. Even the key is made to be heavy and solid, so even I would've had trouble breaking this one!

The shackle on the T5 is actually quite interesting and stands apart from the rest of the locks in the series. It was modelled on the old 'bullring' style of padlock in which the shackle is a circular loop with a gap in it, and it can spin around freely within the main body of the padlock once it has been unlocked.

The T5 requires four steps to open, and in my opinion the first three are pretty easy to find. I found that the real charm of this puzzle really comes from the final step, and I can't deny that it is a incredibly clever! In comparison with the rest of the series I would rate this as quite easy. I reckon that most puzzlers will be able to solve this one in half the time it takes to solve either the T2 or the T4.

The T5 is a brilliantly crafted puzzle lock, with a very clever final step to the solution, however I personally don't feel that the total puzzle aspect of it measures up to the hefty price tag of around £200 ($300).
The T5 is pretty hard to come by now, and currently I don't believe that there are any retailers that still hold stock of them, so the only way to come by them is through sales from private collections.

Right, that's the whole Popplock Series done (for now)! Have a read of my other Popplock reviews:

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Cast Devil / Twins / Devil's Claws

Many of you will have most likely worked out by now due to my lack of posts about them that I'm not a huge fan of disentanglement puzzles. This is mostly due to the fact that I have the uncanny ability to turn perfectly workable disentanglement puzzles into an incomprehensible, jumbled, nigh irreversible mess, usually within seconds. So I tend to steer clear of them in general. However there are the odd one or two which I have taken to, and that is usually because there is no way of screwing them up. Here is one of those puzzles:

This is a classic puzzle that you will see in loads of different places under many different names. I have no idea of who the original designer was but I believe it first came about somewhere around the very early 1900s. This particular one you see in the pictures was called 'Twins' and it was picked up from Village Games in Camden, but it is probably best known by it's most recent name of 'Cast Devil' as it was remade by Hanayama as one of their 'Cast' series of puzzles.

As you can see there are only two solid pieces, which is a big selling point for me not only because there is no way I can screw it up but also because the goal is immediately obvious. The two pieces are also identical, which is always a nice touch.

Although there are only two pieces the puzzle is not trivial, but not exceptionally difficult either. The first thing I did is work out how the two pieces would have to go together in order to get tangled, and then I worked backwards from there to suss out the solving sequence. I think it took me only a few minutes to work out how to solve it reliably, but it could take a while longer if I had tried to 'force' a solution by random jumbling rather than working it out logically. Hanayama rate it as a level 4 out of 6, which is a little high in my opinion. I would rate it more as a low level 3.

If you were to take the two separate pieces of this puzzle and drop them together right in front of someone it is likely that they still won't be able to pull them straight apart, which is also quite cool if you like torturing people with puzzles like I do.

All-in-all a very nice puzzle! Even if you don't like disentanglement puzzles I would definitely recommend giving this one a go. And it is currently available from Puzzle Master along with the rest of the Cast series.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Quad Gear

Okay, I know that this isn't exactly a puzzle (again), but I thought it was pretty cool and definitely worth a quick mention.

Here's a curious little toy that Eric Fuller of Cubic Dissection released a batch of a couple of months ago, and then a few more in his latest batch. They must've been quite popular as they seem to be sold out again!

It's called the Quad Gear Toy, and the thing that makes it such a cool item is the fact that even though the gears are all oval shaped and attached on an off-centre axis they still turn simultaneously together with a perfect (and quite hypnotic) motion. When it first arrived I found myself just turning it round and round in my hands for ages in awe at the movement. And I still can't help picking it up whenever I walk past it.

They aren't actually designed my Eric, but they have been precision machined to Eric's very high standards. The gears are black acrylic, the connecting rods are clear acrylic and these are all connected using stainless steel screws. It definitely doesn't feel flimsy, and it's only 3.5 inches across!

Right, I promise to get back to talking about puzzles again now..............probably.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Camden Lock Puzzle Gathering No.100

Back in February I wrote about my first time attending a regular puzzle gathering that takes place on the first Wednesday of every month at the Lockside Lounge in Camden, London (check out my blog post), which is right next to Village Games. I had a great time there, met some really nice people and saw some really awesome puzzles. So when I heard word from Ray & Barbara (owners of Village Games) that the next one coming up on the 7th of September would be their 100th gathering I knew I would have to be there!

I arranged to head over straight after work and meet up with my good puzzle friend Ali outside Village Games so that we could have a little browse through the shop before joining everyone for the puzzle festivities in the Lockside Lounge. I knew that I should take a puzzle with me to share with the group, but I didn't want to take a bag and I was worried about carrying anything delicate in my pocket on the train, so I opted to take one of the Aluminium Burr's from Wil Strijbos as there was no chance of that breaking on the journey.

When I met up with Ali outside Village Games the first thing he did was hand me his new copy of the 4 Steps Visible Lock, which was the Jury Grand Prize winner by Robrecht Louage at this years International Puzzle Party (IPP31) in Berlin. Needless to say I was really happy to be able to get my hands on this puzzle as I just loved the look of it when it came up as one of the IPP entries. I'll write a proper review of that later, but this sort of set the tone for the evening where I would be passed great new puzzles from left, right and centre!

Now here's some photos from the evening. A huge thank you to Laurie for letting me steal his photos as I managed to forget my camera! At least I managed to remember to take a puzzle eh?

I feel a bit bad as there were so many people in attendance that I just didn't get the chance to speak to. Several of them I had met before at the last gathering, but there were many who I knew purely by reputation (mostly good reputations I might add), and had been attending these gathering for many years. As an example I was told that Robert Reid has attended over 90 of the 100 gatherings!

There was plenty of food being handed around during the whole evening, including a couple of really nice cheesecakes home-made by Barbara. Although I have to admit that food took a bit of a back seat to all of the puzzles floating around.

At one point I was handed the Tri Again puzzle to attempt to solve, which I managed to complete after about 10 minutes or so. During that time a guy leaned over and said "I designed that!". And that's how I met Frank Potts! Again I'll talk more about Tri Again in a proper blog review as it was a puzzle I hugely enjoyed. It may even have become one of my new favourite burr puzzles!

Another couple of puzzlers that I had the pleasure of meeting were a couple of 'long-term afflicted' puzzlers; Laurie and Ethel Brokenshire. Laurie also treated several of us to a few close-up magic tricks that I really enjoyed. I can understand why it is said that puzzling and magic are closely related. I may have to learn some magic for myself when I next get the chance.

The next several hours were spent doing lots more chatting and puzzling, during which I tried out several of the exchange puzzles from this year IPP. One of these that I tried very hard to solve was Laurie's exchange called 'Bi-Cycle' which was a interlocking put-together puzzle made by Vinco. Despite my efforts I was not able to solve this puzzle before I left, but as Ali picked up a copy there I'll definitely be giving it another go at some point soon! I don't like being bested by a puzzle.
Another puzzler brought along his copy of the 51 Pound Box designer and made by Eric Fuller, which is beautifully made although not very difficult. I'll try and get some photos of that to write about it too. I really wish that I didn't forget my camera! I won't be making that mistake again.

After a while we all stopped for a quick breather in which Ray was given a very special and (I've been lead to believe) very difficult puzzle box as a thank you for hosting 100 of these little puzzle gatherings. The name of the puzzle eludes me for now, so someone please leave me a comment if you happen to know the name.

All-in-all I had a brilliant time! And if you ever happen to be free for the evening on the first Wednesday of the month then I really recommend you try and get to one of these. You'll get to meet a whole load of people that are nicer and more welcoming than you can possibly imagine. Although it's very hard to find many puzzlers that aren't! I'll definitely be trying to get myself to as many of these future gatherings that I can.

I'll most likely be adding to this blog post as I think of more things that happened that evening that I want to mention. I met so many new people and saw so many new puzzles that I was a bit overwhelmed!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

6 Ring Burr Ball (George Miller)

Okay, so this isn't exactly a mechanical puzzle in the strictest sense of the word, but it is a clever object nonetheless.

 This is the 6 Ring Burr Ball, which is an Impossible Object design from the prolific puzzle prototyper George Miller, and it was George's exchange puzzle at this years International Puzzle Party in Berlin (IPP31).
As the name suggests this is a ball, made up of six ring shaped pieces with burr-like connections between them. The pieces are all made from clear acrylic which has been laser cut into the ring shapes. The acrylic seems to be only around 1mm thick, but because of the inherent flexibility of the material it is surprisingly sturdy.

The puzzle aspect with this is to try and work out how the object itself was actually assembled. Because each of the pieces is interlocked  into every other piece in opposing directions there seems to be no way of disassembling the puzzle without breaking one or more of the pieces in the process.

After much inspection and cogitation (guess work) I think that I have found a method in which this object could have been assembled, but I'm really not sure.

I saw this for sale on my last visit to Village Games in London, and as I have a bit of a new found soft spot for Impossible Objects, plus the fact that I love acrylic, there was no way that I could leave it behind.

It looks superb sitting on my table, and I really hope I get the chance to own some more of George Miller's acrylic puzzles in the future.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

SmartEgg Visit (Hungary)

A while ago now Bernhard Schweitzer mentioned that he had come across a very interesting puzzle called the SmartEgg whilst at the Nuremberg Toy Fair earlier this year, and after seeing some photos of them I could immediately tell why he thought they were good enough to mention.
The puzzles themselves are made by a private woodworker in Hungary called András Zagyvai, and as I was going to be visiting Hungary in a couple of months I thought it would be a good idea to get in touch with András to see if he would be willing to allow me to come and see his puzzles and how he makes them. Luckily for me András and his partner Nóra are lovely people and kindly agreed to me paying them a quick visit.

The family home on the farm
András, Nóra and their two children live on a small farm about half an hours train journey from Hungary's capital Budapest (where I was staying), so I hopped on the train, called Nóra to let her know I was on the way and she said she'd meet me at the station on the other end.
When I arrived at the station I was really touched to see that the whole family had come to the station to greet me, and from there it was about a 1km drive to their home.

I absolutely loved their home! I honestly wish I could live on a little farm like this one. Definitely makes a nice change from living in the crowded city.

The SmartEgg collection
Now shortly after arriving András opened a case he had ready sitting on the dining table, and I was in awe of what was in there! I had no idea that there were this many different shapes and designs of SmartEgg! Plus they were actually bigger and quite a bit more sturdy than I expected them to be.

The designs vary from the very basic puzzle aimed at teaching small children hand-eye coordination and thinking skills all the way up to incredibly complex puzzles with three inner rotating labyrinths that have to be manipulated without being able to directly see them.

The idea of the SmartEgg is to negotiate the wooden rod (seen on the left) from the start hole all the way to the exit hole. The rod can pass all of the way through the puzzle to the other side in some designs, and because there is a ball on either end of the rod it cannot be removed unless it is either at the start or finishing points.
The solving motion on the complex multi-layered puzzles is very hard to describe, but you can see a great video on the SmartEgg site that will probably explain it better than I can anyway.

As you can see from some of these other photos some of the eggs are beautifully finished with oil to give them a really nice quality shine. Plus I believe it also makes the wood stronger as a result. Also in some of these pictures you can see some more of the internal workings, and they can get pretty complex. In most of the puzzles you can manipulate the internal labyrinth layers by rotating the two ends, but in some designs the innermost layer is not attached to either of the ends or the main body, so the only way to move it is with the stick, and as you cannot see what you are doing you will have to feel the way.

After showing me his collection of designs András offered to show me his small workshop where he creates the SmartEggs, and this was something that I was very interested to see!

I was amazed by the fact that András only uses two machines to create the eggs! One was a lathe and the other was a sort of drilling and milling rig which has a pivoting tray for moving the wood at different angles whilst drilling the holes and milling the channels.

First the wooden logs are turned into cylinders, then the holes and channels are put in. For some reason I expected that the holes and channels were done after the wood was turned into the egg shape, but in fact that is done beforehand. The channels of the labyrinth cannot be milled the full depth of the wood in one go, which is partly why it takes so long to manufacture each egg.

Each SmartEgg takes a total of around six weeks to make. Three of those weeks are spent purely on the design process, and then another three weeks are needed to actually create the egg itself.

Here are a few of the SmartEgg designs hanging up on the workshop wall. They look so simple, but I imagine the accuracy has to be spot-on in order for the puzzle to function. It's funny to think that these cardboard tube designs end up becoming those high-quality wooden puzzles I saw on the dining table.

Currently András only makes SmartEggs by custom order (which is not entirely surprising considering how long they take to make) so if you have any interest in owning one or learning more about them then get in touch via the SmartEgg site. Although be warned that due to the length of the design and manufacturing process the price per puzzle is very high. András is currently looking for a manufacturer to take over the design and start making the puzzles for mass market, but this is an ongoing process. I really hope that he finds a manufacturer soon as it would be a massive shame if these awesomely unique puzzles never reached it into most of our collections.

A huge thank you to both Nóra and András for letting me visit and for making me feel very welcome! I really appreciated the opportunity to see these brilliant puzzles.

For a few more SmartEgg photos (including a few more of the farm) check out my Flickr page.

EDIT: Now you can also check out Allard's SmartEgg Review!
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