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Monday, 31 October 2011

Gathering For Gardner - Celebration Of Mind II (G4G CoM II)

Since 1993 gatherings have been held in order to honour the achievements of Martin Gardner. Martin is probably best known for his decades of work in the field of recreational mathematics, but his interests spanned many subjects including philosophy, magic and (unsurprisingly) puzzles. Check out these links if you would like to read more about Martin's fascinating life and the Gathering For Gardner Foundation.

Sadly Martin passed away last year, but he expressed a wish for the Gatherings For Gardner to continue and as such the 'Gathering For Gardner - Celebration Of Mind' carried on. This year was the second of these events to take place, and many gatherings were hosted all over the world on or around October the 21st, Martin's Birthday.

When I attended the 100th Camden Puzzle Gathering a couple of months ago I heard from fellow puzzler Laurie that this year James Dalgety and his wife Lindsey would be hosting a G4G CoM at their home, also known as the Puzzle Museum. Needless to say I was slightly more than enthusiastic to be a part of it.

It was a three hour drive to get to the Puzzle Museum, and actually finding the place was possibly the hardest puzzle that I had to solve over that weekend! If James hadn't put G4G signs out leading to his house I'd probably still be lost somewhere in the country.

Upon arriving I was greeted by several of the other enthusiastic attendees, some of which I had met before, but most were new faces. Then I was directed into the main 'Puzzle Room'. Words can't adequately describe my first thoughts upon entering this room, but hopefully this picture that was taken the next day will give you some idea:

My mind couldn't quite take in all of it at once. I was asked if there was anything in particular that I was interested in seeing, but when confronted this sheer magnitude of puzzles I couldn't think of anything!
I probably spent the first 20 minutes or so just looking around the room in all of the cabinets.

The majority of us spent most of our time around the table in this room, solving and chatting. Only occasionally did we wander out for some food and drink that was very kindly organised for us by Lindsey.

James did a couple of museum tours for people who hadn't visited before, so this was a good opportunity for me to see many interesting things that I perhaps would've missed if James wasn't pointing them out along the way. The room you see in the picture above is only one of several puzzle rooms, so it was easy to miss many things whilst looking around. Here are some of the things that I saw whilst being shown around the Puzzle Museum:

Puzzle Library
On the ceiling
Categorised puzzle drawers
Impossible objects
Ivory puzzles
Puzzle jugs

I can't possibly go into detail for everything that I saw and solved, but I will go through a few of the things which really stood out for me.

I was very happy to see the collection of beautiful anodised aluminium puzzles by Robert Rose (R.D. Rose). I have seen cheap copies of some of these puzzles, and the originals really do make the copies look quite terrible. The fit and finish on these puzzles is perfect, and the movements are very smooth considering that they are made from metal. It's really is such a shame that these puzzle are in such short supply as the demand for metal puzzles of this quality is extremely high.

Here is a cabinet that is stacked full of original geometric puzzles by prolific puzzle designer Stewart Coffin. I had only ever seen a couple of his original puzzles before, so it was quite an experience to see this many of them in one go. I didn't take any of them apart because I would've had to put them back together again, and knowing how difficult Stewart's puzzles tended to be I decided that it would be best to adopt the 'look but don't touch' attitude.

Edward Hordern was the agent to Frank Chambers, so he had all of his puzzle designs. Now as his entire collection was passed on to James they can be found at the Puzzle Museum. Frank made most of his puzzles from corian, which is mainly known as being used for kitchen worktops. I did get a chance to solve quite a few of them, and they are all really nicely manufactured with very clever mechanisms. Corian is a strange but very nice material, it would be great if other puzzle makers considered using it to realise their own designs.

After I had told James that my main interest was in puzzle boxes he took out a few of Akio Kamei's works from the cupboard for me to take a look at. Here you can see the Toaster, Radio and Parabox. The toaster I managed to solve after 10 minutes or so, but Parabox I just couldn't do in a reasonable time. This turned out to be a big issue, because although I hate leaving great puzzles unsolved, there were just so many to see and so little time to see them in, so on occasion I reluctantly had to move on. The Radio gave me quite a bit of a laugh as the solution was not entirely what I expected. And the solved state is a little...chaotic. It took a particularly 'elegant' touch from Laurie Brokenshire to get this one open, as I wasn't being quite 'elegant' enough. It turns out that this puzzle is much easier if you grew up in the era of valve radios, as Kamei's works designs tend to link up the aesthetics of the puzzle with the solution.

After being overwhelmed by all of the puzzle boxes in the cabinets, imagine how I felt when James mentioned that he had all of Kamei's boxes! As well as the shelves there were around six drawers full of them! I won't add all of the pictures here, but as always take a look at my G4G Photo Album where you will find over 100 photos from my very puzzling weekend.

Looking around the room it was hard to miss the huge bronze puzzle sculptures that although I instantly recognised as works by Miguel Berrocal I had never actually seen one in the 'real world'. These are probably some of the most beautiful works within the puzzle world, and they combine both puzzle and art in equal measure. Considering the rather hefty price tag on them I was very surprised to hear James encouraging me to take one apart. So I did! This one that you can see on the left was only comprised of about eight pieces, but it weighed an absolute tonne! It wasn't particularly difficult (even thought James helpfully scrambled up my neatly arranged pieces) but it was great fun to solve. After this James suggested that I try another, and of course I couldn't resist. So the next one that James took off the shelf was called 'Romeo & Juliet', and it was clear from the start that this one would be somewhat more difficult.

There were more pieces.....a lot more pieces! And several of the pieces were hinged. I took this sculpture apart with not much difficulty, and then spent well over an hour trying to get it back together again. Laurie spent most of this hour supporting me by mocking my lack of progress. Jeremy Goode joined me for a while to try and fathom this puzzle, but still it remained unsolved. Because of the hinged pieces it had to be solved in a specific sequence, and I had to keep disassembling it in order to put new pieces in. Again (and this is the defence that I'm sticking with) this fell into the realm of 'puzzles I'm sure I would've solved if I had more time'. James eventually came over and mercifully gave me the solution book, and with that I managed to have it back together again after another 15 minutes. But it was still hard going! Laurie has photographic evidence of me reading a solution manual....I really do need to destroy that evidence at some point.

Later in the evening everyone settled down in the front room, and this was used as a time for everyone to give little presentations to the rest of the group. These could be on anything related to Martin, puzzles, magic, maths or a number of other subjects. There were some great talks on maze design, puzzle realisation and manufacturing, chess problems, text adventures etc. Including a couple of displays of magic! It was great to be able to meet and hear from people who have held these interests a lot longer than I have. The picture on the left shows Jeremy Goode giving everyone a talk on how he came up with the idea for his Xmatrix puzzles, and how they eventually became a reality.

After the presentations everyone went back to chatting and puzzling. And as it was getting dark people were starting to head off home. I originally planned to leave at about 9pm to get home for midnight, but I lost track of time a bit and found myself still there well past 10. I didn't have anywhere else to be the next morning, so after a call to my ever understanding other half I took up the kind offer from James to stay the night. By this point only six puzzlers remained (including James), and we were up puzzling well into the early hours. This would normally mean a lie in, but as there were still one or two (or try 50,000) puzzles left unsolved, we went back to puzzling again. I spent a decent portion of the evening solving many of the Karakuri Christmas presents, which I have to say being a puzzle box lover I really enjoyed! I'll write up more about some of these individually in months and years to come, but pictures of them can as always be found in my puzzle photo album.

The next morning after breakfast we all spent some more time puzzling....for a change. James showed myself and Jeremy his incredible Scannavini Puzzle Cabinet, which is a real masterpiece of fine detail and workmanship, especially considering that it was crafted in 1870! Every aspect of it wasn't quite what it seemed. There were hidden switches, hinges and drawers everywhere. Follow the link above for a bit more information on the cabinet, including some really nice close-up shots of the intricate carvings. 

Well, I know that I have missed out a whole load of interesting things from this event, but as this blog post was starting to look a wee bit long I've had to scale it back a bit. I honestly could go on and on about my visit, there is just so much worth mentioning and talking about.
I have to say a huge thank you to both James and Lindsey for inviting me to this event at their home, it was a wonderful experience that I will remember and most likely be talking about for a long time to come! And of course thank you to all of the other attendees who really made the weekend as interesting and entertaining as it turned out to be.

Like I've mentioned I haven't covered everything here, but do check out my G4G CoM II Photo Gallery for loads more puzzling pictures. And please do leave any comments/questions etc. using the comment thingy below this post.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Magic Billet Box

This is a very solid puzzle box that I obtained quite a while ago now directly from the designer & manufacturer living in Oregon (US); Eric Krusen.

It is called the Magic Billet Box, and it is definitely not one of those puzzle boxes that you would be worried about someone breaking by accident. Here is a little about the box written by Eric:
"Our goal is to create a unique one-of-a-kind keepsake item CNC machine made from the highest of quality material where the end results will be a remarkable piece of art displaying the logo of your choice. We pride ourselves on the ability to personalize and detail these Magic Billet Boxes with such defined precision. These Magic Billet Boxes are extremely high quality pieces and will last a life time."
And considering that all of these boxes are CNC machined from solid aluminium I'm pretty certain that he is right in saying that they will last a lifetime.

The generic version of this box is plain non-anodised aluminium, but as you can see from my picture I decided to go for the black version. I thought it looked cooler, and it was also about $10 cheaper than the plain one. At first I was a little bit worried that the anodised colour would start to scratch and wear off over time, but I've had it for quite a while now and even though it has been puzzled over many times it isn't showing any signs of wear at all.

Looking at the puzzle to begin with it can be quite hard to find where the lid actually is due to the precision machined lid and dovetail sliders. One of the perks of getting the black version is that it makes the joins of the lid more difficult for the eye to see. Once you have worked out where the lid is it is pretty trivial to remove it completely. While doing so it isn't hard to notice that there are some very strong magnets at work in this little box. And once the lid is open you will still find yourself staring at a closed box. Very odd indeed. This is the main puzzle aspect at work here, and I have seen it confuse both amateur and avid puzzlers in equal measure.

The solution is simple and yet very satisfying. Even though it may be tempting to resort to lots of force it is completely unnecessary. Sadly I accidentally saw a video showing the solution to this puzzle, so I can't give an account of how difficult I found it, but judging by other puzzlers that I have seen pick it up it is not too difficult, normally not taking more than five minutes.

When ordering a Magic Billet Box you can specify from two different types of opening mechanism, and one of these requires an extra step compared with the other. If you were looking to own one of these and really wanted to enjoy solving it I would recommend you do not visit the site yourself and that you get someone else to order it for you making sure that they ask for the more difficult mechanism. Sadly the site shows pictures and video of the solution, which I'm not a fan of, and that is why I'm not including a link until the end of this post in order to give you guys the fair warning that I didn't have.

This puzzle is available from between $55 and $150. There are some really cool anodised and engraved versions available as well as the ability for you to request custom designs. All of these can be found on the dedicated site here: Magic Billet Box (CAUTION: THERE BE SPOILERS)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Dice (Akio Kamei)

It's been quite a while since I last posted about a puzzle box, and considering they really are my favourite puzzle genre I think it's about time I got around to it again. And as luck would have it a fellow puzzler has kindly just loaned me this particularly clever box!

This is the 'Dice' puzzle box from Akio Kamei, member of the very well known Japanese puzzle box company the Karakuri Creation Group. The original design was originally thought up by Kamei in 1997, but was then slightly modified and improved into the 2008 version seen here in the picture. This version
It is very simple in appearance (which is something that I tend to quite like when it comes to puzzle boxes), however it is not quite so simple as a puzzle. The outer panels are made from walnut, which gives the box a great feel and a nice weight, and it is medium sized at 8cm cubed. The outer panels of the box have the indented numbers 1 to 6 that you would expect to see on any dice, and these show through the lighter wood internals of the puzzle box giving a nice contrast again the walnut.

When first picking up this box you will most likely find that none of the usual stuff seems to happen. None of the outer panels will move, no matter how you seem to push, pull or slide them. After solving it for myself I reckon that it is very unlikely that anyone would be able to solve this puzzle simply by chance. You will need to use your observation skills and apply a bit of logic before this box will open up to you.

It's quite hard for myself to pin a difficulty rating on the Dice box as although I managed to solve if fairly quickly I know of several puzzlers that spent a significant amount of time on it. I guess it really depends on how the mind of each individual puzzler works coupled with their past experience of other puzzles.
The solution itself is extremely clever and quite complex, and I could understand how some people could take a while to work it out. If however you stop and think logically about what you are looking at then there is a good chance you will be able to solve it in a very reasonable time.

This is one of the more popular (and cheaper) puzzle boxes in the Karakuri series, and as such it tends to be often available from the usual suspects: Puzzle MasterKarakuri & PuzzleBoxWorld to name a few.

Also check out Brian's thoughts on the 1997 version of this puzzle box with the same mechanism.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Bi-CycLe (Vinco)

I came across this curious put-together puzzle for the first time last month at the 100th Camden Puzzle Gathering. It was both designed and manufactured by Vinco (Václav Obšivač) in the Czech Republic.

It is called Bi-CycLe, and it was Laurie Brokenshire's exchange puzzle at this years International Puzzle Party in Berlin (IPP31). I met Laurie for the first time at the Camden Gathering, and it was he who handed me a copy to try out. While I was at the gathering I had this puzzle in my hands for a decent portion of the evening, and I had completely failed to solve it! So that was definitely a good indication that this was likely to be a great puzzle. A friend of mine bought a copy of this puzzle from Laurie on the evening, and very kindly loaned it to me, so although I completely failed to solve it there and then I was given a chance to redeem myself later on.

Here's a bit of what Laurie has to say about the puzzle:
"By a strange coincidence it is possible to make at least one solid structure with these Bi-pieces; the target shape has 5 planes of symmetry and holds together extremely well. Since we're talking about Bi-CycLe here, though, the finished solution also has 4 axes of rotational symmetry of order 2, to represent Laurie & Ethel's 4 wheel axles (and 1 axes of order 4 as well, to represent the pedals!?)."

The puzzle itself is made from cherry, and is comprised of twelve balls and ten rods, but these are glued together to form two very interesting identical pieces. The main thing that makes these pieces interesting is that the pieces have a sort of 'free-wheeling' element to them. It's hard to describe, but check out the pictures. Three balls are connected in a circle to each other with the rods acting as spacers, and these completely encircle another set of three balls and two rods which are connected in an 'L' shape. I've not come across anything quite like this before in an assembly puzzle.

Because of the nature of the pieces I really didn't know where to begin other than sort of squashing the two pieces together to see what would happen. Unsurprisingly every time I tried this I ended up with the same two pieces, so there was clearly more to it than that. I managed to come very close to solving it quite a few times, but one of the balls would always end up being at the wrong end of the puzzle.

Eventually I did manage to solve Bi-CycLe, but it took me far longer than I had expected. I must've spent a good hour on it before working it out. There is a really nice twist to the solution, and as Laurie mentioned above the final assembly is incredibly sturdy. It's very unlikely that it would fall apart by itself.

For some more of Vinco's puzzles check out Vinco's own website and Puzzle Master's Vinco page.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

One Piece Packing Puzzle / Clive Box / Pack It In (Simon Nightingale)

Here is a really unassuming little packing problem standing at only 1.75" tall, designed by English puzzle designer and manufacturer Simon Nightingale. And this particular copy was manufactured in a limited run of 42 copies by Eric Fuller.

It was released by Eric Fuller under the name of the 'One Piece Packing Puzzle', but it has also been called by the names 'Pack It In' and the 'Clive Box'. It was called the 'Clive Box' when it was used by Simon Nightingale as his exchange puzzle for the International Puzzle Party held in London in 1999 (IPP19).

What a brilliant looking puzzle! It looks to be made entirely from exotic wood, but looks (as always) can be extremely deceiving. The object here is glaringly obvious; pack the cube (and yes, it is a perfect cube) into the box that is just the right size to hold it.
When I picked it up for the first time I knew there would be more to it than that, so I wasn't too surprised to find that no matter how I put the cube into it's box it insisted on jumping back out again. From the feel of the resistance I could tell that there were definitely some form of magnetic repulsion going on there, but even after flipping the cube the other way it still refused to be packed into the box!

After about ten minutes or so I managed to get the tricky little blighter to sit still in it's box, but I had to do this a few more times to truly understand why this puzzle was acting in such an unusual way. Now that I have it properly figured out I am really impressed with it! This puzzle implements a very interesting property of magnets that many people are not aware of, as I wasn't until very recently.

It's not a very difficult puzzle, and it does work on a sort of 'trial and error' solving method rather than an entirely logical approach, but it is truly brilliant! I love the fact that you can hand it to someone without saying a word and they will know exactly what has to be achieved. Also the quality of Eric's workmanship on this particular run is once again outstanding. I also recently got to see a copy of Simon's exchange version, and they are very similar in both size and build style to Eric's, so I assume that Eric worked his designs directly off from an original.

Sadly this puzzle is currently not available as Eric made these back in 2008, and like most items that go up on Cubic Dissection they sold out very shortly after release. I was lucky enough to be loaned this particular copy from a generous fellow puzzler that I met during my recent visits to the Camden Puzzle Gatherings. But if a copy ever does come up in the future I definitely won't hesitate to add one to my collection.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Houdini's Torture Cell (Brian Young)

Here's another puzzle that arrived from the Netherlands along with the Cast Donuts courtesy of Wil Strijbos.

It is called 'Houdini's Torture Cell' and it was designed and manufactured by Brian Young of Mr. Puzzle in Australia. This puzzle was also used as Brian Young's exchange puzzle at this year's IPP in Berlin (IPP31) where it proved to be a big hit, so much so that Brian is now selling them on his site.

It's a nice looking puzzle made of wood, steel and acrylic, and as you can see from the picture on the right it is actually quite small, standing at only 9.5cm tall. For some reason I expected it to be somewhat larger than it really is.
What you see here is a metal ball bearing (Houdini) trapped within the confines of it's wood and acrylic torture cell. The ball rattles around inside the acrylic tube which is capped with wooden end pieces. The wooden end pieces are also screwed to the acrylic tube and all of this is then nicely mounted on top of the wooden block base.

You will immediately start finding interesting things going on with this puzzle as soon as you pick it up, and a key thing here is to remember that age old bit of puzzling advice; Not everything is necessarily quite what it may seem.

Your job here is to save the ball bearing from it's torturous fate by removing it from it's acrylic prison, and it is great fun to do! Brian also makes sure to mention that "no hitting or banging is necessary to solve it", which is always a plus in my book.

EDIT: I made a small mistake there. The wooden peg represents Houdini, hanging by his feet from the ceiling of the acrylic torture chamber. This being representative of Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Cell which originally came about in 1911.

The puzzle aspect was actually taken from a part of one of Brian's limited edition works called the Opening Bat, and it was a puzzle step that was widely enjoyed by many who tried it. But the Opening Bat is pretty expensive so it's great that this was introduced in such a way that more puzzlers would be able to experience it.

I did not find this puzzle to be hugely difficult, with the solving process taking around 5-6 minutes, but it really is a lot of fun! I keep picking it up to solve again and again just for kicks!
The first couple of steps come pretty naturally, but one step is particularly clever and very innovative! This step took me the longest amount of time to work out how to do reliably. It is possible to make the solving experience easier with a bit of shaking, but this would ruin the best part of the solution, and why would anyone want to deprive themselves of that?

This is such a good puzzle and I would urge anyone that happens to be after a great example of the 'sequential discovery' puzzle type for a very reasonable price to consider picking one of these up. It is currently available from Wil Strijbos personally or through the designer Mr. Puzzle in Australia.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Cast Donuts

This is the newest puzzle in the Cast Series from Japanese puzzle manufacturer Hanayama, and a very nice looking one too as far as I'm concerned. They have only been released in Japan so far, so I was happily surprised to get an email from Wil Strijbos offering them for sale!

It's called the 'Cast Donuts', and it's pretty obvious how that name came about. It was designed by Vesa Timonen, who also designed the great looking Cast Loop.
Like most of Hanayama's puzzles this one is also made from solid cast metal which has been given a very nice chrome-style finish. I do like the fact that this one has also used the contrasting 'bright' and 'dark' chrome style, it really shows the definition between the two 'halves' of the puzzle.

At first glance it looks like the puzzle is made up of two ring pieces, but obviously that cannot be the case. In fact this is a four piece puzzle with each of the rings assembled in pairs. There's nothing hidden here, what you see is pretty much what you get.

The Donuts actually hold their final assembled shape really well. There is a bit of rattling but not enough to make the puzzle feel sloppy.

The idea here (like the name choice) is also pretty obvious, you are looking to fully disassemble the puzzle into it's four pieces and then reassemble it. In some ways the Donuts resemble the Cast Marble, which still is my absolute favourite puzzle from the Cast Series thus far.

There is a real elegance to solving the puzzle, and just like the Marble it requires a little bit of precision as well. However after talking to a few other puzzlers it turns out that it also possible to 'force' a solution, and many amateur puzzlers are likely to find that solution first and think that it is correct. As a general rule; if you're trying to squeeze something through a gap then you're doing it wrong.

I didn't find this puzzle particularly difficult and ended up solving it within five minutes or so, but that could be because of my experience with the Cast Marble and the similarities between the two. Hanayama rate this as a level 4 out of 10, however I would say that it should be a level 3 at the most.

It may not be particularly difficult however this is a very nice looking puzzle with a very elegant solution (if you do it correctly). For the price I'd say that you can't go wrong with adding one of these to your collection.

Like I said my copy of this puzzle came from Wil Strijbos in the Netherlands, and as they haven't been officially released outside of Japan yet (at the time of writing) he is probably the only source of them for at the moment. Please let me know via my email at the bottom of this page if you are after a copy and I'll make sure to pass his details over to you.

EDIT: The Cast Donuts are now available from Puzzle Master and Sloyd!
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