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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.


  1. Wow...that's all I can say! :)

  2. Nice one Oli, something to remember!

  3. Wow, sounds like an awesome puzzling event! I would point out that the "G4G" conferences in Atlanta do not exclusively feature puzzles. A lot of people attending are mathematicians or magicians with only a tangential interest in puzzles. They are still fantastic conferences, but not so puzzle-centric.

  4. You are quite right George. I think puzzles took centre stage here mostly because of the location and people in attendance.

  5. Oli, thanks for the write up and puzzle photos...I really like the one showing the RD Rose puzzles!


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