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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Washer Cylinder (Wil Strijbos)

If you've been with my blog from the beginning you might remember that I reviewed a puzzle by the name of Aluminium Cylinder by one of my absolute favourite puzzle designers Wil Strijbos. That puzzle was probably the first 'high quality' puzzle that I bought, and I liked it so much that it pretty much kicked my puzzle madness up a gear.

Now imagine my excitement when Wil handed me a prototype of a new aluminium cylinder puzzle called the Washer Cylinder at the last Camden puzzle gathering for me to try out!

Washer Cylinder
Now Wil kindly let me hold onto this puzzle for the next three days after the Camden meet, and during that time I failed to solve it. Not only could I not open it, I literally couldn't make any progress with it whatsoever! Needless to say that this piqued my interest significantly, and I put in an order for one immediately!

There are obviously some glaring similarities between the Washer Cylinder and the original Aluminium Cylinder, but there are more differences than meet the eye. The Washer Cylinder is slightly larger overall, and the lid is wider than the original.

Aluminium Cylinder (Left) / Washer Cylinder (Right)
The bottom side of the Washer Cylinder is far more complex than the simple hole that was in the bottom of the original Aluminium Cylinder. There is a much larger hole, and inside that there is a trapped washer (hence the name) spinning freely around an aluminium rod attached to the main body of the puzzle.

The lid on this cylinder will spin freely. Very freely! The smooth movement makes it very obvious that there are once again ball bearings involved.

Washer Cylinder - Underside
Even though this puzzle took me longer to solve than the Aluminium Cylinder, I'd still class the mechanism as being easier to work out. But don't get me wrong, this is a difficult puzzle! Definitely not for the faint of heart.
I must've spent hours of on-and-off puzzling trying to solve this one. And as soon as I worked it out I was pretty happy to say the least! I spent ages staring at the mechanism afterwards to properly work it out. There are some very clever things going on inside this unassuming little cylinder.

It is a brilliant puzzle, and also a pretty impressive piece of mechanical engineering as well. Once again Wil has designed a winner. But honestly, I didn't expect anything less.

The Washer Cylinder is currently available either directly from Wil Strijbos or also from Sloyd in Finland. Drop me an email if you'd like his contact details.

Also, check out Allard's review of the Washer Cylinder!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Knitted Puzzle Cube

I hope each and every one of you had a great Christmas! And now that the new year is quickly approaching I thought I'd squeeze in a quick post (or two) before 2012.

This isn't so much one of my standard reviews, but there was no way that I could get away without mentioning this particular puzzling gift that I received for Christmas from my Other Half's Mum (AKA: Sally).

That's right! It's a knitted puzzle! A Soma Cube to be exact, which is possibly the most famous cube puzzle after the Rubik's Cube. I'd wager that most of you will either own or have come across a Soma Cube at some point during your travels. Like the Diagonal Star it really does turn up everywhere as it seems to have been favoured by the mass production market. But when have you ever seen a knitted one?!

Some of you may even remember that a little while ago I actually made my own Soma Cubes out of dice as a little DIY project.

The Soma Cube was designed by Piet Hein in 1933, and is made up of seven different pieces that can be assembled into a standard 3x3x3 cube with 240 unique assemblies. That sounds like quite a lot until you have to find one. Sally actually said that after she had finished the pieces it took ages to actually find a solution to get it into the box!

Most puzzlers have probably memorised one particular solution to this puzzle, and that is the one that they will choose whenever the need to reassemble a Soma Cube comes up. It is not a hugely difficult puzzle, most people will turn up a solution within 10 minutes or so if they keep randomly playing with the pieces. But this really is one of the true classics, and every puzzler should have one in their collection.

I was really touched by the thought and effort that went into making this puzzle for me, and it has to be one of the real gems in my collection that I'm going to enjoy showing others from now on. Thank you Sally!

I mean really, how often do you see knitted puzzles?

EDIT: After some keen observation from George and Chris (see comments below), it turns out that due to a minor piece irregularity this is not actually a true Soma Cube, but in fact a different puzzle entirely! In a Soma Cube all pieces are different, however in the knitted cube there are two 'right screw tetracubes' whereas in a Soma Cube one of those would be a 'left screw tetracube'.

So in essence, Sally invented a new 3x3x3 puzzle cube with 323 unique assemblies! Pretty funny really. Maybe it should be called 'Sally's Cube' instead?

Saturday, 24 December 2011

A Very Merry Puzzling Christmas!

I just wanted to write a quick message to all of the people, casual puzzlers, Metagrobologists and all of their families to wish them a very merry Christmas!

I hope you all have a great time, eat/drink too much and that you have a wonderful new year to come!

Like most of you I imagine, I have a feeling that there are a few puzzles waiting to be unwrapped under my tree, so I'll come back and share those with you very soon. Till then, enjoy the holidays!

EDIT: Here's a picture of my puzzling presents for 2011:

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Rocky Chiaro Brass Bolt Puzzles

Okay, so somehow I neglected to write a post before disappearing abroad, so I apologise for that. However to make it up to you I thought I'd do a review for a really great series of puzzles that I have looked at for a while, but was only given the opportunity to solve just recently. A huge thanks to Ali for loaning his set to me to share them with everyone here.

Rocky Chiaro Bolt Collection
This is a collection of puzzle bolts hand-machined from solid brass by American puzzle designer and manufacturer Rocky Chiaro. They are widely classed as being the benchmark when it comes to puzzle bolts, and for good reason too!

You can tell that these are machined by hand simply by the feel of them. Every surface is polished to a perfect finish, and the tolerances are incredibly high in many of the connecting pieces. Each puzzle is finished with an engraving of Rocky's signature, and I really do love that little touch of personality in a puzzle. These pictures make the bolts look a little bit grubby, but they weren't re-polished after I played with them, but they do come from Rocky mirror polished and wrapped.

I could just write a bit about how they look and feel as a whole, but instead I thought I'd write a little bit about each of them individually.

This first one is called the Pin-N-Nut, and the object is to remove the lower nut from the bolt. There's quite a bit of movement between several parts of this puzzle, but that's not necessary helpful when solving it. I would class this as the easiest of the bolt puzzles if you are giving it to a puzzler. Just by studying it I was able to guess how the mechanism looked, and after that it was only a matter or working out the correct implementation. This is a beautiful puzzle, but it is also my least favourite due to the simplicity of the solution, the rattle whilst in the resting state, and also how much more 'bulky' it is in comparison to the others due to the protruding 'pins' on all sides.

This is One-L-Nut, and all you have to do again is remove the nut from the bolt. This is a little trickier, and has more to it than meets the eye, but that will become obvious once you handle it. The bolt is quite clearly sprung in an interesting way, but you have to work out how this can help or hinder your progress when solving this puzzle. Although it is not very difficult it does have a really satisfying solution. This would be a great one to hand around for a bunch of people to try out as an introduction to puzzle bolts as it is not very intimidating to look at, and most will be happy to pick it up and give it a go.

Dub-L-Nut looks like an extension of the last bolt, but the mechanism is totally different. The objective once again is to remove the lower nut from the bolt. I found it to be a very clever idea, but unfortunately it is very likely that you will solve it completely by accident the first time. I did. I think it's mostly because there is quite a bit of play between several pieces. After looking at the insides you will know how the bolt works though, so you can solve it properly every time from then onwards. Either way it's a nice and unique mechanism that is great to look at, but not one that is as fun to repeat as the others.

Ring-N-Nut has a really nice touch to it, the object is to remove the ring trapped between the two bolts. It's nice that it has been machined into a ring shape rather than it just being left as a simple washer. The solution to this bolt is really clever, and very original! You are unlikely to solve this one by accident. The great thing about this bolt is that it appears to be in two halves that are completely free-wheeling against each other. This is my second favourite out of these six bolts, and I would thoroughly recommend that you make getting it a priority if you are wanting to get any of this series.

One-Wa-Sure is by far my absolute favourite in this series. I found it to be the hardest to solve, and the 'ah-ha' moment that came from solving it was fantastic! The object here is to remove the washer trapped between the two bolts, but with the bar going through the end of the bolt it does look completely impossible. The upper end of the bolt is sprung a bit like One-L-Nut, but in the opposite direction. I came up with all kinds of elaborate solutions in my head, but the actual solution was far more elegant and unexpected. As this bolt series is quite expensive as a whole then I would say that this is the one to go for if you wanted to try out one before taking the dive for the full whack.

Dub-L-Wa-Sure has two washers as the name suggests, and they can both be removed once the puzzle is solved. When fully closed one washer is tightly trapped between two nuts and the other is left loosely rattling at the upper end of the bolt. Curiously there is also a hole that looks to go straight into the bolt from the bottom end. There's a bit of a knack to solving this puzzle, and you actually need to pay attention when putting it back together again as well. If you look very closely at this puzzle long enough then you will likely notice something that will hint at what the solution is, but you really will have to pay very close attention or you will miss it.

Well that was my very brief look at what I would call the premier puzzle bolt series available at the moment. Each bolt costs between $80 and $85, which sounds like quite a lot but I promise you that each and every one of them is worth it. Considering that they are hand made solely by Rocky in his small workshop, and that the quality of them really is phenomenal, that price is hardly anything at all really.

As I said, if you only wanted to buy one to see what you think before considering getting the whole series then I would very highly recommend One-Wa-Sure. But I doubt that you would be disappointed with any of them.

All of these bolts are currently available only from Rocky Chiaro directly. You'll have to contact him using his email address on his site and he will get back to you pretty quickly to sort out payment etc.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A Busy Week Ahead

I'm heading off on holiday very shortly, and will be away for all of next week! Which is about time considering how little time I've had to spend with my (very understanding) other half recently.

But before I head off into the sunset (or sunrise, as I won't actually be flying at night time) I have a couple of great puzzling things going on.

Tonight I'll be heading to the 103rd monthly puzzle gathering at Camden Lock in London for some casual puzzling with some brilliant people. Wil Strijbos has managed to make it to the UK for this visit, so I'm very much looking forward to meeting the man who has been receiving most of my wages for quite a while now. I may write a little bit about this event, but only if something dramatically different happens compared with the last couple that I have talked about here and here.

If you're interested in attending either tonight or any future events (held on the first Wednesday of every month) then here is the address:

The Lockside Louge
The West Yard
Camden Lock
London NW1 8AF

The nearest tube station is Camden Town, and the events tend to start at around 19:00ish.

On Saturday I shall be heading back to the Puzzle Museum with a handful of fellow MPP regulars to visit James and Lindsey again, which I am once again very much looking forward to. Although odds are I won't write about this visit as fellow blogger and Metagrobologist Allard will also be there, and I'm looking forward to reading his take on seeing James' collection for the first time.

Between these events I shall also be working. You know...that thing they pay me to do so that I can fund my puzzle habit. It hardly seems fair really. I did ask if my work would be willing to continue paying me to stay at home puzzling and blogging, but for some reason they weren't too keen on that idea.

Anyway, so there is my busy week ahead. I hope to get in another post or two before skipping the country, so check out my puzzle image gallery for an idea of some of the reviews that you can expect soon. And if there's anything in particular that you see on there that you would like to hear about then let me know.

Till then, happy puzzling!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Don't Panic!!!

Some of the more astute amongst you will have noticed a slight change in the scenery of my blog. Do not panic, I promise you that this is entirely normal. If you didn't notice, then shame on you!

Over the time that my blog has been running several people mentioned that they find it difficult to read my writing against the purple background that was originally being used. So now that I finally mustered up the effort, I have changed it! I still prefer light-on-dark text though, so that's staying.

I'm looking for opinions on how it looks now, and any thoughts or ideas on how to improve further to make this blog just that little bit more awesome. And I'm looking to the people who it really matters to the most (you guys).

Either leave a comment on this post or hit the 'Contact' tab on the bar at the top of the page to drop me an email. I'd really appreciate it.

Thank you!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Tricky Gift Box (Sloyd)

When browsing around looking for new and interesting puzzles I think that there is a real risk of thinking that great puzzles have to be accompanied by an epic price tag to match, but with this post I'm going to mention one of the many puzzles that I think goes against that idea.

This is the Tricky Gift Box, made and sold by the lovely people over at Oy Sloyd Ab in Finland. It is (almost) entirely made from simple birch wood, which may look a bit plain but it is actually a pretty tough wood which has a nice warm feel to it. Great for puzzles!

Looking over this box it is quite hard to see any place where it could open up. After closer inspection you should be able to work out where the lid is, but after that there seems to be no movement in the box whatsoever. If the box is empty then it will not make any noise at all when moved. Mine came with an old Finnish coin inside courtesy of Sabine at Sloyd as she thought I'd enjoy the puzzle more if I knew there was something inside that I had to get out. How right she was!

As puzzlers I think we can all admit to having a tendency to over-think puzzles on occasion, and this box really does play on that theory. Having given this box to a large variety of people it seems that non-puzzlers actually find this easier than puzzle veterans. Which is hilarious if you have both of those people at the same gathering working on it.

Another great thing about this box is that it is the perfect size to fit most modern mobile phones into, which makes it great fun at gatherings. Just ask someone to hand you their phone, shut it into the box (without them seeing) and then hand it back. Even better, put it down somewhere near them and give it a ring and watch them frantically try and work out how to get it out to pick up the call. I know this makes me sound a little bit cruel, but trust me, it is hilarious.

I think it actually took me something like 6-7 minutes to open this box, and once I had it open and saw the mechanism I was a little embarrassed with myself. Especially as I have now seen first time puzzlers open it straight after having it given to them.

For the price of 10EUR this puzzle is an absolute bargain! It's definitely not the nicest looking box out there, nor the most difficult, but it easily makes up for that with its simple charm. Head over to the Oy Sloyd Ab site if you fancy adding one to your collection.
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