Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Nagging Wife

The Nagging WifeAs far as I know, there is no definitive guide to being a puzzle collector, but if there were such a guide, it would include the requirement for having a tolerant spouse.  Conflicting stories on the Internet abound, both faux and fo’ real.

After observing my puzzle collecting obsession over several decades, my wife suggested that I design a puzzle of my own.  Over several years, she continued to suggest that I design a puzzle.  There’s a name for a spouse that continues to make the same suggestion over and over, but it’s not coming to me at the moment.

The Nagging Wife - OpeningAs any life-loving spouse would do, I eventually took my wife’s advice and started to design a puzzle.  Early on, I decided on creating a cubic dissection interlocking puzzle.  It ended up consisting of 5 pieces that create a 4x4x4 cube with no externally visible voids and a complexity of 3.1.2.  Not very difficult, but a great design for a prospective new puzzler to attempt.

My wife SUGGESTED that it be called The Nagging Wife, which seemed appropriate at the time. 

Over the years, I’ve made quite a few of these to give as gifts.  I particularly enjoy giving them as wedding gifts to the grooms, because every man needs a nagging wife.  At least that’s what I tell them.

The Ugly Nagging Wife
The Ugly Nagging Wife
The initial prototype was my first wood working attempt and could be referred to as The Ugly Nagging Wife.  It was hastily made from cutting some squarish poplar stick stock from the local home improvement store, crudely measured, and cut to length using a box saw.  Gluing using the scotch tape packing method resulted in a fully functional eye sore.  I also swore that I would never cut puzzle pieces by hand again, and immediately bought a compound miter saw that I still use today.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Puzzle with No Name – Yukari’s Cube

Yukari's Cube - Pieces
Yunichi and Yukari Yananose are the owners of the Pluredro puzzle shop in Australia.  They offer high end puzzles designed by the extraordinarily talented Yunichi.  In addition to the Pluredro blog on the puzzle shop’s site, Yukari maintains a very nice blog of her own, Random thoughts with my puzzle sense.  The most recent post on Yukari’s blog, Freshly made puzzle with no name, described a new puzzle designed by Yunichi that was hot off the press.  So hot in fact that it had yet to acquire a name.

Most of my designs are named No Name, blank, space, or whatever your favorite term is for an unfilled spreadsheet cell used to contain a puzzle’s name.  It seems that my creativity process shuts down after the puzzle design is complete.  My first few puzzle designs were lucky to have been named by my wife (Eviction, Confusion, Secret Garden, The Couch, The Maze).  Some later puzzles were named after the wood used to make them by the craftsmen who made them as a way to identify them (Pink Ivory Ring, Multiwood).  Even others were named for their warm reception by the puzzle community (Reject #1, Reject #2, Reject #3).  I completely empathize with puzzlers that collect puzzles with no names.  Around our house, we refer to Yunichi’s new puzzle as Yukari’s Cube.

Yukari's Cube - The Present
The Little Present
After seeing the intriguing set of pieces designed by Yunichi, I did what any sane puzzler with wood and wood mangling equipment in the garage would do.  I went out and mangled some wood.   I glued up 9 corners made with 3 cubes each and then worked on the angled edges.  No sissy jigs on a table saw for me.  I used my beveling jig on the sander to obliterate vast quantities of wood into billowing clouds of swirling sawdust.

Since Yukari didn’t provide a picture of the puzzle in the solved state, I wasn’t sure if the cube was solid (easier), had holes (more difficult), required odd angles (even more difficult), or was a completely cosmic cubic space created by an insanely convoluted wooden shell (who comes up with these crazy ideas kind of difficulty).  I didn’t even know if you could make a cube with 9 corner pieces before all the angled cuts are added.  The 9 corner pieces are made with 27 cubes, the same as a 3x3x3 cube, which is a good first indicated that it might be possible.  I decided to test that out first.  I found out that … well you should figure that out for yourself.  I’d hate to be the despoiler of frustration (i.e., fun).

Yukari's Cube - Pagoda
Even my wife liked the puzzle, I know that she liked it because she was shuffling the pieces around muttering curses under her breath.  This is how puzzlers show appreciation for good designs.

My 5 year old grandson, not one to be constrained by complex geometric shapes like cubes, set out to design his own solution and built an abstract pagoda.  We even built a little present complete with bow.

Yukari was right in pointing out that many puzzlers will be able to solve this relatively quickly.  Yukari alluded to a little trick, but from my perspective, I think that there are 2 that you need to overcome.  Unfortunately, I can’t mention them here without spoilers.  It took me about 10 minutes to construct the cube, which included the time spent on deciding what the cube looked like.  However, I half expect someone to eventually tell me one day, “That’s not the solution”. 

Yukari included the sad disclaimer that there is no plan to produce this puzzle but I wouldn’t be surprised if Yunichi had some puzzling tricks up his sleeve to add to this puzzle.   Maybe someday it will become one of Yunichi’s groovy puzzles or the core of a grander undertaking.  Keep your eye on the Pluredro shop.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Mesmerized by - HypnoTIC

Every once in a while, someone declares that the 4x4x4 cubic dissection puzzle format has been exhausted and that there is nothing new to be discovered in that space.  However, Andrew Crowell has become the most recent champion of 4x4x4 cubic dissection puzzles with not just one or two new designs but many, and more to come.

HypnoTIC is my favorite of Andrew’s Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) puzzle designs so far.  It consists of 5 pieces with each piece requiring rotational moves to be released, even though one piece comes out by rotating another. 

I ordered this puzzle directly from Andrew and had it sent unassembled to get the full enjoyment from the solving process.  All the rotations add to the fun in determining the relationships between the pieces and the order of assembly.

What really amazed me about this puzzle is one particular piece that needs an amazingly complex rotation to release it.  I was doubly amazed when Andrew told me that he developed a computer program to design these puzzles and that this rotation was indeed a product of that program.  This rotation is not easy to discover and I’ve even taken the piece out in front of others to then enjoy seeing them try to get it back in.

Nice alternate assembly
if you can't solve the rotations

Another thing that I liked about this puzzle is that at the beginning of the assembly there is a perfectly plausible looking piece orientation that could entice you in the wrong direction.  I know this, of course, since I had the joy of experiencing it myself.  I hope you get to enjoy the experience as well!  If you find yourself at your wit’s end, consider doubting the placement of pieces that you consider obvious.

In addition to coming up with fantastic designs, Andrew does a great job of crafting the puzzles from exotic woods.  My HypnoTIC puzzle was made by Andrew in Wenge and White Oak with dowels reinforcing key joints.  Andrew made an effort to have dark dowels for the Wenge pieces and light dowels for the Oak pieces but I think with the two-color scheme that it would have looked nicer with contrasting colors: light dowels for the dark pieces and dark dowels for the light pieces.

Andrew sells puzzles on his arcWoodPuzzles Etsy shop, but has been coming up with so many designs that he is now selling STL files for a nominal fee for puzzlers to 3D print their own copies.  If you don’t have a 3D printer, Andrew will print a copy for a reasonable fee.  The last time I checked the fee was between $15 and $20, which is solidly in the no-brainer category and a reminder that I need to go shopping again.  Andrew has also posted some of his designs for free on Thingiverse.

For those of you that crave exotic wood masterpieces and 3D printed puzzles just won’t do, in addition to getting them directly from Andrew, Brian Menold at Wood Wonders is doing an excellent job of offering puzzles of Andrew’s designs.  Wood Wonders provides finely crafted puzzles in exotic woods of many of the top puzzle designers and puzzles usually sell out very fast when they are released on his site.

A word of warning when ordering puzzles at Wood Wonders in the first few minutes that new puzzles are released – A puzzle is not reserved for you until you COMPLETE the purchase process.  Multiple people can have the same puzzle in their cart, but the first person that completes the sale, gets the puzzle.  The others will be informed that the puzzle is unavailable when they try to complete the purchase.  You need to enter this process treating it like a competition.  Speed is of the essence and if you need to take time reading all the descriptions, you are at a distinct disadvantage.  If there is a puzzle that you really need to have, complete the purchase as soon as you add it to your cart without further browsing.  If you need to take your time and browse through the selections, resolve yourself to potentially losing selections from your cart.  Recognizing the immense popularity of Andrew Crowell's puzzles, Brian has been making larger runs of his puzzles to accommodate demand and alleviate availability issues.  Good luck and may all your selections be available!

You can read Kevin's experience with HypnoTIC here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Second Chance – Puzzle Auctions

Wausau '82
You’ve just read about a fantastic puzzle that you failed to acquire.  Maybe you weren’t interested in it when it was released, maybe you couldn’t afford to buy it with all the puzzles you wanted at the time, or maybe you’re just getting started and arrived too late.  Now your friends are telling you it is the best puzzle ever and what a shame that you missed out.  The puzzle community is rife with regrets regarding missed purchase opportunities on limited edition puzzles.

Regret is a constant itch that can be scratched with the help of puzzle auctions.  It is a second chance to acquire that puzzle that will complete you.  I always track the auctions looking for puzzling gems that would add shine to my collection.  I’ve acquired several puzzles through the auctions including a couple of Bill Cutler’s Wausau series puzzles (‘82 and ‘83) made by Mr. Puzzle and several Cubicdissection puzzles that I failed to buy when they came out.  (Note: Wausau ’82 and ’83 are currently available at Mr. Puzzle and Wausau ’82 – ’84 are available again on Bill Cutler’s site ). The puzzle auction sites that I track are:
Wausau '83
  • Baxterweb Puzzle Auction – This puzzle auction site, run by Nick Baxter, is held a few times during the year and lately has been concentrated in the Winter months.  I believe that the puzzles being auctioned are in Nick’s possession (therefore shipped from the US) and he provides the photos and descriptions along with an estimate of what the puzzle is worth.  Bidding utilizes an anti-sniping feature set to 24 hours.   For those of you not familiar with the term sniping, it refers to the action of a bidder to place a bid just before an auction ends to ensure that the prior winning bidder does not have an opportunity to reconsider and increase his bid.  The anti-sniping capabilities added to many auction sites were added to avoid this by extending the auction for a period of time after a new highest bidder has been established.
  • Cubicdissection Marketplace – Run by Eric Fuller, this puzzle auction site runs several times during the year.  Before the auction starts, any registered seller can add items to be auctioned.  The sellers provided the descriptions and photos and the puzzles are shipped by the sellers from their location to the winning bidders.  Bidding utilizes an anti-sniping feature with a variable time delay that decreases over time to avoid long extensions for the auction.  It’s 24 hours for the first 3 days.
  • eBay – Sometimes, very nice puzzles show up on eBay.  I acquired my copy of Stewart Coffin’s Jupiter puzzle on eBay.  Anybody can list a puzzle on eBay at any time so you either have to hear about it or establish search criteria that will periodically email results to you.  All listing information is from the seller and the puzzle will be shipped from the seller’s location.  Sniping is rampant on eBay, so make sure you bid appropriately.  Puzzles can also be listed with a buy option.
  • Haubrich Puzzle Auction – This puzzle auction site is run by Jacques Haubrich and runs several times during the year.  I believe that the puzzles being auctioned are in Jacques’ possession (therefore shipped from the Netherlands) and he provides the photos and descriptions along with an estimate of what the puzzle is worth.  Bidding utilizes an anti-sniping feature with a variable time delay that decreases over time to avoid long extensions for the auction.  It starts at 24 hours and only existing bidders on an item can continue bidding during the extension period.
  • Puzzle Paradise – This site is like eBay for Puzzlers.  It is supported out of the UK by a group of puzzling individuals that generously donate their time to support the site.  Puzzles can be listed at any time by registered sellers, who provide all listing information, and the puzzles ship from the seller’s location.  Puzzles can also be listed with a buy option.  Puzzle listings may indicate that anti-sniping is activated and how it operates.
Keep in mind that shipping is usually not included in the bid price and you may want to factor that into your bidding process, especially if you are bidding from overseas.

Please be respectful when participating on these puzzle auction sites.  The site administrators work hard to make these valuable facilities available to the puzzle community.  They can and will bar troublemakers from participating at their discretion.

This post was motivated by the 2 major puzzle auctions going on this week at the Cubicdissection Marketplace and the Haubrich Puzzle Auction.  When checking out the Cubicdissection Marketplace, be sure to look at the puzzles being offered by an anonymous seller identified as Steve (there’s a Big clue here somewhere on who that is).  In a stroke of brilliant lunacy, Steve has standardized weight and size measurements for puzzles utilizing the Standardised Puzzle Hamster (SPH).  All puzzle vitals are provided in SPH and each puzzle photo is taken with the SPH for reference except for the ones that the SPH was too embarrassed to be seen with.  For those using antiquated systems of measurement, the conversion to 1 SPH is 160mm length, 76mm height , and 64g weight.  The puzzle descriptions are a must read and not to be missed.  And the best part – One of the puzzles that the SPH is squatting on is Wausau ’83!

Bid well and may all your bids be successful!