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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The First of April - Fool’s Cube




Fool's Cube by Ken Irvine
It’s the first of April, and we all know what that means.  It’s a time for tricks, pranks, and of course, PUZZLES!  Since this post falls exactly on that magnificent day, I decided to celebrate by creating a little puzzle.  The design criterion was simple.  No, coming up with the design criterion wasn’t simple, the criterion itself was to be simple.  I don’t know why it’s so complicated to describe a simple criterion.

Fool's Cube PiecesSimple in this context was a 3x3x3 cubic dissection that would be within the capabilities of most wood tinkerers to make.  That provided 27 cubes to work with.  To make it even easier, I decided that it had to be interlocking.  Anyone familiar with 3x3x3 puzzles knows that you really can’t make a difficult interlocking puzzle in that format, even if you wanted to.  Although, I was tempted to add half-cubes and add rotations, I stuck with the design criterion and kept it simple.  However, it still has a nice Aha moment to be enjoyed.

Fool's Cube Pieces On KeychainIn honor of this fabulous holiday, the puzzle was named Fool’s Cube.  Since I haven’t started working in the garage shop yet, I made the prototype from some Cherry and White Oak pieces left over from past projects.  I was 3 cubes short of being able to make it all in Cherry.  Since there are only 4 wooden pieces, I decided to drill a hole in each and put them on a keychain.  This way, I can easily carry the pieces together and hand them to someone to solve.  I didn’t have an appropriate keychain and the one that I made is too large.  I’ll need to shop around for a more suitable one and plan on getting one of those nylon coated stainless steel wire keychains.

Fools’ Cube has a difficulty of 1.2.1 and there are no rotations.  You could put it in BurrTools and it will not only provide the assembly but show you step-by-step how to put it together, but don’t waste your time doing that.  Just build one and solve it on your own.  It will take you a lot less time solving it than building it.  If you do make one to try, you should time yourself to determine how long it takes you to put it together.  Most of you will do it in a couple of minutes.  Let me know how you do.  It took my wife a minute and a half.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Supporting Social Distancing - Burr Lock “E”




Burr Lock "E" (Vertical Orientation) by Christoph LoheAs many of us find ourselves shut in and social distancing becomes de rigueur, I thought it would be appropriate to review a lock puzzle.  Of course, since I’m a burr guy, I chose a burr lock, Burr Lock “E” to be specific.

Burr Lock “E” was designed by Christoph Lohe and released by Cubicdissection in April, 2017.  It was made from Honduran Mahogany, Ash, and Bocote.   Where does the “E” come into play?  Well, apparently there were several versions that didn’t make the cut before “E”.  I’m guessing, somewhere around 4.

A lot of puzzles have a key piece that you need to discover.  This puzzle has a rather explicit, in your face, key piece.  The nice thing about this puzzle is that it really is the key that keeps this puzzle locked.  In addition to the key, there is a frame, a hasp, and 4 other burr pieces that get packed in the frame.

I know it looks like a lock but please don’t try to turn the key.  That would be bad.  If you do and you hear a click, that would be really, really bad and you’ll need some glue.  No rotations are required and you may want to provide that useful hint to puzzlers that you hand this to.  Not to help them out of course, but to ensure that you get back the same number of pieces that you started with.

Burr Lock "E" (Horizontal Orientation) by Christoph LoheNormally, when you take apart a puzzle, I recommend that you wait weeks, months, or even years before reassembling it to ensure that you don’t remember any of the critical moves required to solve it.  When you finally stare at the pieces and wonder what shape they make, you know you are ready to begin the reassembly journey.  Burr Lock “E” attempts to solve this dilemma by having 2 solutions: one with the key in a vertical orientation and the other with the key in a horizontal orientation.  This way you can take it apart every couple of years and put the key in the alternate orientation.  According to Burr Tools, the vertical orientation has a level 26.2.3.2.2 solution and the horizontal orientation has a level 26.3.3.2.2 solution.  However, the solution to the horizontal orientation has an obvious rotation (I mentioned earlier that rotations aren't required, but I never said they didn't exist) to remove the first piece halfway through the 26 moves.  In fact, if you aren't consciously keeping it in place, it may just fall out. 

Burr Lock "E" PiecesBurr Lock “E” is well made and well designed.  It is a lot of fun to solve and the required movements are fun to discover, especially the interactions with the key.  If you are tackling this as a fresh assembly, the locations of the pieces can be deduced fairly quickly and I recommend going through that process.

With respect to the 2 solutions, I was a bit disappointed that they weren’t more different.  Once you take it apart, you may still want to wait a year or so before assembling it to re-experience the joy of discovery.  However, the difference that was there, I didn’t see coming.  It wasn’t difficult to discover, but I wasn’t expecting it.

Burr Lock "E" Key PieceThis puzzle has been sitting out on the china cabinet for several years waiting for me to solve the alternate configuration. You know how it goes.  You buy a puzzle with multiple solutions, you solve one of them, you mentally check off that you solved it, and then you never quite get back to completing the others.  Even though Burr Lock “E” only has 2 configurations, it's taken me almost 3 years to revisit it and solve the other configuration.

I noticed when I took it apart again that the exposed parts of the pieces were a different shade than the parts that were inside the puzzle.  This was most notable on the key.  Did it fade from the exposure to light?  No, it got darker.  However, it’s really not a problem when the puzzle is on display since it’s usually assembled and you can’t see the tan lines.  If this is a problem for you, you should keep your puzzles in the dark, in which case you might as well keep them in a plastic bag to cut down on the humidity fluctuations as well.  For those of you with humidity-controlled puzzle cabinets with electronically tinted glass doors, continue as usual.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Inspiration from Grandchildren - Little Kenny and Wooden Puzzles



Little Kenny by Ken IrvineHow would you like to take a journey through 20 different must-have classic puzzle designs by world-renowned puzzle designers?  Along the way, the secrets of how to make them yourself will be revealed.

Several years ago, my good friend and master craftsman, Brian Menold, informed me that he was writing the definitive book on how to make wooden puzzles and asked if I would like to contribute a design.  Even before I knew of the world-class puzzle designers that would be included, I readily agreed.  I later found out that the book included designs from Stewart Coffin, Jos Bergmans, Yavuz Demirhan, Stéphane Chomine, Primitivo Familiar Ramos, Tom Jolly, and of course Brian Menold.  The cognoscenti of puzzledom.  Fortunately, I didn’t have the pressure of knowing the other contributors beforehand.

Brian’s guidance to me was that the book, called Wooden Puzzles, was targeting entry level woodworkers and he was looking for a simple design.  I translated simple to mean a puzzle based on a cubic dissection with rectilinear moves and a fairly small form factor, i.e., no larger than a 4x4x4 cube.

At about the same time that Brian asked for my contribution, along came my first grandson, Kenny.  He is a continual source of puzzlement and wonder.  When my grandson was 4, I informed him on some random sunny afternoon that he would be starting school the following year.  He looked at me, and in no uncertain terms said, “My mom said I don’t have to go to school”.   Trying my best to realign his thinking, I told him that everyone had to go to school.  Unfazed, he peered over at me again and replied, “I don’t need to go to school.  My job is inspiration!”  Well, how do you argue with that?  Needless to say, this post is about the puzzle that was inspired by Little Kenny.

The initial version of Little Kenny that was included in Wooden Puzzles is comprised of 4 pieces in a 4x4x3 format.  Only rectilinear moves are required and the level of difficulty is 5.1.1.  I was very happy with this design and thought that it was an excellent fit for the book.  Since the book has been released, I’ve received feedback from a couple of woodworkers with Wooden Puzzles and they loved Little Kenny.

Wooden Puzzles by Brian MenoldBrian did an amazing job writing Wooden Puzzles.  Not only is it informative, but it is crammed full of pictures of puzzles, tools, jigs, and various types of wood.  The book is comprised of 4 main sections.  The first section provides an overview of tools for puzzle making, selecting wood for puzzles, and jigs for making puzzles.  The second section is the majority of the book and describes in detail how to make the 20 puzzles covered.  By the time you get through all 20, you should have a good understanding of the woodworking basics required to make these types of puzzles.  The following section provides some recommendations for taking your puzzle making to the next level.  Alas, the last section shows the solution for solving each of the puzzles covered in the book, but I know that you won’t be tempted to look.

Although Brian indicated that his book was for beginning woodworkers, I believe that it is suitable for woodworkers at all levels.  There are great little nuggets of information for everyone.  I pulled out my copy of Wooden Puzzles as I was writing this post and as I was flipping through it, I realized that it was time to read it again in preparation for making this year’s puzzle prototypes.  The book may also be of interest to puzzle collectors interested in the process of creating the puzzles that they collect.  Just don’t read the solutions to the puzzles provided in the back of the book.

Little Kenny PiecesShortly after providing the initial Little Kenny design to Brian, I decided to make a more difficult version for the upcoming IPP35.  I was able to split one of the blocks to require rotational moves in the solution, thus becoming the first puzzle in the half-cube series.  I brought my updated Little Kenny prototype to IPP35 and it was well received.  Just like my grandson, it’s small size with only 4 pieces makes it look fairly innocuous but it does have a little bite to it.  And no, the solution provided in Wooden Puzzles won’t help you with the updated version.

After IPP35, Little Kenny was produced by the world-class craftsman, Tom Lensch.  The pictures in this post are of Tom’s version made with Jatoba.  With the successful release at IPP35, I decided to enter it in the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition the following year at IPP36 where it received the award for …. nothing!  Oh well.  It was up against some pretty stiff competition like Chain Store (Yanked My Chain - Chain Store) and Bitten Biscuits (Food For Thought - Bitten Biscuits).

You should get a copy of Wooden Puzzles.  It is available on Amazon here.  Then you can make your own copy of the original Little Kenny design.  If you want a copy of the updated half-cube version of Little Kenny, they will be available soon from Brian Menold at Wood Wonders.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Green Beer ‘ill Cure What Ails Ya - BioTIC

BioTIC by Andrew CrowellIf AntibioTIC is something that cures you, surely BioTIC is a thing that will try to kill you.  I decided to test that.  Using a sophisticated algorithm to choose which Andrew Crowell delicacy to chew on this month, BioTIC was chosen because it’s, ugh, well, it’s green.  Yes, it’s that time of year for all things green, even green beer, with Saint Patrick’s Day coming up on 17 March.  You may also find that a little green beer may take the edge off of working on a little green puzzle.

If you are interested in solving BioTIC without any hints whatsoever, don’t read this post.  You can look at the pictures, but some of the things that I will talk about may help you in solving the puzzle.  I know it would have helped me. 

BioTIC was solved in 2 lengthy sessions.  During the first effort, I was attempting to figure out where the 6 pieces needed to be within the frame.  During this process, I alternated between trying to insert pieces within the frame and trying to combine pieces outside the frame in the shape of the void.  Sometimes I did both by inserting some pieces within the frame and then trying to reconstruct the smaller void with the remaining pieces outside.

Most of this time was focused on trying to determine where the largest piece went in the puzzle.  There were a couple of spots of interest and then there was the possibility that this piece was just a space filler that trivially pulled out in one move from the constructed puzzle.  I did my best to wish that possibility away and my mind shied away from that to focus on the interesting positions with potential.  Session 1 was a bust and I ended up right where I started - 6 pieces looking for a home in the frame.

Session 2 started with the sad realization that I needed to accept the possibility that the large piece was a space filler.  With that mindset, I was able to find the assembly for the pieces.  Having found the assembly (and yes, I was assuming that there was only 1 assembly), I quickly determined that 3 pieces could be pulled directly out of the puzzle in 1 move each and I just put them aside.  Yes, I was a bit disappointed.  Here’s a hint for you:  Since the pieces are made from 64 cubies, the same number of cubies in a 4x4x4 cube, the first piece is going to come directly out of the puzzle in 1 move.  So, I was expecting at least 1 of those space fillers to be included.  However, 3 was more than I was expecting and 1 was certainly bigger than I was expecting.

BioTIC PiecesThe solution was just reduced to putting 3 pieces in the frame, which would obviously require rotations.  Of course, since this is an Andrew Crowell TIC puzzle, you know it’s not going to be easy.  Naturally, I started with the biggest and most convoluted of the 3 pieces.  This is the part where you should have a green beer handy.  I spent at least an hour trying to get that single piece into the frame where it needed to go with no other pieces in the frame.

Getting the second piece inside the frame where it belonged took some effort, but nothing like the first piece, although the first piece always seems to be in the way.  The third piece was even easier, but not as trivial as the final 3 pieces.  Getting those first 3 pieces in required a lot of rotations and juggling of piece positions.  The process is fantastic!

I could easily say that I didn’t like this puzzle because half the pieces basically fall out of the frame (not in the tight version that I have), but that would be unfair.  Instead of thinking about this puzzle as a 4x4x4 TIC, I suggest that you think about it as a 6-piece packing puzzle with some interesting rotational challenges.  This mindset will get you further in appreciating BioTIC.  You will then appreciate the addition of the trivially removed pieces for the help they provide in discovering the assembly instead of the lack of moves they represent in the solution.  Even for myself, I have a natural bias against burr puzzles that have one or more 1’s at the beginning of their difficulty level, but I really enjoyed the dance of the first 3 BioTIC pieces.

Now it’s time for a green beer.  Or a beer of any color.  Or maybe a root beer since I don’t drink alcohol.  Or maybe some orange juice since I’ve pretty much given up soda.  Or maybe some watered-down orange juice since I’m trying to cut down on the sugar that I consume.  I had an agreement with my wife that I could buy puzzles with the orange juice that I saved.  That’s about 4 gallons worth of puzzles per month.  Of course, I got busted by my wife when I was caught going by weight and not price.

This is the third post of the monthly Andrew Crowell Rotations and Obstructions Series - Turning Interlocking Cubes (ACROSTIC).  You can find the prior posts of the series here:



Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Foreign Fame - 4 In Frame



4 In Frame by Stéphane ChomineOne of my favorite puzzle designers from the other side of the pond is Stéphane Chomine.  I own quite a few puzzles designed by Stéphane but nothing close to the 648 designs (as I write this, but it increases every few days) that he has on Puzzle Will Be Played.  This particular post is about Stéphane’s puzzle, 4 In Frame.  It is #40 on Stéphane’s Puzzle Will Be Played page and was added on 3 January 2011.

I bought this puzzle from Wood Wonders in August 2017.  It was beautifully made by Brian Menold with an Ash frame and Kingwood pieces.  I really like the look of Kingwood and the end grain is spectacular.  It also contrasts nicely with the Ash.  The first thing that I did when I received it was to take it apart and then summarily forget about it.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve pulled it out for a few sessions but never managed to solve it.  Recently noticing that the puzzle was blocking the dust from settling on the china cabinet shelf, I decided that it was finally time to do something about it. 

4 In Frame PiecesThere’s only 4 pieces that have to go in the frame, so how difficult can it be.  Like most puzzles of this type, there are those pesky blocks that are glued to the inside of the frame to frustrate the movement of the pieces.  With a difficulty level of 20.14.9.3, that’s a total of 46 moves to get the pieces in or out of the frame.  That’s a sizeable number of moves considering that there are only 4 pieces.  This puzzle doesn’t give up easily.  When taking it apart, even when it is half empty with only 2 pieces left, it still takes 9 moves to take the next one out.

According to Puzzle Will Be Played, there are 8350 assemblies and only 1 solution.  What this means is that the there are 8350 ways that the 4 pieces can be situated in the puzzle looking like the final solution, BUT only 1 of those ways can actually be realized.  I’m glad that I didn’t look up these statistics before solving the puzzle but it was obvious that those meddling blocks within the frame weren’t prohibiting any potential final resting places for the pieces - another way of saying this is that there were no easy hints as to where pieces couldn’t go.  Oh, and with 8350 assemblies, a brute force attack is not the way to go!

4 In Frame In ProgressHaving failed to solve this puzzle a couple to times in the past, I didn’t have much hope of knocking this one out quickly.  However, I was surprised to find that I was able to assemble it within a couple of hours.  For this attempt, I felt like I had, “the knack”, an innate sense of ethereal metagrobology channeling through my corporeal body.  It’s also possible that I had a bit of a head cold but it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between these things.

I was able to look at the frame and identify where one of the pieces had to go.  From there I was able to identify where the next piece had to go and how it interacted with the first piece.  Once It was completely assembled, I marveled at the moves required to get there and aside from a couple of backtracking steps, I was amazed at how accurate I was in my assumptions.  Of course, it’s always possible that my brain was leveraging those prior failed attempts under all those cobwebs throughout the dusty gray matter.

4 In Frame is a great puzzle and I recommend it for burr puzzle collectors.  If you’re new to these types of puzzles, you may want to try a less difficult puzzle first.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A Nice Clean Look - Dirty Dozen

Dirty Dozen by Jerry Loo
Last year, Puzzle Master decided to launch their first Kickstarter campaign with 3 puzzle designs.  If enough backers pledged to fund the development in return for receiving a copy of the final product, the production of the puzzles would be initiated.  I guess that the CA$66,880 pledged from 998 backers towards the goal of CA$9,000 was sufficient to convince them that these puzzles needed to be made. 
Sideways, Lattice, and Dirty Dozen Boxes

The 3 puzzles that were offered in the Kickstarter campaign were Dirty Dozen, Lattice, and Slideways.  Each of the puzzles is made in a striking color with anodized aluminum.  It should be noted that these puzzles are not unknown nor even unavailable.  I’m guessing that Puzzle Master pursued this Kickstarter campaign because they thought that they could make a highly attractive version at a very reasonable cost.  And they succeeded.

Slideways by Ray StantonSlideways by Ray Stanton is a classic, and I included it in my pledge even though I already have a copy in wood.  My reasoning was to have a copy of this classic puzzle that I could hand to beginning puzzlers without having to worry about it.  These aluminum puzzles are nigh indestructible.  As such, it is beautiful and will serve that function well.  However, the anodized aluminum offers no friction and the puzzle falls apart too easily.  Even my 5 year old grandson didn’t seem to be too excited in being able to take this one apart.  Of course, he couldn’t get it back together, but he’s only 5 and the Slideways box had a big 6 on it.  Maybe next year. Sometime in the future, I’ll have a post on Slideways and Slideways deviants (the puzzles not the people that play with them).

The other 2 puzzles, Dirty Dozen and Lattice, are board burrs designed by Jerry Loo.  I’ve solved Dirty Dozen and have yet to tackle the scary looking Lattice, which I’ll discuss in a future post after I get it back together.

Dirty Dozen PiecesDirty Dozen was manufactured using a bright orange color that looks fantastic.  The pieces also have a pleasant weight to them and the lack of friction that I disliked with Slideways, works very well here.  Several questions usually run through my mind when I see a puzzle like this: Do the pieces come out one at a time or do they come apart as connected subsets? Do the pieces peel off the ends or do they get pulled out of the center?  Will the pieces have to be rotated?  To be honest, all these questions were answered during the disassembly and I would have had to wait years before reassembly if wanted to attempt it with a clean state.  I only waited a couple of months.

Although 12 pieces is a lot for this type of puzzle, they are all identical, which makes the puzzle much easier.  The way that I tackled the assembly was to think about this 12-piece puzzle as a set of 3 interacting rings: an outer ring, a middle ring, and a center ring.  The outer ring can be constructed in 8 different ways but using the properties of the pieces, all but 2 can be eliminated as invalid when considering how additional pieces can be added.  The 2 remaining possibilities provide mirror symmetric solutions.  The middle ring has the same properties as the outer ring.  The inner ring can be made 4 different ways and only one of them is valid when considering how other pieces would be added.
Dirty Dozen Rings

Ignoring mirror symmetry, there are 2 assemblies for this puzzle, but only one can be constructed.  That’s a 50% probability of getting it right.  During the assembly process, there will be a point where you can go one of 2 ways.  One way heads towards the solution and the other heads towards the unsolvable assembly.  Please don’t let this description make you feel cheated out of a wider assortment of faux paths.  They’re there if you want to really want to travel along them.

With the results of the ring analysis and the recollection of how the puzzle came apart, I had no problem putting it back together.  On my second reassembly attempt, I ended up unable to get the last 2 pieces in and realized that I was working on the unsolvable assembly and had to back up to the fork and take the other path, which doesn’t take much time.  Puzzle Master gives Dirty Dozen a rating of 9 out of 10 in difficulty.  It is certainly no higher than 9 and might even be considered an 8. 

Dirty Dozen PackagingThe packaging for this puzzle was new and much more appreciated than the dreaded clam shell packaging.  I’ll certainly be keeping these boxes.  The boxes for all 3 puzzles are the same size with a different color trim on each.  Each puzzle was nestled in a molded piece of foam.  The only thing that I couldn’t understand is why the thick piece of foam backing was only on 1 side of the puzzle leaving the puzzle pressed against the box on the other side.  It seems to me that the backing should have been split with one half on each side.  Except for that minor point, the packaging was well done.

If you are interested in a lattice puzzle, I highly recommend starting with Dirty Dozen.  It’s very attractive, feels good in the hands, moves well, and isn’t very difficult.  You can get a copy at Puzzle Master hereLattice and Slideways are available as well.

Pile of Dirty Dozen, Lattice, and Slideways PiecesAt some puzzle parties, there seems to be a tradition of dissassembling a batch of puzzles and mixing the pieces up to provide a greater reassembly challenge .  Since I received 3 puzzles at the same time, I thought that I would give that a try and dissassembled all 3 and mixed up the pieces before reassembling them.  Although, I still need to assemble Lattice, separating the pieces was a piece of cake and I don't really see what the big deal is. 😇


Lattice by Jerry LooFor a preview on Lattice, It didn’t take long to take apart but it is much more complex and fortunately, or unfortunately, I won’t be able to remember anything about the disassembly.  Although it only has 8 pieces, it is a lot more intimidating than Dirty Dozen.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Puzzle Party in the Big Apple - NYPP 2020

NYPP Particpants

You can never have too much PP.  Every year I look forward to IPP, RPP, and NYPP and whenever I get the opportunity, I like to do a little MPP as well.  When it’s February, I know that it’s NYPP time.  I know this because every Valentine’s day weekend, I tell my wife that I’m going away to play with puzzles.  ABSOLUTELY UNFORGETABLE!

On 15 February 2020, puzzlers converged on New York City to catch up with puzzling friends and the latest puzzle designs and information at the yearly New York Puzzle Party (NYPP).  One of my goals for this NYPP was to foist my unsolved Licorice +-x puzzle (How I Learned to Hate Myself - Licorice +-x) on unsuspecting people in the hopes that someone would solve it.  Meanwhile, I would be attentively listening to the planned talks.  There were 8 talks in total as follows:
    Best Puzzle Apps - Tom Cutrofello
  • Best Puzzle Apps - Tom Cutrofello: Every year, our NYPP host and host of The Best iPhone, iPad Puzzle Apps and Mechanical Puzzles blog, Tom Cutrofello, gives us a summary of his Puzzle Apps Games of the Year (PAGY).   Tom’s overall summary was that it was not a good year for puzzle apps and the next year doesn’t look much better.  Specific puzzle apps that Tom liked and demonstrated included ReMaze, CMYK, Embergram, Sandwich Sodoku (super expensive puzzle app at $5), Loop Loop Puzzle, and One Line Weekly.
    MagnaCube - Ron Dubren
  • MagnaCube - Ron Dubren: Tickle Me Elmo creator Ron Dubren described his new puzzle, MagnaCube, and is based on the Soma cube.  The Soma cube has 240 solutions and the faces of the 7 Soma pieces may be external or internal to cube depending on which of the 240 solutions you are looking at.  Ron’s idea was to add markings on the sides of the pieces and provide challenges specifying which markings should be visible or not.  One variation, called Potion Master, uses images for the markings, which are ingredients for a particular spell to make.  Another is called Numerology, which uses numbers and may consist of more difficult challenges such as having the exposed numbers add up to a specified sum instead of identifying the individual numbers.  The prototype was built using a Magic Cube that allows the pieces to magnetically attach to each other.  Freely rotating internal magnets avoid polarity issues.
    Designing the Logical Progression Puzzle - Rick Eason
  • Designing the Logical Progression Puzzle - Rick Eason:  Rick Eason started his talk with a tale about a prior IPP exchange, where he provided his puzzle to another exchanger, who responded with “ Uh, another combinatorial puzzle.”  He then provided a detailed journey on creating his latest design Logical Progression and guaranteeing that there was a logical progression to solving it.  The solved state is a completely filled 4x4x4 cube and is an extension of Rick’s prior 3x3x3 puzzle, Double Hole Pin Cube.  A side effect of Rick’s presentation was that it made my Licorice +-x puzzle, which I brought along, look highly unattractive since I haven’t found a logical progression for solving it.  After Rick’s talk, anytime I tried to get someone to play with it, all I got was “Uh, that looks like another combinatorial puzzle.”  Sigh!
    Home Field Advantage - Peter Winkler
  • Home Field Advantage - Peter Winkler: Peter Winkler is the author of Mathematical Puzzles: A connoisseur's Collection and Mathematical Mind-Benders.  For his talk, Peter presented 2 new mathematical word puzzles, one involving sports and the advantage (or not) of winning on the home field and the other based on the accumulated results of two betting styles on coin tosses using a coin with a non-even heads/tails probability.  Since I thought the answer was obvious, I’m assuming that I didn’t fully understand the problem and won’t embarrass myself by incorrectly trying to reproduce either here.
    Puzzles - A.J. Jacobs
  • Puzzles - A.J. Jacobs: A.J. Jacobs has written several books such as It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree, Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to become the Smartest Person in the World, My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself, and Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection.  He even brought some copies of Thanks A Thousand: A Gratitude Journey to share with the audience.  In addition to writing books, A.J. is an accomplished speaker and entertained us with several humorous tales.  A.J. was at NYPP to meet with the puzzle community and to announce that his next book will be Puzzles.  Or at least that is the temporary working title.  If his other books are any indication, that title will morph into something a bit more complex.  When I showed him my Licorice +-x puzzle and indicated that it has yet to be solved, he took the challenge to solve it before I did so that he could shame me in his new book.  I’m going to have to get busy on that puzzle to avoid going down in history as the hapless puzzler who couldn’t solve his own puzzles.
    CoverUp - Col. George Sicherman
  • CoverUp - Col. George Sicherman: The topic of George Sicherman’s talk this year was his puzzle Cover Up that was entered in last year’s Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition.  He indicated that it was similar to his design competition entry 2 years ago, Hide the Gold, but had a key difference.  Although Cover Up has fewer pieces, one of the pieces is the table that the other pieces are resting on.  Cover Up has been provided by Wood Wonders and Mr. Puzzle but neither has seen fit to include the table piece.  George also mentioned a new puzzle that he designed, named Fraternal Twins, consisting of 2 identical octomino pieces that can be put together to form a mirror symmetrical shape.  He had a sample with him and they will be available in the near future at Wood Wonders.  One audience member questioned the use of fraternal in the name since the pieces were identical but it sailed right by most of us.
    MultiTarget - Glen Iba
  • MultiTarget - Glen Iba: Glen Iba, the developer of the Patchmania (the subject of a prior NYPP talk) and Monorail game apps, continued last year’s introduction to his MultiTarget game app with an update on changes that have been made as well as further details on its implementation using Android Studio on the Mac.  Demonstrations of the tutorial levels and some of the higher game levels was provide as well as a peek at some of the code.  Glen also provided a demonstration of how the levels were generated, tested, and graded.
    Exploiting Game Shows - Mike Cahill
  • Exploiting Game Shows - Mike Cahill: Mike Cahill always provides an entertaining presentation at NYPP and this year’s talk did not disappoint.  The talk centered on the difficulty of generating an optimal set of rules for a game show and how flaws can be exploited by the contestants.  Several game show flaws were explained including the evolution of the rules for the show Big Brother over its first 6 seasons as contestants exploited the game rules and the producers struggled to fix the flaws.  Other game shows used as examples included Jeopardy, Awake, Crossword, America Says, 25 Words or Less, The Price is Right, and Pay the Rent.  Mike concluded with a personal story of how people didn’t believe his discovery of a game show flaw and how he got the last laugh by going on the show and winning by exploiting that flaw.
The most important thing that I learned is why I don't like the Licorice +-x puzzle.  This dislike now has a name: Combinatorial Puzzle!  The type of puzzle that provides no grip for your mind to grab on to and generate a solution, forcing you to employ a brute force attack by trying all combination.  This is fine for puzzles with only a few pieces, but the 9 pieces of Licorice +-x are too daunting.  However, I'm still optimistic that I'll find my own logical progression that will transform this shunned dog into a brilliant masterpiece.


NYPP Lunch Break

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

I Heart You, Whatever Your Name Is - In Inima



In Inima by Kirill GrebnevLove is in the air!  And you know what that means.  The day that you can’t be caught playing with puzzles is fast approaching.  Yes, Valentine’s day is almost upon us.  You only have 1 more day before the puzzle fasting begins.  In the spirit of this holiday, I decided to present a lovely heart puzzle that you might be able to safely use by offering it as a gift to your significant other if caught. 

This fickle heart has gone by many names.  I’m sure every puzzle collector recognizes the frustration of trying not to buy multiple copies of the same puzzle with different names.  It’s hard enough to keep track of a puzzle collection if every puzzle just had a single name.  So how about some of those names for this fickle heart:
  • In 2006, the Russian puzzle designer, Kirill Grebnev, designed a heart shaped wire puzzle with a little rope loop that had to be removed.  He called it Love Secret and entered it in the 26th IPP Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition.  It didn’t win.  Was it the name?
  • After the competition, Kirill had a change of heart and decided to call it Clear Heart.  You can read about his decision on his web site.
    In Inima Leaflet
  • Several years ago, I purchased this puzzle on the Etsy GiftforSoul shop.  The paperwork that came with it identified it as In Inima.  Not knowing what that meant, I dropped those two words into Google Translate and it informed me that it means In The Heart and that it’s Romanian.  Way to go Google!  If you don’t know the URL for Google Translate, you can Google it.  No, seriously - Google “google translate” and the translate app will be running at the top of the google search results page.
  • The GiftforSoul Etsy shop is currently empty, but you can now buy it from Puzzle Master.  Is it called Love Secret, Clear Heart, or In Inima?  Of course not!  It’s now called Panic Attack.  It breaks my heart to say that the Puzzle Master version looks nicer with the two ends of the wire welded together instead my copy with the ends looped together.

In Inima SolvedNow that we have the name of the puzzle sorted out, how is it as a puzzle.  I first saw it at one of the puzzle parties years ago and was impressed with the way it looked and how approachable it was.  Although it isn’t difficult, it could throw an inexperience puzzler for a loop.  You can tell it’s an easy puzzle from the packaging once you realize that Nivel Simplu is not the name of the designer.  Another huge clue is the size of the loop.  It would be very difficult to tie this one up in knots.  However, taking the puzzle back out after a couple of years for this post, it still took me a couple of minutes to remove the rope even though I knew the exit strategy.  I think it’s a perfect puzzle to give to a beginner puzzler interested in wire disentanglement puzzles or that significant other if you're caught red-handed instead of with red roses.

If you’re interested in acquiring your own copy, you can get it from Puzzle Master here.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

TIC, TIC, TIC - PackTIC II



PackTIC II by Andrew CrowellThis is the second post of the monthly Andrew Crowell Rotations & Obstructions Series - Turning Interlocking Cubes (ACROSTIC).  In last month’s post (Puzzling DNA - GeneTIC), I described how I lost all self-control and ordered a large quantity of Andrew Crowell TICs.  When I declared that I would solve one every month for a year, Andrew just laughed and wished me luck, knowing full well how difficult it would be for me not to do them all at once.  Month 2 and so far, so good.  The jitters aren’t too bad and I’ve already gotten used to themmm.  Note that, if you make a list of the ACROSTIC puzzles and take the last 3 letters of each, you get TIC, TIC, TIC … - the sound of my clock reminding me how long I have to wait until I can work on the next puzzle.

PackTIC II is the second in a series of PackTIC puzzles by Andrew.  Currently, there are 10 PackTIC puzzles (1 easy, 5 medium, and 4 hard).  PackTIC II is classified as one of the hard ones.

What makes a puzzle part of the PackTIC series instead of getting its own TIC name?  I really don’t know for sure.  It’s not obvious from looking at the puzzles what characteristic makes them a PackTIC puzzle.  If I had to guess, I’d say it was related to the genetic construction of the design and that they were all created from the same strain of algorithmic inputs.

PackTIC II PiecesSo how does one go about putting one of these together (of course, this assumes that you’ve received it unassembled and haven’t seen how it comes apart).  The first thing I usually look for is some distinctive feature on the frame that will align with only one of the pieces.  Once you get one piece aligned, newly created distinctive features are usually created and the process just repeats itself until all the pieces are aligned - not necessarily inserted.  As you are going through this process, you will be able to insert some of the pieces, while others just have to be imagined in place until you find a way to get them there.   Once you know where all the pieces go, the next step is to figure out how to get them there, which includes determining the order that they need to be inserted.

With PackTIC II, the distinctive feature turned out to be the completely non-distinctive featureless huge opening in the cage.  Now how can that large opening be filled?  The piece that I chose as the best candidate turned out to be correct and the others just fell into place.  Actually, nothing ever just falls into place.  I was just referring to knowing where the pieces needed to go.  I still had to figure out how to get them there.

Most of the pieces were well behaved, but one piece turned out to be a problem child and that’s the one that makes the puzzle worthwhile.  Getting this piece into position requires several rotations and then a few more rotations to support another piece being added.  I find that the best way to determine these rotations, is to image the piece within the frame and then how it would have to be rotated to remove.  It’s perfectly fine to hold the piece next to the frame and rotate it as you thinking through the process.  I do, but you don’t have to hang your tongue out to dry when doing it.

Translucent PackTIC II Piece Showing Internal SupportsOnce you have the correct first 2 pieces within the frame, you are basically done.  The remaining 3 are easily added although the third one does require a simple rotation.

PackTIC II was 3D printed with a gray frame and red pieces.  An interesting property of some of these pieces is that they are semitransparent on some of the sides allowing you to see the internal supports used to construct them.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Food For Thought - Bitten Biscuits



Bitten Biscuits by JinHoo AhnWho would have thought that a puzzle based on half eaten food would be an award winning design.  However, at IPP36, 3 biscuits with 2 bites each won a Jury Honorable Mention award.  This puzzle, designed by JinHoo Ahn, was Bitten Biscuits.  It was made from African Sapele.  No, that’s not a type of flour, it’s a type of wood.

One of my friends said that he walked up to Bitten Biscuits on the competition table, had a thought, and solved it immediately.  He was not impressed.  Similarly, I walked up to the table, played around with it for a bite, and was not impressed either.  However, my friend was not impressed with the puzzle and I was not impressed with my inability to solve it.

Although I dedicated a good amount of time in the IPP competition room to solve it, I failed and had to move on to the many other alluring puzzles available with the hope of acquiring a copy later on.  Later on turned out to be much later on.  When ordering puzzles from Puzzle Master last year for the Puzzle-A-Month Challenge, I noticed that they now offer Bitten Biscuits.  You could get it either in laser cut wood or laser cut plexiglass.  Although I prefer wood puzzles, I usually opt for plexiglass with laser cut puzzles.  And who could resist the glowing orange color of the pieces.

Bitten Biscuits PackagingAs with many of these types of problems, you look at the solution and say to yourself: “It’s so obvious, why did it take me so long to solve it”.  I think my biggest stumbling block was that it looked so innocuous, I tried to solve it by simply playing with the pieces instead of analyzing it.  A little bit of analysis can point you in the right direction.  I sat down with this one several times before finally giving it a deeper look and solving it.

Gaah!!! I looked at the IPP design competition entry description and saw that the puzzle had 2 solutions!  Back into the fray I went and pulled out a second solution rather quickly.  My experience with finding the first solution yielded the second solution without requiring further analysis.

I normally don’t look at solution sheets but since I found both solutions and a solution sheet was included, what could it hurt to verify the solutions.  I pulled out the solution sheet and sure enough, What?! - only one of my solutions was there and the other was different.  My first solution, which I strived so hard to discover, was not considered a solution.  However, it looked close enough to me and I’m rather fond of it.

The following hidden photo shows my non-solution.  Feel free to squint and tilt your head as needed to see the symmetry.  If you are interested in solving Bitten Biscuit yourself, DO NOT SHOW THE IMAGE.  It will provide too much of a clue on how to find the approved solutions.

*** SPOILER - Bitten Biscuit Non-Solution Image - SPOILER ***





If you would like to tackle this one yourself, it is available at Puzzle Master in wood or plexiglass.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Finding Your Way Through the Labyrinth - Daedalus

Daedalus by Gregory Benedetti




Aaargh!  There’s a mushroom growing in my box of puzzles.  Wait a minute - It’s a cubic mushroom.  Aaargh!  One of the puzzles got all moldy.  Ewww!

Daedalus Blooming InsideDaedalus BloomingLuckily, this doesn’t happen often.  However, when it does, it’s no big deal.  Although it looks like mold, it’s from the wax used and the bloom can simply be wiped off.  With a name like Daedalus, I expected that there might be wax issues.  When I received the puzzle, sensitive to Daedalus’ plight, I put it where the sun don’t shine.  That’s right, it’s been in the maze of my basement all this time.  I should mention that once the pieces were wiped down, they were easier to move.  It would have made discovering the required moves simpler without the waxy buildup.

Maurice Vigouroux's Stamp on DaedalusDaedalus was designed by Gregory Benedetti and has a difficulty level of 23.9.8.3.3.1.2.  My copy was made in Padauk by Maurice Vigouroux.  It looks like a 3x3x3 cubic dissection, but that is misleading.  The internal labyrinth, supported by a complex array of pins, slots, and moving pieces (yes, the labyrinth is changing as you are solving the puzzle), really make this a 9x9x9 cubic dissection.  It also requires rotations, so BurrTools is not going to help you.

Cubes, pins, slots, rotations - what’s not to like?  The puzzle consists of 8 pieces with one large frame/cage piece and 7 other smaller pieces.  All the pieces have an assortment of pins and/or slots.  I’m assuming that the 2 little pieces are the Minotaur and Theseus.

Daedalus Pieces

Daedalus is definitely a disassembly puzzle.  Starting with the puzzle assembled, you have no indication of the labyrinth’s complexity, which needs to be discovered as you progress through the journey.  During this process, I had the Minotaur and Theseus chasing their tails in rotational hell for quite a while.  Once you have figured out what to do with those 2, the rest is straightforward.  However, figuring out what to do with those 2 pieces is a challenge.

Daedalus MIsaligned
Not Quite Right!
Being able to see the internal structure of all the pieces, I found assembling the puzzle to be easier than the disassembly.  Knowing that none of the pins and slots is visible on the outside of the cube is useful in identifying the location and orientation of the pieces.   Oh, and if the puzzle is made with the wood grain aligned like mine, you can also make use of that information as well.  I failed to note that the first time I reassembled the puzzle and although I successfully constructed a cube, one of the pieces was misaligned.  That gave me the opportunity to enjoy the entire process again.

Daedalus is a fantastic puzzle and Cubicdissection is planning on releasing a batch in the near future.  I highly recommend this one and suggest that you purchase one quickly when they become available before they disappear.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Puzzling DNA - GeneTIC


GeneTIC by Andrew Crowell


We are still working on discovering the secrets of the DNA puzzle, but where in there is the puzzle gene?  Would looking for the puzzle gene in the DNA puzzle be a meta puzzle?

Great-Grandpa's Puzzle
Great-Grandpa's Puzzle
As for myself, although my parents are very intelligent, puzzles just aren’t their thing.  So where does that puzzle gene come from?  It turns out that one of my great-grandfathers was a doctor who enjoyed working on puzzles.  I’m hoping that I don’t have to wait for my great-grandchildren to carry the torch.

Speaking of the torch, my wife can’t understand why anyone would display firewood in the china cabinet and occasionally reminds me of the bonfire that will be held when I go.  I frequently have to remind her that she shouldn’t burn through the family fortune all at once. (Upon reading this, my wife pointed out that she was more than willing to have firewood in the china cabinet and was actually the one who made room for it.) 

These thoughts were sparked by Andrew Crowell’s new puzzle, GeneTIC. The puzzle has a difficulty rating of 7.5.5.2.5 (This is my best guess from counting the moves by hand, but I’m sure that Andrew has an official count generated from his program that will be released in a future puzzle update.  Counting rotational moves is not always straightforward).  This is the latest addition to the puzzles Andrew has labeled “Hardest”.  However, in my opinion, this puzzle should be labelled excellent instead of hardest based on the feeling that I had after completing it.  Not difficult, but very enjoyable.

Each of Andrews TICs is a treat and I think of them as puzzle candy.  Each one provides an enjoyable experience from first inspection to determine where the pieces need to reside up through determining the gyrations that each piece requires to get there.  I recommend GeneTIC as an exemplar of this process.

Classic Andrew Crowell PieceAs with many of Andrew’s Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) designs, there is a big cage/frame piece that holds several smaller pieces together in a cube.  GeneTIC has 5 of these smaller pieces, with the smallest being what I am coming to consider the classic “Crowell TIC piece”.  These innocuous looking little pieces move, rotate, and provide a lot of fun without falling out of the puzzle.

Being a TIC (not you, the puzzle), you know that there is a rotational move required somewhere.  For GeneTIC, 4 of the pieces require rotations and the single piece that is not rotated is the odd one out.  In other words, TIC on steroids, and in a 4x4x4 cubic dissection format!  As a puzzle designer myself, struggling to conceive TIC designs, I can only marvel at the prodigious output of the Crowell TIC production engine in both quality and quantity.

GeneTIC Pieces
You’ve undoubtedly noticed from the photos that my version of GeneTIC was 3D printed.  As far as I know, all of Andrew’s puzzles have a unique color scheme and GeneTIC can be identified as the puzzle with the white frame and green pieces.  Recently hampered by budgetary constraints, I was forced to make some difficult puzzle acquisition decisions.  I’ve noticed several puzzlers have adopted a buy, solve, sell approach, but I’ve never been able to give up a puzzle and this strategy wouldn’t work too well for me.  My two options were to buy all 14 of Andrew’s hardest TIC’s as 3D printed puzzles or try to select 3 or 4 of them from the list.  This time I decided to collect them all in the 3D printed format.  Of course, the 3d printed versions are nowhere near as nice as the finely crafted works of art made with exotic woods, but my desire to have all the hardest designs ended up being the major consideration.  I’ve seen several comments on the Internet from people lamenting that puzzles have become too expensive to fit in their budget.  3D printing is part of the solution to that dilemma.

So, my recent order from Andrew consisted of all 14 of the hardest and 2 of the medium, 3D printed puzzles.  When they were ready, Andrew emailed me a photo of the 16 puzzles assembled.  However, they arrived as a jumble of puzzle pieces.  Nice guy, that Andrew Crowell!  In all fairness, I requested to receive them unassembled so that I could fully enjoy the discovery process.

Andrew Crowell TICs As Received

Pre-Shipped vs. Received


With 16 of these puzzles at the beginning of this year, I decided to do an Andrew Crowell TIC series with a dedicated entry each month.  GeneTIC is the January post and the first for 2020.  My biggest challenge will be to space them out over the year and keep from doing them all at once now.