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 your 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


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  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 (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.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

An Impediment to Rolling Along - Wheel Lock

Wheel Lock designed by Tzy Hun Chein

A lot of times, OK, most of the time, I don’t pay a lot of attention to the name of a puzzle while solving it.  It can result in merrily rolling along until it bites you in the lug nuts.  This was one of those times.

Wheel Lock was designed by Tzy Hun Chein and made by Brian Menold at Wood Wonders.  It consists of a frame with 4 pieces and has a level of difficulty of

Wheel Lock BevelThe grain of the Tamboti frame is gorgeous.  It has a nice weight to it and a lovely smooth finish.  It also has a very interesting bevel on the outside edges.  The bevel on each edge is deepest in the center and becomes shallower as it approaches each end until there is only a little smoothing at the corners where 3 edges intersect.  I’ve never noticed this on a puzzle before and don’t recall Brian making any references to this technique on his site.  I don’t know how it’s done, but the result is fantastic.  My best guess would be to use a sanding mop to get this effect.

The frame has an open slot on 2 of the sides.  Decoration or functionally required?  They are just wide enough for the ends of the pieces to slide into.  I’m assuming that these slots will be used to accept the ends of the 4 pieces as they are moved out of the way of other pieces traveling on the solution path.

Wheel Lock FrameWheel Lock was one of several puzzles that I bought from Wood Wonders in August 2017.  When they arrived, I immediately took them apart to make a nice selection of disassembled puzzles adorning the back of my china cabinet shelves in the dining room.  As much as I like the random look of puzzle pieces hanging out of boxes, now a couple of years later, I caved in and sacrificed the random disarray of Wheel Lock pieces to the puzzle gods by reassembling them into an orderly packed configuration.

It would have been easy to insert the 4 pieces within the frame if it weren’t for those little cubes that were sticking out from all sides within the frame.  Since all the pieces have the same simple shape, the complexity of this puzzle is in the pattern of those cubes.

When you look at the pieces put together, they can spiral clockwise or counterclockwise.  Of course, if you turn them over, the spiraling gets reversed.  For each possible spiraling direction, each piece can be oriented in one of 4 possible ways unless prohibited by the internal cubes.  If they were all possible, this would lead to 512 different combinations to try.

Wheel Lock - Clockwise Piece OrientationWheel Lock - Counterclockwise Piece Orientation

Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you need to cold start your brain and think about it.  This time I felt that I got lucky.  I started with the spiraling direction that had a corner where the piece could only be inserted 1 way.  Everything just rolled along from there until I had all the pieces back inside in a reasonable amount of time.  It didn’t seem like a effort, but they never do.  Moves get eaten up pretty quickly as pieces are moved within the frame.

Wheel Lock Box LabelIt was then that I looked at the box that it came in.  One nice thing about Wood Wonder puzzles is that the boxes have a sticker on them with information about the puzzle including name, designer, moves required, and a picture of the puzzle.  Brian also sometimes adds the type of wood used to make the puzzle as well.  It was at this point that I realized that the 2 toned pieces in the picture made a nice symmetrical pattern in stark contrast to my avant-garde solution.  Duh!  Does that look like a wheel?  Phooey!  Now I had to update the picture on the box.

Needless to say, I was happy for an excuse to spend some more time with this puzzle, and not having solved it seemed like a good enough excuse.  It turns out that there are 8 solutions if you ignore the color pattern, which contributed to my quick success.  Adhering to the color pattern, there is a unique solution.

To achieve that nice wheel pattern, the 4 pieces are made from 2 contrasting wood types: Plum and Mulberry.  Since the pattern on the ends of the pieces is important, this required additional work to avoid the ends of the connecting pieces from becoming visible.  Brian also took extra care with the joinery to avoid butt joints that would result in weaker pieces.  At first glance, they look the same, but if you pay attention to the coloring, one is indeed different. 

Incorrect Wheel Lock Solution
Wheel Pattern? - Not So Much!
At the beginning of Wheel Lock take 2, it was obvious that the pieces could only be oriented with each other in one way.  The only question is whether they went in right side up or upside down (i.e., spiraling clockwise or counterclockwise with respect to the frame orientation).  In either orientation, it is obvious where the unique piece goes.  For the frame orientation that I was using, I decided to try the clockwise piece orientation first, which turned out to be the correct choice.

Adding the pieces to the frame is a process of determining the order that the pieces need to be added and the movements required to get them in place.  To start this process, I looked for the best set of 2 pieces that was the most difficult to put in the frame together.  It took me some time to identify these 2 pieces and determine how to get them in the frame.  Once the interaction of those 2 pieces was understood, adding the third and fourth pieces was an effort, but since there were already 2 pieces in the frame, movement options were greatly limited.  It turns out that the third piece that I added needed to go in last and the last piece that I added needed to go in first.  Although one of the pieces had a tendency to rotate within the frame, the solution only requires rectilinear moves.

In the past, I used to look at burr puzzles that required a color pattern to have a unique solution as flawed designs, a cheat added by designers to solve the problem of multiple solutions.  However, after thinking about it recently, if there is a color pattern, nobody in their right mind (I knew I would find a way to exclude myself) would spend time searching the non-pattern problem space.  I found Wheel Lock to be a superb design and thoroughly enjoyed the solving process - twice.  My only disappointment was the limited use of the slots in the fame.

Wheel Lock Pieces

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year by Johan van de KonijnenbergToday is the first day of the new year and I hope that you have all resolved to do more puzzling this year.  With any luck, you have received many new brain twisters over the holidays to get you started for 2020.

The subject of this first post of the new year is named Happy New Year and designed by Johan van de Konijnenberg.  It has a unique level solution and was released by Cubicdissection in July 2013.  Wow! That was more than 6 years ago and should give you some insight into the appalling state of my puzzle backlog.

Unlike the ultimate Penultimate Burr Box Set challenge puzzle described in the Christmas post (A Christmas Present For You – Ultimate Penultimate Burr Box Set Challenge), Happy New Year was specifically designed to be a challenge.  You immediately expect it will be more challenging with 16 moves to take out the first piece instead of 1.  As intimidated as I was by the ultimate Penultimate Burr Box Set challenge, I was even more intimidated by Happy New Year.  Normally, I don’t find puzzles that require 16 moves to take out the first piece daunting but this one had more than 8 pieces, which compounds the level of difficulty.  I figured that it would take me several days to put back together once I had it disassembled.

Happy New Year and Sweet Sixteen
Happy New Year and Sweet Sixteen
With the New Year deadline looming, I took it apart, let the pieces sit idle for a while, reassembled it, and wrote the post all in plenty of time.  After the euphoria of finishing so far ahead of the deadline wore off, I realized that I had the wrong puzzle.  As it turns out, I had just worked on Sweet Sixteen.  You really can’t blame me for mistaking one for the other.  Although the solutions are very different, they are both high-level burr puzzles released by Cubicdissection in July 2013, they both use the same 3 types of woods, the pieces are the same size with the same finish, they have nearly the same number of pieces (11 vs 10), and they both require 16 moves to take out the first piece.

Happy New Year PiecesArmed with the correct puzzle and a diminishing span of time to the deadline, I started disassembling Happy New Year.  The puzzle is not difficult to take apart but I was surprised that it didn’t start falling apart after the first 4 pieces were removed.  The remaining 6 pieces hold together quit well and come apart in an interesting manner.  Once it was all apart, I scrambled the pieces and left them alone for a while before tackling the assembly on another day.

The assembly was very interesting and followed a logical progression.  The piece locations can be determined without too much difficulty, making the crux of the assembly determining how to get the pieces where they belong.  It turned out that it was fairly easy to get 8 of the pieces together, with only 2 remaining to be added.  Of course, it turned out that the remaining 2 pieces were not the last 2 pieces that needed to be added.  They were part of the stable 6-piece core, which made holding all those pieces a fiddly balancing act without them.  I was able to disassemble the 8 pieces until I only had 4 remaining and could see how to add the 2 pieces to make the 6-piece core.  Adding the remaining pieces was relatively simple after that.

As you would expect from Cubicdissection, Happy New Year is well made and the tolerances allow the pieces to be easily moved.  The puzzle is very attractive and made from Maple (2 pieces), Cherry (4 pieces), and Walnut (4 pieces).  The pieces have a very small bevel on the ends and none along the length of the pieces.

This was a great design, and I thought that the 6-piece core made it really interesting to solve.  The use of the 3 types of woods keeps the level of difficulty from getting too difficult and allows the piece locations to be determined without a lot of effort.  If you’re interested in higher level burrs than the 6-piece burrs, this would be a good one to try.