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.