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.