Wednesday, 21 March 2018

The Flatliner Deluxe

I quite often find myself raving about Mike Toulouzas’ creations in this blog – he comes up with some fantastic puzzle designs, and then executes them beautifully. Mike’s entries generally stand out in the annual Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition and when he’s at an IPP, I generally make a bee-line for his table at the puzzle party in the hopes that he’ll have some spare copies of his latest designs, or that he’ll add me to the ever-growing list of puzzlers who want to order one of his latest creations.

Recently I’ve been fortunate to be able to acquire a few of his older works, swelling the Toulouzas shelf in the puzzle cave a little… all super puzzles that still slide as smoothly as they did when he first made them… Mike’s got skillZ!

Recently Mike popped a couple of interesting looking pictures up on FaceBook – he’d been working on a new incarnation of an old design called Flatliner… then he posted a short video clip of the 3D packing puzzle with typical Mike T touches in the detailing of the box and in the magnet for keeping the lid safe on the side of the box while you’re playing… lovely touch!

Knowing that Mike occasionally sells a few copies of his latest works on Puzzle Paradise I began watching it regularly for updates… none came… but every now and then a new pic or two would be posted, and then a video of Mike signing his name inside the lid… still nada on Paradise…

…and then out of the blue, I get an email from Mike telling me that he’s just posted a copy to me - as a gift – cue dropping jaw, confused grateful email and several offers of payment, all of which get roundly rebuffed – he just wants to give it to me. Cue even more grateful emails, both then and a few days later when it arrives from Greece…

... it’s even better looking in real life. 

Flatliner was designed when Mike was inspired by Liu Suzuki’s Stuffing puzzle – a 3D packing puzzle in a box with cubies joined with occasional offsets… Mike’s puzzle extends that idea and presents puzzlists with five pieces to be packed inside a box… with just a little protrusion in one of the corners… and the cubies have all been squashed, a little… and none of them are joined without an offset. 

Actually, that’s not quite true, so before the mathematicians out there jump on me (you know who you are!) the five pieces are made up of three pieces of three cubies each, one with four and then a single lone cubie left (so, arguably no offset on that one, eh?!). Oh, and the box isn’t quite square… it’s almost as though Mike’s jigs were a bit off the day he made these, and he glued the bits together really badly, and by accident he’s ended up with a fabulous challenge for puzzlists… yeah, right! 

If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell ya’ll…

Those five pieces have many, many ways not to go into that box – I know that as I’ve probably explored most of them! Given the offsets between cubies, there’s also quite a lot of extra space in there gently mocking the puzzlists. Oh, and given those offsets, you can’t really build the puzzle outside box as the pieces won’t naturally lie flat the way you might want them to… 

Mike it seems has a special talent for evil when it comes to designing these puzzles… it’s brilliant!

Thank you, one last time, Mike!

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Crazy Knights

I’ve already admitted to a serious weakness for Mr Puzzle Limited Editions, but this one ticks a few extra boxes for me! 

Back in my dim and distant youth I remember playing a couple of PC puzzle games called 7th Guest and 11th Hour – the premise was fairly straight-forward: you found yourself in a house where something awful had happened and more details were revealed to you as you solved puzzles in different rooms… this was well before I’d been bitten by the mechanical puzzle bug and I found myself really enjoying the games – and one particular puzzle stood out for me because of the way that I solved it… the Knights Puzzle in 11th Hour – which was published in 1995.

Edward Hordern presented the puzzle at the Third Gathering for Gardner in 1998, and the following year Brian Young produced a run of 12 limited edition copies of Crazy Knights – complete with pewter and Australian hardwood pieces on a Queensland Spotted Gum board… I was thrilled to recently run across a copy for sale and pounced on it!

The puzzle is simple: you have a section of a chessboard comprised of just 10 squares (1-4-3-2) and demarcated starting positions for the pair of black and white knights. Your goal is to simply transpose the black and white knights, using only standard knight-moves – [the ‘k’ is important there, night moves are something entirely different]. 

At the start of the puzzle there aren’t that many permissible moves – after all you only have 10 squares, four of them are occupied by pieces already – and some of the squares aren’t immediately accessible… so you can start exploring a little, and find some useful patterns, but unless you have a brain the size of a planet (anyone feeling paranoid?) you’re going to find yourself going backwards and forwards and not making a heck of a lot of progress…

…which is exactly what I remember playing this puzzle on 11th Hour all those years ago… until I had a little flash of something-or-other and transformed the way I was thinking about the puzzle altogether – look at it differently, and it instantly transforms into an almost trivial puzzle where the solution is painfully clear…

I love the fact that twenty years after I solved this puzzle in the ether, I now have a Mr Puzzle limited edition real world copy of it… and I can inflict it on others, and encourage them to find a simple way to solve it…

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Hidden Mazes

I bring you a wonderful juxtaposition: two puzzles I’ve recently added to the collection – one a gift from a friend and the other purchased from a craftsman back in the old country… both are essentially “just” hidden mazes – yet they couldn’t be more different!

Die Doolhof – literally “The Maze” in Afrikaans - is a stunning piece of craftmanship in some wonderfully figured wood – so wonderfully figured in fact, that it has lost some particularly knotty bits and Johan has had to fill them with a clear resin to maintain the structural integrity of the wood.

The central core has a “simple” (as in: no tricks – not as in trivial) maze routed into the hardwood and the outer cover houses a pin that needs to traverse the maze… Johan’s added a couple of dummy pins to the outer piece just to help throw you off the scent a little – keeping you a little off-balance while you try and imagine what’s happening on the inside.

At the very start of the maze there aren’t too many different paths to explore, so you can get a little traction and feel that you’re making progress… once you’re well and truly into the maze, it’s really easy to get yourself disorientated and turned around, heading back toward the beginning once more with realising that you’re going in the wrong direction…

Persevere and reach the end and you’re rewarded with the core coming totally out of the outer shell to reveal a neat little packing puzzle that Johan’s placed right inside the core – cute touch! 

I really enjoyed watching the occasional pictures and videos that Johan posted while he was making these beauties – the core started out as a hexagonal core with the maze CNC routed onto the six sides in turn… before being put in a lathe and turned rather gingerly into a cylinder… sometime with less success than others as the chisel catches the edge of the routed maze and effectively trashes all of the earlier work on that core…technique duly perfected, Johan produced a bunch of them and sold them via his website back in August last year. 

Stunning craftsmanship with some drop-dead gorgeous wood. 

Amazebox couldn’t be more different, in spite of the fact that it too is a hidden maze puzzle. 

Engineered and printed by Stefan from Bulgaria, I first saw this at MPP XXX when Stefan flew over to spend the weekend puzzling with us. He’d brought along a copy of his Amazebox, a puzzle he’d designed for some friends who run an Escape Room in Bulgaria. Several folks had a bash at it and one or two managed to make progress on it… I tried, and failed spectacularly, so I was delighted when a few weeks after his visit, a personalised copy arrived in the post from Stefan. 

As luck would have it I didn’t have a lot of time to play with it until after Peter’s EPP where I’d seen that Louis had rated it as one of his three puzzle finds of 2017… this puzzle clearly has a lot more than originally meets the eye! 

I duly settled down and had a proper fiddle around and kept finding myself getting trapped in the first quarter of the puzzle… persevering I manged to make it into the next section and stumbled across something really intriguing: there’s a little winder in the cover that allows the puzzlist to view the tiniest possible piece of the maze as you make progress – not nearly enough to be instructive as far as getting a view on the maze itself – but all of a sardine I was seeing red and green flashes through that window… and then things began to change… and I was well and truly hooked on this puzzle!

I hunkered down and bashed my way through the rest of the maze and finally managed to get the Amazebox open – and my respect for Stefan’s engineering expertise went through the roof! This guy has used a standard home 3D printer to produce a professional quality puzzle, building in some very interesting features that make the maze rather interesting (and not simple, in the puzzlingly interesting sense of the word here!) and even enable the puzzle to be reset right back to the start instantaneously – genius! 

All the while leaving a massive internal cavity that could hold your secrets (or another puzzle) hostage…. The design is really clever, and the execution is superb! Thank you, Stefan, – it’s brilliant!