Tuesday, 11 July 2017


Over the last couple of years, I’ve developed into a bit of a rut: on the last Friday before Wimbledon, I take the day off work and meet Dick Hess at the station and then spend a couple of days getting puzzled by his riddles, maths and stats problems and squeezing in an MPP over the weekend… it’s a brilliant recipe for a fine weekend, let me tell you!

Pretty soon after Dick had arrived he was already taunting me with stats puzzles that I really should know the answers to, and all too often Dick would respond with a wonderfully tactful “Well, you know, 80% of people would answer that way, but…” and then a “Let me walk you through it…”. 

We puzzled a bit – Osho’s Flying Tetra II was a big hit with Dick - and riddled a lot – and Dick shared the occasional bit of humour in between anecdotes of puzzlers and puzzling… 

One of Dick’s habits is to bring along a little gift for everyone attending the puzzle parties he goes to… and this time he’d made up a copy of a seriously diabolical little disentanglement puzzle… not content with that, he’d also brought along a couple of copies of some “helpful” intermediate stages to ease you into the main challenge… and during the course of the afternoon he duly introduced me to the trivial baby brother, which didn’t take me too long to solve… so we progressed onto the middle brother – which I made a bit of a meal of, managing to find a number of things that almost worked, vindicating Dick’s design several times along the solve – and giving Dick no small measure of happiness, no doubt… when I finally got through the second one, he told me I was ready for the final challenge, but I dodged that one and got my copy of that along with everyone else the next morning… and probably just as well, because the real deal bore about as much resemblance to the introductory numbers as the Wright Flyer bore to Concorde! 

That evening we collected Louis from the airport and puzzled some more, until a couple of us crashed for the night leaving a Dutchman in the puzzle cave a puzzling. I had a great Friday.

Next morning, we loaded up the puzzles and biccies and went down to the village to set up the hall before everyone arrived – and we just about managed to get it all sorted before the puzzlers descended… 

Angela and Peter arrived pretty early on and proceeded to bring out several crates of books and puzzles… I started trawling through the books and found a number of wonderful volumes to add to my collection, including a first edition Sam Lloyd and a signed Martin Gardener first edition… very chuffed! 

James also arrived with several crates-full, as did Tim T who was holding a two-for-one sale on his vintage and highly collectible puzzles. Dale also had a crate or two for sale or swap so there were plenty of opportunities for the odd cheeky little purchase. 

I’d been keeping my eye open for a Spanish visitor from Vienna – I recognised David from our meeting in The Hague last year and it was great to welcome him to his first MPP… he’d duly brought puzzling keyrings and a puzzle joke for all comers – and chocolates and cake from Vienna for everyone! He will be warmly welcomed back if he chooses to trek back over the channel again in the future. 

Several people had a go at my copy of Intrism – Louis probably got the furthest on it, but the general consensus was that it looked stunning but it was a pretty unforgiving dexterity puzzle! (There’s a single entry-point, so you’re always going back to the very beginning if you fall off…) 

During the course of the morning Dick did his rounds giving everyone there a copy of his Devil’s Coil entanglement… a serious franken-puzzle of note with multiple levels of challenge. Let me refer you simply to the comments above, say that the puzzle is well-named, and let us leave it at that! (Thanks Dick!) He was also dishing out booklets of bridge problems and entertaining all comers with his usual riddles and maths puzzles…

Big Steve had been printing stuff again and kept a few of us amused for quite a while sorting bits between puzzles and then trying to assemble a copy of one of Derek’s newest designs called, I think, Sphere 90… which is a bit of a step up from Sphere 30 – an assembly of 30 pieces to form a ball. He’d produced a couple of sets of pieces and wanted to give me a set…

Now, Sphere 90 consists of two sorts of pieces with 90 bits all told… Steve pointed out the two types of pieces and we duly started sorting the colours and the shapes accordingly, only to find there were a few different pieces in there for good measure. So we separated those and pulled together a full Sphere 90 set with a few spare pieces (just in case – things are under a bit of tension during the assembly) … we then had a bit of a bash at assembling the Sphere… and I wasn’t doing particularly well and duly left Ali and Chris working on it… and a short while later they had duly assembled “my set” of pieces… which then immediately became “Steve’s set” and I was given the bags of bits we’d previously put on one side… all’s fair in puzzling and all that…

[Now, on a bit of a side note, I then spent several hours over the next few evenings trying to unsuccessfully assemble those bits into a nice Sphere… but stuff kept not quite working out right or even in one case I found myself running out of bits! Which is really weird given that I knew there were spares in there… and then I realised that there weren’t just two types of pieces in there – I’d picked up “Steve’s set” with all the extra pieces from Sphere 30 and I’d been trying to mash them all into a single ball – that no work! Paying more careful attention, and sorting the bits properly, I got a nice 90-piece ball assembled quite rapidly…pity about the first couple of evenings wasted! :-) Thanks Derek and Steve!!]

Jeremy had brought along a bunch of interesting burrs, including a copy of his own design perfectly resembling a Tardis! He had a copy of Yavuz’ mosaic assembly that several people had fun rearranging and then brought out his Mac with some software he’d put together to illustrate symmetric patterns that could be created using the blocks… very clever that man…

Somewhere around lunchtime we wandered up the road in search of pig buns, only to find that our favourite hog-roastery wasn’t doing pig buns that day so we had to settle for burgers or chicken wraps (some weird sort of chicken and salad thingy wrapped in an old pancake – don’t see the attraction!). I shouldn’t grumble, the burger was nice and the company exceptional!

Adin and Sophie arrived a little while later, much to James’ delight. Adin had asked James if he had any Sorrento boxes available for sale and James had duly brought along an entire crate full of them for Adin to choose among… history records that Adin left with more than one Sorrento Box and James’ load was considerably lightened. 

James had brought along his copy of Ned Kelly for us to try a group solve, having previously failed on one of our visits to deepest darkest Luppitt. We then passed Ned around from puzzler to puzzler, each doing one step in the solve (puzzle away, find something useful, do it and then pass it onto the next puzzler). Ali started us off quite rapidly and Oli duly found something to move before handing it to Louis… who obliged and gave it to Chris who puzzled for a goodly time before giving up and passing it to me where I luckily managed to find something interesting to move us on… sadly there we got stuck for quite a while, circulating dear Ned with his chest opened to the elements, baring his soul, but no more of his secrets… much later in the afternoon he was rather rapidly disassembled when someone gave a hint on the next thing worth investigating… and Ned succumbed to the MPP group solve. 

Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon I dropped Dick off at the station so that he could grab a train into London for the start of his Wimbledon pilgrimage.

Steve has been bringing a set of hex sticks and rods along for a few meetings now, each time goading Chris into trying to assemble it and each time Chris spends ages trying to win Steve’s approval (or just conquer the damn puzzle!) by assembling the thing – each time to no avail… and thus it came to pass that the Travelling Dutchman did sit down with the bits, derive what the shape must be, examined the pieces and determined an assembly strategy and verily he did assemble the thing, using only Big Steve’s to support its truculent pieces at one point in the process… he is a puzzle solving machine!

My all-time classic moment of the day was when we were talking to Steve about his wheel construction of straight, identical sticks under-quite-a-lot-of-tension. He and Ali had assembled it and from the sounds of it, getting the last bits in were an absolute nightmare… whereupon Louis says, wouldn’t it be easier to just slide this up here and loosen that, demonstrating that it all comes apart rather deftly with virtually no tension whatsoever… the look on Ali and Steve’s face was true Mastercard Magic moment stuff: priceless! 

When things began to slow down at the hall, we decided to decamp back to my place for the traditional fish supper and more puzzling…

We played “How many puzzlers can you fit in Puzzle Cave v2?” – Answer: “More!” and David played hunt-the-interesting-puzzle among all the other stuff in the cabinets.

I managed to line a few of the guys up with Dick’s “introduction” to his giveaway – which should probably more accurately be described as a misleadance rather than an introduction!

At one point later that evening there was a lot of “interest” when David was being goaded into trying Shane’s Viper… I videoed his rather hesitant initial attempts and then got the full-throated Spanish equivalent of something vaguely similar to, but possibly more colourful than “Gosh, that stung a little bit, I wonder what’s inside there?” – now if only there was some sort of means of sharing videos on this world wide web thingy…

The party broke up reasonably early which allowed us to see that David safely caught a train back into Brum for the night and get a decent night’s sleep… 

27 turns out to be another goodie!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Some Japanese Nonsense!

In spite of the title, this is a lovely pair of historic treasures…

Created in 1984(!) as a collaboration between Nob Yoshigahara and Akio Kamei, and brilliantly executed by the latter, this pair of boxes really belongs together. Not just because they look similar in their cherry and walnut woods, but because their mechanisms are really similar, yet totally opposite…

Nonsense Box – the cherry wood one – is named after the fact that it is thoroughly useless as a box… from the devious mind of Nob Yoshigahara it displays his sense of humour rather neatly… why would anyone ever decide to design a box that was thoroughly useless?!

W-Nonsense was Kamei’s reprise on the topic – theoretically less useless than Nob’s Nonsense, but ultimately just as useless… 

…and sadly, as I like to try and avoid spoiling puzzles, even ones you’re not likely to come across every day, that's about all I can say on that aspect of the them…

I can however tell you that they rattle, a lot – there are a lot of pins inside there, and they’re big – a lot bigger than I thought they were from their pictures!

Despite their age (over 30 years now!) they still operate perfectly – serious props to Kamei-san!

… funny thing is, that I find a lot of puzzlers don’t stop to enjoy the joke – open the first box, close it up. Open the second box and close it up. Then move on to something else… without stopping to think about the obvious pairing, their differences and where the name comes from… pity that.

Lovely little bit of puzzling history in there... two of the greats, having a laugh together...

Friday, 23 June 2017

Toulouzas’ Triple Rhombic Pyramid

Q: What do you get when an incredibly talented craftsman takes three pyramids with rhombic bases and mashes them together?

A: An object of sheer beauty…

…and when the craftsman concerned is Mike Toulouzas, a rather tricky puzzle as well.

Mike’s website has a list of the puzzles he’s produced with glorious photographs of all of them – and a little background about each design. Those photographs can produce a great deal of puzzle lust if you happen to be prone to such things – you’ve been warned! Unfortunately, I am prone to such feelings and as a result I generally find myself keeping an eye out for Mike’s stuff on auctions and in private conversations about puzzles potentially for sale… and a little while back someone rather generously offered to sell me a copy of the Triple Rhombic Pyramid puzzle – I didn’t need to spend very long in thought… and it’s duly been road-tested by a number of MPP-irregulars – all of whom have pronounced it a great puzzle. 

Mike has made a number of puzzling variations on what I’d describe as a central Coffin core – the internal geometries of a number of the puzzles are quite similar – and non-orthogonal so they screw with your head! However, Mike manages to thoroughly disguise them so that you’re almost always surprised by how these things come apart… and then when they do, then tend to do so rather quickly, which often results in a plaintive looking puzzler with slightly more pieces in his hands than he was hoping for looking up at me and saying “I think I’ve done a silly thing” … [Anyone care to 'fess up? :-) ]

Now Mike’s notes on this one point out that using different woods for the three pyramids should help a puzzler – and they probably do, but in my experience, they generally provide a really good confirmation that you’re doing the right thing, but they definitely don’t lead you toward the right thing initially! 

The angles on the pyramids, and those pesky internals do a right good job of not narrowing down the potential places for various bits to go – just working out how to make the three pyramids on their own is a challenge – remember there are bits missing where they intersect and it’s not always clear where you want the holes to be… then trying to work out how they should combine isn’t too much of a bother, but the final step of working out how to get the right bits together in the right order, provides a classic Coffin-esque puzzle.

It’s not only a good puzzle, but a stunningly beautiful object… another Toulouzas triumph.