Thursday, 20 November 2014

Double Slideways Burr

It looks like any other ordinary burr. But don't let that fool you. The Double Slideways Burr (DSB) is one of the hardest co-ordinate motion puzzles around.



I got my copy of the DSB from Ray Stanton during the IPP34 Puzzle Exchange in London this year. Ray's exchange copies were made by Eric Fuller and the six pieces are cut from Walnut, Maple and Sapele. Very well constructed with fine edges and tight tolerances.

Why is it called the Double Slideways Burr? Well, because Ray had previously come up with the (Single) Slideways Burr, which consists of just three pieces. Although the DSB has double the number of pieces, the difficulty quotient is probably quadruple (or more) that of the SSB. I have never played with the SSB before, so I was thrown right into the deep with the DSB.



I spent the better part of two evenings figuring out the DSB, attempting different combination and orientation of pairs and pieces, looking for a way to "slide" the pieces together. After all, it must slide together somehow right?...given its called "Slideways". I even got my wife to help me hold some pieces while I grappled with the rest. But I got nowhere and eventually gave up. I emailed Ray asking for a hint. When Ray replied, I realized that I was way off tangent all the while. Even with his help, It took me another good hour or two before finally getting the six pieces to form the intended shape! 

This one is a real tough cookie. I happily emailed Ray a photo of my solved DSB and was quite pleased to hear from him that I am so far, only the fourth person he knows that has managed to put together the DSB. (Edit: as of 21 Nov 2014, there are 11 people who have solved the DSB)I don't intend to take it apart since I am not sure if I can re-assemble it again, and I don't wish to find out...so it will sit nicely solved in my puzzle cabinet.



Let me put it this way...if you have never solved Ray's earlier puzzle, the SSB, well, the DSB will be very difficult indeed. But if you have solved the SSB before, then the DSB will still be very difficult indeed! And unfortunately, Burr Tools cannot help here. 

For those keen on acquiring an SSB or DSB, they are available from Eric Fuller's website for $15 and $39 respectively. For other co-ordinate motion puzzles reviewed previously, please click below:-

1. Choreographed Motion
2. Cross Box
3. 18 Dutch Mills
4. CM 13
5. Brass Ball
6. Cast Galaxy
7. Aroma



Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Bob's 5x5 & Jerry's 4x4

When I first saw Bob's 5x5 during Nick Baxter's recent puzzle auction, I knew I had to get it. This was because I was a little surprise (and also a little disappointed) to find out that someone else had already earlier (in fact some 16 years earlier) come up with a design concept similar to my "Interlace 4x4" puzzle. More about the latter later.




The Bob's 5x5 I won at the auction is a reproduction of Robert Darling's IPP18 (1998) Exchange Puzzle. This is a huge puzzle, measuring a good 15.5cm (6.1in) square with a thickness of 3.5cm. Can you imagine the size of the box or crate needed to hold 99 exchange copies! 

It is very well made of wood (either teak or walnut I am not sure) and really solid and heavy. The bottom is even felt lined (so it won't scratch the surface it sits on). Displays nicely on the coffee table and one might even mistake it for a cigar box. Definitely well worth my $48 winning bid!.

Its a packing puzzle and the object is to pack 10 notched burr pieces (or sticks) flush into the box frame. 





Now to my Interlace. Its not a packing puzzle, although at one point in time I did consider making it so, but decided a free form interlocking solid with curved edges looked far more sexy. But as mentioned, the design concept is similar to Bob's 5x5. Until the Baxterweb auction in November, I had never even seen Bob's 5x5 or anything similar. The Interlace was something I came up with around September this year. 

My design consists of 8 board burr pieces that "interlock" to form the shape in the photo. I had it cut from 10mm thick plexiglass. While Bob's 5x5 pieces are two units thick, the Interlace is four. And both puzzles each have a unique solution.

The Interlace also became the starting point for my CrossRoads interlocking board burr with a level 12 solution. There are probably other puzzles out there with a similar design to Bob's 5x5 or my Interlace. If anyone knows, please drop me a note, thanks!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Borg Box (Stickman No.5 Puzzle Box)

This 3D printed version of Robert Yarger's extremely famous Stickman No.5 Puzzle Box (nicknamed the Borg Box) came to me courtesy of Brian Pletcher. For meaning of the Borg, click here. For a detailed description of the original wooden version of the box, click here.


Brian had modeled a copy of the original Borg Box for 3D printing by Shapeways. You can read his account of how he came about putting all this together (no pun intended). Thanks to Brian, I received my copy early this week. 

As it is made of 3D printed plastic, its a rather light puzzle but with a surprisingly solid feel, although there is that very slight bit of flex if you try to squeeze the puzzle hard (and during play), which can't be helped since it is made of plastic. Another reason for the slight bit of flex is that the entire Borg Box is made up of an astounding 78 interlocking pieces of various shapes and sizes. Notwithstanding, the pieces hold themselves together very well. Brian had done a good job of sanding and assembling the individual pieces to ensure a proper fit before shipping the puzzle to me. 



The Borg Box is an incredible puzzle to say the least. Even though I have never seen the original, just by looking and playing with the 3D printed version, I am absolutely astounded by the level of intricacy of the pieces and the way they were designed to interact with each other to form an interlocking 6-sided box. 

It takes 32 moves to open the top panel (as pictured) and a further 3 moves to be able to start removing each panel which can then be further dissected into 78 individual pieces. To open the top is not too difficult once you start to figure things out (like which panel is the top and which is the side) and where you need to slide what etc. But I still spent the good part of an evening just to reach this stage. I have decided I would leave it to another day for the total dis-assembly of the box, if ever that day comes.

By all accounts, the re-assembly of the 78 pieces is supremely difficult, so much so that when Eric Fuller made a limited number of copies for sale, he charged $50/- for any returned puzzle requiring reassembly. Thankfully Brian has generated a Burr Tools solution for the Box so there is help at hand, not if, but when its needed!

For another write-up on the Borg Box, you may wish to check out Allard's blog post. He is very lucky to be able to afford and own one of the real ones!

The Borg Box is available for sale through Brian. My copy costs $180, but it has since gone up in price due to the changes in pricing from Shapeways. 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Blockhead

I have had the Blockhead puzzle (designed by Bill Cutler) for over a year now. In fact I have three. One from Brian Menold, a plastic version from ThinkFun (marketed under the name "a-ha Square Fit") and the third I chanced upon at a local flea market; very cheap at $3/- but works.



Needless to say, the largest and best (and most expensive but value for money at only US$30/-) of the three in my collection is the version made by Brian. It's constructed from Yellowheart and Paduak. Very nice contrast of colourful woods here. Quality, fit and finish is very good and it even has fine Paduak detailing at the four corners of the frame. 



The Blockhead has been around since 1983 and is generally considered a must-have classic. Over the years, it has been mass produced and marketed under different names. Its one of the most manufactured puzzles around, made by different puzzle craftsmen at different times.

It's a packing puzzle and the object is to fit four square blocks inside the box frame. At first glance, it seems really easy....but don't be deceived. What looks simple never usually is. And in this case, the square blocks are not really all that square either. Each block has its sides cut at an angle, making them more like 3D parallelograms. Even the insides of the box frame seem to be lop-sided! And fitting them all flush into the frame is no longer simple after all.



For the Blockhead, I already had some clues on how to go about solving it even before I got my copy, having watched someone else playing with it, so I had a head-start. But notwithstanding, I still fumbled for a while after taking out the pieces and causally scrambling them before re-arranging them correctly for insertion back into the frame. One block will always refuse to go in. I would have definitely taken much longer if I did not have any prior hints because it is a very challenging puzzle no less. And certainly one that is quite different from other more traditional packing puzzles. And too bad, Burr Tools won't help here!

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Alles Schiebung (All Shift)

This weekend, I played with another IPP34 Exchange Puzzle, the Alles Schiebung (or Google translated) "All Shift" from Hendrik Haak. Hendrik is an Ad man and runs his own advertising agency in Germany. On the side, he runs Puzzle-Shop.de, his online puzzle store.



The puzzle consists of a five layer sandwich with six sliders and the goal is to navigate the sliders to their outer most positions. Cut into the sliders are maze paths with pegs within which restrict their movements. Somewhere residing in the middle is a small marble that will also hamper the movement of the sliders unless the puzzle is oriented correctly.

Designed and made by Jean Claude Constantin, All Shift comprises of laser cut wood, acrylic and plastic. Good overall construction and finish throughout. However, I did find moving the sliders a bit stiff at times, but I guess this can't be helped given the puzzle has multiple sliding and moving parts.

All Shift is a variation of the N-ary type puzzle; in simple terms, meaning there is a repeating pattern of moves in sequence to reach the solution. And you also need a decent memory to remember the pattern! I managed to solve the puzzle but I doubt if I had systematically applied an N-ary sequence. It was more random trial and error, with a bit of logic thrown in. The marble in my copy also popped out halfway (not sure how it happened, but its suppose to anyway) and went into the crevices of my sofa! In the same manner, I reset the puzzle to its original state, but left the marble out since I didn't know at which stage the marble was to be inserted.


Solved Position
The puzzle came with the solution on a business card and while it detailed the sequence of moves numerically (a total of 42), the accompanying photos on the card were just too small to make out the numbering of the individual sliders. Even with the aid of a magnifying glass, I could not make out the images. I have shot a note to Hendrik for help and awaiting a larger more legible copy of the solution..      

Overall a nice design concept with a different application of "N-ary". For those who are into this category of puzzles, the All Shift is worth considering. It is available on Hendrik's online store.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Sorter

I had the pleasure of meeting renowned sliding block puzzle designer Serhiy Grabarchuk at IPP34 in London this past August where we exchanged puzzles. This is how I got his Sorter. 


Start Position
This is my second sliding block puzzle from Serhiy. The first was One Fish Another Fish reviewed earlier.

Very nicely constructed of colourful laser cut acrylic, the Sorter is a "sealed" puzzle; meaning the sliding pieces are encased in the tray and you can't remove the pieces....not unless you unscrew the top cover...which is not intended.


Finished Position
The object is this - to move the coloured pieces (which has various shapes cut into them) from their starting positions, to correspond with the cut-outs on the top cover. Only linear moves are allowed, no rotations permitted.

It took me a good several minutes to get the pieces into their intended positions and after the first time, I re-solved it and counted about 38 moves from start to finish. I am not sure if this is the optimal number of moves (probably not), so if anyone who has done it in lesser moves, please feel free to drop me a note.  

Overall a nice sliding block puzzle with an appropriate level of difficulty, just right for an exchange puzzle.

Edit 28 Oct 14: A well-known puzzle collector and sliding block puzzle designer has messaged me to say that the Sorter needs only 22 moves to solve!....well there you go!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Simultaneous Maze

This is another interesting design from William HuCalled the Simultaneous Maze, the object is to extract a maze plate from the box frame, while manipulating the three vertically sliding square pieces.



Made by Eric Fuller from Maple, Jatoba and acrylic, construction fit and finish is excellent and all moving pieces slide smoothly. Aesthetically, it really is a very pleasing looking puzzle with a nice colour combo and contrast. The choice of acrylic for the maze plate is a good one, since I doubt wood would have been able to take the stresses of play over time, given the way the channels in the maze are cut. However, I did detect some flexing even though the plate is 5mm thick. I think a 7-8mm thickness would have been a better choice. Let's put it this way...you can't be too rough with this one.



The puzzle provides a fair amount of challenge and while not unduly difficult in terms of what needs to be done, it is however, rather tricky. I found myself stuck a bit at the early stages until I discovered something which I had overlooked at the beginning. This is one of those puzzles that to move two steps forward, you may need to take one step backwards, in a manner of speaking. Once solved, the resetting is in the reverse, but still, unless you have memorized all the moves, it will still take some effort (and trial and error, which happened to me) to insert the maze plate back into position.
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