Sunday, 22 April 2018

Egyptian Pyramid

OK. So I’m a bit of a Mike Toulouzas fanboy… and I’m fine with that… because he makes pretty darn awesome puzzles. 

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period at all, you’ll already know that… and you’ll know that when I get the chance to buy one of Mike’s puzzles that I don’t already have, I generally jump at the opportunity… last October I jumped, again – and acquired a lovely copy of Mike’s Egyptian Pyramid. This copy came from John Moores’ personal collection and I suspect strongly that it was one of the copies used as one of Mike’s entries in the 2004 Puzzle Design Competition – it looks remarkably like Nick’s picture of the entry - and Mike didn’t make very many of them.

Anyhow, enough of this fanboy stuff and tell us about the puzzle, eh?

It’s a handsome little square pyramid made out of Palisander sitting on a Maple tray with Zebrawood columns at the corners. While it’s sitting in it’s tray there are a number of obvious pieces discernible but there’s not exactly a recognisable pattern that might just help when it comes to reassembly… 

Jacques shipped it assembled (he’s a nice man!) but suggested that when it arrived I should tip the pieces out and have a go at assembly… and then he warned me that it was a properly hard puzzle.

OK, so how hard can it be?

Pieces duly tipped… 

Hunt around for some obvious positioning – like the base – weird – there’s doesn’t seem to be any pieces that might form a nice, flat, square base - and then it hits you: you haven’t seen the base, have you? You have no idea what is going on underneath this thing – but you’re going to realise pretty soon that it aint flat! (In fact, if you take a picture of the assembled pieces outside of the frame, the pyramid appears to float rather eerily in the air!)

You have seven rather odd shapes which until a few seconds ago looked quite orderly in the shape of a pyramid… now they just look like seven oddly-shaped pieces. 

Ah well, if all else fails, I can leave it unsolved until the puzzle-solving-machine-named-Coolen comes visiting and he’ll put it back together for me…

Start experimenting and one piece announces itself as needing to go in a particular (albeit generic) position – and then one or two others will go together in a pleasing manner… and you can start making some progress.

You’re left in no doubt that the pieces are seriously interlocking – nothing just rests in place – everything interlocks with something… assembly doesn’t get trivial until the very last piece – it’s a lovely dissection that seriously challenged my spatial perception – those angles are just weird!

Over the last few months I’ve foisted it on a number of puzzlers – mostly with success after a little puzzling (generally a lot less than it took me!) – and invariably with smiles and kind words about an excellent design – (another!) great design, Mike!

Sunday, 15 April 2018


Once again on a Friday evening I find myself collecting a few Dutch puzzlers from BHX… except this time there are three of them: Rob’s spent the day sight-seeing around Brum (basically sampling craft beers and buying a few bottles – “for a friend”) and meets us at the airport when Louis and Wil arrive from Schipol. 

Back at home I make a round of coffees and, not unsurprisingly, we start puzzling. I get to have a rake through Wil’s crates and manage to score a copy of Tube It In for a friend and a few of JCC’s latest creations that haven’t made it into my collection yet. Wil gives me a prototype hyper dexterity challenge consisting of an angel dangling from a hook on a chain inside a Kikkoman bottle – the aim is to dangle a necklace around the angel’s neck… I can only picture the angel coming unhooked and NEVER going back on the hook again!

Louis presents me with a 3D-printed (his new toy!) ambiguous object that either looks like six round pipes or eight diamond shaped pipes – I haven't seen that one before and it's rather trippy! Thanks Louis!

Some time after midnight, wondering how the heck they’re still so wide awake when they’re supposed to be an hour ahead of me, I head to bed, leaving them happily chatting and playing in the puzzle cave. 

Next morning we feast on croissant and pain au chocolat before heading down to the hall to set up before the rest of the gang arrives… and for the first time in a while, I actually manage to get there first! (Probably only because Angela wasn’t able to make it – she always beats me to it!) 

It doesn’t take long for the gang to gather – although Big Steve seems to be registering a protest vote: he’s brought along a bunch of jigsaw puzzles and his new (but growing!) collection of tongue depressors. 

Actually I do the man a great disservice: the jigsaw puzzles are awesome pieces of art from Mike & Gill Hayduk – must order some of those soon! 

…the tongue depressors, well that’s another story entirely. Since I last mentioned them in the MPP XXXi write-up, things have gone a little downhill on the tongue depressor front… and for the benefit of those of you who haven’t followed Steve’s social media cries for help, here’s a potted summary: first of all, someone sent Steve a bunch of tongue depressors in an envelope with no discernible postmark – this confused Steve. 

Then he started receiving random parcels, some from Amazon with no apparent way to identify the gift-giver (yes, you really can give a gift through Amazon absolutely anonymously, just in case you were wondering!) and some from anonymous well-wishers, there were large quantities of coloured dowels (technically not tongue depressors, but close enough!), coloured popsicle sticks (ditto, but even closer!) and even a work of art (postmarked RAGUPON?): a Tongue lifting device crafted purely of painted tongue depressors – real vintage Blue Peter stuff! Somewhere in there a couple of hilarious videos popped up with helpful suggestions and encouragement… things may just get a bit silly! But even after all that, the pièce de résistance, a pair of tongue depressors arrive through Royal Mail with just Steve’s address and a stamp on each of them… pure-dead-brilliant! 

…not only had Steve brought along these wonderful artefacts (making a promising collection, don’t ya know?!) he also brought along several boxes of tongue depressors to give away… and a couple of tongue-depressor-art sculptures (some assembly required) to give away – and we ended up playing pass the parcel with them, hiding them in one another’s crates in the hopes of avoiding them – in the end Ali and I ended up the winners…!

We had a new guy called Ed join us for the day – Ali collected him from the station and we had him sat down and puzzling with us pretty soon after he’d arrived – he wanted to feel some Karakuri boxes so we’d brought a selection along for him to have a go on… generally he knocked them off pretty quickly and told us how simple he was finding them… Ali passed him a Super-Cubi and that kept him quiet for a little while – but he got it open and closed again fairly efficiently, pausing halfway to run a finger around the mechanism inside and express some awe and wonder at the engineering – you see, he’s totally unsighted – and a pretty darn good puzzler!

Shane had brought along a small number of vintage locks and his full collection of Popplocks, just in case anyone wanted a bash at one they didn’t have themselves…!

Having met up with Jim Kerley the week before, he’d given me a few copies of an old puzzle he’s reproduced in laser-cut acrylic – I give them away as a gift from Jim and ask the guys to let him know how they find the puzzle… and I trust they will! :-) 

Rich Gain had brought along some 3D printed copies of his recent designs and I managed to grab a copy of his Coronation Cube and Printable Interlocking Cube #3 (I think – someone will correct me if I’ve got that wrong!) – I had a great time fiddling with those on the Sunday evening after all my puzzling guests had left… they’re definitely worth a look. 

Wil did a reasonably steady business all day and his bags weighed a lot less on the way home than on the way over. As usual he had everything out for people to play with and it’s interesting to see how some people decide to buy a puzzle: some solve it and decide “That’s brilliant, I have to have one” and others don’t quite manage to solve it and decide they need to take one away and solve it at home… we’re a pretty strange bunch, but we all manage to justify our purchases somehow! 

Several people were tempted to try Mike Toulouzas’ Flatliner Deluxe during the course of the day, and not a single person managed to solve it:   

Toulouzas 1 – MPP hive-mind 0 

… in fact it remained unsolved by the gang until the following day when Rob managed to solve it around lunch time… Well done Rob!
Everyone who played with my new copy of Coffin’s Hexagonal Prism absolutely loved it… everyone managed to assemble it and all seemed to enjoy playing with it… it is an absolute delight!

The gang did best me on one of my own puzzles, with several of them solving my Ixia Box, even though I’d had a month’s head start on them… and that final compartment still remains locked for me… although the guys did rather helpfully put some coins and treasure inside there for me – no doubt when I eventually get it open I’ll find a few tongue depressors in there too! :-)

We had a surprise visit from our youngest MPP member in the form of Oren – aged 5 weeks – he’d thoughtfully brought parents Adin and Sophie along knowing they enjoyed a bit of puzzling!

Somewhere after 5 o’clock we all decamped back to my place for the traditional fish supper, where there was a fair amount of really good banter and some dinner, and puzzles, of course.  

When everyone else had left, the Dutch contingent and I went on puzzling in the puzzle cave and yet again I was the first one to crash, desperately needing my bed…

Sunday morning was complete with the traditional Coolen-Puzzle-Solving-Service, sorting out a couple of pesky little blighters for me, before I dropped him and Wil off at BHX for their flight home… followed by more puzzling and some lunch before Rob was safely deposited there for his flight home… and another fine MPP weekend draws to a close. 

Monday, 26 March 2018

Yin Yang Master Puzzlebox

I have a simple rule about emails from Robert Yarger: whatever he offers, I say “Yes, please!”. Quickly. So it won’t surprise you, dear reader, that when I heard from Rob that he’d reserved a copy of a joint venture with the late Randal Gatewood for me, that I said “Yes, please!” and duly dispatched some PayPal… but this was a little different. 

Rob had been planning a collaboration with Randal around a new puzzle, but sadly those plans got kiboshed with Randal’s untimely passing. When Rob heard that Randal had been partway through completing a run of 60 copies of his latest puzzle box when he passed away, he hatched a plan with Karin, Randal’s widow, to resurrect the project and complete the run.

Randal had pre-cut most of the parts needed for the run and assembled the puzzle mechanisms for pretty much all of them, so Rob rounded up the unfinished bits and duly set about completing the project and adding a bit of his own touch… and then offering them for sale with the proceeds going to Karin – What an absolute gentleman! 
The resulting puzzles bear both Rob’s ‘Stickman’ and Randal’s ‘Quagmire’ branding - bringing the best of two puzzling legends together in a single puzzle. 

The five-inch cubed padauk box has a wonderfully detailed lid with an inset yin yang symbol and an unusual peg sticking upwards… with maple and purpleheart accents setting off the details rather fetchingly. The yin yang symbol has a couple of shorter pegs in the two halves and your first instinct turns out to be useful… sort of… inasmuch as the symbol will generally turn, but the lid will stay resolutely locked in place…

It’s not super-hard as a puzzle – Rob describes the solution as “requiring a minimum of at least 7 elusive steps” but it does yield to an inquisitive mind, a sensitive touch and a keen sense of observation. 

Quite a poignant collaboration.