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Friday, 1 November 2013

Neo - Puzzle Ring (Jeff Bell)

For a long time now I have been trying to find myself a puzzle ring that I could wear as an everyday piece of jewellery. There are several reasons why I haven't been able to find one up till now. The ones you do find are all originating from the same ancient Turkish design (which I don't think particularly suits me), they all tend to be very bulky, they fall apart very easily while wearing, and they also tend to be expensive for what they are. So imagine my surprise when I found something perfect while idly browsing the internet one day!
Neo (Assembled)
This is a lovely 3-band puzzle ring by the name of Neo. It is custom designed and made from Sterling Silver by the very nice Jeff Bell in Thailand. Jeff's online shop can be found here: PuzzleRingMaker.

I have only ever known of a few original puzzle ring designers, so to find Jeff's shop was a pleasant surprise!

Neo (On Arrival)
After a good bit of browsing and narrowing down I decided upon the Neo design. It's nice and sleek, and not too assuming. I placed an order immediately, making sure to add my ring size because I actually do want to wear this one (unlike other rings I have ordered in the past).

I bought my ring on the 18th, it was made and shipped in ten days, and then arrived four days later! Four days from Thailand! I've waiting longer than that for parcels coming from the same town as where I live.

The ring is really nicely made, no visible joins in the silver and a great finish inside and out. The pieces fit together snugly and the ring size is dead-on as well.

Easily one of the best attributes of this design is its inherent ability to hold itself together very well. There's no worry of it disassembling while you're wearing it.

Is it difficult as a puzzle? Not hugely. But I wanted to go for a simpler 3-band design because I intend to use it to demonstrate to puzzle 'muggles' what kind of puzzles I'm interested in. So every time I hear the phrase "so you like jigsaws then?" I can give them the ring to try as a good example of a mechanical puzzle.

I would say that anyone could quite happily solve this design with minimal patience. If you give it logical thought you'll have it together in a minute or two tops, but if you favour the 'random motion' approach it could take you a decent bit longer.

As you can see in the picture there are handy engraved markers on the inside of each band, and these show you which order to assemble the bands around each other. So if you ever have a bad case of 'cantrememberhowtosolveitquickly' there's a handy safety net there for you as well.

Neo currently costs an incredibly reasonable $40, and there are many more original designs available for similar prices. And if silver isn't really your colour you can also order the rings in the gold purity you'd like. Based on my first experience I honestly can't recommend this shop enough.

Buy from: PuzzleRingMaker
Also available on Etsy: PuzzleRingMaker

Friday, 13 September 2013

Popplock T8 (Rainer Popp)

Woo hoo! The time has finally come for another Popplock to be solved. After the release of the T7 back at the end of last year I've been waiting for the next in this now infamous trick lock series, and I was hoping for a bit more of a puzzle challenge this time round. I was not disappointed!

So here it is, the T8. If you are familiar with the rest of the series you will notice the overall design is pretty different in this one. Whereas the other seven looked undeniably like padlocks, the T8 sports a cylindrical body with a look a more like a 'd-lock' usually associated with bicycles.

There's no brass body this time, Rainer has opted for a stainless steel approach. The only visible brass is the knob-like contraption on the end. Personally I like this. Brass -whilst looking lovely- has an issue with getting dull and dirty during handling very quickly. Stainless steel on the other hand will continue to look the same pretty much forever without need for regular cleaning.

I did mention that this is much more of a puzzle than the previous T7, and not only that but it is an excellent solving experience even in comparison to any of the previous locks in the series. I wouldn't say it is the most difficult, but it is definitely one of the most fun to solve, and I think many would agree that it has one of the most innovative mechanisms ever seen in a puzzle lock. Since I received it I keep finding myself solving it and admiring the workings.

As a solve it didn't take me an epic amount of time, I'd estimate somewhere in the region of 45 minutes. But I've since heard of solve times varying from 7 minutes into days, so as always with puzzles 'your mileage may vary'.

If you're after one of these I'd recommend being very quick. They can currently be found with the usual suspects; Puzzle MasterGrand Illusions and of course Rainer Popp himself. The price tag is high, but I doubt anyone would be disappointed. Definitely another excellent addition to the Popplock legacy.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Impossible Bottle (Harry Eng)

I know they aren't mechanical puzzles in the strictest sense, but I really do love impossible objects. I like to ponder over how they have been created, but strangely I don't really want to know the answers as I'd much rather keep on guessing.
Harry Eng is widely regarded as being the master of the 'impossible bottles'. Over the 64 years of his life Harry put decks of cards, tennis balls, tools and even shoes into glass bottles. A particular signature of his was being able to tie complete and complex knots inside bottles as well!

I was very lucky as to stumble across this particular bottle on eBay of all places! 

It was used as an exchange puzzle in Seattle in 1994 for IPP14. It is just a standard glass bottle containing a full monkey's fist knot loose in the bottom, with a whole tennis ball above it. The neck of the bottle is obviously too small for either of these two items to be in there, and yet there they are.

In case you were curious, yes I did check to see if the tennis ball was fully inflated by prodding it with a pen, and it is. I can only guess how this very curious object was created, but like I said, I don't really want to know the answer. I much prefer to pose the question to others instead and see what kind of amazing and elaborate ideas they come up with.

Keep an eye out for some of these creations if you find them as interesting as I do. Or as an even better suggestion, have a try at making one yourself! I mean how hard could it be right?

Friday, 26 July 2013

AlCyl (Iwahiro)

So very much has happened since my last blog post; I went a few MPPs, got married etc. but I think it's about time for a new post!

This rather lovely looking puzzle goes by the name of AlCyl, which is short for 'Aluminium Cylinder'. It made it's first appearance in 2009 as an IPP exchange puzzle in San Francisco, designed by Hirokazu Iwasawa (AKA: Iwahiro) and made by Seiko Kogyo Co. This particular version is a new run of the design which has been available from Wil Strijbos over the last year or so.

AlCyl is machined entirely from aluminium, which has then been anodised in blue. The colour of the the cylinders from the 'new' run of puzzles is slightly darker than the original 2009 version, but apart from that they are completely identical in size and design.

The AlCyl almost seems like it was born to live next to the Aluminium Cylinder and Washer Cylinder puzzles from Wil Strijbos. The AlCyl is larger than both of the others measuring in at 48x60mm, and it has a pretty decent heft to it as well.

The objective of this puzzle is to open it and retrieve the hidden coin inside. As a design it is very simple, and while that doesn't always mean the puzzle itself will be simple as well in this case that is exactly what it means. Most -if not all- puzzlers will be able to solve this puzzle in little time. The only time I have heard of a puzzler not being able to solve it is when Kevin somehow managed to jam his shut by accident (it's funny how it always seems to be Kevin).

This would be a great addition alongside a collection of beautifully made metal puzzles, just don't expect to have the solving experience of your life with it.

The AlCyl is currently available for a very reasonable price directly from Wil Strijbos.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Augmented Stellation / Vega (Stewart Coffin)

Not so long ago a new puzzle site popped up that was offering excellent hand crafted puzzles for very affordable prices. This site is Wood Wonders, which is run by a skilled woodworker by the name of Brian Menold. Brian has created puzzles from the designs of several prolific puzzle designers, including perhaps the most prolific of them all, Stewart Coffin.

I've ordered a few things from Wood Wonders in the past, and I've seen plenty more ordered by others. Brian's craft skills just seem to be getting better and better, so I thought I'd share my most recent acquisition.

Augmented Stellation - Fully Assembled
Brian sold this Stewart Coffin puzzle under the name of 'Augmented Stellation', although I believe it is the same design as Vega which is number 46 in Stewart's numbering system and was first made in 1972.

Brian made a few different wood combinations in the latest run, and although they all looked great I was lucky enough to get hold of my favourite which is made from a light coloured English sycamore with contrasting tips in walnut. The cuts on this puzzle are spot on, leading to a perfectly snug fit. And the points are sharp!

The puzzle is made up of six identical pieces, and it is essentially the same as the Diagonal Burr that can be found practically everywhere. It is quite tricky if you haven't come across this design before, but very easy if you have. The ends of the pieces have been extended to give the pointed look. I think it looks best when it is take to the very edge of collapse.

I really recommend keeping an eye on Wood Wonders, I'm always eager to see what designs Brian will create next, especially since his creations just seem to be getting better and better.

Almost Apart
In Pieces

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Gear Ball (Oskar / Meffert's)

A while back I wrote about a twisty puzzle called the Gear Cube designed by Oskar van Deventer. To this day it is still my absolutely favourite puzzle from the twist genre as it is such a fun puzzle to solve and it looks awesome. Recently Meffert's decided to produce a spherical version of the exact same puzzle, and how could I pass that up?
Gear Ball by Meffert's - Solved

As a puzzle it is essentially exactly the same as the original Gear Cube, so I won't go into that here as you can always check back on the previous post. The only real difference is that where on the Cube I had to add small stickers (Fisher Design) to the inner edge pieces, the Ball comes with those pieces already colour tiled along with all of the other pieces. So out of the box it is technically more difficult that the original Gear Cube.

I've played with (not solved) quite a few twisties now, and honestly this is one of the best turning mass produced puzzles I've come across thus far, which is especially surprising considering it a puzzle based on a geared mechanism! The pieces almost never catch each other, and the black ridges dividing the coloured faces make it nice and easy to quickly turn the sides back and forth. You can also easily remove the square plastic centre caps on each face to loosen or tighten the screws beneath if you feel to, but mine didn't require any fiddling at all.

I really think this is the kind of puzzle that anyone can enjoy, so if you don't already have one I'd suggest adding it to your list. It is currently available from several retailers including HKNowStore and of course Meffert's.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Topless Box (Eric Fuller)

I don't usually manage to blog about a puzzle immediately after its release (mostly because I'm just never that quick off the mark), but I enjoyed this one so much I thought I'd write about it while it was still fresh in my mind.

This is the Topless Box, and it is Eric Fuller's latest contribution to the puzzle box genre. Eric's puzzles always sell out pretty fast, so I always consider myself lucky when I get hold of his creations.

This puzzle was created by Eric as part of the huge 'Apothecary' project, which will see contributions from twelve great puzzle craftsmen combined into one puzzle chest of epic proportions. Definitely one for the books!

Just like many of Eric's previous puzzle boxes the Topless Box looks pretty unassuming at first glance. The main body of the box is made from a very nice striped, quarter-sawn sapele which looks incredible under the light, and the two 'lids' are made from quilted maple. The whole box feels really sturdy, and even Eric said that they were designed with longevity in mind. This was great news for me! Some of Eric's puzzles don't deal well with levels of high humidity, so I've always had to keep them locked away in a specially dehumidified box, but this puzzle looks like it'll work well whatever the weather.

The box starts to look much more interesting as soon as a lid is removed. Now you can see a really nice contrast with the lovely orange-red colour of the padauk.

But now you start to see a problem. The 'lid' has been removed and the box is clearly not open. How odd.

Maybe if we try the other 'lid' then that will be the way into the box.

Nope...that doesn't seem to be the way forward either. And now the name of the box starts to make sense.

As Eric says;

"The box has two lids and neither a top nor a bottom. Figuring out how to deal with that conundrum will hopefully get you on your way..."
When I first saw pictures of this box on Eric's site I built a picture in my head of how I expected it to work, and strangely (because it doesn't happen that often) I turned out to be right! Because of this I actually managed to solve it pretty quickly, certainly in under ten minutes, but I definitely wouldn't take this as an indication of how difficult it is. I expect that if I hadn't had conjured up the correct expectation before its arrival then it would've taken me significantly longer to solve.

I've now been lucky enough to have had the chance to solve a good few of Eric's puzzle boxes, and I still haven't found one that I didn't really enjoy. The Topless Box has many of the great qualities that I look for in a good puzzle box: It looks great (inside and out), it has an excellent build quality (which is to be expected from Eric), and above all else it has a fun and reliable solution. Because of all of these this is actually one of my favourites from Eric thus far.

If you ever get the chance to buy one of Eric's puzzle boxes then honestly don't hesitate, I very much doubt you'll be disappointed.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Half Truncated Cube Build

I've really been wanting to do a proper shape modification on a twisty puzzle for a while now, and I finally managed to get around to doing it!

Now, I have no experience in these things whatsoever, so I picked up all the info I needed from useful sources like the Forum and Tony Fisher's YouTube Videos. And I was surprised to find that many of the more simple modifications are not actually that difficult to make.

I was given a spare, unloved, standard Rubik's Cube a while ago, and I knew that I would end up using it for my first shape mod. Then I had a look around to see what would be a nice puzzle to make as my first stepping stone into puzzle modding, and I decided to go with a Half Truncated Cube, which is essentially a cube which has had half of its corners removed.

Poor thing had no idea what was coming...
So, I started with a bog standard Rubik's 3x3x3, then I immediately proceeded by hacking off four of the corners!

In order to do this I had to cover the cube in masking tape so that it wouldn't move during cutting. I then drew on the lines I wanted to cut along using a pencil and ruler and checked to make sure everything was in the right place before making any cuts.

A not-quite Rubik's Cube

The cutting was done using my Dremel 300, which was surprisingly easy. The cube spits of some pretty hot plastic shrapnel during cutting, so if you're going to do this make sure you're wearing long sleeves and some kind of eye protection.

Here is the result of the cutting. The cuts don't need to be perfectly clean or accurate, and that would be hard to achieve anyway, instead I didn't cut quite up to where I had drawn the lines.

Once the corners had been removed I could use a flat power sander to sand the corners right up to the lines. This also made sure that the resultant faces were perfectly flat.

Now we have our Half Truncated Cube shape, but there is still the small matter of the fact there are holes in the puzzle, because all those cut pieces were hollow.

Pieces filled with Milliput
This problem is rectified with some wonderful stuff called Milliput. Milliput is a type of epoxy putty. It has the texture of the sticky tac you put posters up on the wall with, and it comes in several different colours. Since my cube was black it seemed best to go with the black variety. You thoroughly mix the epoxy from two parts, then you can use it immediately. I used some water to help with the moulding as it gave the Milliput a kind of clay-like texture which enabled me to get a much smoother finish along the edges of the pieces, and it stopped it from sticking to my fingers.

Each piece of the cube (apart from the centres  needed filling, and this would take a lot of Milliput to achieve. It seemed like such a waste to use so much of the Milliput, so instead I mostly filled the pieces with white sticky tac, then filled the last part up with Milliput. This dramatically reduced the amount of Milliput used.
As you can see I took the cube apart for this bit as it was easier, and this way there was no chance of me accidentally sticking different parts together using the epoxy. I left the parts overnight, and by morning the epoxy was rock hard and ready for sanding again. It actually sets in four hours, but I wanted to be sure.
At this point I could remove the white sticky tac from inside the pieces using the hole at the back of each piece. This way it makes the puzzle much lighter again, and I can reuse the tac for my next project.

Sanded again and sprayed black
As you can probably tell from the picture, I had slightly overfilled each piece with the epoxy to leave a margin of error, so I once again needed to sand the pieces flat. I reassembled the pieces back into their original shape and used the flat power sander to sand off the excess black epoxy.

Sanding black Milliput kind of gives the pieces a grey finish, so to bring back the colour uniformity I gave the whole puzzle a coat of black modelling spray paint. This made the grey pieces black again, and also gave the whole puzzle a nice matte finish.

From a previous project I worked out that it was better to give the puzzle this light coat of spray paint while it was still assembled. A light coat of paint done from a distance will not stick the pieces together at all. It will give the whole puzzle a nice even finish and also the paint won't land on any of the internal edges, so the cube will turn just as well after painting as it did before.

All that was left to do now was to add some new stickers! Luckily, because this is such a popular design for many first-time modders, there were already stickers available. This is lucky because otherwise I would've had to painstakingly measure and cut each sticker by hand, and that would've added many hours onto the build time.
I ordered my stickers from OlivĂ©r Nagy who runs a website called Oliver's Stickers. It is a brilliant website! He supplies a massive range of puzzle stickers, and will even make stickers to order if you come up with a new design. So for just over 2 Euros I saved myself having to do a lot of extra work!

The stickers arrived a few days later, and after ten minutes or so of stickering this was the result:

I'm very happy with how my first puzzle mod turned out, plus I had a load of fun making it! The total cost of materials for this build probably came to less than £10, and for that I get a new puzzle for my collection that I can proudly say I made myself.

This certainly won't be my last build, and if you haven't given it a go yourself yet then I highly recommend that you do. You'll have great fun, and there's nothing more satisfying that seeing a puzzle come to life that you've made yourself.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Dutch Cube Day (DCD) 2012 / MPP8

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to make it to this years Dutch Cube Day (DCD) event! I was extremely happy to be going as it was to be the first international puzzle event that I have ever attended. A couple of the other Midlands rabble managed to make it last year, and they came back with such good stories and pictures from the event that I just knew I had to make the trip out to the Netherlands this year.

It started with a 4am drive on the Saturday to pick up Ali (a fellow MPPer) and then we were straight off to Luton to catch the plane. I made the slight error of going to the cinema the night before, so to say I was a wee bit tired would be the understatement of the year. But still I was very excited for the day to come, and I think that easily carried me through the whole weekend!

Once myself and Ali had landed in Amsterdam we met up with Allard, Chris, Nigel and Louis (even more fellow MPPers) at the airport. Allard Chris and Nigel had flown in from Birmingham just before us, and Louis caught the train from Eindhoven to meet us there. Louis has made the trip out to the Midlands many times now for our (very) regular MPPs, and it was nice to finally be able to make it out to the Netherlands to meet him there for a change. So many of us Midland lot made the trip out that we decided to combine DCD with the 8th MPP!

The Hotel Lobby
We travelled from the airport to the hotel via train, which was only a short distance away. And as the hotel was right next to the train station, that made the travelling aspect of the trip very laid back. Although I dare to think where I would've ended up if Louis hadn't been there to direct us.

I took a photo of the hotel entrance. It's a terrible photo that doesn't really show anything, and I can only really blame tiredness for that. I kept forgetting to take photos as there was always so much going on, then I'd suddenly remember and start taking loads.....then forget again, and so on.

Off To The DCD Venue
We stopped at the hotel for a while for everyone to settle in, then we met up in the restaurant for a bit of brunch. Right around this time Wil Strijbos and Christiaan Eggermont turned up and joined us for some food before we all headed off to the actual DCD venue to help Wil unpack his wares for the next day. This years event was going to be held at Sint-Maartenscollege in Voorburg, which as luck (or good planning) would have it was only a ten minute walk away from our hotel.

Only a couple of puzzlers had turned up today to set up their stalls for Sunday, including Wil and Bernhard Schweitzer, and as well as helping to unpack we looked through the puzzles that would be available the next day and chatted with everyone there.

A Good Few IPP Exchange Puzzles
After a few hours we all jumped into cars and cabs and made our way over to the home of Rob Hegge, who had kindly offered to entertain a group of unruly puzzlers for the afternoon. Frans de Vreugd and Simon Nightingale were already puzzling away on our arrival, and Rob made us feel very welcome with food and drink, although I think our attention was mostly taken up by his awesome puzzle collection!

An Incredible Puzzle Room
Rob kept us thoroughly perplexed for most of the afternoon. Whenever one puzzle was solved (usually a puzzle box in my case) another one appeared shortly afterwards. He was very trusting and let us try any puzzle that was out on display in the cabinets, although I did try my best to make sure that puzzles went back into the cabinets in the same state that they came out.

I think all of us there managed to find a fair few puzzles that we've never solved or even seen before. I got completely stuck trying to solve the Monkey's Palaquin puzzle box by Shiro Tajima, but happily managed to make my way through a good few other puzzles to make up for it. I have to admit that I spent most of my time working on the puzzle boxes because they are my favourite puzzle type, but there were so many other puzzles there that it was difficult to stick with one puzzle too long as there was always something else I wanted to look at next.

Out For Dinner
After a few hours (probably...I completely lost track of time so have no idea how long we were there), we managed to pry ourselves away from Rob's place and travel en masse (there were eleven of us) to find somewhere nice to have dinner. We dropped our stuff back at the hotel and then proceed to wander the streets with Bernhard at the helm trying to find an Italian restaurant that he remembered. After a few backtracking manoeuvres we arrived at the restaurant and sat ourselves down for some good food, drinks and generally puzzling conversation. Wil would regularly pull a puzzle or perplexing object out of his bag and proceed to hand it around, which always managed to conjure up a fair few laughs. At one point Louis even tried to solve the restaurant wall! He did have a few drinks by this point, although none of them were alcoholic so I'm not sure what his excuse was.

After dinner we all toddled back to the hotel for a very overdue rest to get ourselves ready for the main event in the morning. Most of us hung around in the bar for a few more drinks before heading off to bed.

A Teeny Tiny Bit Puzzling
A few of the guys headed off early the next morning to get to the DCD venue, but I went across an hour or so later with a few others who didn't fancy quite such an early start. 
Upon arrival we signed in and picked up our name badges and the tiniest souvenir puzzle you could ever imagine. I love miniature puzzles, so this little 3D-printed creation by Rich Gain was right up my street, and everyone else there seemed to really like them as well. 

The pretty large main hall was full of puzzlers and their puzzles. Tables and tables of puzzles! I knew to expect quite a few people and puzzles to be there, but I was still surprised by the sheer amount and variety of them!
In The Main Hall

We all split up and started wandering around the room. I kept seeing puzzles that I've been searching for all over the place! And occasionally they were even being sold by the designers themselves! It was great to finally be able to put faces to so many of the puzzlers I talk to regularly online and via emails. It really was a room of some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. A couple of them were even obliging enough to sign some of their own puzzle designs that I had bought that day.

Oskar And His Creations
It was a real highlight to be able to meet Oskar van Deventer for the first time, and have a play with some of his latest 3D-printed designs. He even brought along a copy of his infamous 17x17x17 cube, although I have a feeling that not too many people attempted a solve while they were there.

Another thing I was very much looking forward to was to picking up a long awaited puzzle from the incredible craftsman Jack Krijnen. I'll write a bit more about that properly later on though as it is well deserving of its own review.
17 x 17 x 17
Marcel Gillen has his own table there selling puzzles  of all types, including some of his own hard to come by designs. Tom van der Zanden was there showing some of his 3D-printed twisty puzzle designs, including his incredible Multidodecahedron, which I was thrilled to finally see 'in the flesh'. Goetz Schwandtner was there, and he brought along several 'N-ary' puzzles (that I really enjoy), including a design called Fidgety Rabbits by Namick Salakhov which was also an entrant in this years IPP Design Competition. I really loved this puzzle, and I made a mental note to track one down for myself eventually.

So many more puzzlers were met, and many many more puzzles were solved. I can't quite get pictures of them all into this post, but if you're interested in seeing the full set of pictures then visit the DCD folder in my puzzle image gallery and you'll find them there.

Speedcubing Finals
At the end of the event we stayed to watch the finals of the Dutch Open speedcubing competition, where we got to see the European record being beaten for a 3x3x3 cube with an average time of just 7.66 seconds! After the event had finished we were all exhausted (and somewhat lighter in terms of our wallets), so we retired back to the hotel to pick up our bags ready to make our way back to the airport and then onto home.

It was a truly incredible weekend, and I can't express enough thanks to everyone there who made it as fun as it was. I met many new puzzlers, and saw many many new puzzles, and somehow a few of them managed to creep back home with me. It was really great fun, and I'm definitely looking forward to making the trip out again next year.

The Puzzles That Somehow Followed Me Home

Friday, 19 October 2012

Glass Nails (Village Games)

Glass Nails - Entangled
Glass Nails - Disentangled
Of all the puzzles in my collection, these are probably the most delicate.
I picked them up a while back on one of my regular trips to Village Games in Camden (London). There were quite a few of these there as I think a batch was made specially for the shop.

As a puzzle this is only really a standard two piece disentanglement, so I won't go into the solving aspect of it. You normally see this type of puzzle pretty much everywhere either made out from simple metal rods or bent nails. Even quite a few Christmas crackers have them in. This version however is made from glass!

I don't know why, but for some reason I find it amusing to have a puzzle that is so well known for being essentially unbreakable made from something as fragile as glass.

I have actually managed to solve it a couple of times as well, but I was pretty nervous in doing so. Really it was added to my collection as more of a curiosity for people to look at and ponder over rather than play with too often.

Still, it's definitely an interesting concept, but I don't think I'd be wanting any more in the collection. I'm nervous enough trying to look after just the one!
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