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Thursday, 26 May 2011

Midlands Puzzle Party No.3 (July 2011)

G'day fellow puzzlers!

Some of you may have read my previous blog post from when I attended the First Midlands Puzzle Party a few months ago in Birmingham (UK) where a great time was had by all of us that attended. 

I just wanted to pass on an invitation on behalf of Allard (the host) to any of you who may happen to be in the neighbourhood on the 3rd of July as we will once again be getting together for the 3rd of these very casual puzzle gatherings.

As I mentioned it is going to be hosted by my friend (and fellow blogger) Allard at his own home and it will run from around 10:30 to 17:30.

If you are interested in attending then get in touch with Allard via his blog or get in touch with me. It would be great to see a few new faces there, and it really is casual, so just bring yourself and any puzzles that you would like to share with some like-minded people.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Quattro Formaggi (Cruiser)

This packing puzzle has become one of my favourites for giving to first time puzzlers. Partly because it looks so simple that anyone is happy to try it, but mostly because I find it interesting to see lots of different people making exactly the same kind of mistakes (I'm not evil....honest!).

This puzzle is called 'Quattro Formaggi', and it was made by Jean Claude Constantin. However I recently discovered that it is in fact yet another design that came about some years ago from Stewart Coffin, which he originally named 'Cruiser'. Constantin revived this puzzle and brought it to the mass market, and in doing so he gave it the appealing 'Swiss cheese' appearance that you can see in the photo above.

Like most of Constantin's other puzzles this one is made from simple laser cut wood. It is comprised of only four pieces and a tray, so the objective is pretty apparent from the start (another good reason why you can give it to anyone), you must pack all four of the pieces into the tray so that they lay flat.

Many people that I have given it to start off with the preconception that you have to fill all of the space within the tray, but after studying the pieces a bit better they come to the conclusion that there is no way that could physically happen. This is one of a couple of misconceptions that really can keep people going on this puzzle for some really long periods of time.

If you have come across some of Stewart Coffin's other tray packing puzzle designs then you will have an idea of how this works. Many of his packing designs use very few pieces, and this really adds to their appeal. I really love puzzles that look simple and end up being quite difficult. I had come across some of Stewart's designs before, so I did have an unfair advantage and managed to solve this puzzle pretty quickly, but I have also given it to some non-puzzlers only to have it thrown back at me several days later after they had tried and failed many times.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Ball Puzzle (Charles O. Perry)

Upon browsing the interweb a while ago I came across a website displaying several puzzles that I had not ever seen before, and they looked truly phenomenal! This website belongs to the sculptor, designer and architect Charles O. Perry.

Charles only ever made a very small number of puzzles before he sadly passed away earlier this year, and as such it is very rare to find any of them for sale. So imagine my surprise when I came across two of his designs available for sale at Puzzle Master!

This design is called The Ball Puzzle, which was designed by Charles O. Perry in 1967. This version is machined from solid brass with a 42mm measurement across, which gives it a really nice weight and feel, but if this isn't your kind of thing then it is also currently available in a Plexi Glass Version which measures 70mm across, both are originals by Charles O. Perry and as such are hand engraved with the name 'Perry'. The puzzle comes in a nice little drawstring bag with a printed label stating the puzzle's name and an image of the solution.

The puzzle itself is a modified version of a standard 6-piece diagonal burr, but the real treat with this puzzle is in the design and build quality. The rounded edges turn the well known 6-piece burr shape into something far more aesthetically pleasing and original, plus the locking piece is fitted with a sprung ball bearing that holds it in place, giving the puzzle a nice and solid solved state.
This is another of those puzzles that if you leave out on the dining room table people cannot help picking it up and asking what it is. It just has one of those shapes I guess.

As a puzzle it's not particularly difficult, although I say that knowing exactly how basic 6-piece burrs work, if you gave it to a non-puzzler then it can still be quite a challenge trying to hold it in the right places to assemble it.

Here's what the ball looks like disassembled into it's six pieces, note the solid central locking piece engraved with Perry's name:

I liked this puzzle so much that I also have the Plexi Glass version on the way to me, and I'll add some photos of that one when it arrives as a comparison.

EDIT: And here is a picture that shows a great comparison between the two different versions of this puzzle:

These puzzles are of such a good quality that they are already collector's items, so having one of each seems like the right thing to do. The only thing I am sad of is that I am unlikely to ever own any of Perry's other puzzle designs as they are so few and far between.

Both versions of The Ball Puzzle are currently available from Puzzle Master (Brass and Plexi Glass), and I can definitely say that you should consider adding one of these to your collection before they disappear and become as hard to find as Perry's other great puzzles.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Mmmm Puzzle

Here's a really cool packing puzzle designed by Hirokazu Iwasawa (Iwahiro) that I picked up from Sloyd in Finland:

This is the Mmmm Puzzle, designed in 2004 by the brilliant puzzle designer called Hirokazu Iwasawa (or better known as Iwahiro). This puzzle is one of the more modest looking ones in my collection, it is made from plain but strong wood that is cut very precisely. Plus it has a really nice brand on the lid with Iwahiro's name, it kind of reminds me of many of Makishi's designs that are finished in the same way.

I was really wanting to try this puzzle out after I had a go at another of Iwahiro's puzzles called the 'ODD Puzzle' at the Midlands Puzzle Party (MPP) in February. I really enjoyed that one so I thought it couldn't hurt to try another. A slippery slope I know....

This puzzle consists of couple parts; you have the four perfectly identical wooden'M' shaped pieces, and you also have a wooden box with a lid. One of the first things I noticed was that the lid is a bit odd, there is a small wooden block fixed to the inside of the lid which I didn't really understand at first, but all became clear pretty quickly.

The idea behind this puzzle is to pack all four of the 'M' shaped pieces into the wooden box provided, but the lid must also fully close with the pieces in the box. This is where that little wooden block on the lid comes into play. You will find quite a few different ways to place the four pieces into the box, but there is only one solution with which you will also be able to close the lid on top of it.

The way I went about solving this was to try fitting two pieces into the box, then three and eventually four. With this kind of progression I was able to deduce that there really was only one way that it was ever going to work, but making it happen takes lots of thought and also a bit of dexterity as well. It probably took me about 5-6 minuted to solve, and I was really surprised by just how much empty space there is in the box even once it is completed!

This is a very clever packing puzzle, and probably one of my favourite designs. Considering that I got it for less than 20 Euros I'm extremely happy with it.

I bought my copy of this puzzle from the ever helpful people over at Oy Sloyd Ab. If you take a look you should also be able to find a couple of other designs by Iwahiro, and I'd recommend getting any that you can find.

Also check out Brian's dealings with the Mmmm Packing Puzzle here: LINK

Saturday, 14 May 2011


Luckily a fellow puzzler friend of mine was able to win one of Marcel Gillen's rarer chess piece puzzles, and I'm really glad he did as he's been kind enough to let me borrow it for the sake of this review. Thanks Ali!

For those of you who are just picking up my blog here, I have also written reviews for a couple of other chess piece themed puzzles from puzzle designer Marcel Gillen. The others are; All Hail The King and All Hail The Queen.

As you can probably tell from the very distinctive design of this puzzle it is called 'Rook'. Like the others I reviewed it stands at a quite impressive size, this one being 9.5cm tall. The top of the rook is engraved with the letters 'M' and 'G' (Marcel Gillen's initials), and it will depress several millimetres down into the body. And if you shake it you will be able to head rattling from the inside, but you cannot see what is causing it (although you might be able to make an educated guess).

When I originally reviewed the King and Queen I pointed out one main thing that bugged me about them, and that was the quality.  That was because of the fact that they were quite cheaply manufactured by Bits And Pieces, and as such they were cast moulded which resulted in unsightly casting lines down each side of the puzzle and a sort of hollow feeling when holding them. I am happy to report that the Rook suffers from no such markings. Unlike the other two the Rook is machined from solid aluminium, and not only does this make it look nicer but you can also feel that the quality is higher when you hold it.

Just like the other two puzzles in the chess piece series, the objective is to find a hidden object within the piece. And in this case you are trying to find the rather nice looking miniature pawn piece which you can see in the picture below.

As a puzzle the Rook is about on par with the King and Queen, but because the manufacturing quality is better the mechanism is not temperamental, it actually works every time! If you've solved the other two you will be able to solve the Rook without too much hassle, although I will say that I prefer the mechanism of the Rook to the others.

Sadly once again I have reviewed a puzzle that is quite difficult to get hold of. The only way you will be able to add one of these to your collection is by bidding on online puzzle auctions just like my friend did to get this one. Check out Puzzle Paradise and Cubic Dissection.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Aluminium Burrs (Wil Strijbos)

Now these are some of my favourite looking puzzles in my collection, you just can't beat the look of machined aluminium.

So these great looking six-piece burrs are produced by Wil Strijbos in the Netherlands (who as you may remember designed one of my very favourite puzzles; the Aluminium Cylinder). They are perfectly machined out of solid aluminium block, and as you can see by the images below the 10 Move Burr has un-notchable pieces (cannot be cut with a regular saw) and as such is fixed in some places using screws that have been sunk into the pieces, and also aluminium 'plugs' that substitute for solid block. The rounded 'plugs' actually make the movement very smooth, and as the width is the same it doesn't compromise the fit.

I cannot even begin to describe the fit of these puzzles, it really is spot on! When I first saw the pictures I thought that there would be a good chance that they would rattle around quite a bit during the solving process, but in reality the fit is so snug that the pieces won't move even a fraction in any unintended direction. I can give one of these to a puzzler and they will have to look for the first move, the piece won't move by itself.

Now let's move past the looks and go onto the puzzle designs.

7 Move Burr (Gaby Games)
10 Move Burr (Piston Puzzle)

Wil sells these as the '7 Move Burr' (requires seven moves to remove the first piece) and the '10 Move Burr' (requires ten moves to remove the first piece. The puzzles themselves are not of Wil's design, they are beautiful reproductions of two very well known burr designs, one of which is my absolute favourite.

The '7 Move Burr' is a reproduction of 'Gaby Games' designed by Phillipe Dubois (which has a difficulty of 6.4), and the '10 Move Burr' is a reproduction of the 'Piston Puzzle' by Peter Marineau (which has a difficulty of 9.3). A big thanks to Rob for this information!
The Piston Puzzle has such a fun movement that is fun to repeat, and that's why it easily my favourite burr to date.

The burr difficulty 9.3 (for example) means that the first piece requires 9 moves to be removed, and the second requires 3. The numbers in this case don't match up with Wil's names as it really depends on whether you count two pieces moving at the same time as one move or two.

Wil has made a couple of runs of these puzzles (he had to make more to keep up with demand), but the numbers are still pretty limited as the cost and difficulty to produce them outweighs what he could reasonably charge for them (see examples of GarE Maxton's work to see what metal machining could cost you) .

So if you're after a set then I'd get in touch with him as soon as possible.

Thanks again to Wil for another couple of exceptional puzzles and great service as always!

Edit: I have also now been told that Oy Sloyd Ab in Finland have also got some in stock! So if you're having trouble finding one then drop them an email and they might be able to help you out.
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