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Friday, 30 March 2012

Z-Shift (Peter Hajek)

Some of you may know that another of the relatively regular Midlands Puzzle Parties (MPPs) has just passed by, and I'm confident in saying that a great time was had by everyone there.

One of the other attendees and fellow puzzlers who I met there was Peter Hajek, who I had met several times previously on my recent travels through the puzzle world. With him he brought a handful of very interesting and clever puzzles, several of his own design. This is one such puzzle that Peter brought with him, and that I was lucky enough to be able to get a copy of for myself.

This puzzle is called 'Z-Shift', and it is quite unlike any other puzzle that I have encountered thus far. It was designed by Peter as his exchange puzzle for IPP31 last year in Berlin, and manufactured by Buttonius Puzzles & Plastics.

It looks like a simple 2D assembly type puzzle, but what really makes it interesting are the varying levels of difficulty that can be solved using the same 7 pieces in different combinations. Despite the seven pieces there are only two different piece types, as the four larger pieces are identical, as are the three smaller ones.

The larger 'Z' pieces are made up of two layers of acrylic that have been glued together. Both sides of the piece are identical in shape, but one side is blue while the other is red. Due to the opposing nature of the 'Z' shape both layers can be seen at the same time from either side. The smaller pieces are only single layered and in just the one colour.

As you might be able to see from the picture here, there are a total of five puzzles that can be solved using a specified number of pieces, the first of which is to make a large red square and a small blue square using only the four larger identical pieces. This takes a bit of perspective to be solved as it could be quite easy to get the wrong idea with what to do with the pieces. But within a few minutes most puzzlers should be able to solve it. As the puzzle starts off easier it encourages people to try and solve the other problems as well, I've found that this is actually a very good puzzle to give to 'first time' puzzlers to try out as it holds interest very well.

Each of the conundrums on the card requires a different approach to be solved. Just because you solved the first one doesn't mean that you will immediately know how to approach the others. As an example; the conundrums lettered A and B are particularly clever and may require some serious 'out of the box' thinking to find the correct solution.

All in all a very fun little puzzle that I thoroughly enjoy. And the opinions of others that I have given it to seem to confirm my thoughts as well! I've taken to carrying it around and springing it on any person who dares to look bored in my vicinity.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Square Dance (Tom Jolly)

This is another of Tom Jolly's designs that has been made in superb quality by Eric Fuller, and was in his latest batch of puzzles. I didn't think it was much to look at when I first saw the photos, but after playing with it I couldn't have been more wrong.

It looks a little like a packing puzzle, and in a way it is, but once you start playing with it you'll realise pretty quickly that it is much more intricate than what you may first expect.

Eric made the frame either out of Padauk or Bubinga, but in both versions the pieces are made from Holly. This gives a really nice offset between the frame and the pieces. All of the pieces are given a  bevelling on their outer edges as well, which is also a nice touch. The version that you can see here is with the Padauk frame, and only 40 of these puzzles (Padauk and Bubinga) were made for sale, each signed and dated by the manufacturer.

The puzzle starts when you remove the first piece, which is a single block held in place by a pair of magnets. I thought this was a particularly nice touch as the whole thing holds its shape in the solved position very nicely. It also has Eric's signature and date of manufacture written on.

Once the first piece is out the other pieces have to be removed by sliding movements within the frame. Each piece is made up of three layers. The top and bottom layers are perfect squares (as can be seen in the picture), but the middle layer of each piece is what makes this puzzle so interesting. The irregular tabs and slots on each piece make sure that you have to perform linear sliding moves in order to release any further pieces. In fact after popping the first cube out of the frame it will take you another eight moves to release the next one! To make things even more tricky, the frame is not entirely grooved all of the way around on the inner edge, so sometimes pieces may not move as far along as expected.

After a bit of analysis using BurrTools it turns out that this puzzle has two slightly different solutions; one level 30 ( and one level 31 ( The level is denoted by the total number of moves needed to solve the puzzle, and the number sequences show how many moves each piece requires for it to be removed. The first number is one, because that first cube just pops out from its magnetic catch, then you need to do eight more moves to get the next out, five for the next etc. The second piece comes out in a very clever way as well, not quite how I imagined it would.

Now as far as difficulty goes I would say that Square Dance is more than a little challenging. In fact I would say that it is a lot challenging! As of writing this I am yet to solve it 'properly', and I have given it a good few hours of my time so far. But I am still very much enjoying it and am very much determined to finish it! The design is original enough to hold my interest, and the pieces are not at all boring to mess around with.

This has to be one of my absolute favourite designs by Tom Jolly thus far. I really hope that the collaboration between Tom and Eric continues, because by looking at the puzzles they've been putting out recently they really can't go far wrong.
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