Sunday, 15 October 2017

Thanks Frank!

At a recent MPP Frank and I were engaged in some idle banter – is there any other type? – and the topic of some of his early exchange puzzles came up… we’d been playing with an unusual three board burr (I think it was Big-Steve’s Czechoslovakian monster) and he mentioned that one of his exchange puzzles had worked along similar lines… 

When he saw me at the next MPP, he duly presented me with a copy of that exchange puzzle, and the one from the previous year as well, for good measure – Thanks Frank!

Frank’s Unfinished Burr was his IPP26 Exchange Puzzle – exchanged with much theatrical apology for his awful woodworking skills, pathetic finishing off of the pieces, dubious fit and an obvious error in that one of the slots was clearly missing from the standard three-board burr design… aside from that, he was glad to be getting rid of them and happy to receive the other participants' exchange puzzles in return… cheeky so-and-so!

Well that was the story, and what may have appeared to the trained eye to be a rough, unfinished set of pieces, is actually a rather neat puzzlers’ puzzle…

Try the usual things and you’ll find a lot of slop, and a missing slot, making the usual solution somewhat impossible…

…which it turns out was the name of his previous exchange puzzle: Imp Possible Nail

Apparently the schpiel here was that Frank’s workshop is besieged (no less!) by imps who play nasty tricks on him on a regular basis… 

…one time they even hammered some nails through a bunch of rings he’d left out on the bench – only being imps, they hammered them out of the rings rather than in to the rings…

…leaving a puzzler to ponder on how they got there, or for the brave, remove the nail and replace it! 

Cheers Frank – that was very generous of you, sir!

Monday, 9 October 2017

Boaz' BLock

Boaz Feldman has plenty of form when it comes to puzzle locks – being the son of the maker of one of the very best puzzle locks in existence, the Danlock, he comes with a built-in pedigree… so when we saw him exchanging a puzzle lock at IPP37, a lot of us were delighted.

The BLock – Boaz’ Lock – looks like another common-or-garden Nabob padlock – with some lettering bashed into them to brand it as a BLock exchanged at IPP37… there’s a key helpfully attached by a short piece of string… so we do the obvious and untie the key and insert it into the lock – except it won’t go in… someone’s obviously jammed something in there or otherwise damaged the lock…

…or something…

Straight after the exchange, up in my hotel room I spent all of about 5 minutes convincing myself that it wouldn’t just unlock the way it should… that wasn’t difficult, after all you can’t get the key into the darn thing, let alone turn the key!

The next evening at the dinner Shane came wandering over with his copy of the BLock, cursing just a little (highly unusual for this sober English lad!) and announcing that he and Rainer had been trying to open the darn thing for hours, with no success… it was duly handed around the table for others to try – with similar levels of success…

Watching this from the other end of the table I had a little brainwave, which turned out to be rather useful… I asked if I could have a look at it, grinned, and then there was a lot of colourful seafaring language and plenty of guffawing at how we’d all been caught out…

The apple has not fallen far from the tree.

I am sure that Dan is proud of his son’s first exchange puzzle – he ought to be, it is an instant classic: a fun puzzle to solve with some sublime machining and excellent camouflage…

Hopefully there’ll be a BLock 2 or a CLock along in due course…

Monday, 2 October 2017

Inaugural Northern Puzzle Party

This one took me by surprise, quite literally!
I thought I was heading up north for Frank’s surprise 50th birthday party, coincidentally a couple of days after my own 50th birthday. Our conniving wives had been arranging something rather special for Frank’s birthday and I was supposed to be part of the subterfuge by keeping Frank side-tracked during the afternoon while they set up the venue for the party… which all sounded rather plausible… and indeed, that was how it started out when we arrived.
Frank was a bit surprised as he wasn’t expecting us to rock up just before lunch – they live a couple of hours north of us… he managed to recover and duly put the kettle on and made us a coffee while I brought out some puzzles to play with – and the surprise was soon forgotten.
I got the tour of Frank’s new puzzle room and spent a while oohing-and-aahing over the endless shelves of kumiki puzzles of all varieties and vintages… and Frank’s enormous collection of Journet puzzles… and the impossible objects spread over several shelves… you get the picture: Frank has an impressive puzzle collection!
Jo duly laid out an enormous spread for lunch and we literally feasted…
After lunch there was a ring at the doorbell and Big-Steve and Shane rolled in having driven up from London… for the puzzle party I didn’t know about, but seemed to be handily positioned to attend…
A short while later, another ring at the doorbell brought in Simon Nightingale with a pile of puzzles… at this point I’m starting to smell a rat, and realise I’ve been set up almost as much as Frank –  Jo had decided we should have a Northern Puzzle Party and chose the proximity of our milestone birthdays as the best excuse to hold an inaugural NPP.
Shane and Steve get into the birthday spirit and give Frank and I each a unique gift… Shane’s present is a custom HalesLock for each of us: mine is a customised prototype HalesLock3, safely locked inside a wooden presentation (puzzle) box. Over the course of the next hour or so Frank and I try to open the boxes and we struggle – at one point both of us are tapping, banging, spinning and blowing in them with zero impact…
Focus shifts to Steve’s gift – a 50-piece collaboration with Derek Bosch [Thanks chaps!] … a big ball of a thing beautifully packaged in a box, wrapped in a neat little bag…who says boys can’t wrap presents?! I have a careful look at mine and start encouraging Frank to spin his to open it up… with quite a lot of encouragement from Steve… turns out it doesn’t take a lot of encouragement and Frank is soon on his knees on the kitchen floor giving the ball a good old spin … which duly sends most of the 50 pieces flying in all directions and spreading several bags of confetti that had been cunningly installed in the internal void spraying across the floor – with more than a little laughter from the assembled puzzlers (who’s kitchen floor, this was not). 

Frank saw the funny side almost immediately, and then set about collecting the pieces… and the memory stick that had been cushioned by all the confetti inside the void. With the puzzle pieces out of the way, Jo brought out the vacuum cleaner that then did a great job of blowing the confetti even further afield… with a dustpan and brush eventually saving the day and restoring the kitchen to pristine cleanliness once more.
The puzzling gets interrupted for a giant joint birthday cake for the two of us organised by Jo – complete with some serious pyrotechnics and lifelike Allard and Frank figurines sitting next to one another on the top – cue several inappropriate comments about the extent of our friendship and what a nice couple we make… just as well we’re among friends!
Soon after the girls disappear to do some girly stuff (or decorate the hall for Frank’s surprise party later on) and the puzzling continues.
At one point Frank looks up and asks me if I’ve opened Shane’s box yet – apparently the sight of me shaking and banging the thing weren’t enough of a clue – so I admit I haven’t, much to Shane’s amusement – the boxes were apparently an afterthought and weren’t intended to be a serious puzzle at all… yeah, right! He starts throwing hints and suggestions around wildly in the hopes of helping us make progress and eventually we manage to open the boxes… the locks are another story – I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the early Haleslock3’s, but this one doesn’t behave properly at all… and a little puzzling later I discover why – it’s a totally different puzzle! It just happens to look the same on the outside… except for the “ALLARD 50” stamped on the one side of course. [Thanks mate!]
Simon has brought along a crate-full of wonders and we let Frank have first go at selecting some new toys in return for the customary donation to charity… I pick a few things for myself before allowing the others to have a go… and then go back for another rake through the leftovers… I will need to be generous in my charitable donation!
Steve suggests that we plug the mystery memory stick into a laptop sometime soon as the content is a little time-sensitive - we all agree that Frank’s work-laptop is probably the best choice and fire it up. There’s a movie file on there so we hit Play and sit back… to watch a number of characters from all around the inter-web wishing Frank and I a Happy Birthday. Being the na├»ve sort, I assume these wonderful people are all friends of Steve (and Derek) and marvel at the wonderfully diverse set of friends they have… seriously diverse!! I spend at least 10 minutes in tears laughing at the messages and their, err, creativity. By the end of it I am reasonably convinced that Derek and Steve don’t have a politically correct bone in their bodies – and I haven’t cried with laughter that much in an awfully long time!
During the course of the afternoon my phone keeps ringing with various phone numbers I don’t recognise as a variety of international puzzle friends from around the world call in according to a pre-arranged roster to wish Frank and I a Happy Birthday via Facetime… Nigel from a warm-looking Spain; Ali and the girls sang Happy Birthday for us; Peter, Lesley and Roxy wished us well from Canada and Neil wished us a Happy Birthday and showed us around his huge workshop, pausing to show us the blue sky and yellow sun – something we don’t often get to see in the UK! Brian and Sue had realised that when we were having our NPP it would be literally in the middle of their night, so they sent us a pre-recorded birthday message dressed in appropriate puzzling gear: Brian wearing an LED-adorned Rubik’s Cube t-shirt and Sue was dressed as a Rubik’s Cube (2*2*2 as appropriate for someone her size)… a wonderful surprise and super to be joined by our puzzling friends around the world – albeit digitally – thanks for taking the time folks!
Somewhere around 6pm the guys faded under the guise of heading back home, leaving us to confuse Frank a little more as he fished for information about the evening… we told him we were going out for a pizza, which might have been believable for a while… of course when Jo led him blindfolded into the local golf club and we all yelled "Surprise!", the cat was sort of out of the bag… and a fabulous party ensued!
We’re going to have to have another NPP one of these days – they’re great fun! 
Happy Birthday Frank!

Friday, 22 September 2017

Blackjack pastry puzzle box

If Perry McDaniels is selling anything at a puzzle party, there will be a queue, ergo, whenever Perry is selling anything at a puzzle party, I make a bee-line for his table and join the throng of merry puzzlers throwing money at him… it’s a pretty safe bet that you won’t be disappointed if you like puzzle boxes.

A few years ago Perry arrived dressed the part with a Puzzled Guy Bakery outfit – he was selling petit fours… in a slightly altered guise he sold bon-bons for a couple of years and this year he was back as Perry the pastry chef…

A couple of puzzlers had seen pics of his 2017 offering and pronounced it truly delicious – and there was indeed a queue for the finest in wooden pastries that IPP37 could offer – in spite of Perry’s quips about them being “half the puzzle at twice the price”.

Blackjack marks the first in a series of pastries according to the blurb accompanying the puzzle – superb, there will be more of them! 
Visually, this one is stunning – it looks like a yummy chocolate slice with lashings of walnutty chocolate splashed across one end. It’s a bit bigger than the previous sets of Perry’s bakery-inspired products – and it rattles – quite a bit… there is definitely “stuff” going on inside there…

Sitting down to play with this little guy, you will want to spend some time simply admiring it – it is very handsome!

… and when you do begin playing with it, the first move will definitely raise a smile… that’s unexpected!

Spend a little time exploring and it spits out a playing card at you… a picture card to be precise … and you might be wondering how that ties in with the name of this little beastie, and whether there might be another along in due course… and indeed there is – right at the end – Blackjack!

There’s quite a lot of “stuff” along the way… some of it exactly the sort of thing you might expect from a secret opening box, and some of it rather unexpected, if not downright unusual. There is a lot to discover in this little pastry slice… and don’t go thinking that returning it back to the starting position is going to be a piece of cake either!