Sunday, 19 March 2017

Ninomiya Crates (2&3)

Ages ago I had the good fortune of playing with some of the original series of Ninomiya crate puzzles… the master had produced some innocuous-looking crates that hid some wonderful secrets, most of which I’d managed to discover over a couple of visits to James’ emporium of wonders

More recently the master has created some smaller crates as part of the Karakuri Christmas presents. Given Ninomiya’s incredible reputation for precisely-made, wonderfully original puzzle boxes, they tend to be pretty darn popular and as he’s been doing this for a very long time now, his production capacities are limited – so if you want one of his presents, you go into a lottery – I always try – I never win them!

…so when I recently managed to acquire a couple of them, I dived on in – and I was duly delighted with them! 

They literally resemble a couple of little packing crates, complete with reinforcing strips around and across the ends, and at their waists – with a neat little maker’s mark subtly in a corner. 

When I first got them I had no idea what to expect – other than the unexpected… a little fiddling around on the first one and I found a couple of little movements before something rather unexpected happened and the box opened up in a most unusual manner! 

Closer examination of the mechanism, and a little back-tracking and you discover that some of the steps along the way are total red herrings – lovely little piece of humour from the master – I, for one, was caught for a sucker!

The second one took me several evenings of playing before I even got close – the moves were a little tight and I was hesitant to increase the pressure until I was thoroughly convinced I was on the right track… that continued for a couple of evenings until I was pretty sure that I was almost there, but I couldn’t get it to open up…

… next time I was chatting to James I asked about the solutions and he pointed me to a pic of the two crates next to one another in their open positions (well-hidden behind a spoiler tag in case you’re worried!) – one looked instantly familiar and the other confirmed that I was indeed only one step from the solution – so we introduced progressively more and more pressure until it finally opened – also in an unusual manner. 

I left it open for a couple of day and that helped a bit to reduce the pressure required, but eventually when Louis came around to visit we decided to apply a little sandpaper to a particularly shiny spot in the mechanism and things are a lot smoother now – to the extent that it can safely be given to puzzlers who don’t know it without fear that they’ll need to force things…

A cracking coupla crates! (even if they are a bit smaller than I thought they were...)

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

A quick plug - for a friend...

Robert Yarger is easily the nicest puzzlebox maker I have ever had the good fortune to meet... I'd only been collecting his creations for a year or two when I met him in DC, and spending some time with this rockstar of a puzzle maker left me with serious admiration for such a wonderfully humble soul.  

Over the next few years I've been lucky enough to acquire a few more of his puzzles and his ingenuity literally knows no bounds - the one thing that marks out a new Stickman design is that it looks (and works!) absolutely nothing like any of the previous Stickman puzzles... in my books, the man is a legend... 

...and the legend could use a hand - his wife Jeannie has set up a GoFundMe appeal to raise funds for Rob to pay for some new equipment and raw materials... if you'd like to encourage and support him, please consider donating to the appeal at



Sunday, 12 March 2017


MPPXXV had been planned last year and timed to coincide with a visit by Saul and Paulette Bobroff… we’d billed it as another “Bobroff special” 
which Saul decided to make it even more special by having open-heart surgery just over a month before his MPP… so he duly arrived operating at slightly less than 100% just before the weekend – having him operating at a little less than 100% means the rest of us mortals stand a bit of a chance at keeping up with the lad…

He and I collect Louis from the airport in spite of the Highways Agency’s best attempt at stopping me from using any of my usual routes for a variety of reasons… and the puzzling begins in all seriousness in the cave over a few cups of coffee… I crash somewhere around midnight, leaving Louis puzzling on his own in the cave (you’ve never read that phrase before, have you?!). 

I’m up early next morning to get some Japanese puzzle boxes released from being held hostage by Parcelforce – unfortunately it’s a one hour round trip so it makes for an early start to allow me to get back in time for breakfast with the rest of the gang. The puzzles are duly liberated and added to the pile I’m taking down to the hall for the day… we all have breakfast together before the lads load up the car with puzzles and the girls head out on a fabric and fibre-hunting trip.

When we get down to the hall we find that Angela and Peter have beaten us to it and we quickly get the tables and chairs set up for the day – largely accomplished before the majority of folks start arriving with shed-loads of puzzles…

Angela and Peter are hoping to get rid of some puzzles and have brought along several crates-worth to sell or swap – Tim T has several tables groaning under loads and loads of antique puzzles, all on a two-for-one offer, and James has brought along a couple of suitcases full of books that he’s selling in aid of Devon Air Ambulance (just in case he needs them one day, he explains). 

Tim Dixon, current owner of Pentangle, joined us for the first time and had a few goodies for sale and plenty of stories about the various Pentangle puzzles, old and new – with lots of comparisons between him and James of then and now… and how things have changed. 

James interests me in a little antique chest of drawers that looks quite innocent (if you ignore the holes on the back made by some idiot with a screwdriver attempting to open one of the hidden compartments…). Five of its six drawers open quite simply, but the sixth drawer at the bottom remains resolutely locked shut – it takes a fair amount of sleuthing around to open the bottom drawer and when you open it, you’re rewarded with a little stash of treasure, which James says arrived with the box when he first acquired it… cute! Finding the second hidden compartment is a little trickier, although those totally unnecessary screwdriver gouges might give you a clue as to what should happen… and inside the final compartment there’s a treasure map, courtesy of JCD. 

I bought it. Had to. Really. 

Several others seemed to have fun opening up its various secrets during the course of the day – nice little piece of history. 

I also helped myself to a few books in support of the Air Ambulance… for charity, you understand!

There’s a long conversation when Chris rocks up with a plastic container full of experimental Nine-Drilled Holes items… last year he and Saul had spent a while discussing the manufacturing process and Chris had said he wanted to have a bash at it… Saul said “Sure, as long as you make some earrings for Paulette!” …so Chris duly produced a bunch of cubes with the recognisable bowed holes drilled through them and a pair of smaller clear rods with similarly bowed (drilled!) holes through them – complete with earring attachments… et voila!

Cue long, enthusiastic conversations about how they were made and what took the real time in the process (polishing!) – So Paulette got her earrings and Chris has a few more variants lined up on the drawing board – and Saul’s pleased as Punch because Paulette got her earrings and he didn’t have to make them…

Saul’s Pants keep several folks entertained for quite a while… (his IPP34 exchange puzzle, that is…).

Shane shoved a little package in my hand soon after he arrived and said it was from a mutual friend – a great little trapped-coin puzzle from Matt Dawson that has all the hallmarks of a classic Robrecht Louage puzzle. Matt had mentioned this little project to me back in December when he was trying to source some specific coins to be trapped…I hadn’t been able to help him at the time, but Shane had… and here was the fruit of his labours – a lovely little puzzle as I discovered the following day. 

Several folks had a bash at the various Karakuri boxes freshly liberated from Customs that morning – with Kawashima-san’s Pyramid keeping several puzzlers amused for quite a while… it’s a fierce little puzzle! One or two folks tried their hands at barrel-rolling and playing with some Ninomiya crates that recently came my way…

Louis had brought along a few more copies of his 3D printed tricklocks (2015 and 2016) that make brilliant use of the properties of Shapeways’ 3D printing process – made even better now by the ability to control the print orientation and produce spectacularly precise prints every time. (When the orientation can’t be forced, some of the lines can turn into steps, which isn’t helpful when you’re designing puzzles to fit very precisely.)

Lunch was the usual round-up of fish suppers and pig buns taken in the spare room balancing our lunch on our laps on account of all of the tables being used in the main room for the puzzles…

After lunch James rounded up a few of us to play a new game he’d found called Igloo Mania – imagine Jenga, but with an igloo(!). After we’d worked out how to build the igloo we took turns to remove blocks trying to keep the structure standing for as long as possible… cue very little strategy, lots of “I dare you”s and plenty of laughter – even some semi-successful attempts to rebuild the igloo without using the internal dome to hold up the pieces during the build. Not very puzzling, but great fun. Big Steve was probably the winner, mainly on account of the plaintive look on his face when it inevitably all came tumbling down even when logic and physics decreed that it shouldn’t have. 

I spent an absolute age totally failing to assemble a six-panel box that James had brought along – six ply panels with a variety of slots and cuts on them that should fit together into a cube… I make an absolute meal of it and can’t ever quite get the last piece to do what I needed it to do… later on that afternoon I notice Louis slotting it all together perfectly… there’s a reason I keep out all my hard puzzles for Louis whenever he comes to visit!

Mike Toulouzas’ Three Rhombic Tetrahedra gets a reasonably decent playing-with although one puzzler who shall remain nameless (although I usually refer to him as wee-Steve) leaves it in bits on the table rather than solving it… Chris duly puts it all back together again and one or two others have it apart and reassembled during the day… (It's a tough little puzzle!)

We call it a day at around 6pm and several of us head back to my place for the traditional fish supper, a surprise message from Lauire (who's sorry he can't join us but wants us all to have a great time!), more puzzling, plenty of banter and a damn fine end to a rather nice day, even if I do say so myself…

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Another bunch of dovetails!

A little while back I managed to acquire a few more Sandfield Dovetail puzzles… and in the process I made a bit of a discovery! 

While I thought I had just bought a duplicate of one of my puzzles, it turned out I’d mis-identified one from this post back here and that I now in fact had the matching pair…

When I wrote that blog post I thought I’d found a copy of the original Sandfield Joint Puzzle and I described it as such… somehow I ended up recently buying another(?) Sandfield Joint Puzzle and it’s different – so the one I was writing about back there was in fact Sandfield's Corollary-Dovetail Joint Puzzle – my humblest apologies to both of my readers. 

The Sandfield Joint Puzzle, Norman Sandfield’s IPP14 Exchange Puzzle is in fact the simpler of the two, working the way you might expect it to, if that makes sense in my usual cryptic non-spoiler-speak, whereas the Corollary had a bit of a twist to it… it was his Exchange Puzzle at IPP15.

...and I now know that the original is the slightly larger of the two and has a slightly wider bevel on the sides – so there you go: public service announcement for the day so that you don’t have to embarrass yourself like I have! 

Robert Sandfield’s IPP17 Exchange Puzzle was the Bolted Dovetail – a two-piece rhombic shape with a pair of nuts and bolts securing the two thin points together while a pair of dovetail joints keep the contrasting wooden blocks together – simple, right?

There aren’t many clues as to where to start on this one, and those bolts do a pretty good job of stopping any movement, so there’s little or no clue as to how this thing might open…

For me there was a neat little path to finding the solution and once you’re halfway there, the rest is pretty straight-forward – but that first half might well keep you entertained for quite a while!

Robert’s IPP18 Exchange Puzzle was the Fat & Thin Triple Dovetail Puzzle. At first glance it’s just another variation on the impossible dovetail theme – except this time it appears that the blocks are held together by two thin dovetails in one direction and a fat one in the other direction – intersecting in the centre, of course… which clearly doesn’t work in a mere three-dimensional world! 

As with most of these in the genre there’s a form of locking mechanism, and when he was preparing for IPP18, Robert was clearly in fighting form as the locking mechanism is quite mean indeed… so by the time you get this one open, you’ve earned the view of the interacting dovetails inside there. 

Norman Sandfield’s IPP19 Exchange Puzzle was the ‘L’bow Dovetail which appears to have a dovetail in each end of the elbow… which might mess with your head a little if you try and work out where they’ve gotten to inside there – and how you might be able to overcome them…

…this one holds a lovely little piece of treasure in its hidden compartment: a piece of elbow pasta – uncooked. 

A nice companion for Robert’s Cutaway exchanged in the same year…

Awesome work from Perry McDaniel all around, as you might expect!