Sunday, 17 December 2017

Free Me 5

My first encounter with Free Me 5 was in the Design Competition room in Paris earlier this year… there was a loud twang from the table next to where I was playing, an “Uh-oh” from said table shortly followed by the sight of a puzzler scrabbling around on the floor in search of an errant puzzle-bit… a few minutes later came the confirmation that nothing was missing and Brian had put another proverbial notch on his IPP37 stick.

I had a go at it over the next few days and managed to find my way through most of it… but needed a bit of encouraging right at the end… which if you know this puzzle well, might well surprise you a little! :-)

Turns out I wasn’t the only one who liked it – it won an Honourable Mention from the Jury in the Design Competition. Well Done, Joe!

Right, let’s go back to the beginning: Joseph Turner likes making puzzles to torment his family – in fact he’s been making them puzzles for Christmas for a few years now… and every now and then he enters them in the Design Competition – Free Me 5 was in this year’s Design Competition – and I was rather surprised and somewhat delighted when the Coolen-clan gave me a copy of this little beauty for my birthday. 

Free Me 5 is Joe’s 2016 Christmas Puzzle and comes with the usual risk warning you might expect: No external tools allowed. No excessive force is needed. Beware of little rolly-around thingies. No banging, bending or burning required… and I’m starting to wonder what made Joe need to add that last little bit…

Right – you get a couple of slabs of maple joined by a dovetail along the centre – and there’s a nice big window in the top piece that shows you a trapped coin waiting to be freed… a careful gander around the edges shows a couple more interesting looking holes of differing sizes… but nothing to poke in there.

Fiddle around a bit and you’ll be rewarded with some movement, and possibly even a tool or too… and after you do the (not quite entirely) obvious, you’ll find some thing rather interesting… and signs that this is going to be a nice challenge!

Along the way you’re going to find those little rolly-around thingies – try not to do what Brian did…

There is a thoroughly fantastic bit in the middle here that I’m not going to tell you about, but trust me, it’s brilliant, and then there’s a wonderful little bit of one-part deduction, one-part pure magic… and you’ll have the bits slide almost all the way apart… and that was where I thought I’d finished in the Design Comp room and began reassembling, until Louis pointed out to me that the coin wouldn’t actually come out yet… and he was right – there’s another little step or two to finish things off totally – freeing the coin properly, and in fact taking everything properly apart so you can admire Joe’s handiwork… and it’s good!

If you’re a puzzler, Joe’s Christmas Puzzles are definitely worth trying to get a  hold of!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Iwahara’s Ninomiya Yosegi Secret Box

When one of the leading craftsmen in the Karakuri collective decides to spend several months learning another craftsman’s techniques in order to produce an homage to the latter, it’s worth paying attention… when the former is the bloke who’s brought us the Byway Secrets, Super-Cubi and the King Cubi, and the latter is Ninomiya-san – it’s always going to be something special… so when the lottery was announced for a few copies of this pedigreed love-child, I joined the queue like a good British puzzler. 

I was lucky enough to be able to purchase a copy, and I have to say that it way surpassed any of my expectations… so this write-up will probably be more than a little gushy. I apologise in advance. 

The web-site blurb explained that Hiroshi Iwahara had spent quite a long time learning from Ninomiya-san and described the box rather humbly as a simple 7-move puzzle box…

Now it may well be “just” a 7-move puzzle box, but it is easily the best looking Japanese puzzle box I have ever seen – that observation will be partly due to my somewhat limited exposure to Ninomiya’s own puzzle boxes, but I think only partly so, because this one is really a thing of beauty. 

On a standard Japanese puzzle box you can usually spot the sliders from across the room – there’s a subtle break in the yosegi where diagonal lines don’t quite meet, or there’s a disturbance in a pattern… or the edges without the yosegi show an obvious split. This one’s not like that. I have defied several puzzlers to spot the breaks in the yosegi after telling them that there are sliders on each end… you cannot see them. Bounce the light off the edges without the yosegi and you can see the faintest clue to where the sliders are… these secret panels literally hide in plain sight.

The yosegi itself is vintage-Ninomiya – a pattern of square blocks where every row has exactly the same height… even where there must have been a cut for the sliders, usually a tell-tale sign – it’s indistinguishable here.

Without the benefit of any visual clues, you’re left to rely on some of your other senses – and they won’t let you down. Find the right jump-off point and you’re rewarded with a set of silky smooth movements that are so wonderfully precise they belong in a dream. 

Iwahara’s tribute to Ninomiya is truly a wonderful homage to one of the great masters… and an instant favourite.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Chicago Cubes

(No, that's not a misspelt baseball team...)

Earlier this year I stumbled across a copy of a great little exchange puzzle from Joe Becker dating back to IPP23 in Chicago. 

Joe designed and manufactured this wonderfully tricky little number using acrylic cubes and packaging tape – proof that good-looking, great designs don’t need expensive materials…

The premise is simple: you have a set of 8 edge-hinged clear cubes and you need to build a 2*2*2 cube. 

Should be simple… except it turns out that it ain’t – in fact, if you’re anything like me, you’ll pretty soon convince yourself it can’t be done – and therein lies the beauty of this design – there’s a wonderfully sneaky little element that makes it all possible and finding that makes for a super “A-Ha!” moment… 

I really enjoyed finding it (eventually)!

Add to that the fact that it’s a wonderfully photogenic object and I have to say that it makes a brilliant addition to the humble hoard. 

[In case you’re wondering – there’s a lovely little trick of the light that makes each cubie look like it is in turn made up of a 2*2*2 when it’s in the assembled state.]