Friday, 30 August 2013

IPP33 - Saturday ... my first exchange.

After breakfast I find myself heading back upstairs in the lift with Brian and Sue ... and Brian is singing (!) - about Christmas Day - so I assume that he's just had way too much caffeine and ask Sue if that's what's caused it, but Brian explains that today is the very best day in the year as far as he's concerned - he's going to get stacks of new puzzles - he is the excited kid on Christmas morning.

That sums up the Edward Hordern Puzzle Exchange rather neatly for me: no matter how long you've been doing this, or whether or not it's how you earn your living, the prospect of exchanging 60-odd puzzles with your puzzling mates form around the world really is the best thing since sliced bread! And worth singing about...

I drag a suitcase full of suitcases downstairs and set up shop at my table toward the back of the room and hook up with Marc, my volunteer sherpa (his description!) for the day - Marc ends up doing duty superbly as not only sherpa, but exchange wrangler and chief photographer as well. He starts by asking whether I want to hang around at the table and wait for others to wander past or walk around and shortly after the official "Off!" we find ourselves wandering rather than waiting...

After the first few exchanges they settle into a predictable rhythm and the patter / schpiel settles down to a common story - probably advisable...

Marc does an awesome job of running around taking photos and being the fall-guy for my warnings about the puzzles being a test of wit and not of strength, he's always there to take away exchange puzzles I've been given and pass me a copy of mine to hand out in return. We get through most of the 60-odd exchanges with Marc  guiding me to the folks we haven't swapped with yet (he's in charge of the checklist) and with about a dozen or so to go we take a break for lunch and relax for a few minutes.

One boxed lunch later (including some rather good sandwiches!) we hit the last dozen or so and we're all done by about 1 o'clock. I now have a large suitcase full of new puzzles and I've gotten rid of about 70 of my puzzles...RESULT!

I head up to the room for the obligatory swag shot before heading back down for the Impossible Motion / Object Design lecture and the Origami workshop that I've signed up for. The former is really interesting (I particularly enjoyed the bit about how the desired illusion can be derived mathematically from the actual object, and vice versa) and we each get a set of templates to make up our own copies of the main impossible motion objects in the lecture.

The second session taught me just how challenging serious origami can be ... in spite of the number of times the leaders kept saying they were showing us the really simple things... I managed the first two constructions before failing miserably at the next one ... so I took some homework away. Nick Baxter and Oskar have clearly either done this before or have far better spatial awareness than I have - both succeeding well beyond my limits!

After a quick shower we all headed back to the Banquet for some (more) excellent food, magic and some rather unusual juggling ... before wandering next door for some more work on the Design Competition entries... I loved Hexagonrings and then spent a good deal of time proving to Marcel just how rubbish I am at solving puzzles when he suggested I have a go at Bucolic Cubes - he gave up watching me fail after a while and just after that I finally managed to solve it - and that's the story I'm going to stick to! (It is a delightfully deceptively difficult little puzzle.) usual we puzzled on until the midnight curfew when we were all thrown out of the room... and I headed off for some sleep before the serious business of the puzzle party the next morning...

Some random pics from the Exchange... all of them taken by Marc Pawliger - Thanks Marc!


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

IPP33 - Friday - the first official day...

I had breakfast with the Rothstein brothers while chatting about Wil Strijbos' various puzzle designs, including the odd quick chat with one of the brothers while the other was off at the buffet picking up something else to eat so that we didn't end up tipping him off on a puzzle he hadn't solved yet... not that they're competitive at all! :-)

Having heard that there was a Karakuri Exhibition in one of the large Tokyo department stores, we'd mentioned to a few folks the day before that we were going to head into town in search of the exhibition, and by the time we left the hotel there was a gang of 7 of us.

We found the store fairly easily right next to the train station, however the store is spread over six rather large floors and we quickly realised that finding the exhibition inside the store was going to require some assistance. 

We found an information desk and using some limited English and lots of gesticulating we managed to convey what we were looking for, and after a bit of a wait while the incredibly helpful assistants looked up things in books and rang up their colleagues (some of which may have been related to our quest - but I'm not certain) they confirmed that the exhibition was on the sixth floor and showed us whereabouts it would be on the floor plan ... armed with that information we set off up to the sixth floor and began marching around the target area - 7 big westerners, mostly with backpacks or an IPP33 tote bag, wandering around the fine household goods section - I'm sure we didn't look suspect at all!

After a little exploring we found a table of assorted Karakuri puzzles for sale with a copy of each one out to be played with ... and after an initial bit of disappointment at the relatively small range, we had a play with each of the boxes on display with the ever-helpful shop assistants keen to help out when we couldn't open a particular puzzle or give us advice on which way north was...

From there we headed off to a sushi bar that Wil remembered fondly, on our way to Tokyo Hands - the gadget store of note! The sushi bar was clearly a favourite with the locals and there were three fairly large (why is that!?!) chefs standing in the centre of the bar making up plates of sushi tirelessly and then feeding them onto the conveyor belt while patrons did their damnedest to stop the plates from having to suffer the ignominy of going a second lap. Every now and then a patron would request something specific and one of them would switch to making something different for a few minutes before returning to their well-oiled routine - damn fine grub, but don't ask me to try and find that sushi bar again...

At Tokyo Hands we probably spent an hour or so wandering around and buying various knick-knacks, puzzles and even some decks of cards(!) before deciding that we probably needed to head back to the hotel for the formal start to the IPP proceedings that evening... we hadn't made it past the first floor yet - let alone experienced the Cat Cafe on the top floor - I'm going to have to go back for a longer look one of these days.

We got the express back to Narita and found yet more puzzlers had arrived, including fellow-Midlander Sam Cornwall.

After a quick shower and a little email we all headed off to the Founder's Reception where the first-timers were all given the opportunity to introduce themselves and tell us about the puzzles they enjoyed ... a nice new touch, although how Jerry Loo managed to get himself missed out we'll never know...

The buffet was great and the banter after the speeches with Frank, Jo, Brian and Sue, John and Chinny was absolutely first rate! I hadn't laughed that much in ages.

During the course of the evening several folks kept reminding me that I'd offered to put them up if they were ever in the neighbourhood and I suspect that if they were all to descend at once for any particular reason we might end up with a very full house! But hey, it'll be a good laugh...

We eventually got turfed out of the reception room so we pretty much all just migrated across the corridor to the Puzzle Design Competition room. 

One entire wall of the puzzle room was dedicated to a display of Hanayama Cast Puzzles and not only were there Cast Puzzles in all shapes, sizes and colours, there were a bunch of prototypes and what's probably best described as a display of Cast Puzzle Abuse 

 ... where some highly talented puzzlers (including one or two of the first timers who'd just introduced themselves earlier that evening) had combined a number of similar (and in some cases dissimilar!) familiar puzzles into seemingly impossible configurations ...I'd seen pics of a pairs of Cast Boxes being combined around a pair of rings - even seen one of my mates do that - but some of those constructions simply defied belief!  ... and the highlight: a sign next to these amazing constructions saying "Do not solve!!"   

We wandered around from table to table playing with these great new puzzles
until midnight, when we got thrown out of there as well ...and I called it a day at that stage, knowing that the next day would be rather busy... [I'm a wimp, not like Rox!]

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

IPP33 - Day 3 - Hakone...

After having breakfast with Rob Hegge I spend a little while in the lobby catching up on emails before Scott Elliott arrives with a bunch of his printed puzzles and we explore them for a while (I manage to assemble them all, much to my own amusement!) before I rather rudely excuse myself, dash upstairs for my bag and sprint off to the waiting buses outside the hotel... today we're heading for Hakone, aka Puzzle Mountain - for some serious puzzle box shopping.

I find myself next to Stan Isaacs and really enjoy the bus ride getting to know a wonderful gent and a terrific puzzler. I pass him a copy of Cast Cylinder and my little yellow burr and they amuse him for a while as we travel through increasingly more beautiful (and less urban) countryside until we eventually climb up a steep, winding mountain pass and crest the ridge before dropping down into the picturesque town of Hakone.

While the bus is parking we spot Frank Potts with Brian and Sue Young waiting outside what turns out to be a shop most of us will recognise from their web-shop - Izumiya. My first thought is that given the head start that the three of them have had, they've probably hoovered up all the best stuff, although spotting a 3 foot kumiki robot in the shop later on makes me doubt that, as I know at least one of them kind of likes kumiki puzzles!

Before we're allowed off the bus the house-rules for puzzle-buying during the first half an hour are explained to ensure that everyone gets a fair chance to buy something special - being a wimp I hang back from what I'm assuming will be some heavily competitive shopping inside and spend some time looking through Mine's stall set up outside the shop. I pick up quite a few puzzles from Mine that end up becoming some of the puzzles I spend the most time on during my stay in Japan ... and a copy of his Design Competition entry for this year, only I don't realise it at the time. 

Once the rush has subsided I venture inside and find a throng of puzzlers at the back of the shop (the front of the store has everything imaginable decorated in yosegi and the puzzles and cabinets are at the back of the store). I spend at least an hour ogling various puzzle boxes, playing with (even solving!) some of them, watching demos of others and pawing even more of them before I make up my mind on a couple of things to buy ... only to return to the store three or four times later during the day to pick up just a couple more puzzles each time.

From Izumiya we wandered up the street to Maruyama and a couple of other shops that stock puzzles. Maruyama has a terrific collection of Karakuri boxes in a glass display cabinet that takes up most of the length of the shop - great for ogling at, while a craftsman shaves off wafer-thin slices of yosegi from blocks on his bench and passes them out to visiting puzzlers.

Hakone really is a treasure and anyone interested in puzzle boxes should visit at some point...

In between puzzle shopping, lunch was a couple of Oreo ice-creams - Gill wasn't there so I was allowed!

After lunch Stan and I wandered around town a bit and found ourselves seeking some shade down by the dock on the lake, watching swan-shaped pedalos gliding around the bay, and huge tourist boats taking folks around the lake on a sight-seeing tour, while an elderly lady in a rowing boat was trimming stray plants in the basin in front of us - it's a magical place even without the puzzles...

A couple more visits to Izumiya took care of the rest of the money I was planning to spend there and as I was leaving the store Kenzi comes out from the back of the shop with a Dream of Zebra. When he spots the look on my face he quickly hides it behind the counter and says "Sorry, not for sale!" - I don't bother hiding my disappointment and even ham it up a bit ... but it really isn't for sale.

The long bus ride back was broken for a bite to eat at a motorway services - although given its size, it's probably better described as a small shopping mall attached to a massive food court next to a motorway. I suspect that the break allows the worst of the traffic ahead to clear and we end up back at the hotel at around 8pm.

This time there are many more puzzlers in the hotel lobby - and I recognise fellow-blogger Jerry Loo from his pictures online while he's chatting to Wil so I interrupt them and introduce myself. 

After a quick shower I head back down to the lobby with puzzles in hand and join a rather rowdy crowd of puzzlers including Brian and Sue, Frank and Jo and Jerry. Dick is entertaining Jo's son Dominic with some of his disentanglement puzzles and after discovering that Dominic has solved the Cast Devil, Jerry Slocum insists on shaking the young man's hand and congratulating him...

Chinny arrived in style with a sack full of goodies including a set of Pennyhedrons I'd bought from him and a copy of Bite Me! We passed them all around and pretty soon I was the only bloke there who hadn't solved them, although in my defence, some of them held Dirk and Rob up for a while ... and at least one of them is a Chinny special - it's glued together!

Marc brought out the Reincarnation box that he'd bought in Hakone and I tried - spectacularly unsuccessfully - to get anywhere on it. A bit later when I saw how stiff it was, I didn't feel too bad - gorgeous looking puzzle though and looks very special when it's opened.

Marc also brought out his copies of Alles Roger and the Lighter and soon enough just about everyone was shaking it like a maniac and I'd managed to nudge him into solving Alles Roger.

I had a great chat with Brian about this year's limited edition puzzle while he dished out little furry koala's to most people within shouting range. For the record - I suspect that Brian will be setting another benchmark with this year's limited edition puzzle - keep an eye out for it.

Great puzzle craic!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Day 2 - puzzle-hunting in Tokyo

We learnt the importance of checking on the shuttle bus times when we narrowly missed a hotel shuttle and then had to wait almost an hour for the next one. (They're less frequent during the middle of the day and we'd agreed on a leisurely start that morning.) Faced with having to wait for the shuttle, we did the obvious thing and hauled out some puzzles and pretty soon Rob, Wil, Olga, Vladimir and Genady were all puzzling away quietly ... I managed to sort out Vladimir's Bent Nails packing puzzle in short order, but then spent ages on his rocket sliding puzzle and got virtually nowhere... (so I picked up a copy of it from him at the puzzle party on Sunday so that I can beat it at some point... hopefully!)

We took the next shuttle off to the airport and headed into Tokyo on the Narita Express (NEX to its friends) - note to self: NEX is a lot quicker and FAR more comfortable than the local train we'd taken into town the day before!

After negotiating the public transport system we arrived at our first stop for the day, the Hori Lock Company. This business has been supplying locks and hardware since 1890 and the company has built up an enviable collection of ancient locks ... Wil had been there a couple of times before and knew that at least one person there spoke English and, hopeful that we'd be allowed to view their collection, we just rocked up and asked for James (the English-speaker!). Sadly it turned out that James was 150 miles away so wouldn't be able to show us around, but undeterred Wil arranged for one of the shop assistants to show us the collection while we pored over the couple of glass cabinets of ancient locks in the shop itself.  We were shown upstairs to a wonderful treasure trove of ancient locks and artefacts that we all spent a while studying and photographing ... quite a privilege.

From there a short walk got us across to the Hakuhinkan Toy Park, a large multi-storey toy store that was known to have a reasonable supply of mass-market puzzles... and it did! We spent easily an hour or two wandering around spotting various little items and pretty much all of us came out with several new puzzles for our collections. At one stage Vladimir had discovered a couple of his own designs and was posing for pictures holding up his cheese packing puzzle.

From there we dashed off to the Taito Designers' Village for the tail end of the Tokyo Puzzle Day hosted by Torito with Nikoli and Tribox. We managed to find things still in full swing in spite of arriving half an hour before time was called, and bumped into Marc Pawliger and some of his mates... funny how you can bump into a puzzle-mate from the other side of the world in the back streets of Tokyo without any planning whatsoever!  

One of Marc's friends, showed some interest in my little yellow burr and duly managed to take it apart in pretty short order in spite of not being a particularly puzzle-y person ... I told her she hadn't finished until she'd put it back together again so she took up the challenge, and later that evening Marc delivered it back in one piece reporting that she'd been very chuffed to get it back together again!

Torito, Tribox and Nikoli all had stands and were doing a brisk trade even that late in the day, and judging by the number of young folks running around and playing with puzzles, and the general buzz around the place, I suspect the Tokyo Puzzle Day was a resounding success.

Wil and I parted company from the rest in order to get back to the hotel and managed to get onto NEX this time and then found George Bell at the airport shuttle bus stop so we caught up with him while we waited for the shuttle. Back at the hotel I did all the registration stuff and realised I'd signed up for an outing on Friday that I didn't recall booking... hey ho!

Wandering around in the lobby with my IPP name tag now prominently displayed, I found I was getting greeted like a long-lost friend by all the folks I'd met a year earlier in DC- puzzlers are a really nice bunch!

I dumped my day's shopping back in the room and had a quick shower - man it's hot and humid in Tokyo in August! When I got downstairs I found that one bunch of puzzlers had already headed up to one of the hotel restaurants and another slightly more adventurous bunch was about to head out to town in search of an interesting looking restaurant. I hung about for a bit and when Wil pitched up we headed up to the hotel's sushi restaurant for some sushi and sashimi - my first ever taste of both of them - and it was gooood!

There was lots of chat about puzzles and puzzlers over dinner before we headed back down to the lobby to join a bunch of puzzlers merrily ensconced in the free Wi-Fi area. I had a great chat with Marcel Gillen about puzzle designs and the logistics involved in making up 120 exchange puzzles - I learnt a lot from one of the masters in that chat.

At one point Rob Hegge arrived back from town (yip, it was quite late!) with some rather interesting puzzle finds, including a pair of packing puzzles in what look like soup bowls and the objects you're packing in there are either cats or dogs, if memory serves ... not sure about the idea of household pets in soup bowls, but they made for interesting puzzles.

Frans de Vreugd wandered over with his 2.5 year labour of love - a beautifully produced book filled with his gorgeous pictures of Cricket Boxes (or cricket cases if the former reminds you too much of a piece of sporting equipment). It was passed around the group and there were plenty of compliments on the book - and when he began taking orders quite a few of us put our names down for one ... and by the end of IPP he was talking about the desirability of ordering hundreds of them rather than the tens he was initially considering, so I'm guessing there were a lot more folks who were quite keen on them too ... 

...the haul after day 2... only slightly larger...