Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Oxford and Bletchley Park

Started out with a short ride down to Oxford. Very old, lots of history. It went something like this: old building - old building - very old building - McDonald's. Nice contrast. A pretty small village, we stumbled across a stall in a rather lonely market with a few wooden puzzles, including the Moroccan (Turkish) Magic Boxes. A look at the prices, however, and my wallet desperately began to hug my thigh.

A quick stop at the museum and sadly, the floor with the puzzle displays were closed. So a wander down to the local puzzles-and-games shop for a gander at their selection (nothing special except for a tiny 22-step Japanese puzzle box).

An hour's ride later and we arrived at Bletchley Park. Lots of condensed history there, with baffling encryption-decryption systems and a rare hands-on experience with an actual Enigma machine. I wandered around the beautiful grounds and stumbled across the Toys museum that they had there. It's fairly small and cramped, with many amusements and household objects from the 30s and 40s. I found a sliding tile puzzle hiding amongst the stuff, as well as a disentanglement puzzle on a baggage tag and a game that was not identified, but featured a request for the game's name and instructions. I posted the pictures below as the only ones for this post, just in case a reader figures it out. Blogger isn't liking the other photos though.

2.5 hour ride back was very long, then we went back to The Giraffe for a delicious dinner with Alan Stein of PuzzleMaster.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stonehenge and Longleat

Today was a bit of an early start. We went off to Stonehenge at first. Stonehenge on the right, hog farm on the left :P Danbo was impressed with the ancient balancing act so he balanced some coffee. Definitely old, I discovered that there used to be some pillars in a circle around the stones that marked cremation burial sites.

Longleat was not quite what I had expected - the Marquess erected a safari theme park in his back yard so as to pay all upkeep and taxes. But the house itself was kind of nice. There were also some hedge mazes - Will Waite gave us a hint, and Andreas Rover helped us get out just before it began to pour!

The rides are quite long - 2 hours each way, an hour and a half between...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Stratford-upon-avon...if I remember correctly

2 hour bus ride from the IPP hotel to S-U-A. Said goodbye to Rox and Otis, then popped off. A nice wander around the Shakespeare birthplace, then explored a few shops before visiting the Museum of Mechanical Art and Design. Or something like that. It had all sorts of different types of moving ball sculptures and other mechanical bits. A bit small, wasn't terribly impressed.

We wandered around to the other side of the town area, grabbed a photo or two by the Avon river. Another two-hour ride to our new hotel, which is terribly strange. The toilet is in a separate room from the sink and shower, we have a 2-bed room that's actually a bed and the hardest cot I've found so far.

It was pretty nice to see the countryside, some very (*Very*) old buildings and architecture. Rained on and off throughout, but my Dad neglected to mention that he packed the rain gear in the suitcase that was in the bottom of the bus...

Tomorrow is Langleat and Stonehenge. Early.

Photos of Danbo from a rest stop between London and S-U-A

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A bit of a wander

Today started out at the science museum. Very rainy, so we began with a bit of coffee.

 There was a 3D printing display with several puzzles - 3x3 shape mod, burrs, Coffins, 1x2x3...I also found some neat devices for drawing mathematical patterns by hand - very nice.

We then decided to pop over to a pop culture store - Forbidden Planet. Much hype, but I wasn't as impressed as I thought that I would be. Along the way, we found a little place called Foyle's books - some minor puzzles but nothing worth buying. Seems that Harukai Murakami is very popular here too, based on that shop...

Danbo doing some People-watching.
 For lunch, we stopped at a micro-brewery where I ordered some very strong beer (actually Barley Wine). Danbo got a little bit tipsy...


Falling over

Oh no!!

 To walk it off, we went around towards the 7 Dials market area and Trafalgar square. We found some really neat shops and a bike race that was going on, then managed out way up the hill to The Strand and a Starbucks. I gave them my Canadian Starbucks Gold Card on a whim, and to my surprise, they accepted it!

Afterwards, we figured that we would visit the market at Covent Garden. Coincidentally enough, there was Benjamin Pollock's Toy Shop there - same one I visited back in 2007, down to them still stocking the very same folding paper model that I have in my kitchen. Then after we wandered over to the Tube Station, we decided to go back to Camden Lock Markets on a whim. Poor choice for my wallet - I bought 7 more puzzles, including a Union Jack puzzle box as a gift for myself.

Exhausted, it was time to get back to the hotel and pack for leg 2 of the journey: Post-Trip.

Thursday, August 7, 2014


Woke up today and found that suddenly, everybody had arrived. Saw Hiren Shah, Jeff Aurand, Ken Irvine, Tyler Summer (last three I met in Rochester), and a whole bunch of others.

Next up was a tour of a castle and another place (can't say now because it would tell you where we are). The castle, being an ancient stronghold, was largely uphill to get there. A lot of neat artefacts though: stuff that was won in battles dating back hundreds of years and a bullet that killed a famous English Lord-Admiral. Then off to that other place, where there was not much to tell of (other than the impressive amount of work that went into it all; you'll be able to figure out the rest once I tell you where we are).

Back to the hotel where I bumped into the fantastic Dr. Sadler. He had a little mascot for me (see below). A bit of a chat about old TVs, then back to the room to prepare for the founders' reception. Met all of the people that I hadn't before, and Mandy de Ruiter provided some Stroopwafels! I've already decided which exchange puzzles to spend my money on...

Danbo with my new Karakuri

2 Days, I think.

Let's start with the trip over. Nice enough time in Toronto, they've now got iPads to play with while you wait and you can use them to order food with. Neato.

I've had a bit of a cough lately, and someone on the transatlantic flight wasn't too happy about that. Rather than move her entire family away, they figured it would be best to throw us into first class instead. Loving those lie-down pods, score for us.

After a long delay with the luggage, we get to the hotel. Met up with Tanya Thompson on the bus, apparently she was on the same flight and we just walked right by her. While waiting for a room to be ready, we bumped into Scott Elliot and Carl Hoff discussing the latest Bubbloids (funny shapes!) and the Real 5x5s. A bit of deliberation, then Scott and I decided to head off to the CL market in search of a puzzle shop. Took us a while to find it, and on the way we found a hidden little booth that sold Japanese Puzzle Boxes. I picked up my first two Karakuris, which is really nice. Finally found the puzzle shop and grabbed a trick lock and a Case Cube, found Otis Cheng there too. Really nice to meet him in real life.

Problem with the London Tube is, there's no air circulation. I tolerated the ride to the market (an hour and a half) but nearly passed out on the way back. Had to stop twice for water (a little juice the first time, a Gatorade and a 2L of water the second time).

Got back to the hotel and fell asleep for a while, then headed to the restaurant for dinner with Roxanne, George Miller, and the van Deventers. Oskar and George were in the midst of a lively debate about a mechanism for a Cooksey-type puzzle, Oskar showing off his Scram-balls (on the forum under a different name, designed by Bram Cohen), and I barely solved my first Berrocal before my head started to spin. No photos because I forgot.

Monday, August 12, 2013

CubicDissection package!

I was walking towards the mailbox today (we have a 'superbox' for the whole neighborhood) and I noticed the postman loading up all the boxes. Our section just happened to have a parcel in it...but I was in a hurry and had to leave. So several tense hours later, my suspicions were confirmed: I had exciting mail!

Okay, so Entertainment Weekly isn't what I was talking
about, but it's exciting nonetheless

Actually, a large box from CubicDissection!

The package contained the Cold Fusion and the Binary Burr:
Cold Fusion

Binary Burr

Binary burr partly solved

Both puzzles are quite loose, and there is a bit of an issue with gravity on the Binary burr (pieces may tend to drop where they need to remain upright). The Cold Fusion really gave me a start - there are some unexpected movements going on there! I've solved the Binary Burr and its frame (though I haven't put the burr part back together, so it's half-in the frame right now). I'll let you know more as I figure these puzzles out!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Trick Bolts

Here's my review of 4 Trick Bolts. The first two are from Lee Valley Tools, and the others are from PuzzleMaster. The Lee Valley Tools set comes in a pack of 2, whereas PuzzleMaster sells them individually.
The first set that I will discuss, shown above, is the Lee Valley Tools set. I am really fond of this version. It features two popular Trick Bolt mechanisms which are not difficult to figure out. The objective of both of them is to remove the nut. Though the puzzles are quite small (smaller than 57mm), the machine work is quite good and their size makes them very good for carrying around. They come packaged together in a tube, and are nice and lightweight.

The second set uses very similar mechanisms to the first set, although the goal is different. The PuzzleMaster versions both have a bent metal ring on them which must be removed to solve the puzzle. One of the puzzles has a bolt welded to the end, where the other only has a few threads.

I don't like these versions quite as much partly because of the way they implement the mechanisms (making the solutions fairly obvious, though they're simple to begin with). The Trick Bolt #1 (the one with only a few threads) also makes solving difficult for those with pudgy fingers. They are quite a bit larger than the Lee Valley versions, standing at just over 57 mm, and significantly heavier. This PuzzleMaster set also has a slightly worn look about them. The Lee Valley set is slightly cheaper (though neither set features the words 'Don't Panic' in large, friendly letters on the cover).

Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Gratuitous Gnome guards your guineas

Though it might have a Constantin sort of feel at first, this puzzle is actually made by Siebenstein-Spiele and designed by Jurgen Reiche. Like Constantin's Two Keys, you have a double maze to navigate. With this puzzle, however, you also have two pegs whose mobility is limited. There's a plexi layer and a 'wood' layer, both of which can rotate about the metal pen in the middle (aided by the bumpy bits that stick out from the puzzle). If you look closely, there's a coin-shaped hole in the plexi layer (around the 3 o'clock position) and a coin-shaped hole in the 'wood' layer (7 o'clock picture). The goal: first move the plexi layer so that the coin hole lines up with the coin, then move the plexi layer so that the two coin holes line up (and the coin drops to the 'wood' layer), then move the wood layer so that the coin falls through a hole in the bottom of the puzzle (9 o'clock position in the photo).

So: At first glance, the puzzle seems simple. Then you start to try things, and you realize that the mazes need to be rotated in tandem. You can say 'oh, the maze needs to be rotated so I can move the left peg inwards', but doing so requires several steps of planning in advance. Not that such planning is very difficult, because you can see the maze, but it is pleasantly frustrating because you can feel like you're almost there, or that the next move is simple, but you're always facing a new challenge that deceives you.

For the above reason, I quite like this puzzle. It's not quite as difficult as the Cast Medallion, where you can see what you need to do but you can never seem to actually do it because the moves are blocked so far in advance. There's just the right amount of blocking involved, so that you can 'almost' do the move you want to, and kind of have to do some (but not too much) wiggling around to get what you want. In general, though, I'm a fan of double mazes and peg mazes...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Aluminum cylinder and Washer cylinder

My two cents on two of Wil Strijbos' cylinder puzzles. I'll start with the Aluminum cylinder.

Of the two, I prefer the Aluminum cylinder because it gives you a lot more to work with. In the pictures, it's the one with the gap between the lid and the body (and the number 31). The lid can be pushed down, and it pops back up with a spring.

It's a gravity puzzle with a pattern to solving it, which is nice so that you can remember what you've done. You can hear stuff rattling around inside, and after a little bit of playing, the rattling changes (and you can feel a ball bearing in the little hole in the bottom).

So, there's ball bearings involved, and you can 'unsolve' it partially and still have the lid stay on. You also need to move the ball bearings from Point A to Point B. No more to say on the solution front. 
I like the Aluminum cylinder for the reason that even if you can't solve it, pushing the lid and tilting it around is still therapeutic. And it's shiny.

Now for the washer cylinder. I can't provide much more than a physical description because I haven't solved it yet :) . Like the Aluminum cylinder, it has a hole in the bottom. The similarities end...the Washer cylinder, like the name implies, has a washer inside of it. The washer prevents you from peeking inside of the hole >:) .
The washer, then, moves up and down on a post on the inside, and has no other apparent purpose than making things more difficult for the solver (though it could also serve to hold any small parts inside the puzzle - don't want to lose things, now do we). 

Other than a slight rattling when you shake the puzzle (like a small flake of metal rattling around?), there is absolutely no feedback that you're doing things right. No clinking or moving, no bells or whistles. The lid can spin but not be pushed. Makes solving very difficult...

That's about it. Most people can solve the Aluminum cylinder within 15 minutes or so (an enjoyable enough solve), but the Washer cylinder is less...forgiving. Still working on a solution, so once I figure the Washer cylinder out, I'll do another post re-evaluating.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gigantic Lock

Time to address everyone's favourite puzzle: A Really Big Lock.

I have gotten a lot of curiosity about this puzzle over the years. I got it a while back when I asked my local Lee Valley location about puzzles on a whim, and they happened to have a handful of puzzle locks. This has been out of stock at the Lee Valley website for a while, but I recently checked it out and they have it back in stock for $80.

Physical description: this puzzle is very heavy, and could easily be used as a weapon under the right circumstances. One to put in the checked baggage, for sure. It comes with six less substantial keys, of which three are needed to solve the puzzle (there are three duplicates). There are no seams visible on the outside of the puzzle - good craftsmanship, because there are actually several (spoilers!).

Most people that have played with the puzzle either get it right away, or stand there baffled for several minutes until they get a hint (or I get impatient with them - sometimes happens). I personally got the first step right away, and then once the first step is done, the rest follow pretty easily. Once you've found the keyhole, though, there's still a step to go that most will miss.

I quite like this puzzle. The internal movements are nice and smooth, and everything feels solid. My only complaint is that one of the keys is supposed to have a sneaky little trick to it, but that trick can be bypassed. I don't want to say too much more, but each part of the key should be used only once (according to the solution), but there's a part where you can use the same part of one key twice and one part of a key no times whatsoever.

Sadly, the hasp of the lock is way too big to be of any use in normal applications, but I would really like to find a place where it would be practical to use this lock in public. Just for the giggles.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Tuttminx series (classic and curvy)

Arright, gotta address the tuttminxes.

I had three of the four Tuttminxes. Let's start with the curvy Tuttminx.

The Curvy Tuttminx is just like Lee Tutt's original, but it has curved cuts.

Still has the hexagonal/pentagonal face arrangement, but the cuts are more round. The problem: the round cuts make it really hard to turn the puzzle. I'm surprised that it didn't come with some sort of turning key like the void Tuttminx does...Anyways, it hurt my fingers to turn it. I often had to use my entire palm to kind of grip the face. 

Next: Classic Tuttminx. This one is much easier to turn, not only because the pieces are bigger, but because the mechanism may have changed somewhat (i.e. to give more leverage). The turning is a lot more smooth on the classic Tuttminx. If you are going to choose only one Tuttminx (not sure why you would - more on that later) then choose this one.

Brief solving interlude: Solving the above two Tuttminxes is the same. It's kind of like a megaminx, but you have to plan for the fact that the hexagonal faces can only turn in increments of two. Otherwise, just pair edges with corners. Again, and again, and again. VERY tedious work, and it requires a lot of concentration to keep track of where you can and cannot turn things (compared to the 7x7, which is tedious but you can do it very easily). The only really interesting bit is the last four or so faces, where you have to choose between pentagon and hexagon for your 'last layer'. Not my favourite for solving...

Then there's the Tuttminx star. A bit pointless (pardon the pun), but it looks real sharp (I'm on a roll here!). It's essentially the Truncated-Icosahedron version of an Alexander's star, or the edges-only version of the Tuttminx. My guess: A good practise for the edges of the last few layers. Good place to try out your moves. Apparently, though, it is possible to get an edge parity if you're not careful...Turning is just fine, but be careful when stickering: the pieces have slightly different shapes, as do the stickers. Also, there's the traditional 'look past the points to see a pentagonal face' approach, or the 'sticker the indentations' approach.

There's also a stickering scheme that makes the pentagonal faces 'pop', making the dodecahedron clear.

And the solution that helps with the 'duplicate colors' issue (or colors that look the same)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cast Harmony

Today's post is about a puzzle that has made me very happy :)

This is one of my favourite cast puzzles so far. It's themed, which is nice, and it is fairly minimalistic in design while still looking 'fancy'. It's also produced my favourite photo so far (the second one, BTW).

Solving: Pretty easy. Took me around 15 minutes while listening to David Sedaris recall his Greek summer camp experiences (the two will, oddly, always be linked in my head...). It's easy enough for the average non-puzzler to solve, yet enough to keep them interested. Becomes a nice fiddle-thing once you've figured it out :)

Really nice puzzle overall. Only problem is that the shine easily tarnishes, so don't put it in the glove compartment of your golf cart :P

Short post because I'm too busy ogling other puzzles right now :)

Monday, July 22, 2013


Today's puzzle is the (poorly assembled) vis. I just looked at the pictures and I think I reassembled it wrong. The bolt should be on the inside...I think? Other images suggest that I was right. Can't find it on PuzzleMaster though...even though it came from them. Oh well.

I came into this puzzle not sure what to expect. I was *really* hoping for a trick bolt-type puzzle. I can't tell you whether or not I was disappointed :)

So: to the puzzle. It's made from a lightweight wood that seems to be somewhat scratched/worn. It seems to be similar to the type used on puzzles like the Welle (Wave), Rechner, and Radbox. Interestingly, I had to disassemble my Kugellager 8 to remove some orange dying powder that they seemed to have used to color the wood, but that's for another review.

I did kind of like this puzzle. Secret-opening puzzles really let you get intimate with the puzzle because you need to inspect it very closely in order to make it reveal its secrets. Once I figured out the mechanism, the surprise was lost, however. It's pretty basic and common, and not terribly repeatable, though if I recall correctly there was another little step involved that changed things up a little bit.

What I'm wondering is whether or not this puzzle has the same mechanism as the Get Charged or Bougie puzzle. Reader input is appreciated!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Brass Treasure Chest

Today, I'm discussing the Brass Treasure Chest. I bought this puzzle from PuzzleMaster.

Though it's photogenic, this puzzle really isn't very good in my opinion. The opening isn't large enough to hold anything, and the solution is way too specific for one to be able to figure it out. Hence, I have no problem revealing what I know of the solution here. I'll do it after the pictures, for those of you who don't like spoilers. For now, I'll just say that it requires an unguessable sequence of moves to open. The exterior reveals no clues, and no sound emanates from the bowels of the chest.

I have nothing against the puzzle other than that the solution has no logic to it. Luck, not cleverness, plays into solving the puzzle. I would be very interested in hearing from those of you that own this puzzle and think differently from me (or even if you have a similar opinion, I guess).










Here's the solution and mechanism, from what I can figure: You need to rotate the puzzle in a specific pattern (it's irrelevant what this pattern is), then rotate one of the legs, then turn the puzzle around some more. I'm thinking that it involves some sort of ball maze, kind of like Marcus Allred's The Lunatic puzzles, though the solution mentions some sort of pin that pops up to hold the lid closed.