Here's my account of the IPP37, held this year in Paris, France. Buckle up, it's a long one!

A quick primer, to start: The IPP is a "small" gathering of friends that happens once every year, and rotates between East Asia/Pacific Coast, Europe, and North America. Attendance is by invitation only, and you have to receive a personal invitation from one of two people. Usually, to be invited, you have to be well-known in the puzzle community, and ideally have contributed to the puzzle community at large in some way. The event usually consists of a mix of local non-puzzle events, a design competition, a 100-puzzle gift exchanging extravaganza, and a puzzle sales event.This year's IPP was held in Paris, France, and it was my fourth IPP (I also attended 32 in Washington, 34 in London, and 35 in Ottawa).

Friday morning I arrived at the Airport, grabbed my suitcase, wrestled my enormous box of puzzles into a cart, and was promptly accosted by a fake taxi driver. After tracking down a licensed taxi, I made my way to the hotel where I found a small group of puzzlers already chatting in the lobby. My room was not quite ready, so I joined John Rausch, Simon Bexfield, Kevin Sadler, and one puzzler who I had not yet met for a chat. John had brought along an interesting little prototype puzzle made of sanded and glued plastic cubes, and as I was failing to solve it, Kevin pointed out that someone had brought along a copy of Lee Krasnow’s metal D20 and the jig he uses to hold it in the 5-axis CNC mill. After a pointed glance from Kevin, I glanced at the unknown puzzler to find that it was Lee Krasnow himself!

Lee's D20 in the machining jig. Drool!

After half an hour’s chat, Simon and I decided to join the group that was going to the Magic Museum. Simon generously paid for my Metro ticket, and helped navigate the Metro to get to the right stop. We arrived to find that we were among the first there, though there were a few scattered puzzlers browsing. We wandered around for a bit, then the larger group from the bus arrived. We said hello to everybody, wandered around a little more, and then a handful of us walked over to a nearby curiosities shop. I chatted with Scott Elliott for a while, took some pictures of a twisty I’d brought with me, and then we all got on the bus back to the hotel. I quickly ran up to my room to unpack and have a quick shower before dinner, as I wasn’t able to check in fully before I left for the tour. At the dinner the new IPP members introduced themselves to everyone, and I finally met Dave Holt - apparently, he’d been eager to say hello. We enjoyed some finger foods, milled around for a while, enjoyed sharing stories and new puzzles, catching up with each other, etc and then went to the bar for a quick drink.. Dave showed me his Nintendo switch and I played breath of the wild for a short period while Dave chatted with Yavuz Demirhan. As I was still a bit tired from the journey, I turned in around 10:30.
Robert-Houdin's Blossoming Orange effect

A heavily edited photo showing Breath of the Wild on the Switch.

The next day was the exchange. I grabbed some quick breakfast at the special IPP buffet that the hotel had for us, grabbed a cart for my very large box of exchange puzzles, and Dave helped me wrestle the box downstairs. I entered the exchange room, and commented to my assistant Kevin Sadler that we should probably open the boxes and check to make sure that I hadn’t forgotten to put any of the parts in the box. I grabbed a ruler from the hotel as the boxes were closed rather tightly, and we began opening boxes. As Kevin opened a few, he noted that they had come apart. I wasn't sure about the extent of the problem, hoping that it was only a few that had come apart, but I finally discovered to my great dismay that nearly all of the puzzles had broken in transit. I had a quick chat with Nick, and came to the conclusion that we would get some glue and attempted to repair as many as possible. Kevin agreed to run and get some more super glue, while I repaired puzzles using the tube that I had brought with me. Kevin dashed to a nearby store, armed with the French word for Super Glue and directions from the hotel staff, and I got to work. When Kevin returned he also helped to assemble puzzles, but to no avail. At 11 o'clock, around two hours after the exchange started, I made the decision that I would not be able to fix all of the puzzles on time. Frans De Vreugd, our host, made the announcement that I would be officially withdrawing from the exchange. Nevertheless, Kevin and I continued gluing puzzles, and after a short period a few fellow exchangers came up and said that they were willing to exchange for a puzzle that had been repaired. I was blown away by their generosity. As the day wore on and Kevin became more intoxicated by the Super Glue fumes, more and more people came by either offering to exchange for a repaired puzzle, to exchange even if it meant gluing a little bit, or out right offering to give their exchange puzzle as a gift. Thanks to Kevin, I was able to offer a completely repaired puzzle in exchange, albeit with a few visual flaws from the superglue fumes. As I completed the exchanges, Kevin continued to glue throughout until he had nearly all of them complete. At some point near the end, Yavuz Demirhan and fellow Facebook Puzzle Photography moderator Otis Cheng both came to offer their assistance. Between the four of us, we repaired around 90 of the puzzles, and exchanged around 70. Of course, I cannot thank Kevin enough for his help during the day, and I am very grateful to everyone who exchanged with me and turned my frustration into joy.

After the exchange, Dave Holt and I headed out to explore some of the puzzle shops. We took a taxi down to Jeux Descartes (anyone get it? Descartes - Des Cartes? Anyone?) near Notre Dame Cathedral, where I found a nice sliding tile puzzle, a new-ish Hanayama puzzle, and an interesting metal interlocking puzzle. Then we went down to Variants, where I was surprised and delighted to find a Wil Strijbos hexagon box, his First Box (more on that later), a nice peg maze, an interesting wooden carved wavy jigsaw sort of thing (“Truzzle"), and a nice 12-step Japanese puzzle box. Delighted, I exclaimed to the shop attendant “Je veux acheter beaucoup de choses dans ce cadenas la” (“I would like to buy many things in that padlock there” - I should have said “vitrine” instead of cadenas),and so the attendant replied “Alors je vais vous montrer beaucoup de choses la” (I will show you many things over there). Finally we wanted over to the last shop which was rather small, and didn’t have anything worth buying. At some point, we passed by Notre Dame cathedral and I took a few photos while Dave, amused by my caution, kept an eye out for pickpockets. We walked around for a little while longer, trying to find a taxi stand, and eventually we made our way back to the hotel. We approached the conveniently located Starbucks in the lobby and ordered a drink, and Dave pointed out “There’s a guy over there playing with some cards, and he’s quite good...oh dear, he’s noticed us noticing him”. I glanced over and recognized the fellow, so I pointed out to Dave “Well, yes, given who that is you’re talking about, that does make sense…”. It turns out that Dave had spotted well-known magician and IPP member Mark Setteducati.



At dinner, Simon Nightingale announced some rather sad news: prolific puzzler Laurie Brokenshire, who had been fighting inoperable brain cancer for the past year or so, had passed away the previous evening. He reminded us that Laurie would not want us to be sad, and encouraged us to drink a toast to a life well puzzled. I don’t suppose that there’s much more that I can add to what others have already said, except that Laurie inspired us all.

For those who are not familiar with Laurie, he was once a commodore in the British Navy. He and his wife Ethel had a tradition of spending the summer prior to the IPP cycling across the IPP host country. While that’s not too difficult for any single country in Europe, the North American trips were quite impressive - they cycled from Alaska to Washington one year, and then across Canada in 2015. As their path came through my home town, they spent the night of July 2nd, 2015 at my place. I remember the date because the previous night was my grandfather’s birthday, so we were holding a large party, and I had hoped that their timing would have them arriving either before or after. As it turns out, they arrived that evening and, unbeknownst to us, had spent the night camping at the “Legion in the Ditch” only a few kilometers away from us. We spent the day showing them around town, and Laurie discovered a rather attractive arrangement for my IPP exchange puzzle that I later used as the display state. He was also the host of IPP34 in London and the post-trip.

There’s also a fairly well-known photo of Laurie that I’ve seen a few times now. Indeed, if you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve stumbled on it yourself. At one point, Laurie had built an extension onto his house to store all of his puzzles, and the Daily Mail went over and covered it. As part of the article, Laurie took out a large number of puzzles and laid them out neatly on some white cloth on his lawn, and it made for a very impressive photo. You can find the photo and article here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1165389/Britains-biggest-puzzle-addict-built-30-000-extension-house-brainteasers--does-poor-wife-cope.html

Lastly, lest I ramble, it’s worth mentioning that when Laurie was diagnosed with cancer, he made the most of his remaining time by helping others. Even between rounds of chemotherapy, he hosted a 30-mile charity swim with his family, raising money for several causes. He and Ethel also fostered more than 60 children.Thank you, Laurie, for spending your time enriching our lives. We miss you dearly every day.

After the dinner, I recall again heading back to my room for the evening - all this puzzling is exhausting!

Sunday was the puzzle party. I woke up relaxed, with the sun streaming through the window... and promptly shouted several words that my mother wouldn't be proud of. Scrambling, I realized that I turned off my phone the night prior, and the alarm hadn't gone off. Thankfully, it was only 8:23 - the puzzle party didn't start until 9. I threw everything together, called Dave Holt to see if he could help with my enormous box (he agreed - thanks Dave!), and dashed downstairs just in time to set up.

I had been playing with a resin 3D printer, so I reserved a table, anticipating that I could bring some to sell. I didn't get all of them finished, but I did sell some that were mostly complete at a discount, with the instruction to sand the pieces slightly to improve fit and remove traces of support material. I also brought along a few assorted bits from my collection and sold most of them, plus I exchanged a few more repaired puzzles.

Resin-printed version of Jupiter. Slightly smaller than a golf ball.

I actually was not at my table all that much during the party. Instead I spent the 1st half wandering around the room trying to buy as much as possible. First thing, I stumbled upon a conversation between someone selling geometric jewelry in English and a buyer trying to locate an appropriate chain in French. I quickly translated the conversation, then dashed off to locate some nice Wil Strijbos items. Remember how I mentioned that First Box that I bought? Well, it turns out that they had been quite hard to find for a while, so I was glad to pay pretty well whatever price the shop had asked. At Wil’s table, I found that he had begun producing a new batch, and had them for sale at 20 Euros cheaper than the price I paid. I didn’t mind terribly, because it’s nice to support a smaller puzzle shop like the one that I visited.

Among the highlights of my purchases were a new Perry McDaniels cake puzzle box (my first!) and a copy of Stewart Coffin’s Jupiter that I got from Arteludes. I had originally misheard when he said the price; I thought he said “Trois Cent Dix” (310 Euro) and was about to run to the ATM when he clarified the price as “Soixant Dix” (70 Euro) and I just about passed out! Thank you so much, Jean-Baptiste! It's quite tight, but I really don't mind…

Big Jupiter, Little Jupiter...

Blackjack cake by Perry McDaniels

I also came across Simon Nightingale’s table, hoping to locate a copy of his Push Box 3. I whipped out my wallet to pay, and Simon introduced a very nice idea: He would give me a slip of paper with a suggested price and a website to visit; the website was for his Virgin Money Giving campaign to raise money for Oxfam. So instead of paying Simon for his puzzles, he was donating the proceeds directly to charity. Even if you haven’t received a puzzle from Simon, it’s a great idea to spend a few moments today and donate to this campaign over here.

At some point, probably Friday afternoon, I met with Tim Rowett and he delivered a small bag of items that I had ordered from Grand Illusions. In that bag was an unusual pencil that requires a very strange movement in order to extract the lead. During the puzzle party, I noticed that Wil had the pen to match. At that point I had run out of Euros, so I quickly ran down to the ATM. By the time I got back, the pen was gone! Thankfully, Wil said that he had some more at home and that I could email him to arrange to get one.

After the party we were set to have the twisty puzzle meet up in the hotel lobby. Since I had an hour to kill, I went via taxi to a fancy chocolate shop, where I purchased some rather expensive French chocolates. At that point, I decided I was better off to save my money, so I wandered around a bit until I found a Metro station, puzzled my way through buying a ticket, and promptly set off in precisely the wrong direction. I quickly sorted out the correct way back, got off a few stops too early, and had a nice half hour walk back to the hotel, only a half hour late for the meet up. Nevertheless, people were still gathering.

A few weeks prior to leaving, I had put out a call for help with assembling my exchange puzzle, and one of the people that answered my call was TP forum user k3DW! Apparently, he lives in my city, so he sent along a few of his own designs so that I might show them off to fellow attendees. He specifically asked that I show the mechanism of one of them, the Catsup, to David Pitcher, and so I did. As the light in the bar was rather dim, I held David’s phone as a flashlight while he peered into the mechanism of the twisty puzzle and admired the design. Though k3DW was particularly proud of that one design, the real hit of the three that I brought was the Weird Skewb. Many people, upon first encountering the Skewb, attempt to turn it halfway, then twist and exchange the corners. Numerous people had wondered if it was possible, and indeed Oskar van Deventer himself confessed that he had fielded requests for that very design, but had failed after he couldn’t find an elegant way to do it. Yet this one less-known designer from The Middle of Nowhere, Canada, had found a very nice way to achieve the goal. Keep your eye out for the post on Twisty Puzzles forum in the near future!
k3DW's Weird Skewb...




Not enough light!

Finally, it was time for the awards dinner. Throughout the weekend, there was a room filled with various designs, and each member got a voting card to nominate their favorite puzzle. Additionally, a small jury of esteemed puzzlers would vote on their favorites. Well, at the Awards dinner, the results were announced. Eitan Cher had a puzzle in the competition and he asked me to stream the ceremony to him, so I obliged with a Facebook video call. One by one, the results were announced, and indeed, Eitan’s Barreled Bolt had won as a runner-up to the Jury First Prize.

At some point during the dinner, Dave Holt mentioned how he was limited in his budget, so I gently reminded him that at least he’d have the memories of the event to keep him going throughout the rest of the year. Dave, quick on the draw, replied that he had short-term memory loss, and that he hardly remembered anything beyond two weeks! Alarmed, I stammered my surprise, but thankfully, he’d been pulling my leg.

Shortly before we tucked in, Frans invited Sue Young up to the podium for a short announcement. Another member of the IPP family, Ray Mead, had died a few hours prior. For the second time that weekend, we stood and offered a solemn toast, this time to Ray. I didn’t know Ray well, only having heard his name in passing, but I heard from others that he was instrumental in organizing the IPP in Australia, and I still felt the loss of a member of the IPP family that evening.

After the awards ceremony, the host of the next IPP, to be held in [TOP SECRET], came up to announce a few more details about the hotel, local attractions, etc. We were also informed that the IPP after that, IPP39, would be held in [SERIOUSLY NONDISCLOSABLE LOCATION].

Finally, with a simple “Good Night”, the IPP was over. I returned back to my hotel room and attempted to arrange all of the puzzles so that they’d fit in my two suitcases. Even though I had swapped out most of my exchange puzzles for slightly smaller puzzles, I still had a number of them that needed to make their way home, and they most certainly would not all fit in my suitcase. I put out a call for help on Facebook, seeking kind souls to relieve me of the puzzles and give them a good home, and I managed to find enough people to accept a copy that I was able to make it all fit.

So in the morning, I went to breakfast, took care of a few loose ends, and set out on my way. I was pleased to find some interesting Paprika Pringles at DeGaulle, and the flight home, while uncomfortable, was relatively uneventful. In Montreal, I was stopped by customs after I declared my puzzles on the little card they gave you, and had to wait for my luggage to be shunted aside before I was questioned by a slightly baffled officer (“Excuse me, but how did you manage to spend [that much money]...on puzzles?” The answer is “puzzles made by master craftspeople”, and while I did declare the value on my form, there’s no chance I’m telling you how much it really was, except to say that it suggests that I’ll be dining on Ramen noodles for the rest of the year). I hadn’t eaten much while I was away (no time! Too many puzzles to try!), so I devoured a cheeseburger and hopped on the final leg home.

So here I am! I’ve mostly unpacked, and I’m already halfway through carefully documenting the puzzles that I brought home. I hope to have all of the pictures up soon, and I’ll try to do a post or even a video on the more interesting ones soon.

Photos on Flickr.