Wednesday, 14 February 2018


Short version – it were good!

Longer version – it was really fun and Kevin discovered he had TWO hands – freakish or WHAT?!

Walker-length version: it was the weirdest start to an MPP yet! I had no-one staying over so I drove down to the hall on my own – in itself a strange feeling – and when I got there Angela and Peter had already laid out their stall and Oli (who’d been dumped there by his young son and wife on their way to Cadbury World) had pretty much set up all the tables already, saving me a major job… 

I got the tea and coffee sorted while Wee-Steve arrived, followed shortly by Big-Steve, Ali and Michael – we have a quorum – the games can begin! I unpacked some puzzles, grabbed a coffee and started raking through Angela’s stash of books… I’d cleaned her out of signed Martin Gardner first editions last time around, but still managed to add another first edition of his columns to the collection… along with a Philosopher’s Stone / Omee the Orb. 

A few first-timers joined us: John D had been threatening to come along for most of last year but things always seemed to conspire against him coming so it was great to have him join us. Richard S found us on FaceBook and decided against his better judgement to go along and meet the strangers he’d found on the internet… he seemed to have fun discovering lots of new puzzles, getting hints on some puzzles that had been taunting him for a while and even chatting magic and history with John D… funny how the two of them had to travel more than an hour west to bump into one another when they’re actually from the same town! 

Big-Steve had brought along a million-or-so tongue depressors. 

Oli had brought along a great new disentanglement puzzle he’d found in Etsy – made of a modified spanner with some holes in it, it combined a couple of traditional disentanglements to form a decent challenge in a wonderfully robust format – nobody is every going to damage that thing, unless of course they cut the nylon rope… must look that shop up. 

Speaking of disentanglements, Kevin had brought along some of his latest Chinese finds that were SO TOUGH we found it almost impossible to engage in our normal game of “mess-up-the-disentanglement-because-Kevin-loves-to-solve-them-again”! We did however manage to have a little fun with the square copy of Pieces of Eight that he brought along, assembling it with just one of the spacer pieces on the outside and a neat little gap between two adjacent pieces… who knew? A puzzler with OCD who couldn’t leave it wrongly assembled … :-)

I tortured Ali with my Japanese wood joint burr again after he didn’t assemble it for me at the last MPP… he tried for a few more hours (!) during the course of the day, and the evening, but it sadly remained in five too many pieces… he did solve a serious number of other puzzles in between, I should add, lest he not agree to try and put it together for me again in the future. 

I managed to pick up a couple of old puzzles from Tim T and even to arrange some long-distance puzzle shopping to secure a puzzle for James that he didn’t have (!) even though he hadn’t been able to join us for the day. (The process in case you’re interested involved taking pics of Tim’s tables, emailing them to James and then spending a little while on the phone answering questions about various things before he spotted one that he thought he didn’t have, so a deal was struck. Now I just need to get it to him before he realises he already has three of them! :-)) 

Kevin had brought along his copy of Carsten's Pirate's Casket and several folks made approving noises while solving it at MPP... I hadn't had a chance to solve it so Kevin kindly told me to take it home and play with it and tell him what I thought... so I did. [It’s a very clever puzzle! Some brilliant use of magnets in unusual configurations and a very nice 3D printed box… a few really nice, testing lock mechanisms with just enough feedback to allow you to deduce what’s going on and what you need to do to defeat them…LOVELY!]

Jamie had joined us after a long break from MPPs (guessing he’s just about got over the trauma of the last one – that or working night shifts plays havoc with attending -day-time- puzzle parties). He brought along a huge number of locks and lock picks and ended up giving some budding burglars (I’m KIDDING! He’s an anaesthetist!) lessons and chatting picks and picking with Oli… pity Shane wasn’t there – suspect he’d have loved to join in with that. (Damned lurgy, in case you’re wondering.) 

Steve’s tongue depressors (I wasn’t just going to leave that paragraph dangling there – just checking if you’re actually paying attention, gentle reader) got assembled into various lengths of stick bombs… Cue Steve sitting there for ages weaving sticks together and gently working his way down a long line of tables until he’s had enough… cue videoing and plenty of laughs as the beast is released, and then repeat the entire process again a little while later… and then when we’re packing up, find as many places to hide the damn sticks in others’ boxes because his better half has warned him not to bring them home again – there’s a rumour that he bought an industrial quantity of them for peanuts from his favourite internet sales-site. I found a couple of hundred of them when I was unpacking my boxes the next morning…

Meme-of-the-day was Kevin earnestly describing an assembly process holding up one hand and saying “I can’t do it I need another hand” – to which Jamie remarks “Kevin, you’ve got TWO hands” – cue all manner of attempts at humour: “OMG, there’s two of them! Imagine what this would mean for surgery!” – “AARRGGHH where the hell did that come from??” while looking at TWO hands… we’re a cruel bunch. He did join in the laughter and general silliness that followed so it probably hasn’t scarred him for life!

At some point during the afternoon I pulled out one of the Kosmos Escape Room games and asked if anyone wanted to play it…and soon enough Big-Steve, Oli, Kevin and I were working our way through The Pharaoh’s Curse – under the watchful eye for Louis, who’d already played the Dutch version back at home with the family… turned out everyone enjoyed it and a couple of days later I was getting slagged off on FaceBook by Oli for his having had to go out and buy a copy of every single other game they make…

Frank had brought a Kumiki fish-elephant for Gill which he duly presented to her back at our place after things had been suitably wound up. Most folks ended up at chez Walker for the traditional fish supper where some more puzzling, some chatting and a lot of fun rounded out a fantastic MPP.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

More diagonal silliness…

Once or twice in the past I’ve mentioned that I like finding puzzles that look ostensibly alike, but are really totally different puzzles… in fact I’ve even written about a pair of puzzles that look identical from Lee Krasnow over here – so imagine my delight when I stumble across a few more variants to add to the Krasnow bit of the collection. 

First up is the plainest looking of the trio – it is the standard Coffin Star design (SC-04), aka the diagonal burr. The fit on this little sucker is just so darn good that the usual trick of tugging on adjacent pieces does absolutely nothing… spinning it – likewise… until you pay this innocuous looking beastie due respect and adopt the correct grip and pull it apart on the correct axis, it will simply stand there and mock you. 

Those pieces continue to grip together like there’s no tomorrow until they physically pass beyond just the tips holding things together… I’ve never seen a diagonal burr that hold on quite like that one…

Next up looks ostensibly the same again, except it’s made in far prettier woods this time… and unusually for Lee’s work, the pieces feel a bit loose when you pick it up… and that gives you a bit of a clue to what’s happening inside – take this one apart and you find it has a cubic cavity in the centre – this is Coffin’s Star variant 4B(?). Having had that central little bit of the puzzle removed means there’s a lot less wood to grip between the pieces when it’s assembled, giving it the slightly loose feel, but when it comes to reassembling this guy you really miss those central pieces! 

If you’re anything like me you assemble the two halves in a three-fingered grip and then slide the halves together… which is usually pretty simple – but this variant’s missing bits mean that you can’t just squeeze the three pieces together in each hand, you have to hold each of the three pieces in the right place relative to the others, without the bit in the middle that you’d normally be pushing against… which makes this fella pretty fiddly to reassemble – not horrible, just tricky!

The final new addition to the canon is the Sneaky Star… looks just like a Coffin Star (give or take the fancy spalted wood) but it open in a rather different manner… and like 4B it has a cubic cavity in the centre – except this one comes with a pretty little cubic box in the centre – a puzzle box that is one inch cubed – and it’s called Inchricate. It is a fine puzzle on its own… 

I’ve given it to a few puzzlers over the last month or so and virtually all of them have wondered out loud if I was having them on, sought encouragement and even advice. 

It’s an excellent little box that uses most of what you “know” about puzzle boxes against you… so some of the moves are unconventional to say the least, so of the usual “rules” about “once this face moves, that must be the next face to move” are deliberately flouted, resulting in a wonderful little puzzle box challenge that literally fits into a 1 cubic inch cavity inside the Sneaky Star. 

It’s sneaky and brilliant!