Sunday, 15 January 2017

Haleslock 2

This is my 400th post! How time has flown by. And what better puzzle to write about than one coming from a really talented puzzle designer, Shane Hales from the UK. 

Shane started designing puzzles several years ago and I have had the good fortune to receive as gifts two of his very limited edition puzzles, first The Circle and later Turn The Plug. His puzzles are limited edition either because he produces only several of a particular design or he gifts them to friends. Until recently, Shane did not sell any but only gifted his puzzles to the lucky few. I am one of them lucky ones who got a Haleslock 2 as a Christmas present!

Recently Shane has progressed to producing puzzle locks. His works are not designed from ground up, example, in the style of Rainer Popp, meaning to say, he designs and produces a puzzle that looks like a lock, Instead, he goes the Dan Feldman way, where he uses existing commercial padlocks on the market and modifies them into a puzzle/trick lock. Shane's locks, the Haleslock 1 and Haleslock 2 were made available for a charity auction and sale respectively on his puzzle site but unfortunately for puzzlers, his Haleslock 2 are all sold out.

So coming back to the Haleslock 2...what is it like as a puzzle? Well, as I have alluded to, it is a typical looking padlock from a brand called Squire. The lock comes with two keys (one without any teeth as can be seen from the photo) and attached by a rather long chain to the shackle. The object of course is to un-shackle the lock.

I had read Allard Walker's blog post on how he had solved the Haleslock 2 and commented that it was "not extremely complex or complicated". For me personally, this couldn't have been further from the truth! I had solved Shane's previous puzzles, The Circle and Turn The Plug without too much frustration and without help, but for some (strange) reason, I could not solve the Haleslock 2 even after multiple sessions of playing over a number of days. Something was eluding me to the point I decided to ask Shane for not one, but two clues before I managed to figure out the first move...and the Hales Lock has four moves to free the shackle.

After the first move was done, everything else became easy and I released the shackle without a cinch. For me, the solution for the Haleslock 2 was totally unexpected. The "trick" (no pun intended) of the Haleslock 2 is IMHO a really a good one not easy to discover. With hindsight, I realized that I had missed something right at the beginning that I shouldn't have. Overall a great trick lock with an original and different idea/concept. Good work Shane!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Cast Infinity

A very Happy New Year to everyone! This is my first post for 2017.

This weekend's puzzle was Vesa Timonen's Cast Infinity produced by Hanayama. In case you do not know Messr. Timonen, he has designed many puzzles and a number for Hanayama such as the Cast Loop, Square, Cylinder and Donuts.  A number of them award winning, including his non-Cast Symmetrick.

The Infinity comes with a shiny surface and is very well made (of zinc alloy). Tough and heavy. Generally I would prefer a matt to gloss surface for metal puzzles but in this instance, the shininess actually works pretty well and accentuates the curves of the Infinity. IMHO, it's one of the more beautiful and aesthetically pleasing puzzles around.

Size wise, its measures roughly about 5.3cm x 3.2cm x 1.7cm and large enough to be handled quite comfortably.

The object here is to remove the two inner circular pieces from the "8" shaped cage (the Greek symbol for Infinity).

From the puzzling aspect, this is not an easy puzzle. Hanayama rates it at a level 6 stars; ie most difficult in the Hanayama range. But with only two moving pieces, its not excruciatingly difficult and I would rate it rather at about 5 stars. Both pieces rotate within their respective housings inside the cage, but they are interlocked against each other via a series of notches on the pieces as well as the inside of the cage itself.  At any one time, only one of the two pieces will move in one particular direction. To solve the puzzle, the pieces need to be rotated in both clockwise and counter clockwise manner (as well as upwards and downwards) and there is a sort of sequence to this, otherwise one or the other piece would simply find a dead end.

In some ways, I kinda have the feeling that the Cast Infinity is almost a bit like a "N-ary puzzle" where there is a series of repeated moves, but technically I don't think this is the case [Edit 8 Jan 2017: Puzzler Michel van Ipenburg has confirmed to me that the Infinity is indeed a N-ary puzzle]. Other puzzles with a similar "style" that came to my mind when I was playing with the Infinity are the circular type burrs designed by Derek Bosch such as the Helical Burr, Pole Dancers and Vapors , where you manipulate two main opposing interlocking pieces in a particular sequence to disassemble. For lack of anything else, I guess you can call it a flat(ish) burr.

Overall the Infinity is great puzzle and I was rather surprise that I took less than 20 mins to disassemble the pieces and just a tad longer to put everything together again, the latter in the reverse order, but more difficult. Once you have gotten used to the moves, its fairly repeatable also. And coming from Hanayama, you can be assured of decent quality and value for money pricing.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Portico J

First off, Merry Christmas to everyone!

This post is long overdue. In fact it is a year overdue. I received the Portico J as a Christmas present from Pelikan Puzzles of the Czech Republic during last Christmas in 2015. Portico J was designed by Stephane Chomine, who (at the time of this posting) has just done over 500 designs on PWBP.

I had played with Portico J for a while, found it a tad too difficult and put it away telling myself that I would come back to it sometime in early 2016...and promptly forgot about it for the next 12 months. 

But over the last couple of days after some much required puzzle closet spring cleaning, out appears the Portico J and I decided to give it a go again. But before that, here are the stats; Portico J measures about 10cm x 5.5cm x 4.5cm. Consisting of an inverted T-shaped support with 3 traditional burr pieces and 2 board ones, it is an unusual shaped and looking interlocking puzzle. I figure this sort of shape may not appeal to everyone, but hey, there are loads of cubes and rectangles about so this is nice change. And I certainly quite like it. Comprising of Wenge and Cherry woods, it's impeccably made by the Pelikan Workshop. Everything slides and moves smoothly. 

It took me a couple of hours spread over several sessions before I finally managed to remove the first piece. It has a level 20 solution and while the movable pieces can move only in certain directions within limits, it's a much harder puzzle to take apart than the shape (or the few number of pieces) would suggest. My early attempts were met with dead ends and when I finally got the first piece out, the process rather surprising, something I did not expect. After that, a bit more puzzling was still needed before the rest of the pieces were disentangled. Full take apart requires 35 moves. 

As with such puzzles I needed Burr Tools to help with the re-assembly before everything was back to original. Can't do by memory here unfortunately!

The Portico J is very tricky right from the start and although not a very high level burr on paper, still it makes for a very challenging solve indeed. Oh, and there is a 5-piece Little Portico around too!

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Still Yet Another Burr That's Not A Burr!

Sorry folks for a delayed post as I was on a family vacation to Taiwan...and had too much luggage to bring any puzzles along.

Well, here's yet another pseudo-burr, this time another variation of Ray Stanton's Slideways Burr series, after his Slideways Burr and Double Slideways Burr. This one is called the Quad Slideways Burr (QSB). The QSB was Ray's IPP36 Exchange Puzzle. Made of Cherry, Maple and Mahogany, it was produced for Ray by Pelikan Puzzles with great craftsmanship as per normal. The QSB measures about 8cm all around, a good and necessary size for handling this type of puzzle.

The QSB looks to be made up of many pieces but in reality comprise only 4 pieces each with slanted cuts and notches. Two of the larger pieces are actually several smaller pieces glued together. It is a co-ordinate motion puzzle and the object is to take it apart and re-assemble it.

I had difficulty with the Double Slideways Burr and so I took careful pains with this one to slowly "disentangle" the that the pieces don't just fall apart suddenly, as usually happen to many co-ordinate motion puzzles. The high average 85% humidity of Singapore ensured that the sliding apart was snug but sufficiently smooth and allowed me to make small incremental movements. The puzzle expanded right to the point where one of the two smaller pieces fell apart, followed by the others. 

Its a good thing that Pelikan manufactured the QSB in such a way that the three opposing pairs of faces on the sides of the QSB feature a different type wood; which makes the identification and orientation of the pieces for re-assembly least I knew how the pieces were going to come together. Unlike the earlier Double Slideways Burr, which I needed the wifey's help to hold the pieces (there were 6!) this one I could comfortably manage on my own, sans wife's hands. Finding that single point, ie sweet-spot where all the 4 pieces started sliding back together to form the original shape was actually not as difficult as I had expected. All said and done, this was a pretty fast solve!

As far as I can tell, the QSB is not listed on sale on the Pelikan site. But Ray may have some extra copies left for sale if anyone is interested.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Another Burr That Is Not A Burr?

This is an interesting 3-piece "Burr" called "New Tam's Burr R-End", designed and crafted by Hidekuni Tamura. It was also his IPP36 Exchange Puzzle.

The concept design for this puzzle is similar to the Murbiter's Pseudo Burr. Like the Pseudo Burr, New Tam's Burr looks like an ordinary 6-piece burr from the outside. This one is made of a heavy exotic hardwood (I am not sure what it is) and consist of various blocks glue together. Construction is very good with the puzzle coming in its own box and instructions. One thing I am not sure of is what is the meaning of the name and the "R-End" bit??

The object is to dis-assemble and then re-assemble the 3 pieces which when taken apart, look uncannily similar to each other. And because of this, once you take it apart and scramble the pieces, you may have some difficulty putting the pieces back to the original state, particularly if you get their orientations wrong. A rather clever design as the designer has not only managed up the challenge quotient with similar looking pieces but also by the way the pieces connect to each other without leaving an voids in the centre of the puzzle.

Is it difficult to take apart? No, once you figure out which one of the pieces needs to be the first to move. What about re-assembly? Yes, harder obviously; but because there are only 3 pieces, its not difficult as such with some persistence. There are only so many ways available for randomly trying to connect all three together (and the signature on one of the pieces also helps).

Monday, 28 November 2016

Theta & Triple Tango

What does a puzzle blogger do when he hasn't had time (due to work and other commitments) to play with new puzzles to write about them? Well, easy...he blogs about his own designs that have been produced by well-known puzzle craftsmen...nothing to solve and fret over!

And here are two puzzles I am shamelessly featuring, which have been beautifully crafted by Eric Fuller. There is one more coming from Eric's stable (in the coming weeks I think) but I will let that one be released first before shamelessly blogging about it!

The first is my Theta (the exact name is 9 Theta) since it has 9 burr pieces plus a cage. Excellently constructed of Maple and Purpleheart, this one has a level solution requiring a total of 29 steps to completely disassemble. Great attention to detail here and yes, I still need Burr Tools to help me re-assemble after taking it apart. 

Currently all 48 limited edition copies are sold out. Personally for me it was a nice design exercise and really a "no big deal" kind of interlocking burr. My burr design capabilities are pretty limited and I was surprise Eric chose Theta to produce for his site. But the few comments I have received from purchasers of this puzzle has generally been good. 

My second design is a sliding block puzzle called Triple Tango. I was able to design Triple Tango thanks to Goh Pit Khiam who shared with me his sliding block design program which he authored a while back (a software that works similar to Burr Tools, where you can specify the shape and units of the pieces etc). 

There is also a freeware programme called the SBP Solver by Pierre-Francois Culand but this program is rather limited in that the shapes for the pieces can only be either squares or rectangles. But for anyone who has never designed a sliding block puzzle, the SBP Solver is good enough to get you going for a start.

To see the many incredible sliding block puzzle designs out there including those by Minoru Abe, Serhiy Grabarchuk, Ed Pegg, Nob Yoshigahara just to name a few, check out Nick Baxter's Sliding Block Puzzle Page.

Start Position
 The version made by Eric consists of 6 pieces and the goal is to exchange the light and dark blocks found at the top and bottom. Eric had even made an acrylic cover with the starting position of all the blocks etched onto the surface. The puzzle is made of maple, mahogany and walnut.
End Position
This puzzle can be configured for various levels of difficulty. 78 moves (5 pieces only, move a single 2x1 block from the bottom slot to the top slot). 104 moves (the version shown here) and 122 moves, by adding another 2x1 block to be surrounded by the 4 larger blocks. And why is it called Triple Tango? Because the centre pieces "dance" three times round the inside of the tray (clockwise and anti-clockwise) during play before both the dark and light coloured 2x1 blocks exchange positions. Triple Tango was also the inspiration for my Tango 72 IPP36 Exchange Puzzle in Japan this year.

Again this was a surprise for me as I didn't think Eric would produce a sliding block puzzle like that where the pieces are uncovered. Anyway 46 copies of the Triple Tango were made and they are all also sold out!

Saturday, 19 November 2016


This weekend, I played (or rather re-played) a puzzle that has seen a number of incarnations over the years. The puzzle is Naoaki Takashima's IPP36 Exchange Puzzle called Seal - Slide-Blocked Sliding Block Puzzle. 

Start Position

End Position
The original version of the SBSB with a garage and car theme was designed by Bill Cutler in 1987. Bill made a later version using the "seal and ball" theme and entered it in the 1988 Hikimi Wooden Puzzle Design Competition where he won the Grand Prize. Subsequently Tom Lensch also made versions of the original SBSB and his latest version is featured in one of my previous post, suing a "twin arrows" theme. 

Naoaki Takashima is a Japanese Puzzle collector who reputedly has the largest private collection of mechanical puzzles outside the USA/Europe and in Japan. His version of the SBSB for the Exchange is different from the original Bill Cutler and Tom Lensch versions in several respects:-

1. The design is an "upside down" version of the original.

2. The pieces are made of laser cut double layer glued acrylic and removable from the tray. You can't see it from the photos but there is a groove running along the inside bottom edge of the tray with two of the pieces having "notches". The Tom Lensch version is interlocking and pieces can't be removed. This feature is a God-send and very necessary if you are stuck halfway and want to reset it to the start position. Tom's version is not so easy.

3. Handy size of 11cm x 9cm for ease of carrying around.

SBSB made by Tom Lensch.
The pieces are un-removable, except for the holding piece
Like the previous versions, the Seal takes a minimum of 41 rectilinear moves to solve. The main notable feature is that the piece with the red ball restricts the movements of the other pieces depending on where the piece is at the moment, which have been described in my review of Tom Lensch's version of the SBSB

Although I have played with the SBSB nearly two years ago, it still took me a while to figure out the moves again with the Seal and several times I had to re-arrange the pieces and start from beginning. 

Perhaps the best part about this puzzle is that all the action (min. 41 moves or more) takes place within a simple looking 3 x 2 size grid, and involving five rectangular pieces only, moving one at a time left right up and down...incredible design feat here!

As far as I know, all the other versions of the SBSB are not currently available but perhaps Naoaki, like most puzzle exchangers, may have some copies still left over from IPP36 for sale. 
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