February 25, 2010

New York Puzzle Party (Part 2)

Check out Part 1 if you're just joining us.

After a long night of puzzling, we got up at around 7:30 to head over to the actual New York Puzzle Party. It started around 9:30, and we wanted to get there a bit early so we could get a good seat. Thanks to Brett's GPS, we found the location without any trouble: it was held in a classroom of Trevor Day School.

We headed upstairs and found the room, where we saw Tom Cutrofello, who organized the event, as well as geometric sculptor George Hart and David Leschinsky from Eureka Puzzles and Games, my favorite Boston-area puzzle shop. Saul Bobroff, Tim Udall, and Chris Morgan had also come down from Boston. There were a bunch of people I hadn't met before, including Tim Rowett of Grand Illusions, Stewart Lamle of WizdomZone, Tanya Thompson of ThinkFun, Daniel Deschamps, Stan Leeb, and Ken Irvine.

Ken had actually heard of NYPP through my blog and ended up coming, so it was quite cool to meet him. It was kind of neat to introduce myself and have people say "Oh! I've seen your blog!" Tanya and Daniel recognized me from it as well, how cool is that?

I also met Jeffrey Aurand, who I had been introduced to by Matt Dawson, I think. We had been corresponding a bit over the last few months, so it was great to meet him in person.

Folks brought a variety of puzzles to show or to sell. Here's a picture of Brett and Rob with some of the items they brought. I didn't have anything to sell, but I brought Pagoda Puzzle Box and Pinwheel to see if I could drum up some sales for Matt or Jerry.

Only one person was able to solve the Pagoda box, though quite a few folks played around with it: it was Devin from Eureka who had come down with David. Nobody had any luck with Pinwheel either, but many people remarked that it was a very cool puzzle. Here's a picture of Daniel Deschamps from Montreal giving it a try.

After a bit of socializing and checking out the various puzzles people had brought, the presentations started. After Tom welcomed everybody and talked for a little while, Rob gave a presentation about the Instant Insanity puzzle family. This is a puzzle that consists of a number of blocks (usually four) with different colors or symbols on them, and the object is to arrange them in a row so that the faces are all different colors. Check out Rob's Puzzle Page for more info.

He talked about the history of the puzzle, which actually dates all the way back before 1900. It had all sorts of incarnations, but was popularized by Franz Armbruster in 1966 when it was mass produced by Parker Brothers.

Next, he talked about a graphical solution method for this puzzle that involves looking at the cubes and drawing a graph of interconnected nodes to represent the puzzle. By examining this graph, you can fairly easily determine a solution for any puzzle of this type. It was quite an interesting presentation, even though this puzzle doesn't appeal much to me personally.

After Rob's presentation, there was a great presentation by an architect, Eric Clough, who talked about an amazing apartment he and his firm had created. It was being renovated for a family with children, so they decided, as a surprise, to fill the house with a whole series of interesting puzzles to solve. There were cyphers on the radiator covers, secret compartments in the credenza, and all sorts of other interesting things. The coolest thing was that they were all tied together by a book, a fictional narrative that guided the children through discovering the different puzzles that were hidden in the apartment. I can't really do it justice here, so check out this article for more info.

After this presentation, we headed out to lunch, where I ate with Saul, David, and Devin at a diner nearby. I had some apple cinnamon french toast that was pretty tasty.

When we got back, folks were milling around looking at the different puzzles people had brought. Tanya from ThinkFun had brought a few puzzles that were new to their Aha! series of puzzles: Star Burst, a classic three-piece burr; Straight Arrow, a sliding puzzle based on Iwahiro's Rectangular Jam; and Blockout, a plastic version of Bill Cutler's Blockhead.

I was particularly psyched to see Blockout [This puzzle since been renamed to Square Fit], since it is a very cool puzzle and is available for a very good price. I had seen a different version of it several months ago and I think it took me 30-45 minutes to figure out, which was quite surprising since it looks pretty easy.

The object is to get the four pieces into the box, but the pieces are cut at an angle and interfere with each other. The solution is quite clever! Tanya was kind enough to give me the copy she brought, which was quite nice of her. Thanks Tanya! I'm looking forward to stumping my friends with this one.

Jeff Aurand brought a few puzzle boxes for me to try, since he knows I love boxes. From left to right: a box by Allan Boardman, Hoop by Shiro Tajima, and A Chance Meeting by Tatuo Miyamoto.

I started out with the box by Allan, which was magnificently crafted. Click on the picture and you can see the tiny little box-joints that join the corners of the box. Allan specializes in tiny puzzles (he's a microxylometagrobologist), so it is no surprise that he can craft these tiny details with the utmost precision.

The mechanism was similar to one I had seen in the Karakuri small box series, but even though I had seen this type of trick before, it was a surprise when I discovered it. Overall, a very cool box!

Next, I tried A Chance Meeting by Miyamoto. I had seen photos of this puzzle before and was quite intrigued. The top is a false lid that comes off immediately. Once it is removed, you can see a clover shape that is made up of heart shapes that are similar to the one on the lid.

This one took me longer than I expected: the solution had a bit of a twist that I did not expect, but eventually I discovered it. I think it took me about 10-15 minutes. It is a very cool puzzle!

Finally, I tried Hoop by Shiro Tajima. I was really looking forward to this one because Jeff said this was one of his favorite boxes. Sure enough, it was absolutely awesome! The really sneaky thing about this one is that you keep thinking that you're making progress, only to find that you're stuck. After finding the first move, it seems like the top is about to come off, but you have only just begun!

I think this one took me a good 20-30 minutes to solve. It has a very unique mechanism that is unlike any other box I have seen before. I'm definitely happy that I got the chance to try this one. Thanks Jeff!

After the lunch break, there were a few more presentations: Betsy Carter spoke about her book The Puzzle King about her great uncle who popularized the jigsaw puzzle, someone demonstrated a Rubik's cube-solving robot they had constructed, George Hart talked about what he's been working on, and Tom Cutrofello gave an exhaustive presentation of the various iPhone puzzle apps he's found.

Sorry for the quick treatment of the lectures, but I was a bit more focused on the puzzles. So, back to that:

Tim Udall had brought his collection of puzzle knives, which was really cool since I had never even heard of this category of puzzles before. I like knives (I have a small collection) and I like puzzles so this was a sure winner with me.

Most of the knives were tricky to open, and one was tricky to close. I don't think any of them were actually intended as puzzles, rather they just had a fairly hard to discover locking mechanism. A lot of knives have locking mechanisms to keep them from opening or closing when you don't want them to, these were just harder to discover than usual.

One in particular stumped me for a while: it looked like a normal knife, but the blade did not rotate out in the way you would have expected it to. Very cool stuff! I'm sorry I didn't get any pictures of them.

Tim brought another interesting puzzle called Magic Billet Box (careful, the video on the site is a spoiler). It is a very nicely constructed machined aluminum puzzle box. There are two versions of this puzzle, and Tim had the harder one.

I worked on this one for a while and didn't have much luck. Unfortunately, I saw Tim showing the solution to somebody, so I'm not sure how much longer this one would have taken me. The solution is fairly novel. You can order this puzzle with all sorts of different designs on the outside too.

Stan Leeb brought a tray packing puzzle that he had been working on in hopes that somebody could tell him the name of the designer. [Update: this puzzle was designed and made by Vladimir Krasnoukhov] I told him I didn't know, but he let me try solving it. I worked on it for about 5 minutes before discovering the solution. Stan was surprised to see that it was different than the solution that he had found, so he took a picture of it to remember.

It is a neat little tray puzzle that is reminiscent of Stewart Coffin's designs that require some out-of-the-box thinking. It also makes a nice pattern when it is complete, though yone wouldn't want to store it that way since it would give away the solution. I also liked that it has room for the extra piece in the frame.

Georg Hart brought a bunch of his 3D printed puzzles. This time he had some interesting torus-shaped puzzles. The one on the left is only two pieces, so it isn't too hard to solve. The one on the right is a little trickier with four pieces.

Here's another picture of some puzzles that were for sale. I'm not sure of the name of the craftsman [Update: this is the work of Henry Stroudt of Maine], but they are quite nicely made with contrasting woods laminated together to create an interesting effect. Brett purchased one of the trucks: the object is to pack the blocks in the back of the truck. A neat looking puzzle!

There were a few puzzles for sale, but nothing that really caught my eye. I did end up buying two puzzles from Rick Eason: Keyhole Cube and eL Perch.

Keyhole Cube consists of eight cubes that have various combinations of screws and keyholes in them. The object is to assemble the eight cubes into a 2x2x2 cube.

I didn't solve this one during my trip, but have solved it since I got back. I think it took me about 20-30 minutes. Once I thought I had solved it, I checked his website only to discover that you were supposed to solve it without using any twisting movements. Back to the drawing board! After a few more minutes I found a proper solution. Cool puzzle!

eL Perch is an interesting concept: the idea is to not only form a 3x3x3 cube from the pieces, but to form it in such a way so that it will balance on the perch without any pieces sliding off.

There are three solutions, and it took me about 30 minutes to find one of them. It was fun thinking about how to make the best use of the support that is available from the perch. The photo shows a solution that won't work: the last piece is not supported by anything and will slide off when placed.

Both puzzles are nicely finished and well crafted. I think he still has some available: you can get his email address from his website if you'd like to purchase one.

That brings us to the end of NYPP, but the fun didn't stop there. After the party we all headed out for dinner at a place called the Popover Cafe, which was quite tasty. I'm not quite as good at summarizing conversation as I am at talking about puzzles, so I'll leave that part to your imagination.

After dinner, we headed back to Brett's house and worked on a few more puzzles before heading to bed. What a day! And more puzzle fun to come the next day. Stay tuned!


  1. Great writeup as always!

    The truck puzzles were made by Henry Stroudt.

  2. Great blog Brian!

    The tray puzzle that Stan Leeb brought is designed and made by Vladimir Krasnoukhov of Russia...

  3. The craftsman of the packing puzzle trucks is Henry Strout from Maine (hstrout@fairpoint.net). The puzzles themselves are classics from Conway or Coffin.

  4. Thanks! And thanks for the info, I have updated the post with Henry and Vladimir's names.

  5. Brian
    It was great to meet you in NY! Thanks for the blog mention about ThinkFun's new Square Fit puzzle (used to be called Block Out which is the rare copy you received). Check out my blog post about it's inventor!

  6. It was great meeting you too, Tanya! Thanks again for the puzzle! Its a great design...I read your post about Square Fit, its cool to be able to put faces to the names of the designers.


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