March 11, 2011

2011 New York Puzzle Party (Part 4)

After a long night of puzzling on Friday, we headed in for the puzzle party Saturday morning. Brett's car was packed pretty full with Tanya Thompson, Laurie Brokenshire, Rob Stegmann, me, and a bunch of puzzles! We didn't hit much traffic on the way in, and were soon at the puzzle party.

When I arrived, I was glad to see Daniel Deschamps and Peter Wiltshire, both of whom had come down from Canada. Daniel brought some puzzle boxes he had built using kits from Myer's Crafts based on designs by Bruce Viney, which was great: I had been wanting to try some of these designs! If you'll remember, one of the first puzzles that I made was a Bruce Viney design. Bruce has a ton of designs on his website, but unfortunately you'll need some sort of woodworking tools to build them. Most of these designs are just cut out of plywood,  so they lend themselves to laser-cutting. Myer's Crafts noticed the same thing, and started offering kits that have all the pieces laser-cut for insanely low cost! I think Bruce gets a portion of the sale as well. Pretty neat!

The first one that I tried out was Zig-Zag Box, shown here. It doesn't look like much, since it isn't finished yet. It is made out of plywood, so the best way to finish it is probably to paint it, which will hide the plys. Still, it was an interesting puzzle!

I spent a good 10 minutes on this one, and it has a pretty unique movement. Check out the link above for a video if you don't mind spoiling the solution. If you are used to more traditional puzzle boxes, this one will give you a good surprise!

Of course, the fit and movement isn't going to be quite as nice as a Karakuri Club box, but it seems that Myer had the measurements dialed in quite well, and Daniel did a good job assembling it.

Daniel also brought Tik Tak Tok, another design by Bruce Viney and kit by Myer's Crafts. This one was nicely painted by Daniel, and also had an interesting solution.

The nine squares on the top shift around in various ways until the top unlocks. It takes 20 moves, and I found the sequence to be pretty tricky. I think it took me about 10-15 minutes to figure it out, and I don't think I could easily replicate the feat again without more practice.

One thing I would recommend if you are to build this one is to put a good bevel on the squares. You need to press on the sides of them to shift them around, and I found my fingers got a bit sore from the edges. The box itself is quite large, with a nice big compartment on the inside.

After greeting everybody, the lectures began. First up was a presentation by Wei Zhang and Peter Rasmussen about Chinese Puzzles, which was pretty interesting. The puzzle party itself was held in a the Museum of Chinese Art in New York, and they actually had a Chinese puzzle exhibit currently, so they gave some background on the various puzzles in the exhibit.

Next up, Rob Stegmann talked about a virtual puzzle he created for Halloween. You can try it out here, it is a lot of fun. In his presentation, he gave a walkthrough of the solution as well as his thoughts on the various components of the puzzle. I had tried it when he originally created it, and had a pretty hard time with it! I got all the way to the end, but the last clue really stumped me. I also needed a hint or two along the way.

The last presentation before lunch was by George Hart, who recently left his tenured position at Stony Brook University to join the team creating The Museum of Mathematics in New York. George also does some very interesting geometric sculptures. George talked about the museum, and it sounds spectacular! I'm really looking forward to seeing it, but it probably won't be for another year or more, if I remember correctly.

After those first three presentations, we had a lunch break. I headed over with some folks to get Chinese food, which seemed like a good idea given our location. Somebody suggested a place where you pay $5 to pick out 4 items from a buffet, which was quite tasty. I sat at a table with George Hart and Peter Wiltshire, it was great having a chance to speak with them.

After lunch, there was a period of puzzle buying and selling. As I expected to be the case, there wasn't a whole lot that interested me: I'm pretty focused on puzzle boxes right now, so I've been conserving my funds for those. Still, it was nice seeing all the other puzzles that people were selling.

Tim Rowett of Grand Illusions was there, and he was kind enough to give me a copy of this neat Optical Illusion Ring. If you twist it one way, it will look like the ring is growing larger, and if you twist it the other way, it will look like it is growing smaller. Check out a video at the link above, or click here to open it up directly. That's Tim in the video demonstrating it. Thanks Tim!

After the buying, selling, and trading was complete, we gathered again for two more presentations. First, Tom Cutrofello went through some of his favorite iPhone puzzle apps. He has a blog of them here, in case you have an iPhone. I don't, but it was still interesting to hear about what is out there.

Finally, we were treated to a presentation by Oskar van Deventer in which he revealed publicly for the first time ever, a 17x17x17 Rubik's cube! Here's a photo of me holding it.

His presentation walked through some of the history in cube design, and his attempts to overcome the barriers that had prevented such large order cubes from being created previously. The cube is fully functional, but the movement is quite rough due to the friction between the pieces because it was created on a 3D printer.

If instead the pieces were cast out of smooth plastic, it would probably work much better. I got the chance to turn it, but you have to be very careful to line the pieces up correctly or else something may break, which would be a huge pain to fix. As you may imagine, it took Oskar many hours to put this together! Just sorting and keeping track of the different pieces was a big task.

We all stuck around chatting for a while until the museum kicked us out. After that, we headed to dinner, which was also quite enjoyable. When we returned home to Brett's house, we still had a bit of energy for puzzling, though my mind was a bit dull after a long day. It was great talking about the events of the day with Brett and Rob while fiddling around with puzzles late into the evening.

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