October 24, 2009

From Matchsticks to Magic (Part 1)

Eureka hosts a weekly game night on Tuesdays, and one week back in September they had a talk on mechanical puzzles and the overlap between puzzles and magic. The presentations were going to be given by Saul Bobroff and Chris Morgan, both of whom I had heard of but hadn't had the chance to meet yet. In addition, this would be the first puzzle event I attended.

When I arrived, things were still being set up, so David introduced me to Saul and Chris. Saul was laying out some of the puzzles he brought and handed me a puzzle to try. It was a small wooden puzzle that had something that resembled a ship's wheel pivoting on top of a base. The objective was to remove the wheel from the base. I solved this one pretty quickly, since the mechanism is what I expected it to be.

Saul thought that one would be pretty easy for me, so next he handed me an interesting little 2d packing puzzle. If I remember correctly, it consisted of packing eight right triangles (non-isoceles) and a rectangle into a square shape. This one took me a minute or two, but I figured it out after a bit. Pretty cool!

Next I was introduced to Chris Morgan, who was working on his magic tricks for the evening's presentation. It was a self-working card trick that was pretty cool. He had a number of puzzles that he brought as well, but the presentation was ready to start so I found a seat.

There we a good number of people at the event, I didn't get a good count but there were probably at least 40 people. Lots of families with kids and such, which was great. More young puzzlers in the making!

Saul started off the presentation by talking about the different types of puzzles. He handed out a sheet that outlined the Slocum classification to help people follow along. He had brought examples of almost every type of puzzle and explained the objective and other sub-types of puzzles that fit into the same type.

Next, he started the interactive part of the presentation where he showed us a matchstick puzzle on a magnetic matchstick board that he brought, and we got to try to solve it on our own. Each table had a number of sticks that could be used for the problems.

In case you're not familiar with them, matchstick puzzles usually consist of a starting position with the matchsticks arranged in a particular shape, and an objective, which usually specifies both the ending shape (or qualities of the ending shape) and the number of sticks that can be moved. If you search the web, you can find a ton of this type of puzzle, which can range from quite easy to very tricky.

This was a lot of fun and got the kids involved. The first person to solve a puzzle was given a prize: their own set of matchsticks so they could play at home.

I ran out of time to write this entry today, so stay tuned for the exciting part two tomorrow!

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