October 16, 2012

2012 Rochester Puzzle Picnic (Part 1)

A few weeks after IPP, I headed off to another awesome puzzle event: the Rochester Puzzle Picnic! Jeff Aurand hosts it at his house each year, and it is probably my favorite event of the year: I like that it is a fairly small gathering, so you can spend more time with folks; Jeff is big fan of puzzle boxes (as am I) so there often a number of new puzzle boxes to check out; and Jeff is an excellent host and grill-master, so I'm always quite happy and well fed. A big thanks to Jeff for everything!

We had an excellent crowd this year! In the back row starting on the left: Alex, Kelly Snache, Tanya's son Brandon, Peter Wiltshire, Ken Irvine, Jim Strayer, Brian Young (a.k.a. Mr. Puzzle), Brian Pletcher, Jeff Aurand, and Clayton Jones. In the bottom row, starting on the left: Susan Strayer, Tanya Thompson, Sue Young, and Helene Irvine. It was a particular treat to have Brian and Sue Young join us this year all the way from Australia! He and his wife stayed in the US after IPP, so they were able to join us!

This year I came with my friend Clayton, a non-puzzler friend of mine who is quite good at solving puzzles, so I thought he might enjoy coming along as well. It was definitely nice having company for the 8 hour drive! When we arrived Friday evening, folks were already puzzling, so we dove right in.

The first box I tried was by Hiroshi Iwahara named Wave Box (with a crayon). It seemed good to start with since people were remarking that it was incredibly easy. It is fairly large, with a number of thin vertical pieces that presumably would have something to do with the locking mechanism. Nope!

The actual locking mechanism is quite trivial, you'll probably figure it out before you think you've started. The box does do something cool when you open it, but it isn't really worth it in my opinion. To be fair, Iwahara did note in his description that it is easy to open!

Next up, Peter Wiltshire was kind enough to bring a number of boxes from his collection by Robert Yarger. I was quite excited to give these a try, since I've only had the chance to solve a handful of his boxes, but am a big fan of his work.

This first box is The Oakwood Slide Box (Stickman #1). As his first box, how cool could it be? As it turns out, quite cool! There are three compartments that you can access, which are revealed in sequence.    There's a great a-ha! moment with each drawer as you reveal it.

The first drawer wasn't too tough, but I had a bit of trouble figuring out the second one. I think I may have been treating it a bit too gingerly for fear of damaging this awesome puzzle. With a bit of a prod from Peter, I was back on my way and figured out the final drawer, which is another nice surprise. Overall, an awesome box!

The next logical box to try would be Stickman #2 (55 Move Box) and fortunately Peter had brought that as well! This box is much more involved that #1, as you could guess from the move count. What you might not guess from its fairly simple appearance is the unusual nature of the moves required. On a few occasions I discovered a new type of move and chuckled to myself with delight. Very cool!

There are a few sneaky things about this box that make it an excellent challenge. There are four compartments to find, so you need to keep that in mind as you progress along. Another great puzzle box!

Next up, we have Stickman #5 (Takeapart Box a.k.a. The Borg Box). We all have puzzles that really catch our eye when we first see a picture of them, and Borg Box is one of mine. I had always wanted to give one of these a try, so you can imagine my delight that I finally got the chance!

The amazing thing about this box is that it is constructed entirely from interlocking pieces (nearly 80 of them!) and no glue! This is a pretty remarkable feat, and on top of that the box just looks incredible.

I didn't know what to expect in terms of the difficulty of the moves, and as it turns out it is fairly difficult! It is quite non-linear in that there are a number of things you can do at any given point, so you really need to remember what's going on. I got a bit stuck at one point, but managed to figure things out and get the box open.

After opening the box, there is the added challenge of disassembling the box into its individual pieces. Robert highly recommends keeping the pieces from each panel separate if you do this, and charges a fee if you need to ship it back to him for reassembly! I decided that discretion was the better part of valor (and didn't want to spend hours trying to get it back together if I screwed something up) and decided to close it back up without taking any of the panels apart. Maybe someday!

The final Stickman box that I tried was Stickman #7 (The Beast Box). This box consists of four drawers inside a frame. They can be slid back and forth in the frame, but are restricted by a maze that is on each face of each drawer and a pin on the frame. This pin can be moved up and down through the maze by lifting a sliding piece on four faces of the frame, and by moving the drawers in and out you can work the pin through the maze.

The thing that makes it difficult is that the pins are double-sided: each interacts with two drawers! So essentially to solve one maze, you need to also be working your way around the other mazes. Quite complicated! Additionally, the faces of the drawers are different, so depending on how you insert the drawer, the puzzle is harder or easier. It was originally thought that there were 666 possible combinations (hence the name), but it later turned out that the number of settings was 538. Plenty to keep you busy for quite some time!

Fortunately, Peter had left it in one of the easier settings! It is quite a beautiful box, and a good bit smaller than I had expected, given the detail. I had a really though time figuring it out on even the easiest setting! What makes it tricky is that you don't really know what the mazes look like on the inside faces, and those are the ones you are dealing with. So not only are you navigating 8 mazes simultaneously, but you can't see them! With a bit of help from Peter, I eventually extracted the first drawer, but it was quite a challenge! I imagine if you spend more time with it, you start to understand and visualize the interactions better, but I found it to be quite difficult!

A big thanks to Peter for bringing these Stickman boxes, it was awesome to get the chance to try them!

Well that's where I'll leave off for now! Stay tuned for plenty more to come!

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