Saturday, July 19, 2014

Goodbye...But Not Farewell

Dear Friends, Followers and Stumblers-Upon,

I began this blog back in January 2010. I can't believe how long ago that is. It's now July 2014 and life has moved on. This blog originally had the url rubiksultimatesolution.blogspot.com. It was an attempt to make Phil Marshall's "The Ultimate Solution to the Rubik's Cube" website come alive. I found his site and was hooked with the method. But it wasn't easy to understand. I started this blog to make his method accessible to normal people, like me. But then I discovered that his method (which for those wondering uses only 2 algorithms) could be extended to more puzzles, a lot more. As of now, you can see how many I've extended it to by looking at the left bar.

As I've developed as a solver, I've largely kept the basics. But I've had to include sune into my repertoire to deal with some of the bandaged cubes. And I've found that using his terminology just tends to confuse people. A while ago, I changed the url to what it is now, as I wanted the blog to become "my blog".

There are two issues with this blog. The first is that it only really has tutorials. That's what it was designed for, but I do a lot more than that. The second is that most of the video footage is low, sometimes terrible quality. I have a much better camera now.

I do unboxings, reviews, tutorials, walkthrough solves, giveaways, video series, and whatever else pops into my head. And there are lots more tutorials for puzzles which are not on this blog.

All that can be found on my youtube channel: 


And from this point forward, that's the only place I'll be posting new stuff.

I'm retiring this blog. The blog will stay up but no new posts will be made after this one.

So, if you're not already a subscriber to my channel, please go subscribe. I'll still receive all comments made to this blog and will attempt to answer them, but all my activity will be over at my youtube channel.

Thanks for your support of this blog, and see you over at youtube!


Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Best Value Twisty Puzzle Ever???

Puzzles Aplenty!

Only a few years ago, it was unthinkable that the puzzles we have today would even exist. In fact, turn back the clock to the 80s and what we have now was called "Science Fiction"! Ridiculous!

Imagine the Petaminx!



Eitan's Star!



and for a completely surreal experience, how about Oskar van Deventer's 17x17x17



But most of these amazing puzzles come with a skyhigh price tag. Eitan's Star costs $100, the Petaminx will set you back $239, and Oskar's 17x17x17? Around $1,600! This is not a cheap addiction!

So when you're on a budget and you need puzzle after puzzle after puzzle, for a ridiculously low price, where do you turn?

You turn to CubeTwist, of course.

CubeTwist haven't done much lately, but a while back, they put out the

3x3x3 Bandaged D.I.Y. Kit

 

This is a complete kit which will enable you to make precisely 3,563 3x3x3 bandaged puzzles, including the 6 which had already been mass-produced.

I'm sorry...transmission error...

3,563?????

That's right. This figure comes from the world's foremost authority on bandaged cubes, Andreas Nortmann. You can read all about it on this page.

So, three and half thousand puzzles? That must cost a lot more than an arm and a leg.

I hope you're sitting down. The cost of these puzzles is ...

$17.82

That's right. Less than $18 for 3,563 puzzles.

Let's Take Stock...

OK. So, 3,563 puzzles for $17.82. By my calculations, that works out to around half a cent per puzzle. I challenge you to find any other brand new puzzle which costs half a cent.

And how many hours of enjoyment will this provide? Let's average each puzzle at around an hour. This is probably a conservative estimate as many of these puzzles would take quite a bit longer. Some may have you stumped until the stars fall from the sky.

An hour per puzzle...

3,563 hours...

149 days...

21 weeks

That's 21 consecutive weeks with no sleep, no food and no toilet breaks.

You'd want to be fairly committed to the task.

What on Earth is a Bandaged Puzzle???

If you took out your favourite 3x3x3 cube and also took out a bandage from your medicine cabinet - that's right, an actual bandage - you would be able to "bind" two or more of the cubies together.


 so that when one moved, the other moved also.


and if one of the bandaged pieces tried to move where the other ones didn't want to, then none of them would move.

 This is all bandaging is, at its core (no pun intended).

Bandaged puzzles have been around for a while, and you can see some examples here:


How It Works

Alright. So we've accepted that with the bandaged cube kit, you could probably keep yourself occupied for the rest of your life, or marriage...whichever ends first.

But how does it work?

The kit is a 3x3x3 cube, along with all the bits required to make any of the puzzles.

The cube itself is a black plastic cube with holes in it which enable the parts to be pinned in.


For the life of me, I still haven't worked out why some surfaces have only 4 holes, while others have 6. If you know, leave a comment and put my mind to rest.

And the pieces? They start with one 3x2 piece of each colour.


There is also one 2x2 piece of each colour. This makes sense since it's impossible to place two of them on one face.


There are two 3x1 pieces of each colour...



Four 2x1 pieces of each colour...


And nine 1x1 pieces of each colour.


In providing these pieces, CubeTwist made the call not to bandage an entire face. This was smart in my opinion as there's not a whole lot you can do with a face completely bandaged.

You simply click on and click off the lego-like tiles to make a cube. A comment below reminded me that I should say something about getting these pieces off.

The key with all of these pieces is to not press them down too firmly to begin with. If you do that, you can almost always guarantee to be able to slip a fingernail in and pry them off. 
If, however, they're down too tight, then I've found the best thing by far is a pair of tweezers. Without fail, the piece will pop out. Give those a go!

With these pieces, you can make each of the six mass-produced 3x3x3 bandaged cubes.

The 2-bar 4 cube


The 3-slices cube

The bandaged-3 cube


The big block

The fuse cube



And the Bicube


I've tried all five, and in my opinion, the order of difficulty ranges, from easiest to hardest,

2-bar 4
3-slices
big block
fuse cube
bandaged-3

daylight

bicube

The bicube is currently impossible for me. Maybe one day I'll conquer it...

But what about others? Here are a few from the twisty puzzles forum thread on solving these things, all invented by the master-solver Burgo...

The Alcatraz series

Bandaged Fortress

Big block clock

Stalctites

Double block

Bandaged YZ


Help! I'm Stuck!

Here's the best part of the whole thing. Go ahead and make whatever bandaged cube variant you like. If you can't solve it, just pull it apart! Easy.

This Kit Is Still Available???

Amazingly, this kit has not sold out, and is still available at its original price of $17.82 US.

Honestly, I'm staggered that it didn't sell out as it's such incredible value for money, and provides anyone with the ability to take baby steps in learning to solve bandaged cubes.

You can buy it from hknowstore. I can unreservedly recommend nowstore as a seller. Their prices are good, when the free shipping is factored in, and their followup customer service is outstanding. And no, I don't work for them!

What are waiting for? If you don't have this kit yet, make sure you get one before they sell out. It is, after all, the best value puzzle money can buy.

You can also click the picture below to buy it.




Your Say!

So, whadda ya think? Did I get it right? Is there a better value puzzle out there? Has this post made you want to buy the kit? Leave your feedback below...


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

My Adventures With Eitan's Star

The Prologue

"Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!!! It must be Eitan's Star!"

Now, to be fair to myself and my reputation as a funky dude, I don't think I actually said the words above, but I'm pretty sure they're what I thought. My wife had emailed me to say there was a pink slip in the mail. 

(This may come as a surprise to some of you. Not that there was a pink slip in the mail, but that I still have a wife. I assure you it's true. She is without a doubt the most longsuffering wife in the world. I've had more than my fair share of eye-rolling, and have been asked more than once "How many is enough?" [This was when we were talking about puzzles, not children.] But to her credit she did make me a Rubik's cube cake for my most recent birthday. She's a good woman and she knows I have issues. But enough about her...)

In Australia, a pink slip means there's a parcel waiting at the post office. There was only one thing on its way, so it had to be Eitan's Star.

This was way cool. It was Friday. A Friday parcel means the weekend can legitimately be devoted to puzzle solving. After all, what else is there in life?

So, down I went to the post office to collect the thing. Took it home in my car. Here's a picture of me driving home.




If memory serves, I think my exact words were: 


"Excuse me, I'd be ever-so-grateful if you'd speed up a little or remove yourself from the road. I have a  most important matter to attend to."

Home at Last


Finally, after the longest 5 minutes of travelling ever, I was home. In my rush to get inside and unwrap the box, I knocked over 3 of my 17 children (figures used for illustrative purposes only; may not be exact), dislocated my own shoulder, and stepped on the cat. But what did it matter? I was home. With the box. With the puzzle in the box. And the cat outside.

The thing was so well wrapped I had to get my wife to open it. I don't like to admit that sort of thing, but I'm not particularly good with scissors. I took it out, held it up and this is what I saw.



Stickering the Monster

There's no getting around it. Eitan's Star is a monster of a puzzle. It's a complex, mind-numbing and incredible achievement. Only one problem. I had to sticker it. So, I did what any self-respecting parent would do: I asked my daughter to do it. She declined. (Actually, she did do a face or two, but there was something about her having to get ready for some school dance or something that night. What is the world coming to when a once-a-year school dance takes precedence over stickering a puzzle?)

To be honest, I wasn't particularly happy with some of the stickers. I think mf8 (the company which produced the puzzle) could have taken a little more care with them, but that's no reflection on the puzzle itself.

By the time I was done stickering, I had some serious neck issues, completely glazed eyes, and a puzzle which looked like this.




The Unboxing

Every newish puzzle deserves an unboxing video, so that's what I did next. If you've seen it, feel free to skip ahead. If not, have a look. I think it gives a nice overview of the puzzle.




Beginning the Solve

What I like to do with a puzzle is to try some known sequences out on it without scrambling. That's what I like to do. What I normally end up doing is try some sequences out and accidentally scramble it. And so of course that's exactly what I did. That's not so bad with a Rubik's cube, but this thing? My world consumed itself. 

This was not how things should have gone. I was supposed to discover all required sequences for moving around the pieces, note them down, then scramble and efficiently solve the puzzle, all within the following hour if possible.

And by the way, what about the different pieces? There are four piece types.
  1. Centers (the equilateral triangles with a single colour)
  2. Corners (the bits that stick out, each with 5 colours)
  3. Wide triangles (those thin triangles with a single colour)
  4. Edges (2 colours each)
Pretty simple, I'm sure you'll agree.

Maybe not.

So by this point, I had a partially scrambled puzzle and a giant headache. What to do? Scramble it properly, of course! If I was ever going to get it solved again, I didn't want to have a "half-solve" under my belt.

So that's what I did: scrambled it well and good.

And now I had a visual nightmare. Trust me: the solved puzzle does not prepare you for what happens when the pieces are all over the place. There are 20 faces and therefore 20 different colours. Some of the colours are extremely similar. When everything's mixed up, it's simply bamboozling.

And that's how I felt...bamboozled.

I decided to start by attempting all the wide triangles. You see, I had a fair idea that the edges would need to be solved last, or close to last. Before I scrambled it, I had found a nice sequence to move around centers without moving anything else. So I knew I could leave them till the end. I'd also found another nice sequence to move around corners. This sequence took some edges with the corners, but no triangles. And so triangles were first.

After 5 minutes, I gave up. I literally had no idea how to even start placing them. Honestly, at that point, I was incredibly close to putting the puzzle away never to touch it again.

I'm glad I didn't.

Eitan's Star = Bauhinia Dodecahedron...Sort Of

I'd remembered reading on one of the threads on the Twisty Puzzles forum, that Eitan's Star was the "logical" equivalent of the Bauhinia Dodecahedron, whatever that meant. It was Konrad I think who made this point, and I'm not surprised. Konrad has often provided something - a picture, some encouragement - to help me through. I wondered, therefore, whether that meant it might be solved in a similar manner.

So I thought about how I'd solved the Bauhinia. A block-building method. Maybe that would work here too. (If you've not seen my Bauhinia method, have a look here.)

And so a block-building method is what I tried.

Things began looking up. After a while, I ended up with this


Believe me...This was a giant step for me. Around this time, I think I started believing I might even be able to solve this thing.

You can see that since the centers on the Bauhinia corresponded to the corners on the Star, and since I built my block around the centers on the Bauhinia, I should try building my first block around the corners of the Star. 

It's nice when things work out.

Nice, yes, but still a long way from getting the whole of the lower half solved.

Next, I added in the lower equator edges. (Keep in mind that although you're looking from above, the part of the puzzle you're looking at is what I'm referring to as the lower half. This is because eventually I'll turn it over.)




From there, it seemed logical to continue on and add in some triangles. This was one of the more straightforward parts of the process. It was easy enough to include the centers, so I did them too. The dark green part on the central right of the picture below shows the new bits added.




After this, the next obvious thing seemed to be the equatorial corners.



The most difficult part of this lower half was finding a way to complete it. On the picture above, you'll notice the corner on the left (white-purple-light blue-green-dark blue). This corner has its correct edge in the white-blue position, but it still needs the blue triangle along with the blue-green edge to make it complete.

Figuring this out took a long time, and I'd say it's one of the most annoying parts of the solve. However, once I did, this is what I had.



I admit, it's impossible to verify that the rest of the lower half is complete, but trust me, it is! Completing it was one of the great moments of my life. (And no, that doesn't bode well for the rest of my life.)

Tackling the Upper Half

In any kind of block-building method, the more stuff you build, the less room you have left to play with. And so with the whole of the lower half complete, I needed to figure out the best way to proceed. I decided to tackle the centers first, mainly because it was an easy algorithm, but also for a visual aid. 

But as I started, I realised that due to the way the faces turned, I could, and should, place one particular set of edges first. These were the 5 edges above the triangles touching the equator. It was fairly quick, and ended up looking like this. (In the picture below, it's the green and white triangles which I'm talking about.)




So, on to the centers. As I said above, the centers were fairly easily done. My longtime readers will be happy to know this was by nothing more than the Corner Piece Series. Love the CPS!

I worked out which centers should go where by looking at the corners. You can see on the picture below that the bottom right corner shows that the centers are correct, even though it's difficult to tell whether the other centers are correct. (They are!)



From here, I decided to do the wide triangles. This was because I knew I should do edges last, and that the corners would take edges with them. 

But as I began, it became obvious that moving triangles moved centers. My precious in-place centers.

What to do?

Abandon the centers, of course. Count my losses and move on.

The bottom row of triangles (speaking of the upper half of the puzzle, now) were not too hard. Once they were done, the other triangles were significantly harder. Setup moves were often involved, and it took much longer than I'd like.

On the picture below, you can see all triangles complete, but my centers abandoned.



Next, it was time to re-do the centers. Things looked better with the triangles also done.




Now I felt good! Life was looking up. (Mind you, I'd spent most of Saturday doing this puzzle).

Corners were next and I was on a roll. I did the corners using, you guessed it, the Corner Piece Series. I held the puzzle slightly differently from when I did the centers, but it was the same set of moves.

I have to say that placing the last 3 wasn't easy. But once they were done, the puzzle looked great. Here it is.




The last pieces to place were the edges. I started trying to place the edges using the analgous sequence to the one I used for the Bauhinia. This was a [4,3] commutator. For all the Cuba Gooding jrs out there (...think "Show me the Algorithm!!!") it  looks like this:

(UL' UR UL UR')    (UFL  L  UFL')    (UR UL' UR' UL)    (UFL  L'  UFL)

I managed to place maybe one or two edges, but this sequence drove me mad. The 3 pieces which cycled were nowhere near each other, and the setups were killing me. I knew there had to be a better way.

As is often the case, Burgo (from the Twisty Puzzle forums) provided the spark. Back on the Bauhinia thread, he'd presented a beautiful 3-cycle for the little triangles, which were done last. It was 20 moves long, so most people didn't care for it, but I loved it! And I wondered whether it might come in handy here.

Wow! 

I basically transposed the sequence onto the Star, and found that it cycled 3 edges and the edges were all close together. In fact, 2 of them were next to each other. Even better, it's a super-easy sequence to remember.

Again, here's the algorithm:

[FDL'   FL' FR FL FR'   FDL   FL' FR FL FR' ] x 2

For my long-time readers, you'll easily recognise the Edge Piece Series there. Love the EPS!

The only thing I'll add about this edge-cycling sequence is that it does move centers around. That's ok, though. Centers are the easiest part to deal with so they can be fixed at the end.


A Disaster of Epic Proportions!!!

But just when you thought the end was nigh, think again. Not even close. Little did I know what horrors awaited me.

Even though it's a super-easy sequence to move edges, I must have done an FR instead of an FR' somewhere along the way, because while solving the next edge, it all went wrong. I finished the sequence and everything was different. instead of being able to post about my success, I knew I'd have to wait for another day.

My puzzle ended up like this



and I ended up like this



You may notice I had aged quite a bit during the solve. This has not been photoshopped!!! This is really me! When the solve was going well, I was stressed, but this...the puzzle largely destroyed because of one wrong move...This pushed me into old age.

Take note: if you want to solve Eitan's Star, expect some severe changes in your appearance, wrinkles and fashion sense. Take out your life insurance and thank your wife for the many (too few) wonderful years you've had together.

Eitan's Star is particularly unforgiving on wrong moves. It's incredibly difficult to see what to "undo" if you turn the wrong face or turn the right face the wrong way.


Back to the Grind


What could I do? I did what any self-respecting solver would do: I sat there and thought how terrible my life had become, and how I should have known this puzzle was trouble right from the start. I went to bed and cried myself to sleep.

The next day, I awoke, as you do, with a new sense of determination. I was going to beat this thing. Sure, yesterday was consigned to the history books, but today was a new day.

Onwards and upwards.

I re-solved the triangles, then re-solved the corners, then took photographic evidence.



It felt good to be back to the point I was at 24 hours earlier...


A Disaster Which Puts the Last Disaster into the "Fun" Category

But just when you thought the end was nigh, think again. Not even close. Little did I know what horrors awaited me.

What? Am I repeating myself? De ja vu?

Yes!!!!!!!!!

Once again, one wrong move, and it was destroyed. I thought about covering this one up, and pretending it never happened, but I know I could never live with myself.

The concentration required to complete this puzzle is amazing. I solved enough of the remaining edges that I had 12 to go.

Only 12!!!


Remember how I talked about aging?

Here's me, alongside the puzzle after this 2nd disaster.

    


Sure, I'm smiling, but that's because I now no longer had any concept of my life or the world around me. 

My wife looked at me and said "You're going to have a brain aneurysm!" I sure felt like I could.

If you look not-overly-carefully, you'll see that this time the puzzle looks really messed up. That also isn't photoshopped...

Back to Square 1

And so I had no real alternative than to go back to the start and begin again.

Yep. That's what I did.

First I re-did the lower half.



Next came the upper half triangles.



I was on a roll now. Corners followed soon after.


The End Is Nigh!!!



As far as I was concerned, I was on the home stretch. I knew I could deal with centers easily enough and there wasn't a whole lot of danger of messing up the puzzle while solving them. The real problem was these edges.

So while I solved edges this time, I concentrated. I mean, really concentrated. I was like some religious person repeating a mantra for my algorithm. 

Up...Down...Up...Down

(That's me remembering an algorithm; doing it by direction rather than face names.)

It wasn't easy, and at times I wondered whether they were actually diminishing. But they were. I kept working my way through, until I had only 3 edges to go.


Can you spot them?

Now I was 20 moves away (plus setups) from overcoming this problem of these edges. Nothing was going to make this go wrong. I had been writing down my setup moves because it was too risky not to. Each time I completeed a sequence, I'd cross it out to avoid the risk of looking at the wrong one. 

Here's a historical document showing it.


I know, I know, I could have been a doctor. My writing's terrible, but remember, I'd aged to about 103 by this stage...

And so passed the longest 30 seconds of my life. If I mucked this up, I'd probably have to give up twisty puzzling.

Up...down...up...down...

Yeehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



This baby was so close to being solved, I was already celebrating!

I didn't care about the eye-rolling wife. She didn't know the pain I'd been through and the reason she now looked at me and felt 50 years younger.

I was about to conquer this beast.

But enough talk. Onto the centers.

............

And...


Oh my goodness. 



The relief. 

The joy. 

The welling up of the tears of my soul.




What a marvellous, complex, horrendous and beautiful puzzle. Lots of kudos to Eitan Cher and to MF8.

Could anything top this experience???




Well, yeah...Maybe I could solve it a second time.




The Aftermath

And that's it. I hope this has been an informative read. I hope you don't commit road rage when you pick up your own Eitan's Star. If you have any questions about my sanity, or want some clarifications on the reliability of information, please use the comments to do so.