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November 23, 2010

Holiday Discount Puzzle 2010

A Holiday Discount Puzzle

Solve this puzzle for 10% off any order!

In honor of the holiday season, I've created a puzzle that you can solve to earn a discount on any order here at Pavel's Puzzles. Simply cut out the pieces below and assemble them into the shape shown; then find the clues to the one-word final answer. (Ignore any words shorter than four letters.) The final answer is just three letters long (or five, depending on which form you prefer).

Once you know the answer, make any order here and type the answer into the "Instructions to Seller" space on the PayPal checkout form. When I get the order, I'll issue you a refund for 10% of the cost of your order! (Sales tax and/or shipping excluded.) Even better, you can get the same discount on as many orders as you like between now and the end of this year!

To further entice you, I've just released two new puzzle designs:

This puzzle is shaped like a magnifying glass, but the glass has been broken! Reassemble the glass in two different ways to reveal clues to a mystery! "Get a Clue!" was my Exchange puzzle at this summer's International Puzzle Party in Japan, and I've finally finished the minor revisions I wanted to make before releasing it on the website.

Easy Eight / Hard Eight is a lovely little tray puzzle designed by my friend Bob Hearn: just pack the letters of the word "EIGHT" into each side of the tray. The "easy" side isn't too tricky, but the "hard" side will keep you busy for a while...

These two join two more new designs I released late this summer:

In Derrick Schneider's Square Dance puzzle, there are just four simple-seeming pieces to fit into each side of the tray, but they're much trickier to get your head around than you'd think, and there's only one solution per side! This award-winning puzzle design is available again for the first time in many years!

The Calibron 12-Block Puzzle was originally copyrighted in 1932 by the son of Thomas Edison; it has been unavailable for over half a century. Can you assemble the 12 blocks into a single, solid rectangle? Just how easy a puzzle do you think an Edison would design?

Of course, I still offer all of my earlier designs, too; it's a perfect way to satisfy (or frustrate) that puzzling person on your gift list. Just imagine the look on their face when they find one of these puzzles in their stocking!

Get a Clue!

Even before I began designing my Anansi's Maze puzzle, I'd been thinking about how to create puzzles that intrinsically relied on the transparency of the pieces. My inspiration was a relatively unusual and little-known sub-genre of mechanical puzzles, sometimes called overlapping puzzles, in which the pieces have openings or transparent sections and your goal is to find a way to stack up those pieces and form a picture from the intersection of their transparent bits. The first puzzle I know of in this family was released way back in 1900, but there's been a steady trickle of examples ever since.

I got one such in the Puzzle Exchange at one of my first International Puzzle Parties. It consists of six octagonal pieces of transparent acetate, each laser-printed with a gray-scale image; if you stack up the pieces just right, the gray bits combine and darken and you end up with quite a nice picture of a dog, if I recall correctly. Mostly, I remember it being really difficult.

Still, the notion had stuck with me. I wanted to play in that design space, but I also wanted to make a puzzle that wasn't so tough to solve. I had the idea that I could make it easier by sharply reducing the number of layers, maybe using only two or three. To keep it from becoming trivial, I could break each layer into multiple pieces, so that you'd have to assemble the layers themselves before you could stack them up.

So far, so good, but then I got ambitious: what if you could assemble the layers in more than one way? What if you could form either of two different pictures from the same pieces, depending on which assembly you built? This whole story got me pretty excited: this could be a really cool puzzle! Now I just needed to actually design such a thing...

And there the idea sat, more-or-less unmoving, for almost two years.

The problem was, I had no idea how to go about creating this kind of a puzzle. Unlike many of my designs, I couldn't see any way to write software to help me search for a puzzle that would match my story; one of my key design tools had been stripped away from me!

I finally picked up the idea again late last winter, when I was trying to come up with a new mechanical puzzle for use in this summer's Microsoft Intern Puzzleday. There wasn't anything magical about the process, I just dug in, started drawing potential pictures, overlapping them, and looking for interesting area intersections. It was a very incremental, iterative design journey, one of the most difficult puzzle-design efforts I've been through. Even after I'd finished the artwork, what I'd thought of as the hard part of the process, the design went through five different prototype and test-solving iterations before I finally hit on the right combination of cleverness, accessibility, and clarity of solution.

In the end, ironically, the puzzle was completed too late to be used in Puzzleday, but I did use it as my Exchange at IPP 30 in Osaka later this past summer. I had barely enough copies made then to satisfy the Exchange rules, with just a few left over at the time for selling. By the time I finished with building those, I knew that I wanted to do yet one more, fairly minor design iteration before putting the puzzle up here on the website. What with one thing or another, it's taken me a while to do that iteration, but now it's done, and I'm quite happy with how the puzzle has turned out. I hope you'll enjoy it too!

Easy Eight / Hard Eight

As I've described before, there's a marvelous biennial conference in honor of Martin Gardner called, appropriately enough, the Gathering for Gardner. It brings together three communities that Martin was active in, and in which Martin was very influential: mathematicians, puzzle people, and stage magicians.

No, really.

Each conference has a theme, and that theme is the sequence number of that conference. My first Gathering was the eighth one, so its theme was the number 8. (Did I mention the mathematician connection?) Anyway, everyone who comes to the conference is supposed to bring something for everybody else, all 300 or so of us, and ideally it will be something related to the theme number. I thought I was pretty clever when I came up with a very eight-related puzzle to give everyone.

My friend Bob Hearn, though, took literal-mindedness to a whole new level: he designed and gave out a puzzle that was entirely built out of the word "EIGHT". He found a clever style in which to draw the letters in "EIGHT" so that there are lots and lots of ways to neatly link those letters together, and then he picked a particularly cute couple of those ways and turned each one into a tray-packing puzzle.

The "Easy Eight" side of the tray appears perfectly straightforward, just a simple square. The problem is that it's kind of tricky to figure out how to get all five letters to lie flat in there at the same time: so many cute ways to fit the letters together, only one way to actually pack them into the tray.

Bob couldn't just leave it at that, though. No, it wasn't enough for him to create a really clever and elegant puzzle. He had to do it twice, with the same set of pieces. The (unique) solution to the "Hard Eight" side of the tray is equally clever, and equally elegant, and awfully tricky to find! It probably never occurred to you before, but an ellipse doesn't have any corners. None at all. There's no obvious way to start on this side, no clear surety that you're making any progress at all until, suddenly, there it is: the pieces are really, really close to fitting in. A little more tweaking, some tiny adjustments, and then you realize you're still not putting them in correctly!

Ahem. Sorry, got a little carried away there. Just a little puzzle-frustration flashback. I'm fine now.

As soon as I finally solved both of Bob's lovely Eights, I started talking with him about offering a version of his puzzle on this website. It's taken me a long time to pull it together (the tolerances for the "Hard Eight" side are pretty tight), but I've finally succeeded, and now I can make this wonderful creation available to you. This is a puzzle you'll enjoy solving yourself, and then really enjoy torturing your friends with. Really, what more could you ask?

Update: Easy Eight / Hard Eight is now also available in this economical CD jewel-case edition! (Note: your tray and piece colors are likely to differ from what's shown in this photo. We use a wide variety of colors and every puzzle is made from a different pleasing assortment.)

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