Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ankerstein NS 8

This Anchor project from the NS 8 designs may be the most difficult I have built yet.

Or it may simply be a side effect of coming out of a bad mental health episode.

Part of my theory of blocks and mental health challenges is that it is good to be able to step back in complexity without too much change in what I was trying to do.

That may have been what I was unconsciously already doing with last week's Ankerstein NS 2 exercise.

I had also been renewing my acquaintance with Challenge block sets, planning a Block Play post on them as a break from Anker, and I continued with them after I stopped doing Anchor stone building. I still intend to return to them at an early opportunity.

When things were at their worst, I went for the preschool activity of Parquetry blocks, which I consider to be legitimate Block Play, albeit somewhat of an outlier.

So why when I was ready to return to Ankerstein did I tackle a challenging NS 8 project?

Ummmm ... because that is what I wanted to build?

Sometimes motivation is the critical component.

And it was a good project, as difficult as it was.

Although an NS 8, the only notched arch required is the 93aR from NS 4. A 100aR from NS 6a is called for but a 100R from GK NF 6a works fine. And although substituting an unnotched 98R for the 98aR would mean more redesign, and probably require a few more small stones, it would not disrupt the overall lines of the building.

However the 19R and 31R notch-filling stones from the 6a are needed. Pairs or singles of 69R from the Kleine Gernegross can substitute for the 31R stones, and 19R stones are in the Heinzelmaennchen, if you have that. Or if you have GK NF 4 + 4a instead of 6, you can substitute 15R stones for pairs of 19R a couple of places.

However you go about it, it is good fun.

And good block play.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Ankerstein NS 2 mini

We return again to the NS trove of plans.

For today, I am making myself an NS Set 2 counterpart from the half-size Kleine Gernegroß set and some supplemental stones.

For the unavailable pair of 69Ge "pez" stones, I had to make stand-ins from wood. For those following along at home, these should be a snit less than 1/8" x 1/4" x 1/2".

As an experiment, I am referring to KG stones by their GK counterpart numbers with an "e" for "equivalent appended. Should I include actual catalog numbers? Should I post a conversion chart?

In lieu of supplemental stones that you can't borrow from other sets, you may resort to making the 1/4" x 1/4" x 1/2" (minus a snit) stand-in for the 31G stone from wood as well.

We don't need to be perfect here, since we won't be balancing them on end or stacking them critically.

But the fit does need to be close. Sand slightly, and perhaps check by fitting in between stacked "real" stones. I checked mine with a dial caliper, but not to full accuracy -- I just happened to have the tool at hand.

The appeal of the NS plans here, as always, is the exploration of art deco -- perhaps even some Bauhaus influence -- and industrial variations.

These contrast nicely with the churches, monuments, and Biedermeier structures of the earlier Ankerstein designs.

Without a split arch option, we will have to skip some designs, or modify them somewhat. Substituting 208Re or 19Re plus 31Re sometimes works (I wish I had 31Re - I only have G).

When The Toyhouse reopens after vacation, I will probably get a couple of 124R arches to attempt "splitting" my own.

I especially like the factory on page 11, which is developed in more detail in the larger sets. I suspect you will see a photograph soon.

The split arch halves are used separately in this factory design, but mostly as extra 1Re stones (though they do provide shallower door and window openings), so we can substitute.

Of course, this would all be much easier if we simply built with full sized stones. Set 2 is a subset of Set 4, and with no large arches, the notches don't enter in, so everything we need is in Set 4 or Set 6.

The fireplace at left should appeal to Herman. It is another of the themes we see developed in larger sets. I have some fondness for them myself.

Today I am build several of the structures shown here, with recourse to GK for one or two.

I'll be photographing them as I go, so let me know if there are any you'd like to see and I will do a follow=up tomorrow

Oh -- and that picture I was taking up top?

It's right here to the left.

Good block play.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Ankerstein Big & Small

This afternoon I built with Set 8 for the first time in a while, after a warm-up this morning with my recolored Kleine Gernegroß (below).

I may favor small constructions, but that doesn't keep me from enjoying large (for me) ones now & then.

This Set 8 church is Dorfkirche St. Martin, UE 49, from the designs that Burkhard Schulz posts each month, coming from various sources.

Many of those designs are for big sets, but there have been a few very nice Set 6 and Set 8 designs recently.

The bridge, which I have posted before in its "natural" colors, is from ASC G7. Unfortunately, the picnic table I was building on had a carved & pitted surface, and I had no stiff cardboard to create a level playing field. I still like it.

Good Block Play.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Red roof, green roof

I didn't take the picture above, and didn't build the buildings, but both still have something to do with Block Play.

The town seems to be Saaleck, Germany, and the picture was taken for me by a friend on a bicycle trip. My interest in trains was the motivation for taking the picture, but the result is something much greater than just a nice train picture: The valley and the village and the patterns of woods and fieldsall entice and delight.

I have always especially enjoyed pictures like this in books and magazines, and I especially enjoyed vies like this when I lived in Germany.

But for the Block Play connection, we need to look closer - look at the colors of the buildings in the village: white with red roofs, yellow-tan with red roof. Some do have dark, perhaps gray but maybe weathered red, roofs. At least one is a new dark gray roof.

The church has a green roof - the onion dome is almost certainly copper sheeted, weathered to verdigris, the pitched roof probably is. If they aren't, then the roof treatment was deliberately chosen to resemble verdigris.

In other parts of Germany, brick houses are not uncommon, but in many areas, they also have red roofs - but typically a more orange red of tile, contrasting with a darker, browner red in the brick.

In other areas, may buildings, especially of the types often represented in Ankerstein designs, are light or dark gray, often also with verdigris roofs.

Wouldn't it be fun if we had the opportunity to build Anchor stone constructions in these alternate color schemes?

It is possible in GK to build a red roof using either red roof stones borrowed from other makers sets, or using the Anker 210R half thickness stones. Or we can build in "HK," with Kleine Gernegroß stones supplemented with loose stones.

That is what I have done in the church above, based on ASC G24 converted in color scheme and extended a bit with extra stones from The ToyHouse.

Building with a green roof, or gray structural stones would be an even bigger challenge as things stand.

Anker offers to make stones in alternate colors as special orders, with a setup fee that jacks the cost per stone up for small orders. I suspect the way to start is with some interested parties pooling to order a few basic stones in the alternate colors. Anyone interested?

Ultimately, one might hope for a special edition set or two.

To me, Set 4½ would be the ideal size - big enough to show off the roof color, small enough to be affordable. But Set 6 would probably be more realistic, with plans available for it in digital (CAD not scanned) format, which could comparatively easily be redone in different color schemes.

A pipe dream probably, but it sure would be fun.

In the meantime, my supplemented KG set lets me do some alternate-reality Anker building.

Good Block Play.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Ankerstein NS 4 (2)

When I posted on Anker Set NS 4 a few days ago, I said it looked like all the NS 4 designs could be built with GK NF 4 (the current production set) with only minor modifications, and possibly with the need to borrow one or two 19R stones (1 x 1 x 1/2) which come filling the notches in the NS large arch, and looked to be used elsewhere in some of the designs.

Shortly after posting that, I found that I was sort of wrong. Maybe.

Anker sets in numeric series always (or almost always?) contain an example of a structure of the next level, to encourage purchase of the next appropriate expansion set.

Sure enough, the NS 2 booklet contains an NS 4 design. And sure enough, it is one with the arch notches firmly integrated into the structure of the building. It would be possible to build it very much as drawn using a GK NF 4 and a Heinzelmännchen together, and it might be fun to do so.

But I think it would be a major exercise to redesign the structure to just use Set 4 stones. So instead of doing so, and instead of spilling the beans, I decided to wait until my 98aR notched large arch came.

Yep, yet again Chris Baldwin at The ToyHouse came through for me in a big way, and sold me a 98a [which went 'thump' on the porch just as I wrote that sentence], and a bunch of other stones for various other activities and experiments which will be the topics of future Block Play posts - right now I am off to building this design, which will be the title image of today's post.


I built it, I photographed it, and I like how it looks. But those center things in the windows are 31G and 69G stones, and were nasty to line up two stacks each. And of course, every time anything else moved, especially the big 5G stones on top, the little stones moved out of place.

But I might still build it again some time.

Good Block Play.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Ankerstein Set 32

I see this morning that The ToyHouse is now taking orders for Anchor Set 30A, expected in late September.

This set expands your Set 30 to Set 32.

The classic GK NF numeric series has only one more expansion set after this, to take the collection to Set 34. Well over 3000 stones, well over $3000, weighing up toward 200 lb. That is a hobby for grownups with deep pockets.

My own interests remain at the other end of the scale. For me, Set 6 is a large set, and Set 8 is "very large." At some point, I think I would like to get the 8A box so I would have a Set 10 "super large" option. I wish I could get the bridge set to go with it, but I suspect that it is, and will remain, well beyond my means. A disability check only stretches so far.

Perhaps it is partly that the end of the numeric series is drawing close, perhaps it is partly backlash to the ever-more-complex sets of recent years, but there seems to be growing interest at my end of the Anchor spectrum: William Seppeler's Anchor Stone Constructions (inspiration for Kleine Gernegroß design above) subject of complimentary mention in; Donald Kenske's Don's Hobby Keep; Burkhard Schulz's new plans page specifically asking for design contributions for smaller sets.

Richter's Ankerstein production in the golden age of Anchor blocks certainly didn't neglect the low end - the huge variety of small sets produced, and the number of versions of booklets for many of these sets, suggests that the low end toy market was where the real money was then, just as it is for most toy lines now.

I suspect that more than any importance as a meaningful profit center, the high end sets were a marketing tool for the low end sets - prestige by association, reassurance that expansion was all but unlimited.

Perhaps Anker will complete the GK NF numeric series by releasing a Set 2 and Set 0 - great sizes for a desktop play break at work, inexpensive enough for trial balloons, or even - perhaps - for children's toys, if such a thing is allowed. I'd like to give each of my sons-in-law a Set O for Christmas.

Quite suitable for good Block Play.

Saturday, August 02, 2008


Serpentiles is an absolutely wonderful single-player puzzle game which has both physical and mental characteristics of Block Play.

I have played with a lot of connecting tile games (there enough to fill a large book), but never found one as addictive as this one. The aspects of good block play are surely a major factor.

The tiles here are square or the size and shape of two squares together (like a domino or an Ankerstein #15 stone). Each tile shows a section of one of two different path colors, or an intersection between them. The objective is to connect two intersections with a path of each color.

I am reminded of sections of model train track or slot car track, or perhaps XTS trains. The connections between the two paths would correspond logically to two different connector systems of track.

But it might make more sense to consider the paths to represent transit routes and the intersections the transfer points where a rider starting on one route and ending on the other would change vehicles. Many urban transit systems have schematic route charts with a graphic style similar to this game.

The tiles provide a very complete set of geometric configurations for one and two-square pieces, omitting rotations but including mirror image reversals. I have seen other games and puzzles where mirror images are not included and which 'handedness' is included seems to be random, and that has bothered me.

Crossings of one path over the other, or over itself, are not included. They are not needed for variety or for a sense of completeness. In fact, they would probably expand the options enough that they could be provided in special expansion sets if this game finds the success it deserves.

The deck of challenge cards shows the tiles to use, similar to the image at right. It helps to duplicate that layout to be absolutely sure one has the correct tiles. The back shows the solution, as in the title image above.

Forty different challenges are provided at four different skill levels. There are sixteen additional challenges downloadable as printable card images, beginning at the second package level, and going one level beyond (frustratingly, the pages with the card fronts and backs are arranged in the same order so you can't simply turn the sheet over and print the backs or they will end up mismatched to the fronts).

My images do not duplicate any of the 40 or 16, so you will have 57 total.

The easiest challenges are simple but still interesting, and are primarily for learning and refreshing ones skills. The most difficult will provide a lot of interest, but are not unpleasantly tricky or irritatingly frustrating. At every level I found some solutions quickly, but took much longer with others.

Most solutions provide an "aha! moment, and generally look simpler than one was expecting. That is a good characteristic for this kind of puzzle, and seems to be due first to the two separate color paths - each is a simple shape compared to the overall pattern - and second to having all path segments on the tiles in play being part of the solution. Similar games usually have a clutter of random lines belong to unused path colors.

ThinkFun, once known as Binary Arts, has been best known for its Rush Hour series of position-puzzle games. Early games came with decks challenge cards, similar to Serpentiles, but for a while the company went to providing a shabby little fold-up sheet with the challenges and solutions which greatly decreased the visual and tactile pleasure of play. I am glad to see cards back.

The tiles provided may be plastic, not stone or wood, but arranging them and rearranging them is a great tactile experience, and physically and mentally, I think Serpentiles qualifies as ...

Good Block Play.