An Unexpected Puzzle

Puzzles have been a popular pastime during the pandemic lockdown. We’ve only done one, though: Megaplanet, which was pretty neat both because of its vivid colors and its round shape. We finished it over the course of a week – and found we were missing two pieces. Since we have young kittens, we suspected they might have been the culprits, and indeed I found one piece under the couch. But no luck finding the other one so far, so we eventually gave up and took it apart. Would definitely recommend, though.

But this weekend we found ourselves with another puzzle to unravel, as it were:

Like most people, we now own a bunch of cloth masks. Debbi puts them through the laundry in a lingerie bag, which seemed great until she took out the latest load with eight masks in it. In addition to the ear loops, many of our masks have loops to hang them over your neck when not using them. (This is pretty handy when driving from place to place.)

The problem is that the eight masks their loops all tangled up in a big mass. After quite a few minutes Debbi was able to free one mask, but after another while she got frustrated and handed it to me.

It took me several minutes to figure out how to tackle the problem: Pulling at the tangled mass wasn’t any good, as pulling on one end just tightened another end. But eventually I figure it out:

I laid the masks on the counter, with the mass in the center, and arranged them in a circle around the mass. Then I realized that it was a puzzle with two “moves”:

  1. Undo a twist in the loops of two adjacent masks, and
  2. Push one mask through the loop of an adjacent mask.

So the trick was basically to figure out which masks were “adjacent” to each other, and then to take whichever two masks had the “outermost” connection and perform one of the two moves. Every few moves I’d rearrange the masks slightly (basically a simple form of undoing a twist), but this technique made it really easy to methodically untangle the mass. Two masks got freed after a number of moves, and then after a few more moves the other five were freed from each other.

It was actually a pretty neat little puzzle! Not one we need to do every time, and we’re trying to figure out how to wash the masks without this happening again. But it gave me a nice little feeling of accomplishment.

Far From Home

Debbi and I took a vacation day yesterday. I’ve taken some time off since the pandemic started, but Debbi hasn’t taken much, and she was ready for a day off. We decided to take a day trip to one of our favorite places in the Bay Area, Half Moon Bay.

Our trip was slightly complicated by the latest round of fires in the region, specifically the Glass Fire, which has triggered evacuations in the north bay, and dropped a new layer of smoke across the area. But the smoke mostly stayed above the ground layer, so we decided it was safe to go. Well, as safe as anything is in the middle of a pandemic.

It turns out that a pedestrian bridge along our usual walking route was closed – not clear why, but we assume it’s due to the ongoing erosion of the sandstone cliffs along the ocean – so we parked somewhere else and walked along the streets and trails near Pillar Point Harbor. The ocean waves were high, and there were a bunch of surfers out. Also a number of walkers, joggers, and bicyclists, but for the most part it was not hard to keep our distance from others. The ocean mist combined with what smoke did come down to sea level helped keep it from getting too warm, as the area is also in the middle of a heat wave.

We’d made reservations at the Miramar Beach Restaurant, which we’d eaten at once before, and where I saw some friends of ours ate last month. They managed to lose our reservation, and the hostess had trouble keeping her mask over her nose, but otherwise it was a good outing: We only had to wait 15 minutes for a table on their patio, and they were otherwise doing a good job of serving customers with physical distancing and masks.

Afterwards we stopped by the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, which is one of several San Mateo County parks which is still closed, so that was a bummer. But, we stopped off at Dunking Donuts on the way home.

Did I mention the heat wave? It was about 100°F at home, while it only got a little above 80 in HMB. Despite that, we got a little too much sun and spent the rest of the day lying around at home. The cats – who have had us around almost 24 hours a day since early March – seemed a little put out that we’d been gone. The kittens of course have never seen us leave for so long, and Edison was unusually snuggly with me in the evening.

Despite the bumps, it was a nice, relaxing day. And it was nice to get away – safely, we think – for a change.