If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Fifteen Puzzle

This is a rant. Bear with me.

I don't know if you ever had one of these when you were younger? I always called them 'sliding tile' puzzles, but I now know (thank you Mr Google) that their correct name is 'Fifteen Puzzle'. The tiles are all loose but with slots along their edges that mean you can only move them past each other in certain directions. To move one, you have to move another first. The puzzle comes to you scrambled, and the trick is to slide them all around until they read 1-14, as above. The place where the 15th tile should be is, of course, necessary or no movement could take place. I suppose it should really be called a Fourteen Puzzle, but hey.

For the last three weeks, Nowhere Towers has been a Fifteen Puzzle. Let me explain.

Anna's mother died last year and the family home was sold. Anna received a small inheritance: not enough to go mad with, let alone retire on, but enough to get a few things done to the house that badly needed doing. The Formica tops in the 1976 kitchen were peeling away from the base chipboard like a clown's shoes, so a new kitchen was first on the list. All the window frames were in poor condition, and some were actually rotten. In two places, fortunately in the two small extensions that house the utility room and the 'gentleman's bathroom' at the other end and not the main part of the house, the roof had failed and water was coming in when the wind was in the South-West. And, lastly, the water pipes.

The house we live in was originally a two-room farmhouse, one for the people and one for the animals, probably built in the 17C or 18C. Some of the walls are three feet thick. Over the years, it was extended - our bedroom at one point was a deep-litter chicken house and the kitchen was a dairy - and that has given it its rather odd aspect: it is six rooms long, but only one room wide, with a corridor down one side like a railway carriage. In the early 70s it was converted for use as a holiday let.

As cheaply as humanly possible. And therein lies the problem.

Everything that was done to the house to make it 'modern' (ahem) was done by a friend of a friend, know a bloke in the next village, he'll see you right, cash-in-hand, know what I mean, and was done without any forethought for the people who might be living there in 20 years' time. Apart from thinking that tiling a virtually flat roof was a good idea (that's one leak explained), the 'builders' decided to bury all the water pipes six inches down when they laid the concrete slab that replaced the original floors. Over the years, the alkalis in the concrete dissolve the copper of the pipes and, hey fucking presto, a leak. A leak that seeps into the concrete. A leak that you don't know about until the whole room floor is damp, and which you can't find because it is buried and the plans, if there ever were any, are lost. On four occasions now we have had to dig up most of a room floor to find a leak (one underneath a partition wall, FFS) which has been dribbling away for weeks unbeknownst to us, and on each occasion a simple pipe repair has been accompanied by ruined carpets, builders' rubble in massive quantities, huge disruption, and a honking great bill at the end of it all. Ten years ago, our plumber blanked off all the buried central heating pipes and ran new pipes through the attic space, with a drop down to each radiator. It works extremely well. We have now decided to do the same to all the domestic hot and cold water pipes. And while we're at it we thought a new boiler would be a good idea, as the old one is 35 years old and drinks oil like a sailor on shore leave while utterly failing to heat the furthest half of the house. In for a penny, and all that.

Now, Anna is a lady of many talents, but being patient is not one of them. She ordained that she wanted all of this work completed by Christmas, and got competitive estimates for all of the work. And then she asked them all to start as soon as possible.

Bad move.

First, we had to clear the kitchen. We now have the crockery on a windowsill in the corridor, the kettle, coffee, tea etc, on a chair in the hall, the basics (pasta, spices, peanut butter) on a table in the study, the rest of the food and all the pots and pans on the bed in the spare bedroom, all the cleaning stuff from the utility room in the garage - under, over and around the new kitchen units - the composting bin under a chair somewhere, and ... oh, I've lost track of it all. Everywhere you go in the house, you have to dodge things and turn sideways to get round obstacles, I need to go to three places just to make myself a bit of breakfast when I come in from work, balance my bowl on the sugar basin to put the milk in, make a cup of coffee standing sideways in the corridor, and then eat it on my knee in the Arab Empty Quarter of the living room. Hence the Fifteen Puzzle reference. To do one thing, you have to do three unrelated things to assemble the materials or make room before you can start. The missing fifteenth tile is about a square metre of carpet at the crossways between the nave of the corridor and the North Transept of the hallway. Everything must pass through this space, often repeatedly, for anything to happen. This is stressful in and of itself, but manageable in the short term. But then the invasion came.

The windows men came first and, true to their word, took about a week to replace every window, fascia board and gutter in the house with hardly any disruption at all. But they couldn't finish the utility room extension, because the roof bloke needed to come and replace the roof first. So they went away, leaving all their stuff in the driveway. The roof bloke had another job to finish first, and the kitchen men came to make a start before he could get it done. They ripped out the old kitchen units and left them in another part of the driveway. (The units are still there.) Then the roof bloke decided he could make it after all and turned up to take the roof off. Unfortunately, the utility room is the only access to the kitchen, and it is small. So the kitchen men and the roof bloke were tripping over each other for a couple of days while the roof bloke fitted a fibreglass roof and covered the floor, waste bin, dog bed and dog in epoxy resin. The roof bloke dumped all the old roof tiles in another part of the driveway, and the broken plasterboard and rubble next to the kitchen detritus, hoping the kitchen men wouldn't notice, only they did and it caused a row, and then went away, and the windows men came to finish the extension - only to find that the roof bloke hadn't allowed for the rain gutter to be fitted and they had to saw half of it away to get the gutter done. All this time, the kitchen men are busy ripping out the old kitchen and preparing for the new in the biggest, most incompetent clusterfuck I have ever seen. That deserves a post to itself, so let me just say that my dog could have organised it better. And he's as thick as pigshit.

Windows men been and gone, roof blokes been and gone, kitchen men are still clusterfucking about, and now the plumbers come to start fitting the new boiler. Which, you may have guessed, is in the tiny utility room. And the kitchen men are busy building and installing units, painting walls, glossing doors, tiling the floor and walls, fitting new sockets and lights (yes, all at the same time), while tripping over the boiler fellers who are kneeling in the utility room trying to understand the illogical and random plumbing ... and unblocking the washing machine drain, down which the tiling bloke had emptied all his unused grout the night before. Everything in the house is covered with dust and the carpets are filthy.

I reckon we are about half way with the project. I came home from work this morning and had a couple of hours' sleep, and then I got stuck in to the householder's duties of assisting with heavy lifting, helping to find whether this big thick cable is for the shower or the cooker and giving my thoughts on whether it needs a 6mm or an 8mm earth bond taking back through the attic to the distribution board (answer: pass), making gallons of coffee (we've been through more instant coffee and sugar in the last 3 weeks than we usually do in a year), finding things that they have put in my garage and lost, and remaining calm. I am calm. Anna is not calm. Anna is chewing the carpet with frustration and fatigue.

That feels better. Thank you for listening.

But al shal be wel, and al shal be wel, and al manner of thyng shall be wele.


  1. "I don't know if you ever had one of these when you were younger?"

    Indeed. I found out that you could, with the aid of a flat-head screwdriver, cheat by popping them out of the base.

    I daren't buy the version they've made for the iPad...

  2. You have discovered my miraculous mastery of the Rubik's Cube that so amazed my children and their friends some years ago. No need to cheat with a 15, though - once you have the technique they are not a challenge.

    Good move on the iPad. Brute force rarely works with computery things.

  3. Force doesn't work on computery things - but it seems that informed brutal behaviour can. Younger offspring who is geeky and bold (a mix that makes life interesting) had a a death in his (expensive) high end video card. Out came video card, into oven at gas mark 5 for 40 minutes, back into computer - worked perfectly. Well I was impressed.

  4. That's a new one on me. But what works, works ...

  5. "I don't know if you ever had one of these when you were younger? I always called them 'sliding tile' puzzles, but I now know (thank you Mr Google) that their correct name is 'Fifteen Puzzle'."

    I had loads of these when I was little, never cheated though.

    "The place where the 15th tile should be is, of course, necessary or no movement could take place. I suppose it should really be called a Fourteen Puzzle, but hey."

    You are probably right in calling it a sliding tile puzzle since the space is where the 16th tile should be. Google are right too since there are 15 tiles, and if you look at your's above, it's not completed.

    Not nitpicking, just saying...

    "whether it needs a 6mm or an 8mm earth bond taking back through the attic to the distribution board"

    Whether its for a cooker or shower, the cable should be in one piece, 6mm twin/earth for a cooker and 10mm twin/earth for a shower. It should go from its own MCB in the distribution board, (32A for a cooker or 40A for a shower), to either the cooker point or the ceiling pull switch for the shower. There should be no need to run a seperate earth.

  6. Damn. I knew I should have counted the buggers. Of course it's 15, with a 16th spare. Thank you for that.

    The debate between a 6 and 8mm cable is correct - the sparky wasn't able to determine the wattage of the cooker (inspires confidence, eh?), and some these days need 8mm apparently. The showers and cooker are now properly supplied and earthed. According to him. If I blow up when I next have a shower (it's my birthday next month, so I will soon know) we'll know who to blame.

  7. "the sparky wasn't able to determine the wattage of the cooker (inspires confidence, eh?)"

    Too right it does.. since its written on the ID plate on the back of the cooker. Anyway a rule of thumb would have told him..

    Built in ovens, even double ovens don't go above 5kW, which is well within the capabilities of 6mm cable. In these cases the hobs (if electric) are separate and run off an ordinary 13A plug.

    Stand alone cookers have the hobs built in so they can go upto 11kW if its a double oven. That's the same as a shower basically so you would use 8 or even 10mm cable for those.

  8. Ah well - the cooker was already built into the wall unit, connected, and with a cable out the back ready, and he didn't want to take it out again. see next post for more examples of getting the order of events totally arse about face.

    It's sorted now. 6mm it is.

    Thanks for the advice.

  9. Richard, is it by accident or design that you used the "15-puzzle" as the attention-grabber for this posting?

    Is it by accident or design that you used that particular illustration of the "15-puzzle" as the attention-grabber for this posting?

    You are aware aren't you, of the significance of that particular portent? And how you may be so close to reality, by accident!

    That great American puzzle composer Sam Loyd realised that if you switched the '14' & '15', exactly as shown above, it becomes impossible to solve.

  10. 1. By design. Sliding about, and moving things in an apparently pointless but highly necessary fashion has become a way of life.

    2. By accident. It was the nicest-looking one on the first page of Google hits.

    3. I wasn't, but I am now.

    I'm sure there is a mathematical reason why the puzzle isn't solvable (you don't say 'soluble', do you?), but it's beyond me. I thought you could crack them in any position, but maybe I'm mistaken. A sort of real-life example of the 'if you want to get there, you shouldn't be starting here' joke. Fascinating.

    Impossible to solve, unless you are JuliaM. All things fall to Julia.


Comment is free, according to C P Scott, so go for it. Word verification is turned off for the time being. Play nicely.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...