Chit-chat from Imaginatorium Shop

Blog posts in 2012

February — 2012 jottings and changes

It's extremely unusual to see snow in Sano on the 29th of February! But here we are — it's the 29th, and it snowed until mid-afternoon, leaving a covering of 10 cm or so. But it's quite warm, so there is a steady drip-drip, and occasional kerphumpph! as another big lump comes off the roof. Of course there are regular news items about people being buried in snow, and all sorts of lesser misadventures, but more or less all of these come from the other side of the mountains, on the west coast of Japan.

Anyway, a belated welcome to 2012. About 2011, what can I say? Except for me being stuck overnight in Tokyo we were unscathed by the earthquake and tsunami disaster, and largely untroubled by the Fukushima nuclear accident. Although we get regular updates on the background radiation level, according to my calculations with some help from Wikipedia the level here at present is below the world average.

Economically speaking, last year was frankly grim. Japan must surely be the only country in the world where a natural disaster that killed nearly 20,000 people and hugely disrupted manufacturing can cause the currency to go up — although the financial experts came up with various stories to account for this, you will have noticed that economists are people who always have a good story, whatever happens. The effect is to increase our prices even more, making sales very difficult. We are not the only people struggling: the most recent jump in the yen value was "caused" by the Greek crisis, and Sony and Panasonic have just announced annual losses which appear to be equal to about 50% of Greece's annual deficit. For around ten years, the government has been borrowing about half of its annual budget, and now it plans to borrow even more to fund reconstruction in the north.

There may be some light at the end of the tunnel: there are signs that at last the yen exchange rate is turning the corner, so it's possible we may see more reasonable puzzle prices in the near future.

There was one event in the puzzle world last year which we only discovered later: from August 2011, Apollo became a subsidiary of Epoch. For the time being at least the two brands are distinct, though it is somewhat unclear where this is leading, because the Peanuts puzzles which were the mainstay of Apollo sales are now appearing under the Epoch label, while various Epoch series (450 small piece "Masterpiece") from various Epoch artists now appear under the Apollo brand. Another indication of how tough economic conditions are, particularly for smaller companies.

Late last year, I was also engaged in some mathematical proofreading, and I'm pleased to say that the result in now in available: Math Girls by Hiroshi Yuki is translated by Tony Gonzalez and published by Bento Books of Texas. It's the story of three high-school students: a (male) first person narration of fascination with two girls and with mathematics. There is some quite meaty mathematical content, but it assumes very little high-powered background, and introduces many interesting ideas from the discrete world of number theory. One minute we are grappling with Taylor series and the Basel problem, the next we are in the coffee shop with the mysterious Miruka.

Find more details on the Bento Books website.

Finally, an announcement: I have been suffering with arthritis for some time, and I'm now expecting to go into hospital on March 13th to have my leg "done". Keiko will be handling regular orders, but it's not yet clear how much I will be able to do during my two or three week stay, so there are bound to be some extra delays handling special requests and so on. Please bear with us.

April — Tenth anniversary!

It does seem incredible to think that we started the puzzle shop just ten years ago: it opened on 15th April 2002. I suppose at first I thought of it as a hobby/experiment, since we started with a fixed page containing six scenic puzzles, but things grew and grew in that amazing Internet way.

Unfortunately, everything changed with the financial crash in 2008, as the yen exchange rate climbed to crazy levels. In a time of general economic depression, our prices have kept rising in terms of other currencies. There is not much we can do about this, but we give discounts to try and compensate. For our tenth anniversary we have had a special 20% discount off all puzzle prices, which is due to revert to the previous 10% at the end of the month. When I was changing the discount figure (yes, I know this looks a bit hacky, but) I found this fragment:

// ****************************************
// while yen index < 400
if ($puzcount > 0) return 10;
// ****************************************

This "yen index" is a crude assessment of the yen level: add together the number of yen you get in a PayPal conversion of one pound, one euro, and one US dollar. Currently the figures are €=103, £=127, $=77, total 308. Not much chance of getting back to 400, but for the time being at least I've decided to make the standard discount 15% while this index is below 350.

* * *

On a personal note, I underwent hip replacement surgery on March 14th. I was out of hospital on the 24th, and I am now well on the way to recovery. Hip replacements are definitely one of the great success stories of medical engineering — basically I have a new bearing! But after three or four years of being a "passenger", my left leg has a lot of muscle to restore, so I am engaged in a strenuous, but enjoyable rehabilitation regime, of long walks every day. It's wonderful that walking can be fun again. Thanks for the many messages of support.

May — Out of stock!

This is the quiet end of the year. Not just that sales are slow — this is also the time when the manufacturers are deciding which puzzles to keep in production for the new catalogs being issued. The result is a record number of puzzles out of stock, and in limbo between being discontinued and reissued.

So what, exactly, do the availability legends by each puzzle mean?

  • In stock: We have the puzzle in stock, ready to send (at least, except for the 1 in 1000 occasion when we have made a mistake!)
  • Out of stock: We do not have any stock. Normally we will order more within a week, and there will be an indication "More stock expected (date)". But "Resupply date uncertain" means that we have tried to get more, and have no specific information from the manufacturers of when, or whether, the puzzle will be reissued.
  • Special order: This refers to a puzzle we do not normally keep in stock, but can order (which usually takes around a week). [*]
  • Permanently unavailable: We have been told by the manufacturers that the puzzle has been deleted. Normally this really means "no more", though very occasionally the more capricious manufacturers (Yanoman, mostly) may suddenly revive a long-gone puzzle.

There is also currently some uncertainty over the Apollo brand Peanuts puzzles. Having been taken over by Epoch, it looks as though there will be "rationalization" (that dreadful word...) and some of the long sellers may disappear. But new Epoch-branded Peanuts puzzles are starting to appear in larger sizes (1000+).

* Please note that we use "special order" to mean ordering puzzles we do not keep in stock. We do not have any way of ordering "special editions" of puzzles in different sizes from those in the catalog.

October — Summer's over!

Wore a sweater today for the first time this autumn. And I was late as usual updating the Puzzle of the Month. Featuring the gorgeous red maples and brilliant yellow ginko trees that make this time of year so colourful, so I was slightly shocked to notice how the range of these puzzles has shrunk, so there are only six on the "Autumn" page at the moment. I shall immediately scan the catalogs for more to order.

Speaking of which, Apollo, manufacturers of the Peanuts series and other puzzles, has become part of the Epoch Group; although the brands are being kept separate at least for the time being, there's a new combined Epoch/Apollo catalog of over 200 pages. So despite generally tough economic conditions, the Epoch range is definitely growing rather than shrinking.

The latest new puzzles from Epoch are also being made in China. I think we can assume that the quality will be absolutely unchanged (though I had better do one just to see!) as Epoch is one of the most stable companies, always trying new things gradually, to test the response.

Unfortunately we are still stuck with the yen at a crazy level (Japan's ratio of government debt to GDP is much higher than Greece's, and the savings are expected to run out in two to four years), and I'm aware how high this makes prices in dollars, euros, or whatever. We will carry on giving the best discounts we can...

Brian Chandler

"A kind of blog..." My sporadic comments, mostly topical, on shop matters. (Brian Chandler)