Sunday, 15 October 2017

Back to the Beginning Plus a Bit More

Locked Domino Tower
I'm a bit knackered today having spent 10 hours yesterday and 2 more hours today writing the Dec/Jan rotas for my department and also being on call for 24 hours today. So this post will be a quickie.....but hopefully as high quality as the puzzle I will write about.

Die Doolhof
This time I couldn't resist something that takes me back to the beginning. My puzzling began just about 7 years ago back in October 2010 (after a horrific occurrence at work) and I began blogging my crazy progress in March 2011. For me the puzzle that started off my "obsession" was the Revomaze, a hidden maze inside a cylinder. Those first puzzles were made of metal and very finely engineered. After I went through months and months and more months of effort solving the series - Blue, Green, Bronze, Silver, the defective Gold (which I did not write about) and also the fabulous Orange, I ended up stopping because the company wasn't able to fulfil the orders that people had made - this issue has apparently improved a bit now. But my habit now tends more towards wood (although I do love some seriously good metal like that from Wil Strijbos) so how great is it to get a similar hidden maze puzzle made just as finely in wood? Thanks to my South African friend, Johan Heyns, I have a Die Doolhof made from Wild Olive and a copy of Oskar's Domino Tower with a locking central piece which is also a hidden maze which must be navigated before the coordinate motion puzzle can be unlocked. It is beautifully made from Silky Oak and Sugarbush. Johan makes puzzles as his sole means of income and I always try to buy something from his offerings each time he makes them.

The mark of a Johan Heyns puzzle.....there is a special stand
My puzzle was held up by customs for several weeks and Johan was worried that his stand was the cause. One of the features of a Johan Heyns puzzle is that if they are not naturally flat or are best displayed at an angle then he ALWAYS makes an interesting display stand for them. This particular puzzle has a Warthog tooth as the stand. It is stunning and full of character but he did worry that the customs men had a problem with an animal tooth being sent in the post to the UK. Luckily when it finally arrived (after I had paid a ransom for the pleasure) there was no sign that they had even opened the box.

When I finally got some time to play one evening, I decided to start with the Domino tower (I will save the Die Doolhof until I am on leave in a week or so). I knew there was a locking puzzle but only when I initially investigated did I realise that it was a mini revomaze:

It's a mini revomaze!!! But not fully hidden.
It is not quite a revomaze as the maze here is far less complex, the maze becomes visible during the solve and there are no traps or resets inside. But it was a very pleasant experience to work my way through it and then remove the lock from the tower:

I then moved onto the Domino tower which I do have a similar type of puzzle from My friend Neil - the Hex stair:

I was familiar with how these puzzles work and it was just a matter of finding which bits to push in which direction. It is remarkably stable right until the very very end of the travel:

Perfectly stable
Just an extra mm of pushing and it breaks apart into 2 pieces and then another 2 after a further push. The quality and accuracy of the craftsmanship now becomes apparent!

The reassembly is also fun and being able to finish it off with the reverse solve of the maze is a nice icing on the cake for me. Well I have just finished in the nick of time - I will need to go in to the hospital in the next 30 minutes for a motorcycle crash victim......perfect timing. Enjoy the rest of your weekend everybody.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Juno's Tribute to Yavuz

Pseudo Ovolo
Just a short post today as I really haven't had much time for solving much recently. A did manage to solve the second of the burrs that I bought from Junichi Yananose at the IPP in Paris and thought I should tell you about it. As you can see from the picture above it is a combination of a board and a stick burr (with some very odd sticks) and at Juno's table, it looked so gorgeous that I couldn't resist it even though I knew almost nothing about it. The name immediately makes you question it as it is a "pseudo" Ovolo when I did not even know what a real Ovolo was! Apparently the whole thing is down to my good friend Yavuz Demirhan who is one of the most prolific and talented puzzle designers in the world (over 500 published designs) and also a craftsman of considerable skill. Yavuz' Etsy store is well worth a visit. The Ovolo puzzle was designed by Yavuz in 2015 and was considered good enough that one of the world's foremost puzzlers, Brian Young, actually made this in wood and acrylic and used it as his exchange puzzle at the Kyoto IPP in 2016 - it is still for sale on Brian and Sue's store, MrPuzzle. I should probably pick up a copy soon!

Apparently the first time Juno saw the Ovolo design, he really liked the concept of the puzzle and thought that the shape of the puzzle was also attractive so he set out to design a similar puzzle with some alterations. Here is what he said he wanted to do:
"He didn’t want to copy the shape of the puzzle and made a slight modification to the assembled shape. Now, what is the difference in the shape of the two puzzles? Both puzzles, Ovolo and Pseudo Ovolo consist of six sticks. Comparing the orientation of those six sticks in the assembled shape, the difference is obvious. Two sets of three sticks are used for Ovolo and those two pieces don’t touch each other. Three sets of two sticks are used for Pseudo Ovolo and the three pieces touch each other and make a loop shape."

The original Ovolo is a level 5 solution but the Pseudo Ovolo was designed as a level 13 which to me is just the right difficulty level to be enjoyable (I can do tougher puzzles but I find that above level 20 they suddenly change from being fun to being work and I only choose puzzles of that difficulty if there is something really special about them). Juno made some modifications to the pieces to increase the structural strength whilst not changing the level of the puzzle (he added small blocks to the joins  of the stick pieces to increase the gluing area).

The store site claims:
"Pseudo Ovolo is a very difficult puzzle because of its unusual transformation of the shape when it is assembled or disassembled. There are also lots of false movements to be disassembled."
How could I possibly resist that? Plus I am a Magpie and I love puzzles of beauty - made from Karry and Silver Ash with reinforcing Splines on the board burr pieces, it is truly gorgeous and I knew it would look great on display.

Picking it up to play with it, I realised that it is the perfect size too (87.5mm on each side) - it is easy to manipulate and to see what is happening inside. The level 13 did not particularly frighten me but what did was the huge amount of movement in the puzzle. It really slides apart a long way in several orientations without becoming unstable and without showing an easy solution. Unlike many board burrs there is no rotational shortcut because the pieces are held very captive.

One of the fascinating things with this is that the design allows the inside and the interactions of the pieces to be seen with ease and theoretically it should make planning the moves rather easy. That's the theory but for me it did not meet that theory! I spent a good hour moving everything around before I noticed a very well disguised move. It should have been obvious (and maybe it would be to you) but I must have moved past that position dozens and dozens of times. Having taken that particular move the pathway becomes more and more obvious but it doesn't fall apart. It still needs a bit more thought before suddenly 2 pieces come out together. From this point the remaining disassembly is a very pleasant sequence (which can be done in 2 different orders) and a bunch of beautifully made sticks and boards were arranged on the customary sleeping cat on my lap:

Just look at how beautifully made those pieces are and notice the branded mark!
There is the customary branded mark that I mentioned on a previous blog post and the making of which was described fully by Juno on his own blog. We have 3 identical boards, a pair of identical boards and 2 identical sticks. The quality is stunning!

The reassembly would be completely impossible for me from scratch but I had spent enough time on the disassembly that I had a reasonable memory and, more importantly, had a fairly good understanding of the structure. I managed most of the reassembly with relative ease until the last pair of pieces and realised that I hadn't paid enough attention to the orientation of all the pieces......Aaaargh! - it wouldn't fully go together. After an initial minor panic (I knew that I would be making a Burrtools file in any case), I persevered and actually had a very pleasant time working my way back to see where I had made my error. This was a really fun puzzle. It is also so tactile that over the next few days I enjoyed just taking it apart, scrambling the pieces and putting it back together again.

I realised that I quite enjoyed this challenge and especially the fact that I could see inside and try to plan my moves/attack. I enjoyed it so much that I bought another puzzle with a similar premise: The Visible Framed Burr also is supposed to be very tricky yet after a few moves it is possible to see all the pieces and how they can interact by peering inside - these puzzles are also good value with the conversion of the Australian Dollar to GBP being quite good.

Visible Framed Burr
I can heartily recommend these puzzles - Juno is a great craftsman and Yukari, who runs the shop, is lovely to deal with. They have also just released a new new 6 piece burr "with a difference", the AMazing burr which looks great fun. I will definitely need to order one of those when my wallet has recovered from the dual shock of Eric Fuller and Brian Menold's recent dual releases.

I hope you all enjoyed your weekend? Mine has been full of gym (at my advanced age I have to work to maintain my fitness!!) and chores, with no puzzling yet at all. Sob! Maybe this evening if I am lucky?

Sunday, 1 October 2017

New Kid on the Block and he's Very Good

Coffin's Diagonal Cube
First of all, I must send some Happy Birthday wishes to my brilliant puzzling friends Allard and Frank who (Thursday and today respectively) have both had VERY big birthdays - catching up with me to become very old men! I hope you both had great days and maybe a puzzle or two was received to commemorate the landmark?

Most weeks, during my perusal of the various buzzle blogs and information pages, I routinely visit the "what's new" page on my friend Rob Stegmann. I noticed that he had bought some new interlocking solid puzzles made by someone new and they looked fabulous. Rob always gives attribution and I duly followed the link to the Etsy store of Andrew Crowell - it is named arcWood Puzzles. At the time he had almost nothing available and I contacted him to ask about one of the puzzles that he had sold to Rob. The diagonal cube designed by Stewart Coffin (number 58 to be exact) is one of my favourite puzzles of all time. Coffin often started with a basic idea and took it as far as he possibly could making variations that became increasingly challenging and enormous fun too. The Diagonal burr was initially changed to become the Diagonal star which almost all of us have come across and most own a copy (I seem to own 3 from various craftsmen!)

I wrote about the star and some of the variants back in 2012 and since then have added more to my collection. Amongst the many variants of the Diagonal burr are the Triumph, Fusion confusion and Triumph companion series as well as the Augmented square face which I bought several years ago from Scott Peterson as well as the Second stellation bought from Brian Menold (have you seen his recent puzzles by the way?) Last year I also admired the diagonal cube made by Big Steve on his 3D printer and he was kind enough to give me a copy which I duly solved (after quite a bit of swearing and a few laser burning stares) and then tortured several med students at work with it (I cannot seem to find the photos just now). I have been looking for a wooden version for some time and was very excited when I saw the copy that Rob had bought. After a few emails I had established that Andrew was making a few more copies and he'd let me know when they were ready. They were stunning and I couldn't resist the one with Zebrawood and Walnut and some PayPal was moved across the pond. After a week or so another package arrived chez moi much to the annoyance of Mrs S and the above beauty was inside. It is surprisingly heavy!

I immediately went about the disassembly - this proved a little awkward because, like the Pennyhedron set, this needs to be held in just the right way before it will come apart. After 5 minutes of sweating I had it in two:

All the star based puzzles look similar when separated
Of course I did not pay any attention to the patterns on the halves and immediately proceeded to a full disassembly and scrambled the 6 pieces:

As usual I left them like this for an hour or so to make sure that I had forgotten the positioning completely (who am I kidding? I barely remember who I am so there's no way I will remember minor details of grain and diagonals!) After dinner I balanced all the pieces on a slumbering (and dribbling) cat and set about the reassembly. This puzzle is different to most of the other star variants in that there is only one assembly that will go all the way. The Triumph trio will make lots of interesting shapes but only one has the correct colouring of the pieces but the Diagonal cube requires each of the 2 halves to be assembled correctly before putting them together. This is also a dexterity puzzle as they have the tendency to fall to bits as you pick them up, swivel them around, reorder the partial assemblies, or even look at them too long! To my shame it to me over an hour to get my cube back to shape but at least I refrained from swearing too much and receiving another burn. I have solved it 3 or 4 times since then and interestingly, do not seem to be getting any quicker at it which probably is a reflection of how dim I am more than how difficult a puzzle it is.

I have to say this is a wonderful puzzle that in some form should be in every puzzler's collection - it looks beautiful in wood and is a great challenge suitable for beginners and experienced puzzlers alike.

Locked cube III
Andrew put a few other puzzles up for sale at the same time as the Diagonal cube. I couldn't buy just one could I? I resisted buying one of everything (Mrs S would have murdered me) and I bought a copy of the most eye catching puzzle he had made. The picture is of Locked Cube III made from Purpleheart, Maple and what looks like Box Elder in the corners. I am not sure whether this is Andrew's own design but I am a sucker for interlocking solid puzzles and have really enjoyed playing with this.

It is also significantly heavy and when tilted rattles quite a bit. This is nothing to worry about because there are ball bearings inside which make the disassembly and reassembly more challenging. I own one other similar puzzle - the King's court made by Pentangle many years ago. It also is a 4x4 interlocking cube with a marble inside which requires variations in the positioning to manipulate the ball to allow the puzzle to be taken apart and then again to reassemble. I couldn't resist another one of the same type!

Kings Court
4 complex pieces and a marble
When I set to work on the Locked cube 3, I expected a similar experience but this quickly established itself as a tougher puzzle. The pieces seemed to lock more than expected and required absolutely specific orientation before another move was possible and when I took my first pieces out I was a little perturbed when not one but 3 ball bearings dropped on the cat and rolled under my foot stool.

4 pieces and 3 ball bearings
To ensure that I definitely forgot what I had done, the cat had not stirred at all despite the bearings dropping on his head. He was sound asleep and I didn't have the heart to move him to retrieve them. I was forced to put the pieces down and wait until he got off before I could get the errant balls. In fact he got off at my bedtime so I was forced to wait until the following day before attempting the reassembly. It is a very nice logical sequence which is not too difficult and well worth the small amount of money this puzzle cost me. I will need to try and get copies of numbers 1 and 2 in the series too.

I suggest you keep an eye on Andrew's Etsy page to see what he brings out - you really won't be disappointed.

Just for titillation here are my other puzzles based on the Diagonal burr/star:

Triumph companion
Fusion confusion
Stellated improved square face
Second stellation
They all look fairly similar but all have rather different solutions and are delightful to solve as well as to look at in a collection.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Jan Sturm's Collection Includes Some Amazing Puzzles

I have previously mentioned that I managed to get some early samples of the latest puzzles from Jan Sturm's new catalogue. I had gotten these from a friend who has been in contact with Jan recently but I now know that the usual "Puzzle pusher" has begun to get a few in stock and hopefully if you ask him very nicely he might let you purchase a few. For a full view of the puzzles in the catalogue have a look here at an online version (a paper version is also available too).

Some of the names of the puzzles in the catalogue (no, I don't have the whole lot!! Just a chosen few of them) are a bit of a mystery (as you will see later) but the puzzle pictured above is pretty obviously named Mammoth because of the overall shape, complete with tusk. The aim obviously is to remove the loop of string from the puzzle and then replace it. I would suggest if you do buy this one that you take a quick photo of the start position as it is easy to go back to what you think might be the beginning but is subtly incorrect. During my working on this I had to reset it quite a few times and the picture really came in handy.

This was the first of the group of puzzles that I actually tried whilst on call on a Saturday. I had a good registrar ploughing through the emergency/urgent work so I sat in the coffee room to supervise from there and set to on this puzzle. I started with that one because it was an interesting shape and rated only 4 stars out of 5. A quick glance for taking my photos also led me to think that it would not be that tough - I was sure that I saw a path that could be pulled through. My first fiddle revealed that a) it was not a simple pull through (of course Jan would not release anything like that) and b) there were 2 possible start directions. What I had been fooled by was those very sharp U shapes with rings in them - they have been VERY accurately made to allow the string to get inside but NOT pull through. In fact if you pull too hard then it gets wedged inside giving you a bit of a headache! During that day I did have to go into the operating room and work and was unable to finish the puzzle but over an hour or two in several sessions I discovered that there are a LOT of moves in the solution to this puzzle. My usual back and forth approach was not helpful as there were just too many moves to keep track of and one ring looks very like another after a while.

The nursing staff and waiting surgeons were very bemused periodically to watch me trussing up an elephant with a piece of blue string but by now pretty much the whole surgical side of the hospital knows about my "little" habit. Just before leaving at the end of my day there, we were all sitting waiting for the next case and I was chatting and idly fiddling when I noticed a colleague's jaw drop. I looked down and was a touch surprised to see the string in one hand and the wire in another:

Solved it! Lord knows what I did!
He actually asked how I did that (he'd seen me playing on and off all day) and I sheepishly had to admit that I had absolutely no idea how I had solved it as the last few moves were done without paying much attention. In fact, maybe I should try more puzzles that way? I might solve a few more! I took it home that evening and after eating with Mrs S and showing off how brilliant I had appeared, I proceeded to take my life into my hands and attempt the reassembly whilst watching TV with her in the evening....I failed and also got burned by the laser burning stare! The puzzle was even more challenging to reassemble and again took me almost a whole day. Checking my photo, I knew I had got to the start position and then tried again. Remember that no puzzle is truly solved until it has been done at least twice and proven to be understood. The second time was a little quicker and led to a real appreciation of the complexity and beautiful quality. I might actually be tempted to say this is a 5 star difficulty and not the proposed 4. I'd be interested in thoughts from any of you lovely readers.

Prince of Frogs
Yes the above puzzle is called the Prince of Frogs! I think this has been a translation error because the Czech name is Rybí Princ which should translate to Prince of Fish. The shape looks to me like a whale with its' blowhole spraying and of course, even if it is a mammal, what else could you use to call a whale? It looks like a prince of the fish family. It is a fairly simple structure and with a difficulty level also of 4 stars. The aim is to simply remove the ring from the top.

There are a few features of this shape that immediately made me recall previous puzzles and I had plans for what to try before I even picked it up. The puzzle did not take me very long and I would rate the difficulty as 2-3 stars only unless you are an absolute beginner with disentanglement puzzles. Despite the ease with which I solved it, it is actually one of my favourites. The sequence of moves to remove that ring are simply beautiful in their elegance! I love it.

Simply wonderful if not difficult.
Finally today I am visiting a new twist on a very old idea. Way way back in the mists of time I wrote about the Cast Menace/Devil which is a real classic puzzle which still fools many newbies to this genre of puzzles (I have a colleague at work who has owned it for over a year and is convinced that it is impossible). It was made tougher for Allard's exchange a few years ago and sold by Wil later as the U-twins. Well Jan Sturm has taken that basic shape and put a number together to make:

The Cloverleaf
Cloverleaf is very attractive and VERY jingly which Mrs S did not like. It has been rated as 4 stars in difficulty (I would say 3 stars) and if you don't understand the Hanayama 2 piece version then don't even attempt this one. The same move is required only more often and with a bit of fiddling to get the correct part of the pieces to reach properly. I knew what was needed having solved the original and very quickly had this:

Pieces of 2 Cast Devils or 1 Cloverleaf
Reassembly is where the real challenge comes in. Try not to pay too much attention to the positions where pieces are removed and then you get far more of a challenge later. The return to the beginning took me about an hour because I struggled to get the overlapping pieces in the correct orientation and the final link was a real pain in the A! It is a reassuringly solid puzzle and if your life is not endangered by a homicidal wife then I can definitely recommend it.

I look forward to getting a good few more from Jan's catalogue. He has implemented ideas from quite a few new designers and has really made them beautifully using very high quality steel wire and string. This has reminded me that I still have quite a few of Aaron Wang's puzzles in my unsolved pile - I must get back to them soon - I am falling behind!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Jerry's Masterpieces Prove That I Am Not Terribly Bright

BurrNova 2D
A month or so before the IPP, I was contacted by Jerry to tell me a little bit about his entry into the design competition and to discuss a little bit about his upcoming puzzles. He wanted to test the water about how well I thought they may sell and whether I might be interested in purchasing something from him at the puzzle party to avoid having to pay postage. Of course I practically bit his finger off before he could press the send button on his email program! Basically if Jerry wants to sell me something then the questions are just "how much?" and "when?" As a result of this I knew that I was going to be coming home with a copy of his latest beaut(y/ies) and a bit of a hole in my bank balance.

Jerry's entry into the design competition is pictured above. It is called Burrnova (technically it has a 2D after the word for reasons I will get to. Over the years he has entered quite a few puzzles into the competition and been disappointed to not get recognised but is well aware that most of his designs are exceptionally complex and extremely difficult to solve. For this reason they tend to get marked a little lower than many of the simpler and shall we say more elegant puzzles. I don't think that he expected to get very far this time either but I was already drooling at the thought.

So what does a Nova mean to you? To me it means a sort of star shaped explosion and with this puzzle I wasn't disappointed! No! It doesn't blow apart but the name is highly appropriate. I discovered this on day one of my trip to Paris. After registering for the party I quickly entered the competition room and even though I only knew the name of Jerry's entry, I was able to home in on it straight away.....there is something about his work that makes it instantly recognisable - here are my current puzzles:

Now you can see how his work is recognisable?
and don't forget his absolutely incredible Caramel case:

Caramel case: a 42 piece burr set.
This is so beautiful that it lives on display in my dining room!
So I immediately went up to Jerry's Burrnova 2D and had a play. Initially there is only one possible move so off I go! The central piece pushes upwards and stops. I expected that this would be a key piece and would allow further pieces to slide or even pull out so I started tugging and pushing at pieces on the top and bottom faces without much luck.....hmmm. Time to expand my exploration and push and prod at other less obvious pieces. As is usual with my luck the very last piece I push is the right one and with a loud PRRRRRRRRRP noise the puzzle goes nova on me and I nearly drop it in surprise. How on earth did all that happen? The puzzle had sort of exploded in 4 directions - the central sticks had moved by themselves in a sequence of 11 moves all by themselves. How did I know that it was 11 moves? I sequentially pushed the pieces back (a very enjoyable thing to do) and counted how many it was until I was back to the beginning. Having pushed them back, I was quite amazed that the bloody thing was stable in that position - even shaking it about did nothing. However a gentle push on the right piece in the right direction and yet again it explodes apart. How awesome is that? It was so awesome that I had to do it several more times just for grins and giggles! Just for that alone I was glad I had arranged to buy it.

It went nova!
Having exploded into this position it was obviously important to continue with my disassembly. Now Jerry is pretty sneaky - it won't just release a piece that easily. I think I spent another ½ hour trying everything I could think of and getting nowhere. At that point I was thinking of looking at the solution when something sneaky occurred to me and I knew that Jerry would do exactly that. Aha! I love moments like that - don't we all? I had a key piece removed and was ready to continue.

Yet again, nothing would move. I undid the automatic part and still nothing would move. This sort of puzzle is not technically a burr but more an interlocking solid and usually it is possible to look at the construction and determine which piece can unlink from the others and be removed. Looking at what I had, nothing looked like it could come apart - Jerry had hidden the next move unbelievably well. I was reduced to pushing and prodding at things again but with an extra finger hold to work with. All of a sudden I had made another discovery - Aha! again! Goodness me he's a sneaky man - he's started playing with magnets and things are held VERY tight with a couple of very well placed pieces of Neodymium and it shows a very well disguised separation point between pieces which I was not expecting at all.

Below is a spoiler - if you don't want to see how the next move is disguised and comes apart then DON'T press the spoiler button!

After this there is a lovely sequence of piece removal as the puzzle comes apart from the top down. I always marvel at the perfection and precision of the pieces and in the competition room I kept everything carefully arranged to allow me to put it back together. As I progressed happily I then got to the Nova pieces:

There are quite a lot of very strong magnets here
This was as far as I got at the IPP. I began to pick up the Nova section and it seemed very well held together and at that point I thought might be quite unstable! I decided at that point that discretion was the better part of valour and hastily put it together again. This puzzle was definitely going to win a vote from me.

Later that evening a big bunch of us all met up and I finally got to meet Jerry in person. The IPP this year was fabulous for that aspect - there are so many people whom I have corresponded with for years now and I was finally able to meet them in the flesh. Jerry was entertaining a bunch of people with a skeletal version of the puzzle which showed off what was happening when it went nova. When I arrived with the group they thrust it on me and said "go on....push the stick!" So I did and after a loud PRRRRRRRRRP it did it's thing and despite knowing what was going to happen, I nearly dropped it in surprise......again! The buggers all laughed at me.....again! I seem to spend most of my puzzling life being laughed at by either other puzzlers or the present Mrs S. Jerry mentioned to the group that this was a 2D version and he was developing a bigger 3D Burrnova. We all expressed "mild" interest (actually we were all extremely vociferous) when he offered to show us a prototype. This version has 8 sticks which go nova instead of just the 4 and it is truly a thing to behold when you set it off! We all encouraged him that he really MUST try and make some full 3D Nova puzzles for us in the future. Jerry, if you do read this article, then put my name down for a 3D version as soon as you have made one please?

That evening Jerry also showed off another puzzle to me that he had offered me a chance to purchase and of course, I said yes! We missed each other on the last day of the IPP and it eventually made it's way to me courtesy of the postal service - interestingly as a bag of bits:

This is Coffin's Pinhole Puzzle set (#20) - there are lots of challenges ending with the Grand Pinhole Cross
When I was offered the chance to buy, I Googled it and found Allard's review from 2011 - I was hooked! It has only been produced in very small numbers by Stewart Coffin himself and it was a MrPuzzle limited edition in 2007.  When initially released by Mr Coffin it came with a 10 page booklet - I cannot resist a puzzle with a booklet so I was absolutely delighted when Jerry made one and offered it for sale. Let's just say that this has been kicking my puzzling butt for the last month and has revealed me not only to be "not terribly bright" but actually "damned thick"! I will enlarge on what I did when I have finished solving all the challenges and am ready to write it up.

At the end of the IPP I was absolutely delighted to see at the awards dinner that Jerry won a recognition for his incredible skills. The BurrNova received an honorary mention from the Jury which is tremendous recognition and I grinned when Nick Baxter stood up and said:
"who could not admire a puzzle that starts to solve itself?
I wish more of my puzzles were self-solving as I don't seem to be getting very far!

Mrs S was pleased that at least one of my Paris purchases has a ready made shelf space and I put the Burrnova 2D in it until this weekend when I finally found time and courage to attempt a full disassembly. I still delight in the PRRRRRRRRRP noise and the cats were mildly interested (they woke up from the heat drugged slumber) and I proceeded with the disassembly. I had forgotten about the hidden move and the magnets. I remembered at that point that he had said that the puzzles that myself and Goetz had received were supplied with much stronger magnets and oh boy it took some doing to find the opening move again! With great enthusiasm I dismantled it completely and made a nice happy little pile of pieces:

Such precision! Spot the magnets.
After I had taken it apart and put it back together again a few times I made a more organised picture showing the piece types:

Sort of organised
It is made from Cherry, Walnut, Maple and Bloodwood in 33 pieces with Jerry's mark etched into the key piece - it has the absolutely characteristic look and finish of a McFarland puzzle - definitely one of my prized possessions.

The Nova section consists of a set of 4 Bloodwood sticks with steps cut into them and a bunch of very strong magnets all oriented correctly to encourage it to "explode".

Nova pieces showing their "mechanism"
I cannot wait for the Burrnova 3D to be made as well as whatever other designs are floating around in Jerry's head (I know of at least one more that I am drooling over). With Jerry (as with Jakub Dvořák, Rob Yarger, Scott Peterson and Johan Heyns) when they offer something I basically just say yes and open my bank account! But don't tell "she who must be feared"!

Right! time to cook and then back to puzzling! Wish me luck and wish me an improvement in my meagre skills.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Pelikan and Pluredro Puzzle Perfection

Little Dance
Continuing on the theme from last week, I will focus on another few puzzles I have had some success with recently. It would appear that the last week or so has seen my puzzling mojo return with a vengeance and I have managed to solve some really rather tough puzzles. Little Dance was another of the gorgeous puzzles that I bought from Jakub at the New Pelikan Workshop. I have quite a few puzzles from Klaas Jan Damstra who seems to specialise in puzzles with very interesting shapes and puzzling moves. He designed the incredible Canal House which I discussed here.

Because it was from Klaas and because it was a very interesting shape and also because it is gorgeous in Wenge and Padauk, I had to buy a copy. This was reinforced when I read the description from the designer on the product page:
This puzzle is gorgeous in contrasting Wenge and Padauk. With level it should not be too difficult. While assembling / disassembling the pieces move around one another, hence the name Little Dance.
I love puzzles with pieces that dance around each other during the solve process - I find it very elegant.

The first thing that struck me when I received this was how beautiful it was and also how absolutely perfect the joinery is. It is almost impossible to see where one piece stops and an adjacent one begins. After photos and a little fiddle I found 2 moves and proceeded from there. There are a couple of blind ends and choices to be made early on. The 2 pairs of pieces are very similar in shape and it is quite easy to get confused and really very difficult to lay down any memories of exactly what has been done. My usual back and forth technique was proving quite tough because, whilst it was quite easy to return to the beginning, I really struggled to work out what I had done each time. The further I got into the solution the worse this got. For a while I got quite stuck....almost all movements apart from the return were blocked. Time to think© and look carefully. I realised that there is a subtle difference between the 2 bigger pieces and this needs to be used in just the right direction.

I reckon it must have taken me about an hour in my usual inefficient meandering method of dismantling this sort of puzzle. I did get sidetracked when I found at one point that rotational moves are possible and needed to concentrate to prevent them from occurring by accident. I balanced the pieces on the sleeping cat who didn't even stir and admired the workmanship:

Very similar pairs of pieces and a symmetrical frame make this confusing
With such a low level of solution I decided to be brave and leave the pieces scrambled for about 20 minutes before attempting the reassembly......BIG mistake!!! I had a vague idea of what I had done and remembered the rough directions of the dance but for the life of me could not remember which piece started where. I had a little panic before pulling myself together and having another go at that thinking© thing - I'm really not very good at it. I found that I was able to plan out some of the moves outside of the frame and then tried them inside it. I got stuck for about 30 minutes before realising that I had started with a simple piece in the wrong place and it was getting in my way later. With that false start in my head, I restarted and BINGO! Phew! No need to resort to Burrtools. I am not very good at assembly but if I have a little knowledge from the disassembly then that is just the little boost that I need. It really is a clever design and wonderfully implemented by Jakub and Jaroslav.

The Little dance is still available from the Pelikan store now (only 5 left as I write) so go get it whilst you can. At 29€ it's an absolute bargain!

Deadly Romance designed by Markus Götz

Unfortunately the Deadly Romance puzzle has sold out since last week's blog post. I think this may have been Markus' exchange puzzle at this year's IPP (except he gave it away in pieces as an assembly puzzle). I bought this from Jakub because it was very similar in idea and shape to the wonderful Identical Twins that I reviewed last week. I am actually quite glad that Jakub decided to send it out fully assembled as it was difficult enough for me that I know that I would never have managed to assemble it myself and that Burrtools would not be any help at all.

Markus wrote this about it:
How difficult can it be to put two small pieces into a frame? Well, decide yourself and try with this nicely challenging puzzle. It consists of a cage, which is made of two different colored woods (dark/bright), and two puzzle pieces, which are also made using these two colors. Due to the color constraint the final location/position of the pieces inside the frame should be quite clear – but then the question arises: ‘How to get the two pieces into these positions?’ And this is exactly where the real fun of the puzzle starts! Enjoy.

I never get peace!
My initial disassembly exploration revealed some very pleasing moves as the pieces dance around each other within the frame. Then there is a blockage and I couldn't go any further. I decided that my beginning moves must have been wrong so I began again but could not find any alternative moves. Every time I ended back at the same blocked area. With my thinking muscle seeming to be malfunctioning, I put it down on the cat (Every single time I sit down one or more of the cats immediately curls up on my legs) and watched some TV with Mrs S. When I looked back at the puzzle I noticed that something had moved in a rather unexpected direction just by being perched precariously. This was very unexpected (would you expect a sleeping cat to be better at puzzles than you?) and I picked it up and continued the move.....Aha! This was absolutely genius - I had been looking completely in the wrong direction. This move was too perfect to be anything other than by design. Having done this unusual move it set me  up for another pair of moves like it and the first piece was removed. A little exploration and I had this:

A lovely frame and 2 relatively simple pieces.
I am delighted that Jakub sent this one out as an assembled puzzle - there is just no way that I would have managed to assemble it from scratch. In the end my reassembly did take a little bit longer than expected because one of the pieces can be inserted in 2 different orientations and the "law of Sod" of course had me trying the wrong one for about 20 minutes first! Yep! I really am not very bright!

I don't know if Jakub plans on making any more of this but it might be worth while asking and if they come up at auction in the future then this is well worth a little punt.

Pluredro Perfection

Cubin Burr with Pisa #2 inside
I have been a proud collector of puzzles either designed or made by the awesome Junichi Yananose for quite a few years. He has worked alongside Brian Young (MrPuzzle) for a very long time. Juno (as he likes to be called) has an incredible brain and seems to be able to visualise things in his head that are too complex for the normal human being to understand (just take a look at the IPP hosts gift from Paris and you will see what I mean). He has recently set up his own blog and shop which I have begun following very closely.

I met him (and his wife Yakuri) at their table in the Puzzle party room at the IPP in Paris and watched in awe as Goetz counted out several 100€ for something I really wanted but could not quite afford..........yet - Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear - I mean ever! Once Goetz had finished I admired all the wonderful puzzles that Juno had made and designed and in the end couldn't resist buying some. He was incredibly trusting as I had run out of euros by then and was resorting to the PayPal app on my phone but when he couldn't remember his PayPal address, he offered to let me take the puzzles and he would email me an invoice later. Wow! What amazing trust!

A month later when I was sure that they had finished their European travels and gotten home to Australia I had still not received the expected bill. I dropped him an email to remind him and he professed to have completely forgotten. After a little PayPal move (I almost always pay as a gift to craftsmen), I could now feel like a legitimate owner of some wonderful puzzles.

The Cubin Burr was definitely something I couldn't resist - firstly it is big and beautiful (11.6cm cubed and fabulously crafted from Victorian Ash, Oak, Blackbean and Silver Ash - the grain in the wood is gorgeous) and second, it is two puzzles in one. I told Mrs S that it was a bargain (which she didn't quite believe). I began to play with it a week after the IPP and realised that there was a LOT of movement in the pieces. I shied away at first because it felt like I would quickly lose sight of what went where but eventually I "screwed my courage to the sticking place" and persisted with it trying very hard to remember what was happening. After a just a few rather interesting moves that progressed in a sort of logical sequence I had this:

The pieces look rather simple (a big cube was inside)
Juno's branded signature mark
One thing to notice within the pieces is the wonderful branded signature. Having read about how it came about on their blog, I was delighted to be able to have a good look at it.

Inside the external board burr I had a cube which is called Pisa #2. This apparently was not the original cube that was designed to go inside (it was originally intended that the Penta cuboid would go inside but proved not to be stable enough). The Pisa #2 had been designed originally in 1994 for the Hikimi competition and proved to be stable and free standing so perfect to put inside the Cubin burr. I carefully put the Pisa #2 aside for a bit and continued exploring the Cubin burr. The pieces are incredibly simple and I had a quick try at reassembling it without the cube inside. There are some fairly large slots in the edges and I thought it would be quite easy to do. I was wrong! It took me about an hour to get the boards back together to look like this:

Back in shape but without the central cube it won't hold it's shape
Out of interest, I went to Burrtools to make my customary model (I lurve doing this and, for me, no puzzle is complete until I have also made a BT file for it) - it informed me that there are 7 possible assemblies without the central cube but despite that I had really struggled to find just the one! I then set to attempting the reassembly with the central cube in situ. Despite 4 or 5 hours of attempts I could not seem to make any headway and I proceeded to make the cubed model. Just one assembly possible but it was not to be found at that point. Time to move on to the Pisa #2 - strange name but the reason for it becomes obvious as soon as you pull it apart:

Pisa #2 pieces
Just like the famous leaning tower the pieces of this puzzle have a leaning central dowel which fits into a diagonally oriented hole. As you can see from the above picture there is one of every possible combination. There is just one solution to form the 2x2x2 cube apparently and I had thought it might be relatively easy to perform. Aaargh! Remember that I am  not very bright? I well and truly revealed that with this puzzle.....I could not for the life of me put it back together! It took me 2 evenings of swearing under my breath and receiving the laser burning stare from the Eye of Sauron before I had reassembled it. You will see from the product page (which I had not read at this stage) that the Pisa #2 should take only about a ½ hour for most puzzlers but I obviously am not "most puzzlers" - I kept finding myself with 7/8 of a cube and unable to place the final piece. It was with enormous relief and another laser stare that I finally got it back together.

It's just a 2x2x2 cube - how hard can it be? VERY!
Finally having done this, I went back to the full reassembly. I have tried it for several weeks without success and eventually resorted to my Burrtools file. I followed it very carefully and nooooo! I still couldn't get it together. The thing is the central cube moves as well as the boards and it is very hard to tell what is happening with it using BT. I also found that I didn't have enough hands to manipulate the computer as well as hold all the puzzle pieces. I thought of asking Mrs S to help and then thought again....better not!

I feared that I would be left with the puzzle in pieces forever more but then I remembered that, like Brian Young, Juno had included a printed solution with the puzzle and so I picked that up and followed it. It requires a bit of dexterity but within 10 minutes it was back together. Now why couldn't I do that with BT?

I am determined that I will understand this one so as soon as I have got my courage together I will take it apart again and play. Then I will move on to another one that I bought from them at the IPP. Don't tell Mrs S!

If you are interested in these then do go visit their blog and the Pluredro store - there are some stunning puzzles and the workmanship is terrific. Plus of course, they are a delight to do business with.


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