Sunday 26 May 2013

Something old, something new....

Something borrowed, something blue!

No! I have not taken leave of my senses and no! I am not getting married again! I don't think the present Mrs S will let me! I just decided that this might be a nice title to get your attention! I have had rather a lot of puzzle deliveries recently and some are rather special so I thought I would bring a few together into one post.

Hectix revisited
First we start with something old. It's old because I have had it quite some time and because it is based on a very old design.

This puzzle is "Hectix revisited" and I bought this over 2 years ago! It came from Bill Cutler, who made it specially for me - I chose to have 4 different woods all arranged in random positions. This is one of the puzzles from Bill that is made by him and not Jerry MacFarland. The woods are Walnut, Maple, Red Oak and Cherry. The original Hectix puzzle was discovered/designed independently by both Bill and Stewart Coffin (who had it mass produced in plastic) in 1968 - both were thinking of it in different ways - Stewart thought of it as the expansion of the rhombic dodecahedron which is the shape of the hollow core of this puzzle and Bill thought of the rods perpendicular to a regular polyhedron.

In 2009 Bill decided to look again at the structure to see whether it could be improved upon, looking for the most difficult and interesting version of this interlocking burr - his aims were:

  1. Use as many different pieces as possible 
  2. Only one solution 
  3. Many assemblies 
  4. As difficult to disassemble as possible
Thus he came up with this. It has sat on my shelf taunting me for nearly 2 years - I worked out the first couple of moves and then got too frightened to continue! Worried that I would not be able to put it back together. A couple of months ago a very good puzzle friend discussed it with me and encouraged me to have a go so whilst on a nice lazy weekend away at a posh hotel with Mrs S I took this one with me. Yes, I know I shouldn't be taking puzzles on romantic weekends but it shows the depths of my addiction!

One afternoon whilst lazing about, she was reading a novel and I took this out to play. Over about 1/2 hour I gradually dismantled it and hopefully managed to remember the positions - I ended up with this:

A lot of hexagonal sticks!
Once I had looked at these pieces, I realised that it is a beautifully logical puzzle and really quite a pleasure to reassemble. I needn't have been frightened of it! I should have been playing the whole time. If you want one of these, Bill has them as a special order on his site - maybe he has the pieces available for you - it is a very reasonable price at $80.

Next we have something new so new that it's not available yet .... This is the Rhombic mazeburr designed by Derek Bosch and hopefully soon to be available to all who want one.

Rhombic mazeburr
Cubic mazeburr
I have known Derek for a couple of years now and we have become firm friends and communicate regularly about puzzles, family, computing etc. I think he is probably the most brilliant man I know! I can feel him blushing now!!! He has been collecting and designing puzzles for many years and apparently has a collection to die for.

One subject we have discussed is the Mazeburr which we both bought when Tom Lensch made a few available 2 years ago - it was my first ever really expensive puzzle! It was originally designed by Kagen Schaeffer and is a beautiful cubic structure with maze plates on the outside, pin plates on the inside and an enormous number of potential puzzles to play with. It came with a series of cards from Kagen or a booklet from Tom with a progressive set of puzzles to try. I communicated with John Rausch, who had done the original mathematical analysis of it and he provided me with a DVD which I distributed to the Midlands puzzle party guys who had a version with several 1000 extra challenges!

Derek has been pondering this puzzle for a long time and came up with the idea for one based on a rhombic dodecahedron (note the connection with the old puzzle ;-)) - it has the same basic premise to move the maze plates and the pin plates to ultimately allow the removal of the exit plate (the top one in the picture). It was first reviewed by Neil on his blog and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to have one. Here is his video showing how it works:

It has been made from printed plastic by Shapeways and will come with a set of 12 plates which will allow several 100,000 possible puzzles to be tried. A set of challenges will be provided including the ultimate mazeburr challenge of 379 moves to solve. How do we know of this ultimate challenge? I said Derek was brilliant - he took John Rausch' original analysis program and rewrote it to analyse the new shape! Speaking to Neil when he came over for the Midlands puzzle party number 10.5 he said it took him nearly 9 months to solve it - gulp!!! My copy was brought over by Neil and is a prototype for me to test and feed back to Derek. I have spent a little time helping him with the documentation too but my input into this truly awesome puzzle has been tiny.  Several of the guys played with it at the puzzle party and everyone who played with it has said that they  have to buy one when it comes up - this is going to be a big hit. So far I have only tried the original 50 move puzzle and a few of the easier ones from the text file he sent me. This is a lovely challenge and a pleasure to handle. It will be available in 2 sizes - a small one of 10cm across and a larger one with a diameter of 12cm. Acrylic maze plates will also be available at a a later date. Unfortunately no craftsman has the desire to make it in wood (I don't blame them) but it feels great in the Shapeways polished and dyed plastic. Keep your eye out for this - you WILL want one.

Something borrowed .... I have been wanting to own one of these for a very long time and it is just not available! I have offered to sell the present Mrs S for one but neither she nor the owner of the puzzle seemed terribly keen on the idea! :-(   This is the Ternary burr and it was one of the limited edition puzzles made by Brian Young in 2009.

Ternary Burr
Very recently I have become addicted to the group of puzzles that are based on gray binary code - they are the so-called N-ary puzzles. I bought a few from Tomas Linden, owner of Sloyd in Finland and if you want to try a few then I can recommend the Kugellager, the Auf dem Holzweg and the Mysterians puzzles as a start. I, of course have gone WAY WAY beyond just those and am hopelessly addicted! For a summary of these puzzles then you should read the page on Goetz Schwandtner's site and then for a full analysis you shouldn't miss the pdf document he produced analysing the subject.

This was designed by the very brilliant and very prolific Goh Pit Khiam - it consists of a frame which holds 5 interlocking burr key pieces which must be moved back and forth in a sequence of 75 moves until they are all fully extended and allowing the horizontal sliding key to be extracted and subsequently the whole frame to be dismantled. It is a beautiful sequence and the total deconstruction of the 17 other pieces is a real challenge - especially the final few bits. This one was lent to me by another good friend - Steve Nicholls (another very prolific and very generous puzzle designer and collector) and has taken me a good few hours to work out. Worryingly for him, Mrs S spontaneously said that this was really beautiful and it would be allowed to stay on display in the living room. She asked whether Steve might consider letting me buy it!! I wonder whether Steve knows about the enormous distance that the laser burning stare works over?

When dismantled the pieces look like this:

Even the pieces are beautiful!
If you have one and would consider selling it to me without me having to sell a kidney or a leg then please Contact me! You really don't want my liver!!! PLEASE think about it!!

Phew! This has been quite a long post - we end with something blue. This last puzzle is also not yet available but will be soon and was also designed by the extremely brilliant Derek Bosch. This is the Helical burr puzzle.

Helical burr - it's blue!
Derek has had a tubular burr on his Shapeways shop (along with a few other fascinating puzzles) for some time and I have been meaning to get one for ages. During my discussions with him he said that he has taken that puzzle and improved it. Eventually I convinced him to send one to me and it arrived with the Rhombic maze burr - it was immediately grabbed by Ali who dismantled it and pronounced it to be fantastic and that he wanted one too! He left the pieces lying around and during the day a few people tried to reassemble it and all failed. Eventually I convinced Ali to put it back together so I could play later.

I got home and had to play with it straight away - it is wonderfully smooth (based on the Shapeways WSF and polished nylon) and the pieces slide on each other beautifully. There are a few options of where to move pieces at several stages and gradually it expands and contracts on itself until it is almost ready to come apart:

Nearly there?
Finally you end up with these bits:

Just amazing
I dismantled it in about 1/2 hour and it is truly fantastic. BUT the reassembly is really where the puzzling begins - I had not been paying enough attention and could not remember even the orientations of the pieces. I worked on it for several days with no success - just being encouraged by Derek. Eventually I had to give in - Derek sent me a Burrtools file and it was no help whatsoever! His fiendishly brilliant mind and converted the helical structure into something linear for Burrtools. I couldn't comprehend it at all! He taunted me for a while and I continued to fail to solve it before sending me an out of focus photo sequence! I managed to get it back together and reckon I would never have managed it myself. I have no idea how Ali managed it.

This will be an entry into this years design competition - my only claim to fame will be that it will be my photo sequence that will be in the documentation for it.

When this is made available you MUST buy it - it is fabulous - even knowing the solution, I never get tired of opening and closing it. Thanks Derek for 2 absolutely fantastic puzzle experiences!

Derek's Shapeways shop is here - at present none of these puzzles are available but will be soon. The tubular burr is available just now.

I hope that after reading this post you feel like you've been at a wedding celebration! I had a huge amount of fun with these and several are or will be available for you to buy soon and you should do so.


  1. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for the write-up. Love Derek's Rhombic Maze..when will it be available? Also his tubular burr!

    I saw the Tenary Burr in Goh Pit Khiam's home a couple of weeks back when I visited him but didn't have a chance to play with it since he had so many puzzles on display (many of which are his own designs) and a number of his newer designs yet to be released! I got his Decemburr (made by Brian Young) as a gift from him. And I also got to learn how to use BurrTools from him.

    1. Hi Jerry,

      I'm glad you enjoyed the post - it was quite a long one and took several hours to write and photograph but worth it.

      The Rhombic Mazeburr should be available in the next few months - Derek has more or less ironed out the design problems and now has to work on the puzzle booklet or cards. The Tubular burr should be available soon I think - he has quite a lot on his hands at the moment (including a lovely little girl) so is working as quickly as he can.

      You are very lucky to be able to visit Goh Pit Khiam, his designs are wonderful! Maybe you could show him this post and see whether he would let me have one of the ternary burrs? I do have a Decemburr too and it is a very nice but fairly easy puzzle. I learnt Burrtools myself and am getting quite good at it but seeing what Derek can do is amazing - he is the programmer who makes the Mac version from the source code and so has an incredibly deep understanding of how it works and thus can achieve miracles with it!! One day I would really like to get to grips with it!

  2. Hi Kevin,

    Truly amazing puzzles to see!
    I like the looks and mechanical interaction of all very much.

    I doubt that I can solve the wooden burr, but the helical burr is really intriguing me. And seems like some worm- or cork-screw fitting.

    - Splinter

    1. Hi Splinter,

      The Ternary burr is not really tough once you have grasped the idea of the n-ary nature of it. The very last part of the disassembly can be a challenge but overall it is just beautiful.

      The helical burr is something completely new (I think Oskar may have made something with a similar name) and will hopefully be available very soon from Derek's Shapeways shop - I'll put a link in the article. So keep an eye open for it.

  3. I just screeched in my head. Many times. Full-on mental screaming. I have my finger on the 'buy' button for the 2 Derek Bosch puzzles and I would *love* the chance to try out the Ternary Burr - if I ever get good enough with woodworking, maybe even make one :P

    1. Well John, the helical burr should be available in a few weeks. The Rhombic Mazeburr will only b available direct from Derek. This may take a while before it's ready - I will announce it.

      As for Ternary burr - I sent the Burrtools file to one woodworker already who is making one for himself. Sigh! My skills are definitely not good enough for that!