Sunday, 22 March 2015

Pelikan is reborn and they are truly great!

I couldn't resist these three!
Over the years you have seen me receive and review many many beautiful puzzles made by the New Pelikan workshop. I have also collected many from the original workshop under the care of Josef Pelikan. Most of the originals were sold via Bernhard’s amazing website, Puzzlewood. But after the sad premature death of Josef the company was taken over by two of the original employees, Jakub Dvořák and Jaroslav Švejkovský who continued to turn out some absolutely stunning puzzles. They still work with Bernhard to produce some specials - don't forget to buy the amazing Doors and Drawers (a collaboration between Pelikan and Mike Toulouzas) which I reviewed last September and may still be available from Bernhard and also more recently the incredible Walton cube currently available which I still need to buy when my finances recover a bit.

The only downside to buying from the New Pelikan workshop was that their website was really useless and impossible to tell what was available and how much anything cost. I advised Jakub about it repeatedly and the answer was that it was a work in progress. Now finally you all can see their wares easily and order from them with ease. Due to the vagaries of international postage you still need to order by email rather than a shopping cart but this, for me, actually makes for a much more personal service.

The new website:

is absolutely stunning and shows off the available puzzles in all their glory with detailed information and prices. The one thing you will all see immediately is that the prices are VERY reasonable indeed! This does not mean that the puzzles are made cheaply! Absolutely not! The workmanship is definitely first rate - the finish is wonderful and the fit of the pieces is as perfect as it is possible to be! One new feature with the current batch of puzzles is that the name of the puzzles is deeply engraved into the wood. I don’t think it is laser engraved either because there is none of the characteristic burning or smell of laser work. I assume it is done on a computer controlled mill.

Engraving on the puzzles
Recently (as you have all seen) I have spent quite a lot of money with a few other craftsmen and had to limit myself to just 3 of the 6 available puzzles. I chose the ones with the highest difficulty level and most interesting design to me.

Delight - a great description!
Starting with the Delight puzzle - this simple looking board burr was designed by Stéphane Chomine and is fabulously accurately made in Cherry, Padauk and Wenge with each wood in a different axis. With only 5 pieces you would imagine that it should be a fairly simple puzzle to solve BUT let me tell you that it actually caused me a fair bit of difficulty! Despite a level of only 18.5.5.3, I took quite some time to take it apart. The initial position allows quite a lot of movement of various pieces either together or individually and obviously all but one are blind ends. The incredible tolerances in the manufacture of this puzzle made it very hard for me to find the correct first move - I hang my head in shame when I admit that it took me 30 minutes just to find the correct first couple of moves! After those first moves there is a really beautiful sequence of moves with a nice progression and it separates in a rather unexpected way. Many board burrs share the problem that they become very unstable as they are moved about and the pieces start to rotate. This is not really a problem with Delight.

5 beautiful boards
I took my photos and left the pieces for a while before attempting reassembly. Foolishly I thought that with only 5 pieces (I sort of remembered the rough sequence and it is obvious which pieces go where), I thought that putting it back together would be fairly simple. Oh boy! Another shameful admission here! I am mortified to say that it took me over an hour to work it out! I just could not remember it well enough and actually had to solve it like a new puzzle - SHOCK! I upset Mrs S by leaving this in the kitchen for a few days and played with it intermittently marvelling at the beauty and tight tolerances. Last Friday I tried again and..... Showing yet again how I am just a mere amateur puzzler, I took an hour to reassemble the damn thing! There is something about this particular puzzle that befuddles my tiny brain - I just cannot remember the reassembly sequence if I scramble the pieces and wait for a while before attempting it. I should be pleased because I have gotten an awful lot of puzzling for very little money! Having said that, I would have hoped that after 5 years of puzzling, I would have improved just a little bit! I obviously need to collect a few more puzzles and keep practicing! Don't tell the present Mrs S that plan (she never reads this website).

Optiborn - currently sold out
The next puzzle I chose was the Optiborn also designed by Stéphane Chomine (he is soo talented!). I have several burrs with a similar overall design from various craftsmen and love the fact that despite having only 4 simple burrs and a columnar frame they all have aspects to the solve that are different and challenging. The beautiful thing in general is that the design forces you to make the burr pieces almost dance around each other to free them from their entanglement - you can see almost every part of them but still struggle to work it out. The Optiborn is made of American Walnut and Padauk and  has a pretty high level of 27.2.5.2. Don't be put off by such a high level - this is definitely solvable by almost any puzzler.

There are again a few blind ends during the solve but there is definitely a rather nice pathway during the solution which seems really quite intuitive. Of course, it is not simple! I got about 15 moves in and got stuck - no matter what I tried I couldn't progress and had to put it down for a while. The following day I struggled again until I turned it upside down and for no good reason other than a fresh viewpoint, I could suddenly see the move I was missing. This occurred a second time towards the end! I failed to find the penultimate move for several days making me think I had gone down a really really long blind end before finally I could just see it and out the first piece popped. This provided a really satisfying aha! moment which is what we all crave.

It looks so simple but has a pretty high level
I was able to reassemble this quite easily from memory (even after scrambling and waiting for a few hours) because I had spent so many hours during the disassembly that large parts were mere muscle memory. The only tough part was working out which pieces belonged in which position. Optiborn is currently sold out but hopefully more will be made if enough people request it.

Castle - just fabulous!
Yesterday, to my dismay, Jerry published his review of the Castle puzzle designed by Tzy Hung Chein (he seemed to really enjoy it). This was the piéce de résistance for me in my purchase from Jakub. I had previously been given a copy of this by a good puzzle friend whom I have mentioned many times before. I value his opinion enormously and when he rated the Castle puzzle’s design then I had to take it seriously - I only mentioned the puzzle briefly here on my New Additions page. But one thing I recalled about this puzzle was that there is a LOT of possible movement and finding the way to the exit is REALLY tough as everything you try seems to be blocked. The version that he had made was functional not up to Jakub's high standards. I rated this particular puzzle so highly that I just HAD to have a more beautiful copy. Jakub has 2 different versions and the one I chose is made from Dark Oak and Mahogany with Cherry slipfeathers.

Needless to say, I had absolutely no recollection of the solution and had to start all over again. I did quickly find the rotational cheating move that Jerry found but shied away as this is not allowed. Despite having solved it before, this puzzle took me several hours of going round and round in circles before I could make enough room to move a piece to an exit point. The actual solution level is not particularly high at just 18.16.5.6. But because of all the movement it is much harder than you would expect! The design of this puzzle is pretty much as perfect as one can get with so few pieces - there is a lot of room to explore where pieces can go and many moves are not at all helpful in your progression but in moving about you get to gain an image of the interior paths within the frame. What is actually required (even more than with Optiborn) is to plan your route once you have gained that knowledge - it is an absolutely beautiful dance of 4 pieces within a very limited space.

Simple pieces but a very complex frame!
When it comes to reassembly - these pieces are all identical but oriented differently within the puzzle - this really makes putting it back together really quite awkward if you scramble the pieces and wait for a while. I did manage to reassemble it with a fair bit of difficulty but mainly because I had spent hours and hours and hours trying to take it apart! This puzzle is just terrific - it is beautiful and complex but definitely manageable by most puzzlers with a bit of time and effort.

On Facebook, I was asked by a twisty puzzler where he should start with burr puzzles. He had been entranced by the shear beauty of the puzzles that a few of us had posted and wanted to try them out. Without hesitation, I suggested buying these three from Jakub. They are complex enough to challenge even an experienced puzzler without being so hard as to put off a newbie and are all beautifully made yet still affordable. If these manage to snare him then of course the next step is to start ordering puzzles from Alfons and Stephan who make some seriously beautiful yet incredibly difficult puzzles. Their puzzles have prices to match that complexity - they are NOT expensive for what you get but are not really suitable for a beginner. I think he will be ensnared!!!



The shithole gets cleaned!

Some time ago I bemoaned that I couldn't give you photos of the current state of my collection because my study was in a state of disarray - Yep! It was a shithole! Yesterday the present Mrs S had had enough and she finally forced me to spend a day reorganising, cleaning and dusting everything. The pictures of the result are on my New Additions page here and they reveal that I have a bit of a bad habit!

But at least I still have room for more!

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