Sunday 5 July 2015

3 Fantastic Craftsmen....

2 Brilliant Puzzles Each.... 
1 Puzzle Uniquely Mine

Erm... I guess it's the Closed Box?
Vauban H5
It has been a while since I bought anything new from the New Pelikan Workshop. The last time I wrote a review the puzzles in question sold out within a few days and I'd like to think that I may have played a small part in that. Jakub contacted me 2 weeks ago to ask if I'd like the opportunity to buy an early copy of a puzzle that they were making and maybe I could write them a few words on it. Of course I was delighted - their work has never disappointed me and I jumped at the chance to buy! Both these puzzles will be available to buy on their site on 8th July. I was stunned when I first took them out the package and started to explore. The accuracy of the workmanship is simply stunning - we are accustomed to Pelikan's work being good but this is taking it to a whole new level! The pieces are so so smooth and the tiny fine bevelling on the pieces allows them to slide over each other with minimal catching - they are a delight to play with.

The Closed Box was designed by Christoph Lohe (who has a few rather interesting designs on Ishino's site) and I drooled at it when Jakub published the photo on his Facebook page. They teased me on Facebook because I am famous for either breaking things and also for not collecting puzzle boxes. I absolutely love the boxes but daren't start buying them for fear of losing all of my income as well as my house and wife! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear - I really am being good! I only buy boxes that have some other puzzling element to them. I get my box 'fix' at puzzle parties and was relieved to find out that the Closed box is a box only in name!

My version is a 6cm cube and made of Wenge and Maple and it comes with a gorgeously made stand. It is so beautifully made that you actually can not see which pieces are fixed and which pieces can move. The stand is so accurately made that the corners are actually needle sharp! In reality, it is not a box; it is a 3 piece burr in a cage. For such a low number of pieces it has a lovely challenge to it with a level of 15.6.2 - definitely not particularly tough but a nice logical puzzle to solve. After scrambling the pieces, the reassembly is also eminently doable even for a puzzle idiot like me. The workmanship is stunning and certainly good enough for Mrs S to allow it on display in the living room. Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear I thought you had noticed! If you prefer a lighter colour then a photographic negative is available too.

Simple pieces yet a real challenge
The next puzzle is the Vauban H5 which was designed by the incredible Stéphane Chomine. Stéphane has stopped publishing on Ishino's site and so this design has not been seen before by anyone. I was keen to try out something new and really looked forward to the challenge. I expected it to be a similar difficulty to the Closed Box and received a hefty shock when I started to play. It is a seriously tough puzzle at level 31.10.7 but despite this difficulty level, it is certainly still solvable by anyone who has a bit of patience and has a bit of burr experience. Mine version is the red one made from Bubinga and Maple and is a bit bigger than the Closed Box at 7.2cm cubed. Again, the attention to detail is phenomenal. The diagonal maple highlights are gorgeous and really add to the look on display. It is also going to be available in a lighter colour which looks equally gorgeous.

The Vauban H5 took me more than 2 hours to solve - there are quite a few blind ends and some of the moves are very well hidden. At the end I had just 4 beautiful pieces:

Four lovely pieces
Jakub asked me to write a few lines for inclusion on his site. I wrote:
"The Vauban H5 is a masterpiece of design by Stephan - an extremely complex puzzle despite being composed of only 4 pieces. During the solve, the pieces dance back, forth, up and down and around each other multiple times before the first piece comes out almost by surprise. The pieces slide perfectly smoothly across each other because of the perfect finish and very slight bevel placed on the edges. The puzzle will definitely have repeatability because despite having dismantled it, I have only the vaguest recollection of the sequence. I love it! thank you for making this so beautifully."
I absolutely love this puzzle - it has a lot to discover and I am a long way from mastering it - I certainly cannot yet reassemble it without Burrtools. The prices are great value and Jakub is a delight to do business with - go ahead and buy these - you won't be disappointed. I do pay for my puzzles and am always very happy to do so.

My second fabulous craftsman is relatively unknown. Johan Heyns, from South Africa, does not make puzzles for sale - he only makes them for his own enjoyment and I have been drooling over the puzzles on his Facebook page for a long time. A couple of years ago I borrowed from my friend Steve a copy of the Really Bent Board Burr (RBBB) designed by my other genius puzzle friend Derek Bosch. I had it sitting in my living room for about 3 months and completely failed to solve it (despite it being only a level 20.10.2). I have been desperate to obtain a copy of this puzzle ever since I gave it back to Steve but it is extremely rare and I have actually never seen it come up for sale.

Over a couple of years I have got to know Johan and we chat on Facebook messenger periodically. I had, of course, particularly drooled over his own copy of the RBBB (to you medics that's not a Right Bundle Branch Block) - he taunted me that one day he might consider making one for me. I was hopeful for a while and then I just forgot about it. Imagine my amazement a few weeks ago when he said he had a parcel for me and needed my home address - a picture was posted on Facebook too. This arrived in the post a few weeks ago:

RBBB on its' stand
Made from Walnut and Maple with reinforcing splines for strength, this puzzle is a masterpiece - I cannot review it any further as yet again, I cannot solve it! It has been sitting next to my armchair for 3 weeks now and I am no further forward. I have been offered the Burrtools file by Derek but I'm holding off for now - hopefully one day I will master this puzzle.

Johan is convinced that his skills are not adequate for commercial production! He contacted me today to tell me that and to ask what I really thought about the puzzle. I nearly choked!!! It is true he is an amateur BUT the workmanship in this puzzle (and in the others I have seen on his FB page) is incredible! It is beautifully made, very stable and the pieces all move perfectly smoothly. There is a small chance that he may begin to work commercially and I would like to encourage him to do so - if this is anything to go by then he will make a lot of money in this market! He also threw in a little freebie for me in the package - an interlocking 3x3 cube designed originally by Stewart Coffin made from Wenge. Like all the puzzles Johan produces, he says that they are incomplete without a stand and even the stand exhibits stunning joinery skills:

Beautifully bevelled and there's even dowels in the stand

My final designer today is the incredible Brian Menold who is now a full time puzzle maker at Wood Wonders Online. He is currently writing a book on puzzle making in wood and that has slowed down his puzzle production. But he still manages to come out with some masterpieces every few months which I cannot resist.

The Quadrox (also designed by Stéphane Chomine) was in the recent update and looked particularly interesting - a friend from the Far East, who's knowledge I greatly respect, also encouraged me to get it. Brian made several versions but this one particularly interested me - made from a Red Oak Frame with Pieces of Holly, Olivewood, Bolivian Rosewood or Brazillian Cherry and East Indian Rosewood. It is a level framed burr and is interesting because the frame is incomplete but still manages to make the solution far from trivial. This one is BIG at 9.5cm in every direction and a delight to play with. A combination of picking pieces up and using gravity to move others will help you solve it. Scrambling the resultant pieces again leaves you with a nice reassembly challenge which is eminently possible for anyone with a bit of burr experience. Once you have done it then have another go and see if you can find the shortcut with a rather interesting rotation.

Quadrox Pieces - Simple yet fun
Finally, what can possibly be the puzzle that is "uniquely mine"? The delivery of Brian's puzzle was delayed for a few days because he was working on something "special" that he wanted to send to me. I asked what it was and he played coy. The delivery box when my order arrived was much bigger than necessary and when I opened it I could see why. Brian had put another puzzle inside as a gift just for me. This is apparently the 'Kevin S' puzzle designed by a mystery designer (Brian won't tell me who) and made especially for me. It consists of a beautifully made frame which contains three rather complex burr pieces. At the end of each is a letter of my (and it's) name. The workmanship is just incredible - it moves very smoothly and I have got nowhere near solving it! I have found quite a few moves and blind ends but I am petrified of getting it partly solved and getting stuck - I don't have a Burrtools file and have no one I can ask for help with the solution.

How awesome is that??? I am just awestruck that I have now had 3 puzzles named after little old me! I am not worthy but I am very very grateful!

If anyone has any idea who the designer is then please contact me or leave a comment below. I really would love to disassemble this but am terrified of getting lost in a very high level solution. Any assistance would be appreciated.

The Pelikan puzzle that I gushed about and which sold out soon afterwards was the Optiborn puzzle designed by Stéphane Chomine. Brian still has one or two copies of these remaining for sale on his site - I can definitely vouch that it is a fabulous design and Brian's work will NOT disappoint you. Buy it from here.


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  3. Hi Kevin, Thanks for the nice review. One correction though, I do sell puzzles from time to time. I do not like to make more than 2 or 3 copies of a puzzle. Mostly I make for myself. Since the ANC government took over the exchange rate went totally south and I just cannot afford to buy puzzles from overseas. Johan

    1. I understand Johan! Hopefully you can make some more for sale in the future!

  4. Nice Puzzles! Never have seen this items before :O

    Greets from Switzerland

  5. Hi Kevin, just for record purposes. The serially interlocking cube by Steward Coffin is Cube #93 in his numbering system.

  6. Great post as always, Kevin! I love the look of the closed box - I can pretend its a real box. As for the KEVIN S puzzle, there's something metaphorical about solving your own puzzle ... perhaps you'll achieve nirvana?

    1. It is box shaped! That's your story and you can stick to it! Therefore you need to get it soon!

      Achieving nirvana is not allowed for a middle aged married man! I wouldn't even ask!