Sunday 25 December 2016

Burr Noose

Burr Noose
I did have some plans for a more detailed puzzle review for Xmas but a colleague came to work with a really bad cold and spent time discussing cases with me and coughed and spluttered all around me! As expected, the lurgy has migrated across mucus membranes and I have a delightful case of pneumonic plague just in time for Xmas. I usually tend to shrug these things off quite quickly but this time, being the plague, I am totally poleaxed by it and don't expect to survive beyond Boxing day. Mrs S has instructions on what to do with my collection so don't turn up at my door for handouts!

I have decided to publish a quickie (but a real goodie) for you. Alongside the Tricolore puzzle from Brian Menold I also received a wonderfully colourful copy of Burr Noose designed by Tom Jolly (I really couldn't order just one puzzle could I? That would be bad manners). This is beautifully made and finished by Brian using a wonderful variety of woods - Ash, Osage Orange, Iroko, Lacewood, Padauk and Tzalm with Holly rings for the noose. It is a good size at 7.6x6.7x6 cm and will look great on my shelf.

Sunday 18 December 2016

Interesting burr designs

Inaccurate Burr
Over the last few months I seem to have bought very little from Eric Fuller - this has mostly been due to the timing of his updates being whilst I was asleep and missing out on the ones I was particularly interested in and then also because I had spent my money elsewhere shortly beforehand. I'm sure that you must think that I buy everything in sight but unfortunately it's not true! If I did buy everything I wanted then Mrs S would murder me, skin me and bury me in pieces before dancing on the various burial sites before burning all my toys! I think she's being very unreasonable but I'm terrified of her and so always think twice before adding to my collection!

Eric has recently completely redesigned his site and split his offerings into some new groups including his Signature puzzles which is the bunch we were all buying before and the Artisan puzzles which used to be called the Raleigh puzzles as more affordable and slightly simpler puzzles. Newly added to the site are the Gem series (smaller wood and acrylic puzzles) and a special Limited edition group which are similar quality to the Artisan group but only made twice a year in limited numbers and never to be repeated again. When the new site update went live again a few weeks ago, I happened to be in the kitchen doing the washing up after dinner and immediately stopped what I was doing and browsed the newest toys. There were lots that I lusted after but having just bought the Stickman twisty puzzle for an eye-watering sum (not that I regret it for a nanosecond), I felt that I had to be circumspect and avoid the wrath of she who must be flinched from. In the end I chose one of the Signature puzzles and one of the Limited edition puzzles. They arrived a few days ago whilst "She" was up in Edinburgh visiting her parents pre-Xmas. Thank goodness she has no idea what has arrived recently!

The Inaccurate burr particularly intrigued me - I love 6 piece burrs with a "difference" and this one designed by Junichi Yananose and made in gorgeous Marblewood was irresistible.  Eric said this of it:
It's not easy to come up with a new variation on the traditional six piece burr, but Juno came up with a great one! Because pairs of two pieces are off-centered, the assembled shape of the puzzle looks inaccurate though the pieces need to be accurate. The puzzle is based on one of the notchable sets of a level 9 combination. Thanks to the off-centered pieces the puzzle has unique solution and is very confusing to assemble! 
Construction of this puzzle is perfect! Tolerances are dead-on and fit is sublime.
How could I resist? The day this arrived, I sat down after work and had a play. The first thing I noticed when looking is that everything is off centre. The moves are a nice fun path which I found rather reminiscent of the Piston puzzle by Peter Marineau (I have a gorgeous copy of this from Jerry McFarland) which is a truly wonderful puzzle to assemble and disassemble. There are no blind ends and the disassembly only took me about 10 minutes or so and I had this:

Inaccurate burr pieces - there is something very odd going on here!
Looking at the picture it immediately jumps out at you that there is something wrong. The pieces are all notchable (i.e. can be cut with a router) and whilst most of the cuts along the length of 6 voxels are at 1 unit intervals, it is obvious that the depths and heights of some of the cuts are fractions of a voxel. The other striking thing for me is how truly gorgeous the Marblewood is (I am lucky enough to have a full set of Laszlo Kmolnar packing puzzles in that glorious wood from the wonderful Brian Menold). I scrambled the pieces and left them a while before attempting my reassembly. It took me about 30 minutes (primarily because I seemed to be able to remember the disassembly) which was lucky because in retrospect I have realised that the puzzle might be very very tough to model in Burrtools! I am sure that a genius like Derek could do it but me? Probably not! There is something rather lovely about this puzzle - not hard but great fun and very beautiful!

Loopy Burr
Loopy Burr was the other one that I couldn't resist (Lord! it was hard to stop at just 2). I wanted to see for myself what one of the new and slightly cheaper limited edition puzzles would be like. This one which appeared like another variant of a 6 piece burr was what tickled my fancy and at $33 how could I resist.

There are only going to be 150 copies made and after that they are gone. Eric said this of them:
The Loopy Burr came from the genius brain of Junichi; a very unusual six piece interlocking puzzle with pieces that form three intermingled loops once in the proper position. Finding that position takes eleven moves, and is downright tricky due to the space caused by the loops. Good luck!
Construction of this puzzle is outstanding, with our usual precision down to several thousandths of an inch.
It is made from Wenge and Maple and definitely doesn't quite have the same finish as the signature puzzles. It is, however, still a stunning creation and very finely made as always. The loopy nature of the puzzle is immediately obvious and is a testament to the incredible warped brain of Junichi Yananose. I have quite a few puzzles designed by him and they all share the same unusual and confusing genius.

The first thing that I immediately noticed was that the voxel grid that this is based on is quite a lot larger than a standard 6 piece burr - in fact each stick is based on a 4x3x12 shape and the entire puzzle on a 12x12x12 grid. This was going to be very tough! There are only a few moves possible at first but after about 3 or 4 then things become very confusing and I resorted to my usual exploration technique of make some moves and backtrack, make some more and backtrack again and hopefully lay down some memory tracks to aid in my solution and especially the reassembly. After about 7 or 8 moves I was hopelessly lost; I couldn't backtrack to the beginning and all I could do was keep pressing forward. After what seemed like dozens but according to Eric is only 11 steps I lifted the first piece out and then it collapsed in a heap of sticks.

6 rather confusing sticks - stunning accuracy on the cuts
They are particularly beautiful sticks which really show off an unusual grid design but after what happened there was no way on earth that I was going to be able to put it back together without assistance from Andreas' wonderful program. A major part of the fun with these puzzles for me is the creation of the Burrtools file and this was a pleasant diversion. After that assembling the puzzle was surprisingly simple using the guidance of the computer - Only 1 pair of hands required much to my relief.

I have played with this for 3 evenings in a row whilst watching crap on TV (that's what I do when Mrs S is away!!! I play with toys, eat junk food and watch crap on TV - it gets it out of my system for a few months until her next trip back up North). So far I have managed to disassemble it 4 times and still have no idea how I have done it! This puzzle will have some lasting power as, at level 11, it is worthwhile attempting to understand it. I intend to keep trying until I have mastered it (both ways) without using the computer. I do wonder how many of these Eric assembled before he had it learned and could do it without Burrtools?

I have another couple of toys for after I've mastered this one - I received a nice package from Bernhard Schweitzer at the end of last week and have another 2 "Turning Interlocking Cubes" to play with.

Beautiful Oak puzzle - Twisty Hollow (left) and Little Bruce (Right)
Having gushed over the Little Kenny puzzle designed by Ken Irvine, I got a chance to try the Little Bruce brother that Allard had written about and which I had failed to solve at the last MPP. Bernhard had gotten permission from Ken to make a few after Eric had also released them and I jumped at the chance to obtain a copy. Bernhard's stuff is always very nicely made and looking up to my left in my study, I have a rather HUGE collection of his handiwork - lovely!!! Of course I cannot buy just one puzzle so I picked another TIC which he had available - Twisty Hollow by Tom Jolly looked like fun. These should keep me occupied until Xmas when I will get to start on the Stickman twisty tile puzzle. Nope! It's NOT a just happens to have a cavity!

Sunday 11 December 2016

Mrs S is VERY generous

It's a wooden sliding tile/twisty puzzle!

A thing of absolute beauty!
When Robert Yarger sends you an email it's time to say yes! This time I was lucky enough to be selected from his pool of previous clients and interested parties and was offered one of the 50 copies that he made of the latest gorgeousness. I gave a big gulp when it got to the price and hesitated - that is a lot of money. Mrs S saw my gulp and furtive look at her when the email came in that evening and she asked what I was looking guilty about. My response was to say that I might have found her Xmas present to me which I think was very quick thinking on my feet. She said Ok without knowing the price (and she still doesn't) but I told her it was cheaper than the jewellery that I had bought for her Xmas present. Whew! got away with it this time. But should I do it?

I'm definitely not saying that it isn't worth it but it is a serious outlay which needs to be thought about - I always advise puzzlers that no one should spend what they cannot afford - no puzzle is worth getting into debt for. So I chatted with Shane by email and at the MPP - he encouraged me to go with my gut feeling which was to say yes. Many people would say "buy it as an investment" but I can't stand the idea of selling my puzzles and unlike certain other people who buy and then quickly sell on at vastly increased prices, I do not want to consider these wonderful craftsmen as a source of income for me. I consider these puzzles as things of beauty and things to challenge me. Like Allard, Shane and many other collectors, I consider this hobby as a labour of love and I want to help designers, craftsmen and other puzzlers as much as I can - it's NOT about profit.

Sunday 4 December 2016


Just a simple puzzle review today. I again haven't really had lots of spare time recently to play with my toys. The NHS is busier than ever and the pressure is on to get stuff done - the downside of this is I seem to have finished work late every day and been too tired in the evenings.

One puzzle that I acquired recently and solved was the Tricolore from Brian Menold and just looking at it how could anyone resist it? In fact looking at the website just now there appears to be a copy still available - you should seriously think about nabbing one now! Go on, I will wait here whilst you buy.....

Back now? Good; I will continue. This is a 6 board burr designed by Frans de Vreugd who is responsible for some of the best board burrs ever including Torture and Extreme Torture (aka Gordian's Knot) with a relatively "simple" level of Brian said this about it:
When this puzzle was recommended to me I was at first skeptical about making it. I love making board burr puzzles but the reinforcing splines were necessary and add to the cost, and, I didn’t know what made it special. Well, was I ever wrong. This puzzle has a few moves in the middle that just leave you saying “Why did I have to do that!” I think it is truly unique. The splines, needed for reinforcement, are a part of the three-color scheme. With a unique solution, it provides quite a challenge; and as I said earlier, some of the moves are, in my mind, quite special. Lacquer and wax finish.
Knowing who had recommended this puzzle I just knew that there would be something truly wonderful about the solution. He tends to be fairly skeptical about a lot of the new Burrtools designed puzzles and only when one has something truly exceptional will he say that it is good.  As soon as it came up for sale, I nabbed it. Unfortunately the vagaries of Brian's shopping cart system meant that he sold more than he had and I had to wait a week or so for new ones to be made.