Sunday 8 January 2017

Turning Madness - Probably the Best Ever!

Tronc Commun 4
The plague that afflicted me has started to wane - I basically spent the best part of 2 weeks in bed and barely ate or drank anything and consequently lost quite a bit of weight. I now weigh less than I did when I got married 22½ years ago - I bet there are very few men who can claim that! Unfortunately the illness has prevented me from doing any significant puzzling and even though I am back at work, I am so knackered when I get home that I haven't managed much puzzling since. I also am extremely sleep deprived - first, a week or so of coughing at night and now Mrs S has converted the HeBola into the far more virulent SheBola and she has basically coughed continuously ALL night for the last 5 days. My puzzling strength has left me! This is one of the reasons that if you have attempted to correspond with me recently I have failed to reply - I am quite behind in my emails but will hopefully catch up in the next few weeks. There have, however, been a couple of toys that kept me occupied at the tail end of 2016.

Just before New Year I received another lovely package from Brian Menold. Inside was a lovely copy of his wooden Puzzle crafting crafting book (nicely signed) and the puzzle above which I just could not resist! It is Tronc Commun 4, another fantastic design by Gregory Benedetti). I have quite a few of Gregory's puzzles from various craftsmen and the overwhelming feature of his designs are that they require some very special and interesting moves - it may be coordinate motion or unexpected rotations but always something unusual. So with a fairly mundane level description of, I knew that this was going to be something very special.

Now, I had helped Bernhard Schweitzer produce his seminal series of articles on "Turning Interlocking Cubes" for the CFF journal a few years ago and remembered that he had waxed lyrical about the Tronc Commun 1-3 puzzles and at that time he had actually made me a basic copy of the version 3 for my collection and I recall even after several years how incredibly amazing and special the solution had been:

Tronc Commun 3 in Maple
You will see it has pieces in common
As well as my previous experience I only had to read what Brian had written about the version 4 (not technically a cube):
Looks can be deceiving! This harmless looking puzzle has some devilishly difficult moves. Several rotations, some that coordinate with other moves, make this design brilliant!  I was unable to replicate some moves even after doing it many times. I had to constantly look at the solution in order to assemble these. These were made with close tolerances to avoid introducing other possible moves. This is a real challenge! Due to the extraordinary amount of time it took to make these there were only 15 copies made for sale. 
As if that wasn't guru and very close friend who seems to have one of the widest knowledge of puzzles anywhere immediately gave me the heads up that this was definitely a puzzle to obtain and he reminded me that we had discussed this series in the past. So basically as soon as Brian's site had gone live and I had checked my emails I immediately went on line and sent him some more of my money! Brian seems to have quite a bit of my money now but I don't begrudge him at all. I would suggest that he stay away from Mrs S though.

The copy of Tronc Commun 4 that I received is gorgeous made of Yellowheart, Canarywood and Padauk with Brian's usual oil and wax finish. It is 7.6 x 7.6 x 7.6cm in size and simply stunning - the colours are amazingly vibrant. In the box that it arrived in was a little note that Brian had significantly tightened up the tolerances and this had the effect of making the puzzle MUCH more difficult to solve. There is a solution sequence on Ishino's site and the alterations that Brian made has ensured that this solution is no longer correct - I have tried it and it definitely won't work. There is now a single solution which requires absolute precision and it is VERY hard to find. You are on your own for this one as neither Ishino nor Burrtools can help you.

The first 3 pieces come out fairly easily but due to the many rotations the voyage of discovery is fabulous. Then the removal of the 4th piece requiring a further 7 moves is an absolute delight as it is so unexpected. At that point I hit a very hard wall! The removal of the next piece only requires a further 9 moves but there is a lot of leeway in positioning the various remaining pieces. It all becomes really very loose and pieces can be rotated around each other with great ease. However, despite a huge selection of positions and moves everything remains very well locked together. On numerous occasions I thought I had it only to find the last few mm of the proposed turn were blocked. On several occasions I had a bit of a panic when I thought that I couldn't return the pieces back to the start position for reassembly but despite having performed hundreds of different rotations, I always found my way back.

I was stuck at this position for about a week! I just couldn't seem to find the correct move at all. Suddenly during the week whilst watching Silent Witness on TV with a rather poorly coughing Mrs S I suddenly had the 5th piece perfectly positioned for removal with no idea how I had done it. QUICK!!! Backtrack fast! After about 30 minutes I was back to the start point and unfortunately couldn't reproduce the move - damn! In the end I had to put it down and wait for the following day - during episode 2 of Silent Witness I had an epiphany and found the required move goodness that requires some very very precise positioning! After that another 4 moves with rotations and I had 7 very interesting pieces:

Perfect accuracy and a stunning design!
Now what about reassembly? Having gone back and forth for a week trying to solve this I had little trouble with the reassembly. That perfect accurate move always flummoxes me for a few minutes - I know what to do but it takes a good few minutes to find the perfect position from which to achieve it.

This is as close to the perfect "turning interlocking cube" as I could possibly imagine. Brian has done a phenomenal job on a phenomenal design!  I hope that if he receives enough demand for more then hopefully Brian might consider making another batch of these.

I am pretty sure that as one of the first puzzles that I have solved in 2017, it has a VERY high chance of ending up in my top 10 puzzles of the year to be posted on January 1st 2018. Looking at the quality of what I chose from last year that is quite an accolade but Brian never disappoints and always gets something on that list. I cannot wait to see what he has in store for us over the next 12 months.


  1. Rotations have never been so well sold before :)

    I took a risk when I got a copy, not in terms of quality of work, which is great as always, but in terms of this being just another cube with some rotations. After this review I'm not sure if I'm more excited, or more scared of actually giving it a try...


    1. Hi IB,
      You've not played yet? Go get it and try it out! Maybe you're much better than me and it won't take you so long but I'm sure you'll enjoy this puzzle!

    2. I just took the first two pieces out the other day and quickly put them back in before I'd forget how to reset the puzzle. I think I'm starting to see where the magic is. Very excited to give it a proper chance soon if it weren't for the huge backlog of unsolved puzzles.


      P.s. I believe you know who I am. Let me know if you don't (but it's cool of course to refer to me as IB here)

    3. The first two pieces are the easy bit! Keep going - if you get stuck then I'm sure I can help.

      I do think I know who you are - I suspect you have someone who has spent a fortune last year on puzzles by Stephan Baumegger and a few other craftsmen. You have communicated with me using a Hebrew name (I also have one but it's never used).

  2. Yep, that's me.

    I thought the order from Stephan Baumegger was as far as the pit went. Turns out it's bottomless, at least so far :)

    It's all about being able to get a puzzle back to how it was. Taking the whole thing apart, scrambling the pieces, taking a 1 hour break and then assembling it back seems to work for you. For me with any serious burr I may be able to make the ~20 moves needed to take the first piece out. Once it's out I admire my accomplishment and then put it back in while I still remember the exact state of the puzzle as the first piece came out. On those rare occasions I went much further (say take the whole thing apart) I'm then hopeless and need a burr tools file to get it back together.

    It's scarier here with the Tronc with no burr tools file available...

    - IB

    1. The pit is bottomless! It only ends with one of: madness, bankruptcy or divorce or a combination of them! As I advised you by email long ago, try to keep it vaguely under control....never get into debt for a puzzle!

      If you stop at just the first piece then you are missing half the fun. I also do the back and forth thing but once I have properly learned the first sequence then I do it again with the second and third and so on. With the very high order (above 30) puzzles I seldom manage to learn all the pieces but using Burrtools is still fun and not for me an admission of failure. Some people will manage to go all the way in both directions for those puzzles but not me. For puzzles with less pieces like the Tronc commun then I always go all the way and can usually go both directions after enough to and fro work.

      In reality I always have said that a puzzle is only solved when it's fully understood! That is done both directions and done more than once to prove that it wasn't a fluke! I wrote about it a very long time ago here:
      When is a puzzle truly solved

      Keep going with the Tronc, I can help if need be.