Sunday, 26 February 2017

Graduating from the New Old School

The final 3 in the New Old School Series
In the UK secondary school starts at age 11 and continues through 7 years to age 18 depending on whether one continues to A level. Needless to say I went "all the way" with my education and with Gregory Benedetti's New Old School Puzzles I again had to go all the way through all 7 of them until I could say that I have graduated!

Eric produced the first four at the beginning of last year and with their very special coordinate moves hidden inside what looked like normal 6 piece burrs I just couldn't resist them at all and bought them immediately. I even said to "she who must be lied to" at that time that:
"These are something TOTALLY NEW! They might be a completely new puzzle category."
The first 4 made my top ten of 2016 and I was very worried at the time that Eric did not think at that time last year that he could possibly produce the final 3 in the series because the stick shapes were so crazy. A large number of us encouraged him to have a try and after he had seen some 3D printed versions he decided to give it a go. I am delighted to have a fabulous series of 7 apparently innocuous 6 piece burrs with a helluva bite to them:

Don't look like much do they? Apart from the beautiful wood they are marvelous puzzles.
When the update to his site went live, I had placed my order within a couple of minutes! The price was a little higher than expected but we had been warned that might be the case due to the huge amount of work involved. Needless to say I didn't hesitate but it did stop me buying any of the other wonderful toys he had produced.

When they arrived (thankfully without being held up by customs) I immediately set to them over a week of evenings in front of the TV. I tried to pace myself to ensure that the enjoyment lasted a while and more importantly to ensure that I would be able to reassemble them after they came apart. I suspect that very few people in the world could assemble these from scratch if just given sticks and with coordinate motion moves and one with a rotation the current version of Burrtools would not be helpful.

NOS4 - Go back
The first for me was NOS4 aka Go back which was one of Gregory's favourites. It has an amazing 15 moves and 4 coordinate moves to the disassembly. Eric had decided to use a different wood for each of the 7 in the series and this one was made out of a very nice warm Cherry. From the outside it looks just like any other 6 piece burr made from 1" wood stock and with nicely beveled edges seems very straight forward. The only thing hinting at the profound difficulty was the fact that when picked up they are quite loose which is very unusual for Eric's work and must be there for a reason. Plus on the surface a number of joins are visible where one would not be expected. The puzzle slides very easily apart into a very loose conformation and one would expect just to pull a piece out after such a move but nope! everything is well locked together.

After a little while it is clear that (like the previous puzzles in the series) there are some very nice moves inside and for me it almost progressed like a logic problem. Each coordinate motion opened up more linear moves and it did get to the point where it was possible to get lost in a circle. I was being very careful to lay down a mental pathway because getting lost was not something I wanted to contemplate. After a whole evening at it I managed to get the first piece out and quickly put it all back together again. I did not dare risk a full disassembly until I had really understood the path to the first piece. The following evening was the time when I found the 4th coordinate movement and had my 6 pieces - a quick look at this photo will reveal why Eric was so reticent about whether he could make them:

Just look at the complexity of those pieces!
The reassembly is "just the reverse" of what had been done before but I would say that had I not used my special "back and forth many dozens of times" technique then I would have been left with sticks and never been able to reassemble it. Eric always says that he will provide a solution for people who are stuck but I have no idea how he would plan to do that with these. I played with NOS4 for the rest of that evening to ensure I was fully familiar with it and did not dare move on to the next one until I had it really off pat. This makes a fabulous worry bead.

NOS6 - Dodge
Having gained some confidence I moved on the 3rd evening to NOS6 aka Dodge which was made from Carolina Ash. Gregory had decided that having just 4 coordinate moves was not quite enough so he designed this one with another 4 of them but added in a rotation too! OMG!! Again the puzzle is pretty loose but everything is held together and again the progression feels really quite logical. During the progression one is suddenly presented with a fabulous concertina like opening up of the puzzle and it all seems ready to fall apart but still nothing will fall off unless forced but it is immediately clear where the rotation is:

One stick is rotating in place and ready to come out
Even after the first piece has been rotated out the puzzle still holds together and quite a few more moves are required before full disassembly is possible - The end sequence is just beautiful and reveals the incredibly complex construction of those final 2 pieces. It is a wonderfully satisfying solve and well worth adding to the collection.

Even more amazing pieces than NOS4!
Of course it didn't end there - I saved the toughest and most complex until last - the NOS7 was called Seizaine which I thought meant 16 for the number of moves in the disassembly but according to Google translate the word doesn't exist in French (although it does exist in Japanese which cannot be right).

NOS7 - Seizaine
This time Eric used the most gorgeously figured Ambrosia Maple and as the final one in the series just looks fabulous. The puzzle is supposed to be based on the Love's Dozen burr but not owning a copy myself I cannot comment on the similarities. The sequence is quite confusing at first and I struggled for quite a while after the first coordinate movement. Eventually I had a small break through and moved through towards the end. Just at the last moment after a very very clever coordinate motion, the puzzle becomes very unstable and it fell into two halves on my cat's head. Luckily he didn't wake up and scatter the pieces or I would have been in trouble. Even though I had retained the 2 halves intact I still struggled for a whole evening to put them back together - I had lost my orientation and I am not a genius like Laurie who can put this back together by skill alone. Eventually it was reassembled and I learned how to control the disassembly enough to work it all out:

Simply stunning design and craftsmanship
These 3 beautiful burrs are amazingly still available on Cubic dissection just now and I can heartily recommend them. With such tremendous complexity I think it is highly unlikely they will ever be made again so go strike whilst you can.

As a service for people who do own them I have created 3 videos showing the puzzles, their disassembly and more importantly, the reassembly. It is just possible that some of you may be struggling to put your copies back together so hopefully these videos will be helpful. Obviously they are spoilers so only watch if you really want to see the solutions.



NOS4 - Go back



NOS6 - Dodge




NOS7 - Seizaine



7 comments:

  1. Hi Kevin! Great post as usual. I simply cannot imagine how Gregory was able to design those!! I'm also looking forward to your take on the last 3 Pelikans. Happy puzzling!

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  2. Hey Kevin,

    I'm glad I sign my comments with "-IB", or otherwise I'd have thought that I have written that other comment :)

    So, which of the NOS is your favorite?

    -IB

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    Replies
    1. It's difficult to choose one of them but I'd probably say NOS6 is my favourite. The addition of the rotation and that last movement makes it for me.

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  3. Thanks for the write up Kevin! They're looser because it's very dry in my workshop right now so I gave them a bit more room to ensure they will still function in very humid conditions. Blame my customers in Singapore and Hong Kong or that one :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the extra info Eric and thanks for some truly spectacular puzzles! I am so delighted to own the entire set.

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  4. With NOS7, I was able to get one piece out after only a few moves, but now I cannot get it back together! I will look at your videos to see if I did something "illegal".

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    Replies
    1. You must have done an illegal move. Which is possible because the looseness could allow a little rotation if a piece. If the video isn't helpful then let me know and I'll make a picture sequence for you.

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