Friday, 21 July 2017

Getting more popular - 900k pageviews!

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This number just crept up on me! I am continually amazed that anyone reads my drivel. Thank you all for your time! Maybe 1 million pageviews bythis time next year?

Sunday, 16 July 2017

One of the Toughest Puzzles I Have Solved

Helix the Burr
Many months ago I was chatting via email with that good friend of mine that I mentioned last week who has been giving me such great advice on which puzzles to buy. He suggested to me that I should hunt around and see if I could obtain a copy of the Helix the Burr Puzzle as he thought it was something really special. I immediately shot off to Bill Cutler's website to have a look at it. Bill had designed it in 1982 - he had been looking for burrs with an interesting structure and sequence to them. It was originally intended to become the Wausau '82 puzzle, however, the design quickly became too complex and it was formally introduced at the Sixth Annual International Puzzle Party at Jerry Slocum's house on April 2, 1983. The first solution was received from Edward Hordern.

At this time Bill had designed it entirely in his head and by real model prototyping. It must have been quite a feat to achieve something like that and is just a small hint at the incredible brain that he must have. His website describes the puzzle as follows:
"This burr features the most interesting disassembly sequence that I have ever created. The name comes from the spiral structure that is created by the 8 pieces surrounding the central 5-piece core."
The original batch of 20 puzzles made by Jerry McFarland was sold between 1990 and 1992 and I am not sure whether Bill ever released another batch (his site suggests that more may be made available in 2017). Brian Young made a batch of 30 of them in 2004 as a Limited edition. Both Bill's and Brian's editions have been long sold out and have been seen at auctions for enormous sums. In 2015 Eric Fuller made a batch of them too (using Maple and Bubinga). He made 40 copies in total and they sold out quickly. I am not sure how I missed out but I suspect I had already spent my budget. Of course after being told how essential the puzzle is, I had been kicking myself. You may notice that the puzzle actually appears on Eric's home page.

Recently Eric has sold off his backlog of spares to free up space and I tried to get one from him then. I put in a fairly decent bid and unfortunately missed out again. I had more or less resigned myself to never getting a copy when another one turned up at the last Cubic auction. I hate auctions with a passion because I never seem to win anything and the couple of times I have done so I got carried away and spent far too much and ended up resenting the puzzle I bought. But the last auction had so much good stuff on it that after lurking for a while and watching a few items that rapidly spiralled out of control, I noticed a copy of Helix the Burr not having too much interest. I put in a last minute bid and was astounded when I won. I was pleased to see that the owner was based in the UK and I wouldn't be caught by the customs men.

After a few days of admiring my purchase I found some time to play and noted that there are 3 or 4 moves that didn't seem to go anywhere. Luckily there is no long dead end. I then noticed the wonderful helical arrangement of the cross pieces and wondered whether they were in that arrangement for a reason? Of course they are! After a couple of days of getting nowhere, I made a big discovery. There is a truly beautiful and very precise helical sequence before the whole puzzle suddenly becomes very loose and spreads apart. This movement scared the bejeezus out of me and I immediately reversed my tracks! After a gulp, I repeated it a few times to check that I knew what I was doing and continued with the search. Despite it all becoming incredibly rickety and looking like it might collapse in a heap, I realised that it was still very stable. This is quite amazing to me and a huge tribute to both designer and craftsman. With everything really loose, I hunted for the next move. And hunted. And hunted! Nope! Nada! Not a thing! I put it back to the beginning and whinged about it to my friend Derek!

Derek asked a pointed question about what I had tried and the result of his questioning led me to a horrible realisation. There is another reason why the puzzle had to be designed in Mr Cutler's was not just the year. Think© about it! This realisation opened up a whole realm of ideas but interestingly not a lot of them were possible. In fact, only one piece was movable and in several ways. I went through them all and of course the very last thing I tried produced something fascinating. After some more interesting helical themed ideas I had a nice pile of wood:

Just look at the notches on that bottom piece!
Looking at the pieces, it can be seen that the notches are made in ½ and ⅓ thicknesses. The central piece is a masterpiece! Now it was time for the reassembly. Gulp! Now, I am NOT terribly bright but I am not completely stupid! A puzzle that cannot be modelled with Burrtools and without a printed solution is not one I am just going to disassemble and pile up the pieces. That would be a recipe for disaster and I already have one burr that has sat in pieces next to me for a couple of years and I don't want another one! So I had taken a very nice sequence of photos with my phone and had actually kept all the pieces in sequence on the table:

All in order and orientation
It was time for the reassembly and after collecting all the pieces up for the obligatory photo on my kitchen granite, I set them all out in the order of the pic above. I started following my disassembly pics in reverse order. I was ready for a huge triumph and a big blog post......and failed! I got to this bit:

Looks easy?
Something was wrong.....the position above and insertion of that piece was impossible! HELP!!! I tried for hours and failed again and again and again. Mrs S was getting fed up and it was time for me to cook. The pieces were gathered up and put away for a later attempt.

Three days later I proved to myself, and am confessing to you all out there in puzzle land, that I am not terribly bright. I had not been able to follow my own pictures! It would appear that I cannot tell the difference between a half height notch and a third height. Let me tell you that in puzzling size really does matter - I had a single piece completely upside down. After 3 days of trying the same thing again and again, I forced myself to start from the beginning. The very first set of 3 pieces can be put together incorrectly but still look ok. However this allows the subsequent moves to continue correctly until this one and you WILL hit a wall. If only I had been clever enough to look carefully or to start at the beginning, it would have saved a whole lot of chest pain and mumbling to myself with the subsequent laser burning stare from she who frightens me to death.

I have now solved it several more times and can now follow my reassembly pictures every time! I haven't dared attempt it without them. I must agree with my puzzling mentor; the Helix the Burr is a fantastic puzzle and well worth adding to your collection.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

I Fail Brian's Challenge

Sonnefeld's Cubed Burr
I have heard about Dic Sonnefeld's Cubed Burr many times over the last 5 or so years but never actually seen one or played with one. I had been told by a few people that it was a terrific puzzle designed without the aid of Burrtools (which many have claimed has lead to the design of hundreds if not thousands of extremely complex puzzles which have nothing of interest except that they have a very high level or very odd shapes). The Cubed Burr consists of nothing more that 3 fairly simple burr sticks in a simple frame and has a relatively low solution level of 9.13.4 moves. Without having seen it and only knowing very little about it, I made no real effort to acquire one. Then a VERY good friend of mine suggested this puzzle to both me and to Brian Menold as something that is not just a good puzzle but one that is ESSENTIAL. When this particular friend gives that sort of advice then both of us sit up and listen. He has been puzzling a very long time and has never been wrong to my knowledge in the advice that he has given me. If he says jump then that is what I do and ask questions later.

Of course, a good craftsman always gets permission to produce a puzzle from the designer and I was luckily able to put Brian in touch with Mr Sonneveld and permission was duly granted. Brian made quite a few copies of the puzzle and, as always, used a wonderful selection of beautiful woods. I was hovering over my keyboard when the email update came in; I was poised and ready!

Apart from being told by my friend that it was a good puzzle (not why) I knew very little about it. I was interested in what Brian wrote:
"Don’t be fooled by number of moves in this one! It is only a 3 piece burr within a box, but these are moves that will really separate the men from the boys. When I was putting these together I couldn’t see how anyone would be able to solve this puzzle without some sort of help. But that is my old feeble mind which finds everything to be a challenge! These are very hard to find, and when available, command some extremely high prices. I wanted to give the cube an interesting look (it deserves it) so I put a little extra work into the construction. There was also more waste than usual. So these definitely belong on every collectors shelf. A really terrific design!"
How could I resist? I immediately ordered the above version - a Zebrawood frame with East Indian Rosewood pieces and 5.7 cm3 in size. They were all stunning but I am a sucker for Zebrawood!

This was the first one that I went to play with when I had a quiet moment one Saturday after they arrived. There is actually very little written about this puzzle on line apart from a few copies that have appeared in previous auction. John Rausch has a single sentence on his site (well worth browsing around if you have never had a look before). In fact knowing that John had said this made it all the more intriguing:
"A three-piece burr is contained within the cube. It is very difficult to disassemble and assemble, requiring rotations and other unnatural acts in addition to the usual burr movements."
Unnatural acts??? Wow! How can anyone resist that? The Puzzlewillbeplayed page says only that rotations are required. My only experience of Sonneveld puzzles was the Knobbly burr (also bought from Brian early in his and my puzzle careers) and also a delightful little copy of his 3 piece burr which also requires rotations:

Lovely little 3 piece burr
Needs rotations to unhook the pieces
Mrs S had gone out one Saturday and I settled down with a lap cat and the Cubed Burr. I started exploring carefully. It is quite a confusing puzzle with a lot of possible moves which can go up blind paths for a little way before stopping dead and then forcing a back track. Not only are there a bunch of linear blind ends but there are also a fair number of rotational blind ends too! I have a very linear brain and trying to keep track of the turns was quite a task. Eventually by pure luck I managed to perform a couple of rotations and after peering inside the hole I had created, I suddenly realised that the first piece would slide out with a simple sequence. YESSS! I am a genius! Errrm, nope - I am not! With the removed piece precariously balanced on the sleeping cat's back, I continued my exploration.

OMG!!! Not only does it require a good number more moves for the next extraction but there are lots and lots of possible linear moves and rotations. I quickly found myself getting lost and resorted to my old trick of moving to and fro in the solution ever more moves to try and keep my recall current. I spent a very happy couple of hours with sleeping cat and puzzle getting nowhere. When I thought I had exhausted every possibility it suddenly occurred to me that I could perform 2 rotations in a different order and this would allow a different direction of turn for the second. AHA! The 2nd and then third piece came out after about 4 hours of puzzling and I even managed to not disturb the cat!

Looks easy? Definitely not!
I am pleased to say that after so many hours moving just a few pieces I was even able to put it back together again! Yay!

So where does the title of my post come from? So far it is just a tale of perseverance and success. Am I a genius? Hell no! Let me tell you a bit about the Chequered board burr:

Chequered Board Burr
The Chequered Board Burr designed by Frans de Vreugd was in the previous update from Brian and as you all know, I am a sucker for board burrs as well as wood (and twisties and disentanglements and sequential discovery puzzles and......) so when Brian released a few new ones then I couldn't resist. He said this about it when they were released:

"As you may have seen me mention on this site, that I love Board Burrs. This is a follow up to Frans’ Tricoloure that I made a while ago. While this one doesn’t have any swapping of positions of pieces it does have two solutions which are equally difficult, both requiring 27 moves to solve. One solution is and the other Although the checkering of the pieces is decorative, it does provide an indication of the piece placements."
I had previously bought and enjoyed the Tricolore and written about it here. so was delighted when this puzzle looked so similar but had a completely different set of solutions. I opted for the version made from Redheart and Yellowheart with Ziricote splines.

I received it in May this year and promptly began playing with the company of cat and Mrs S. I had a really nice time working through the solution to the assembled puzzle that had arrived and was pleased that it only took me a single evening to be able to both disassemble and reassemble it. The one that had arrived was the easier one with level and it is marked out by the fact that the chequering is not quite right as you can see in the picture above. It only took a few seconds to find the first piece removal but after that it's a fun bit of exploration.

Just look at the craftsmanship! I love the splines.
I am not one of the geniuses that can assemble puzzles from scratch (one reason I seldom attempt packing puzzles) so once I had played with the easy assembly for a few evenings, I went to burrtools and "found" the other assembly which does indeed produce the proper chequerboard pattern:

Subtly different - looks much better this way
I left it like that for a few days and then began to attempt the disassembly. It has been sitting on my armchair for nearly 2 months in this assembled state and for the life of me I cannot find the sequence of moves to remove the second piece! If you look at the armchair picture on my New additions twisty update then you will see where it has been - it has caused a pain in my head for weeks and weeks and often a pain in my A if I sit down without remembering it is there. The moves for that second piece removal just seems to be so beautifully hidden that it has eluded me the whole time! Brian has me beaten! I will be keeping it on my armchair until I have solved it and can blame Brian for my backlog of unsolved puzzles - he is causing an obstruction! Thanks mate!!

If you are interested then Brian has a few puzzles left over from recent updates and all are well worth a place in your collection. Go take a look.

Sunday, 2 July 2017


A couple of weeks ago whilst bemoaning my falling behind, I showed of a lovely little toy from Eric Fuller's Cubic Dissection called Rift. It was designed by Tim Alkema and consisted of a "mere" 3 piece burr entrapped in a split cubic frame. I liked the puzzle a lot, not for its' complexity, as it wasn't terribly tough but for its' interesting and enjoyable dance of pieces. I also chose it because I am a sucker for a set (I have absolutely adored the NOS puzzles for a similar reason). When Eric released the Rift puzzle he also promised a bigger brother by Tim, the Schism.

In the last update, there were quite a few new toys to choose from and despite everyone thinking that I always buy the lot, I actually can only afford to purchase a few at a time and, of course, Schism was on my list as a "must have". Eric's new packaging is great and this beauty in Ash and Granadillo arrived looking very like it's little brother. This time we have a 6 piece burr in a split frame. They will look absolutely spectacular side by side on display.

Eric said this about it:
Schism is the bigger brother to the popular Rift puzzle released in the last update. The elegantly simple cage interacts with a standard six piece burr in this instance, resulting in a difficult level solution. Again with the unconventional moves...disassembly alone is a challenge. This pair of designs has been super worthwhile and is a must have for any serious puzzler.
I have to say that I do agree with him. It is again, not a hugely tough disassembly (just nicely challenging) but it is a really nice fun sequence with the frame interacting with the pieces during the disassembly.  The puzzle remains stable and does not fall to bits once a couple of pieces are removed and this allows for the possibility of a reassembly by a non genius like me.

Simple pieces - signed and dated as is customary
I am not one of those burr geniuses who can dismantle a puzzle and then scramble the pieces before reassembling from scratch several hours later and I certainly am not a Laurie Brokenshire who has poor Ethel disassemble everything for him so that he just manages the assembly without prior knowledge of the pieces, moves or order. When I take a burr apart, I carefully place the pieces around me (often on the sleeping cat) and am very careful to keep them oriented as they came out and in the correct order. After that I can often carry out the assembly immediately with that help. Lord help me if the cat moves and the pieces fall off! I will then take it apart and put it together again several times until I have learned which pieces go where and can then risk a scramble. This sounds like a bit of an ordeal but to me this is all part of the fun. It gives me several extra hours of fun with a new toy and then I can make the Burrtools file to finish the play off.

The Schism is pretty logical and it only took me 3 or 4 dis/assembly routines before I had it learned and I love it. At the moment I can now quickly take it apart, leave the pieces in a pile for a few hours and come back to it and put it together again with a little bit of deduction. When I finally manage to clear up the shithole that is my study then I hope to put the doo puzzles by Tim together on display.

I am very surprised that it did not sell out immediately as it is quite delightful. I suspect that all you serious puzzlers prefer the much harder puzzlers and are leaving us boys of "very little brain who think of things" to get on and enjoy the simpler more beautiful puzzles like this. If you are thinking of buying a nice little caged burr which is fun for beginners and experienced puzzlers alike then there are quite a few left for sale.


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