Sunday, 30 July 2017

Pyrigan's No. 808 Puzzle

Three years in the making, Pyrigan’s No. 808.
Hi everyone - first of all let me apologise for the lack of a blog post last weekend (that is the first missed weekend post in 4 years). I had to work at the hospital last weekend and had a good junior with me and was planning on making him do all the work whilst I drank coffee and posted this article from the Puzzlemad foreign correspondent. Unfortunately, just as I was beginning to think about finding a computer to work on, a lady came in with a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm and responding to these cannot be be delayed. After nearly 6 hours and a fair bit of blood and a safe delivery to the ICU I was just not up to editing a blog post and so it got skipped. I know that it's a very poor excuse but it's all I have. You'll be pleased to know that the lady is making good progress.

So today I have for you the Puzzlemad foreign correspondent, Mike Desilets' wonderful article on a brand new puzzle from a brand new designer and craftsman. I am hugely grateful to Mike for all the work that he puts in and I know that you all enjoy a having a new and fresh pen to read. He has even interviewed the designer for us which is something never seen on this site before. Here's Mike:

Aloha Kākou puzzlers,

Thanks Kevin, for that kind introduction (I never actually know what he’s going to say in the preamble, but it’s usually very flattering - Ed - I do my best). This edition of Puzzlemad brings you a special report on the recently released No. 808 puzzle from Pyrigan & Company. Never heard of them? Well, I aim to rectify that in this post. Pyrigan and its owner-designer John Partridge should absolutely be on your puzzle radar. John actually has a blog with some great posts of his own which you should check out (Kevin, you must get the Pyrigan blog on the side-bar. Quickly man! (Ed - done!)). But beyond this, he has succeeded in bringing a very special puzzle to the market and it deserves the attention of all serious puzzlers and collectors. I was lucky enough, through a bit of a fluke, to get one right away and I’m very happy I did.

3D printed prototype of the No. 808
A little history first, as we always do. I first became aware of Pyrigan during one of my bouts of internet puzzle searching. One link led to another and somehow I ended up at John’s page. This was back in 2014 or so and the No. 808 was still in the development stage. John had made a 3D print of his design and was still working out some bugs, but with the avowed intention of eventually producing the puzzle in aluminum (most likely, there were some other material options). I thought it looked pretty intriguing and unlike any other puzzle I had seen before. I bookmarked the page and then immediately moved on to other stuff, forgot about the 808, and neglected to ever check back in. As you all know, a tremendous number of puzzles get to the 3D print stage and advance no further. I had no reason to be particularly hopeful for John’s puzzle, nice though it looked in prototype. Little did I know, however, that John would continue to labor away on the No. 808 over the following three years (he does have a real job to maintain, after all). Then on June 28 I received an email that the puzzle was available for sale—in aluminum—on his etsy site! It was a bit of a shocker. I went to the page and sure enough, there was the No. 808 in all its glory. It was a real eye-catcher (Ed - it certainly is). Perfectly proportioned with a great two-tone matte finish. I wanted it immediately. I looked at the not insubstantial price tag, hesitated for about two seconds, and then decided that I still wanted it. The No. 808 will run you $120US. It’s a serious puzzle for serious puzzlers and collectors. But in the realm of precision engineered metal puzzles, this is really not an unreasonable price tag at all. In fact, it’s a bargain. Projects like this require vast amounts of time and energy that can’t realistically be added to the price of the puzzle. They are really a labour of love by puzzlers for their fellow puzzlers.

Nicely engraved
John dropped my No. 808 in the mail and it arrive at my office (Ed - I wish I could have puzzles delivered to my workplace) less than a week later, well wrapped and in perfect order. This puzzle is just as beautiful in person as it is on the Pyrigan website. As you can see in the photos, it consists of two halves joined together with a pair of dovetails to form a solid bar. Solid except for the two holes, that is. One side is matte black and the opposite is a matte silver, both bead blasted and then anodized. Model No. 808 is stamped on one end of the silver side and the Pyrigan logo is very nicely stamped and painted red at the center of the black side. Dimensions are 6.5 inches long, 1.25 inches wide, and 0.75 inches thick (Ed - aaargh! Why can't the US use sensible units?). It feels solid in the hand and is a little under a half pound in weight (Ed - aaargh again!). The two halves are machined from T6061 aluminum with a tolerance of +/- 0.002 inches. When you finally solve this puzzle, you will get to experience the kind of fit and movement such fine tolerances produce.

Silver side with model number.
Black side with red logo, tastefully done.
The No. 808 took me a few days to solve, but that’s partly because I try to spread out the enjoyment of any puzzle costing over a hundred bucks. I really don’t want or need to rush to the solution. It’s better to enjoy the mystery for a while. But of course, after not too long, I DO want to solve the puzzle and get increasingly serious about it. Eventually, after much fiddling, I cracked the No. 808 and was rewarded with a “token” of appreciation from Pyrigan in the form of a red plastic coin/token/medallion with the Pyrigan logo printed in black. I love little touches like that in a puzzle.

Halves apart and token released. Just as pretty in the solved state.
Of course, I can’t tell you anything particular about the mechanism. As usual I’ll try to skirt the edges enough to give you a sense of the puzzle without giving anything away. There is one thing I am permitted to tell you regarding the solution: it does not involve violence to the puzzle. So don’t hit your No. 808. It will only make you feel ashamed. The first thing you should know is that this is pretty much a ‘black box’ puzzle. It does give you some very subtle feedback, but it’s very limited. I know some puzzlers are not particularly enchanted with secret internal mechanism puzzles, feeling that they involve too much random action and, well, luck to solve. I can sympathize with that attitude, but I also feel that you will miss out on a lot of interesting puzzles if you take it too far. It’s just a different kind of solving experience and I’ve come to learn in hindsight (post-solve) that many of these puzzles are susceptible to a higher level of deduction than one would think. The No. 808 makes just a little faint bit of noise when shaken gently. Could it just be the token? Or could it be something else? Although the fit of the two halves is nearly air-tight, there is a miniscule amount of movement. These things can matter. They may not get you to the solution in a straight-line path, or at all, but when you solve the puzzle you’ll wonder why you didn’t read the clues better. I always do (Ed - me too).
 I had a great time with the No. 808. There was a great deal of shaking, turning, twisting and that type of thing (I tried it all - Ed - did you blow on it or submerge it in gin? If not then you didn't try it all!) and the puzzle eventually opened. I hadn’t figured it out properly, but with enough fiddling the correct positioning and/or sequence of movements allowed it to open. Inspecting the innards, I felt I should have been able to solve it properly. The mechanism uses a known principle, but in a fresh new implementation. The addition of the dovetail element, with its tricky but ultra-slick movement, adds another layer to the opening and really sets the No. 808 apart. Inspecting the fine engineering and machine work on the inside was a joy unto itself.

Resetting the puzzle requires some additional fiddling, but is otherwise painless. In my correspondence with John, he clued me in on an aspect of the puzzle that is actually pretty important. The No. 808 can be reset in at least three different ways, each of which changes the difficulty level of the puzzle. One way will make the puzzle fairly easy to open, for the experienced puzzler at least. This would be a great setting for certain puzzle-impatient friends or family, assuming you let them play with your good puzzles that is (I don’t!). The other modification simplifies one aspect of the puzzle a little, providing a kind of medium setting. Unfortunately that’s all I can really say. If you buy a Pyrigan No. 808, I’m sure John will divulge the details. But better still, consider finding the alternative settings an additional challenge. Yet more value from the No. 808. (Ed - I NEED one!)

As a first puzzle from a relatively new designer, I think it’s a real triumph. For any serious puzzle collector, this is a must-have item. Doubly so for those who enjoy fine metal puzzles. I’ll admit my bias right now, I enjoy fine metal puzzles greatly. This one has gone straight to the top shelf. Pyrigan have produced exactly 106 of these puzzle for sale. It’s a limited, numbered run. Your number is on the inside, waiting to be discovered.

As far as replay value, the No. 808 has plenty. Even after studying the internals and understanding how the puzzle functions, you will not necessarily be able to reopen it easily. It is a whole new challenge, of a different type, to find a technique that will open it with a minimum of random movements. It still takes me at least a few minutes to open mine, and it’s a two-phase process. The puzzle will open part way with one set of movements, then there is some additional work to achieve full release. I’m getting closer, but I wouldn’t say I have it mastered yet.

Now for the special part of this article. I thought it would be of interest to the readership (and to me) to get some information about the No. 808 straight from the source. This was easy to arrange since John and I had already been emailing about the puzzle. He graciously accepted the interview and the results you can read below. Personally, I find it extremely interesting to hear how non-professional puzzle designers manage to get their puzzles manufactured and out onto the market. I suspect many of you do too. So read on . . .
Mike: This is an obligatory question, but it simply must be asked in every puzzle interview: How and when did you become interested in mechanical puzzles and what are your favorite types? 
John: I remember playing with my father's "15" puzzle when I was very young, probably six or seven. I'm talking about the classic sliding number puzzle. It was beautifully made from stainless steel and I felt very pleased with myself for figuring out how to solve it. I also remember my grandmother giving me a 6 piece burr puzzle, another classic, at about the same age. I really enjoyed it too and when I let my parents and grandmother know how much I liked those kinds of puzzles, every birthday and every Christmas brought more. Over the years I've developed an appetite for sliding block puzzles (e.g. "Dad's Puzzle"), ring and string topology puzzles, tavern/wire puzzles (e.g. all the old Puzzletts), Japanese puzzle boxes, etc. 
Of course, the puzzle that tops the list is Rubik's Cube. When an ad for Erno Rubik's "Magic Cube" showed up in the back of Games magazine, I jumped on it and I still have my original Hungarian-made cube. That puzzle was just stunning and I still enjoy playing with twisty puzzles. It took me a couple of months to figure out the general solution but it was totally worth it - that was the most satisfying puzzle experience I've ever had (Ed - amen!). These days my favorite type of puzzle is the kind I make, namely high tolerance machined metal puzzles like Wil Strijbos'. 
Mike: A relatively small fraction of puzzle enthusiasts decide, at a certain point, to try their hand at designing. What inspired you to take the leap? 
John: Honestly, I'm not sure. I had my first idea for a puzzle back in the 1990s and the more I thought about it - driving to work or while falling asleep at night - the more I became convinced it could work. So it wasn't so much a "leap" as a gradually developing conviction that it was doable. 
Mike: Not only did you take the leap, you leapt directly into the most rarified puzzle class, precision-engineered metal. Do you have some background skills or training that made this seem less intimidating? 
John: Thanks for the kind words! I chose machined metal because the mechanisms I come up with are sensitive to misalignment. I don't think they'd work well, maybe not at all, if I tried to make them out of wood or had them cast. No, I don't have any professional skills or training, just a hobbyist's interest in mechanisms and machines. I've been tinkering with stuff since I was a kid. I was into electronics and built Heathkits for a while; I was also into tuning and fixing my bike and later into tuning and fixing my car. I took a machine shop course one semester and learned how to work a Bridgeport milling machine. That gave me a rough understanding of what kinds of things it was possible to make and an appreciation for mechanical engineers and machinists. 
Mike: How would you describe your creative process for the No. 808? Flash of inspiration? Long evolutionary development? Trial and error? Little of each? 
John: Part of the inspiration for #808 came from the "impossible dovetail" puzzles that Norman Sandfield and others have made. I really liked the way they looked and decided I wanted to try my hand at it. Model #808 is actually the third puzzle design I've come up with but I made it first because I thought it would be the easiest of the three to have a machine shop make. I'm pretty sure I was wrong about that! 
Never trust a dovetail.
Once I had the idea for the mechanism, I looked for a CAD (Computer Aided Design) tool that I could use to model it and soon discovered OpenSCAD which was open-source and easy for me to learn. I generated some .STL files to give to a local 3D print shop, found that the prototype worked beautifully, decided the solution was too easy, added some complexity, and then spent three years refining the design and finding a machine shop to make what I needed. I guess that's a "little of each". 
Mike: Moving from concept to prototype to final product undoubtedly involves a lot of refinement. Where would you say the most fundamental changes to the original concept were made and at what point did it become just fine-tuning?  
John: The most fundamental change occurred after my first functional prototype where I decided the puzzle was just too easy. So the puzzle sold today – which is Revision 15 – is functionally the same as Revision 2. I can't talk about the more important changes made in Revisions 3 through 15 without giving the solution away but I would say the biggest jump was going from Revision 1 to Revision 2. 
Mike: Did the design need to change significantly due to manufacturing constraints? 
John: No, not significantly. What changed the design the most was usability issues. I'm not giving the solution away when I say that there are parts inside the puzzle and in the early designs those parts were likely to fall out when you solved the puzzle – which is not what a puzzler wants at his moment of triumph! So I had to solve that. A bigger challenge was to come up with a way to keep the major pieces correctly aligned. I went through at least a half dozen different ideas trying to get that solved.
Mike: From your blog, I understand the entire process to produce No. 808 took 3 years. If you knew at the start what you know now, how long do you think it would take to produce the puzzle? 
John: Oh golly, probably six months. I lost a lot of time not knowing how to pick a good machine shop and ended up wasting twelve to eighteen months going back and forth with a machine shop who just wasn't making progress. The other big thing I learned is how important it is for a professional mechanical engineer to create design drawings for the machinist at the machine shop to read. I'm just a hobbyist with no training on how to correctly and rigorously compute tolerances – they call it "GD&T" for Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing. I wish I had known three years ago how important it is!
Mike: On a personal note, at what point did you pull all your hair out and consider dropping the project?
John: I got pretty discouraged when months were going by with no progress from my machine shop. But the solution was simple enough: switch to a different machine shop.
Mike: On an even more personal note, are you married and if so did the No. 808 project cause your partner to consider smothering you in your sleep? 
John: Fortunately, quite the opposite! My wife has zero interest in puzzles (Ed - sob, mine too) and although she finds my interest in solving and making them incomprehensible, she totally supports creativity in whatever strange form it may take. I'm a very lucky man 9 (Ed - yes you really are)!
Mike: I know you’ve also produced some classic geometric dissection puzzles in acrylic. Do you plan to explore other materials in the future or will you continue to focus on metal to capitalize on what you’ve learned?
John: For 2D puzzles, acrylic is great: it's inexpensive, looks great, and pretty easy to fabricate with. For 3D puzzles, I think aluminum is the best choice. It's no more expensive than plastics you might want to machine (e.g. delrin), it gives you lots of finishing options (e.g. bead-blasting, anodizing), and all machine shops are equipped to machine it. I think I'll be sticking with it for a while. I have a half dozen or so design ideas that I'd like to have made and all of them would work great in aluminum. Actually, I'd really like to make one in stainless steel but steel is much more expensive. 
Mike: Based on your experience with the No. 808, what are two pieces of advice you would give to aspiring puzzle designers (especially those who still need to keep their day job)?  
John: Well, because of cheap/free software and cheap 3D printing it's never been easier. Learn a CAD tool like OpenSCAD, Fusion 360, or Onshape – those are all free for hobbyists. Get a 3D printer for prototyping or find a local 3D print service (if you have kids, a lot of high schools have 3D printers). And then get into the Test-and-Revise cycle; iterate as frequently as time, money, and interest allow.
Mike: What can we expect next from Pyrigan? Can you give any hints on the mysterious No. 360?  
John: I've got some designs coming that I'm very excited about but I have to be disciplined about how much money I spend on what is, after all, just a hobby. I can't afford to start on Model No. 360 until I've sold most of the 808s but I think the mechanism is really clever, if I say so myself. Maybe I'll do a Kickstarter or something. 
An early No. 808 prototype plus some upcoming Pyrigan designs: Model No. 518 (multi-colored cube), Model No. 921 (circular), and Model No. 360 (rectangular with red logo).
Mike: And finally, I must ask, don’t you think Kevin Sadler is an all-around stellar chap for letting us do this on his blog?  (Ed - aw shucks! Where do I send the cheque?)
John: Indeed he is! I tried my hand at reviewing puzzles on my Pyrigan blog and the result is pretty disappointing - I'm not very good at it, I have to admit. Kevin's blog does the job properly! (Ed - now I'm really blushing!)
Thanks again John, for that interview. You’re a great sport and I’m sure I speak for the entire readership when I say we will be keeping Pyrigan on the radar. But no pressure!

Readership, I need to mention that John was much too modest about his blog posting. His posts are excellent,  informative, and much more to the point than the long-winded stuff I generate (Puzzlemad pays me by the word (Ed - OMG! Do I?)). I suggest you check it out. The link should be on the Puzzlemad sidebar by now. John also gave what looks to have been a fascinating presentation on modeling curvature at the 2016 Celebration of Mind in Massachusetts. Check out the powerpoint here. Really cool stuff. When you visit the Pyrigan blog you will also get hints on other Pyrigan puzzles in the works like Nos. 360, 518, and 921. Which reminds me, I forgot to ask John where he gets these numbers. 

I will just conclude by repeating that the Pyrigan No. 808 puzzle is a real winner. It is of unbelievably high quality for a first puzzle, or for any puzzle for that matter. I recommend you treat yourself and pick one up. Back to you Kevin....


Wow!!! What a fantastic blog post! Thank you so much Mike and also John for contributing your time as well as your skills. I will be looking to buy one of these after the financial hit of IPP has wained a little.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Getting more popular - 900k pageviews!

Main blog page

New additions page


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 head....it 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 2.13.4.5.3 and the other 2.9.8.5.3. 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 2.9.7.5.3 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

Schism

Schism
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 7.8.7.4 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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