Sunday, 17 September 2017

Jerry's Masterpieces Prove That I Am Not Terribly Bright

BurrNova 2D
A month or so before the IPP, I was contacted by Jerry to tell me a little bit about his entry into the design competition and to discuss a little bit about his upcoming puzzles. He wanted to test the water about how well I thought they may sell and whether I might be interested in purchasing something from him at the puzzle party to avoid having to pay postage. Of course I practically bit his finger off before he could press the send button on his email program! Basically if Jerry wants to sell me something then the questions are just "how much?" and "when?" As a result of this I knew that I was going to be coming home with a copy of his latest beaut(y/ies) and a bit of a hole in my bank balance.

Jerry's entry into the design competition is pictured above. It is called Burrnova (technically it has a 2D after the word for reasons I will get to. Over the years he has entered quite a few puzzles into the competition and been disappointed to not get recognised but is well aware that most of his designs are exceptionally complex and extremely difficult to solve. For this reason they tend to get marked a little lower than many of the simpler and shall we say more elegant puzzles. I don't think that he expected to get very far this time either but I was already drooling at the thought.

So what does a Nova mean to you? To me it means a sort of star shaped explosion and with this puzzle I wasn't disappointed! No! It doesn't blow apart but the name is highly appropriate. I discovered this on day one of my trip to Paris. After registering for the party I quickly entered the competition room and even though I only knew the name of Jerry's entry, I was able to home in on it straight away.....there is something about his work that makes it instantly recognisable - here are my current puzzles:

Now you can see how his work is recognisable?
and don't forget his absolutely incredible Caramel case:

Caramel case: a 42 piece burr set.
This is so beautiful that it lives on display in my dining room!
So I immediately went up to Jerry's Burrnova 2D and had a play. Initially there is only one possible move so off I go! The central piece pushes upwards and stops. I expected that this would be a key piece and would allow further pieces to slide or even pull out so I started tugging and pushing at pieces on the top and bottom faces without much luck.....hmmm. Time to expand my exploration and push and prod at other less obvious pieces. As is usual with my luck the very last piece I push is the right one and with a loud PRRRRRRRRRP noise the puzzle goes nova on me and I nearly drop it in surprise. How on earth did all that happen? The puzzle had sort of exploded in 4 directions - the central sticks had moved by themselves in a sequence of 11 moves all by themselves. How did I know that it was 11 moves? I sequentially pushed the pieces back (a very enjoyable thing to do) and counted how many it was until I was back to the beginning. Having pushed them back, I was quite amazed that the bloody thing was stable in that position - even shaking it about did nothing. However a gentle push on the right piece in the right direction and yet again it explodes apart. How awesome is that? It was so awesome that I had to do it several more times just for grins and giggles! Just for that alone I was glad I had arranged to buy it.

It went nova!
Having exploded into this position it was obviously important to continue with my disassembly. Now Jerry is pretty sneaky - it won't just release a piece that easily. I think I spent another ½ hour trying everything I could think of and getting nowhere. At that point I was thinking of looking at the solution when something sneaky occurred to me and I knew that Jerry would do exactly that. Aha! I love moments like that - don't we all? I had a key piece removed and was ready to continue.

Yet again, nothing would move. I undid the automatic part and still nothing would move. This sort of puzzle is not technically a burr but more an interlocking solid and usually it is possible to look at the construction and determine which piece can unlink from the others and be removed. Looking at what I had, nothing looked like it could come apart - Jerry had hidden the next move unbelievably well. I was reduced to pushing and prodding at things again but with an extra finger hold to work with. All of a sudden I had made another discovery - Aha! again! Goodness me he's a sneaky man - he's started playing with magnets and things are held VERY tight with a couple of very well placed pieces of Neodymium and it shows a very well disguised separation point between pieces which I was not expecting at all.

Below is a spoiler - if you don't want to see how the next move is disguised and comes apart then DON'T press the spoiler button!

After this there is a lovely sequence of piece removal as the puzzle comes apart from the top down. I always marvel at the perfection and precision of the pieces and in the competition room I kept everything carefully arranged to allow me to put it back together. As I progressed happily I then got to the Nova pieces:

There are quite a lot of very strong magnets here
This was as far as I got at the IPP. I began to pick up the Nova section and it seemed very well held together and at that point I thought might be quite unstable! I decided at that point that discretion was the better part of valour and hastily put it together again. This puzzle was definitely going to win a vote from me.

Later that evening a big bunch of us all met up and I finally got to meet Jerry in person. The IPP this year was fabulous for that aspect - there are so many people whom I have corresponded with for years now and I was finally able to meet them in the flesh. Jerry was entertaining a bunch of people with a skeletal version of the puzzle which showed off what was happening when it went nova. When I arrived with the group they thrust it on me and said "go on....push the stick!" So I did and after a loud PRRRRRRRRRP it did it's thing and despite knowing what was going to happen, I nearly dropped it in surprise......again! The buggers all laughed at me.....again! I seem to spend most of my puzzling life being laughed at by either other puzzlers or the present Mrs S. Jerry mentioned to the group that this was a 2D version and he was developing a bigger 3D Burrnova. We all expressed "mild" interest (actually we were all extremely vociferous) when he offered to show us a prototype. This version has 8 sticks which go nova instead of just the 4 and it is truly a thing to behold when you set it off! We all encouraged him that he really MUST try and make some full 3D Nova puzzles for us in the future. Jerry, if you do read this article, then put my name down for a 3D version as soon as you have made one please?

That evening Jerry also showed off another puzzle to me that he had offered me a chance to purchase and of course, I said yes! We missed each other on the last day of the IPP and it eventually made it's way to me courtesy of the postal service - interestingly as a bag of bits:

This is Coffin's Pinhole Puzzle set (#20) - there are lots of challenges ending with the Grand Pinhole Cross
When I was offered the chance to buy, I Googled it and found Allard's review from 2011 - I was hooked! It has only been produced in very small numbers by Stewart Coffin himself and it was a MrPuzzle limited edition in 2007.  When initially released by Mr Coffin it came with a 10 page booklet - I cannot resist a puzzle with a booklet so I was absolutely delighted when Jerry made one and offered it for sale. Let's just say that this has been kicking my puzzling butt for the last month and has revealed me not only to be "not terribly bright" but actually "damned thick"! I will enlarge on what I did when I have finished solving all the challenges and am ready to write it up.

At the end of the IPP I was absolutely delighted to see at the awards dinner that Jerry won a recognition for his incredible skills. The BurrNova received an honorary mention from the Jury which is tremendous recognition and I grinned when Nick Baxter stood up and said:
"who could not admire a puzzle that starts to solve itself?
I wish more of my puzzles were self-solving as I don't seem to be getting very far!

Mrs S was pleased that at least one of my Paris purchases has a ready made shelf space and I put the Burrnova 2D in it until this weekend when I finally found time and courage to attempt a full disassembly. I still delight in the PRRRRRRRRRP noise and the cats were mildly interested (they woke up from the heat drugged slumber) and I proceeded with the disassembly. I had forgotten about the hidden move and the magnets. I remembered at that point that he had said that the puzzles that myself and Goetz had received were supplied with much stronger magnets and oh boy it took some doing to find the opening move again! With great enthusiasm I dismantled it completely and made a nice happy little pile of pieces:

Such precision! Spot the magnets.
After I had taken it apart and put it back together again a few times I made a more organised picture showing the piece types:

Sort of organised
It is made from Cherry, Walnut, Maple and Bloodwood in 33 pieces with Jerry's mark etched into the key piece - it has the absolutely characteristic look and finish of a McFarland puzzle - definitely one of my prized possessions.

The Nova section consists of a set of 4 Bloodwood sticks with steps cut into them and a bunch of very strong magnets all oriented correctly to encourage it to "explode".

Nova pieces showing their "mechanism"
I cannot wait for the Burrnova 3D to be made as well as whatever other designs are floating around in Jerry's head (I know of at least one more that I am drooling over). With Jerry (as with Jakub Dvořák, Rob Yarger, Scott Peterson and Johan Heyns) when they offer something I basically just say yes and open my bank account! But don't tell "she who must be feared"!

Right! time to cook and then back to puzzling! Wish me luck and wish me an improvement in my meagre skills.

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