Sunday 18 February 2018

A Small Tribute to Brian (and Denise)

Bent Board Burr #4 Too
This is a short blog post because I have just not had enough time this week to solve anything new. My attempt at solving the Popplock T11 has ended up with me just finding what I think might be the first step and nothing further as yet. This leaves me deeply ashamed when Ali has managed to solve his copy in just a week with no clues and no peeking at the solution. He is a MUCH better solver than me and obviously must have more hands than me to have managed it (or maybe more brain)!!!

My dear friend Brian Menold has continued to toil in his workshop over many years despite having to support his wife who has become progressively sicker over the last few months and years. Denise has been battling against one of the most dreadful conditions to affect women I have ever seen. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and despite such a shock they both supported each other through thick and thin and continued to maintain a good family life (Brian's daughter had died of breast cancer quite a few years ago and a proportion of the proceeds from his sales was sent to a breast cancer charity after that). I had seen some lovely photos on Facebook of Brian and his family which brought a tear to my eyes. Surviving 12 years with ovarian cancer is a tremendous feat but after such a heroic struggle she passed away on January 16th! I wrote in reply to his announcement:
My deepest condolences Brian. I have watched her (and your) fight against this terrible disease with utter awe. The resilience and strength that she showed over so many years has been truly amazing. You are both fabulous examples of how a family can support each other and an example to us all.
All Brian did, despite such a terrible event, was to apologise for the late update on his site! I know that I would have been a wreck and out of action for quite a long time. He even had a new release of puzzles for his voracious customers on St Valentine's day less than a month later. True to form, he was contributing even more of the proceeds to charities close to his heart. With that in mind, I was lucky enough to be in time to order a few new toys for my collection. The puzzles I am showing today are from my last purchase back in November 2017.

I adore board burrs (as long as they are not too horrifically complex) and was particularly impressed when Brian produced the Bent Board Burr #4 designed by Frans de Vreugt. The original (which is still available here) is level and looked fun but I particularly liked the look of a redesign by another puzzler which ups the ante to level 11.15.2 which is a much better challenge and also has a secondary assembly with an easier level of It also was made with special woods (Purpleheart and Yellowheart) with a beautiful detailing on the burr ends. The modified version was named Bent Board Burr #4 Too as a homage to the original.

This burr has quite a lot of possible moves from the beginning but despite a number of dead ends it is not too tough to find a rather interesting path. With caps on the ends of the boards, it is possible for some to apparently be released from the central 'knot' and yet still be held captive in the puzzle. This is one reason for such a high level for just 6 boards. The first piece was removed in a very unexpected way. I continued to explore and had to backtrack almost back to the beginning with the first piece missing before continuing down a new path (which had been a dead end at first) - the structure remained stable right to the end.

Gorgeous pieces and detailing
This one kept me busy for a few hours and despite my recently found skill at assembling puzzles, I have been completely unable to find the easier assembly myself. Obviously, my skillz are still very meagre!

Another puzzle I bought in that batch (because it would be criminal to buy just a single puzzle at a time from Brian) is the Liliput designed by the very talented Christophe Lohe (who has thought up some of my most prized puzzles). This version is beautifully made from Lacewood with Redheart pieces and consist of just 2 pieces to be removed from a simple frame. Despite only 2 relatively simple pieces to be removed it achieves a high level of 21.3.

It is a pretty diminutive puzzle at 6.4 x 5.1 x 5.1cm but is a perfect size to play with. Christophe has a knack for this sort of design and they can be incredibly challenging. He also designed the Trenta puzzle (pictured right) is similar, with 2 pieces captive in the frame and 1 requiring insertion. He periodically emails to check/tease me about my (lack of) progress with it. Another good friend of mine has actually managed to find a rotational method to remove the two captive pieces and I should probably try that again too. I'm supposed to be better at disassembly!

This puzzle also is a real delight - there are few (if any) blind ends and a very nice path through to the disassembly with some moves which are nicely hidden. It is truly amazing that so many moves are required to separate such a small number of pieces.

More complex than expected
As is usual with this type of puzzle, I scrambled the pieces before attempting reassembly and was astounded, and pleased, that I did actually manage to put it back together again. There are a couple of pitfalls to overcome where you start with the first piece the wrong way around but a little logic can help resolve that. This one became a very pleasant worry bead for me after I had solved it. It is sitting on my desk next to me begging for me to play again. But I really should get back to Trenta, and the Popplock, and the Cast Trinity, and the Chinese 99-ring puzzles, and the burrs from Alfons, and...... Help!!!

There are still quite a few puzzles left for sale on Woodwonders - feel free to peruse and purchase. You won't be disappointed. Brian always makes great choices in puzzle challenge as well as wood and it is good to know that part of the proceeds goes to a worthy charity. In particular look at Castle and the Colonel's Bouquet - I was generously given a copy of this challenge by my friend Nigel at the Paris IPP. I have not completely solved all the challenges yet but it is a VERY nice idea. My copy was made by Brian Young but Brian M's version is just as beautiful.

The Colonel's Bouquet - 4 simple pieces with several challenges
I appear to have 2 copies - only managed 2 challenges so far!

Thank you, Brian, for these wonderful puzzles - I am looking forward to the new ones which look like they are about to leave US soil. I wish you and your family all the best for 2018 and beyond.


  1. Hi Kevin!

    I was very glad for Brian's sake that his entire update (at least most of it) sold out in just under an hour! I was lucky enough to be online the moment that the update was live, hovering over my computer and hitting the "refresh" button incessantly. So what did you get from the update? I picked up the Clopin and the Cross in Cross. Happy puzzling!

    Noah P

    1. Yes they sold out incredibly fast. I got Cross in cross and the 2 from Chris Lohe.