Sunday 3 February 2019

Pelikan Does it Again!

Another Fabulous Puzzle Batch!

New puzzles about to be released by Pelikan
Above you see the latest puzzles that are about to be released by the New Pelikan Workshop. I am trying not to hold up the release this time. Jakub gives me the opportunity to buy the puzzles a bit early to allow me time to review them and write something for the shop site. He is very patient and will wait to release them until I have solved and written my blurb. I feel a huge pressure to try and do this quickly and a) let him make some money and b) let you have the chance to get some new toys. Thankfully this time there are only 4 for me to work through and the 13 piece burr I have had since Xmas when he sent me the Aracna as a gift. Let me say that you will not be disappointed with the puzzles about to be released.

Wenge piece visible
The Aracna is a stunning and quite large (88mm cubed) 12 piece burr made from Walnut with a hidden interior piece crafted from Wenge and Maple. The grain in the wood is gorgeous and, with the smooth finish and lovely bevelling, it is a fabulous puzzle to hold and play with. This puzzle was designed by the incredibly prolific and talented Alfons Eyckmans and is part of what my friend Goetz calls the Burr zoo - that is straight-forward looking burrs (12 or 18 piece) which contain one or more hidden extra pieces in the shapes of animals/creatures. I have quite a few of this type of puzzle from several craftsmen and absolutely adore them. They can be made very complex to solve, especially when the hidden pieces need to move inside the puzzle to free up space for the external burr sticks to move. Sometimes the hidden nature of these interior moves can make these puzzles almost impossible for most "normal" puzzlers (if any of us can be considered normal). Jakub and Jaroslav have really great taste when choosing the puzzles to produce - they home in on puzzles that are both beautiful and also solvable without being resorting to the computer. This is one perfect example.

I started playing with this one just after Xmas when I had a little time (I worked through most of the holiday period this year). Despite having a relatively easy disassembly level (13.2.2), I seemed to struggle for quite some time. There are only a few possible moves early on and then suddenly about 6 or 7 moves in, the decision tree rapidly opens up and there are quite a lot of possibilities available to choose from. I sheepishly have to admit that I got stuck for a while at this point - I became obsessed with one particular option and kept trying to follow this path without making any headway for a good week or so. There is also a sudden movement which will release a piece to a very enticing rotational move. This needs to be ignored - I did attempt to produce a cheating shortcut with this rotation but, apart from distracting me a while, got me nowhere. When Jakub asked for a review of this as well as the other 3, I was forced to focus my attention properly for a day or so. A systematic review of the possible moves might (just possibly if you are lucky) allow you to hold this puzzle just perfectly and then a very clever multi-piece move can occur. Once you have found the clever move then all of a sudden a whole bunch of new possibilities appear and it is only another couple of moves to remove the first piece. From this point, it is fairly trivial to disassemble the rest but is still enjoyable as the puzzle remains very stable in one piece as you remove more and more pieces. I think that it only collapses on you when you are down to the last 4 pieces.

I left a nice little surprise for Mrs S after I had solved it:

Looking at her and about to pounce!
This earned me a nice little squeak and shudder followed by a Whack! Ouch! Mrs S absolutely hates spiders and is known to suck them all up into the vacuum cleaner. Luckily for me, she resisted the urge to destroy the spider and I quickly promised to take my photo and trap it inside the burr again. For me, Burrtools was required for the reassembly but I would think that the more talented burr solvers amongst you will have no problem assembling it from memory. Here are the beautifully crafted pieces:

Looking for Mrs S? A wonderful puzzle!
I recommend this puzzle to all of you who enjoy burrs - it is just the right difficulty level, with a great sequence to discover without getting too badly lost and a nice Aha! moment. Maybe not perfect for utter beginners, anyone else will really love this and who can resist shocking their spouse/girl/boyfriend with a hidden spider? It is brilliant!

Pandering to our American friends with the incorrect name, Math (we all know it should be maths shortened from mathematics), this puzzle, designed by another friend, Klaas Jan Damstra, is the second in what I hope will be a whole series of themed puzzles. It is very similar to the fantastic Addition puzzle released last year (which, surprisingly, is still available from the Pelikan site) - the mathematical symbols have changed to a +, - and zero symbol in each of the 3 axes. Like it's predecessor, the puzzle consists of a simple cubic wooden frame and 3 fairly complex burr sticks that traverse it which will need to be removed from the frame.

This is a fairly diminutive puzzle at 50mm cubed (like the Addition). There are two wood combinations available - Mahogany and Maple or Ovangkol and Maple - my copy was the latter. For such a simple design this has a surprisingly high level for the disassembly (15.2.2). There are a few moves initially that are quite easy to find and then the next moves can be quite tough to work out. everything is visible through the cage but working out exactly what is possible proved quite awkward. This took me a very fun hour or so to work out - with one particularly well-disguised move causing me a real problem. I knew what was required but couldn't seem to find it and eventually the Aha! moment was a delight. There are no blind ends to confuse you and I think this is slightly easier than the Addition puzzle. A rotational move is possible but this is not helpful - if you have bought the Addition then you must try and find the rotational solution as well for an extra challenge.

Just 3 pieces in a cage!
If you bought Addition then this is an essential purchase and if you didn't then quickly buy it now along with this one. They are both great little challenges and, as always with Pelikan, are beautifully made.

The puzzle above is Angelus designed by the unbelievably talented and prolific Stéphane Chomine. He designs puzzles of all different complexities but he seems to be particularly good at finding a relatively simple external shape that has a much more complex and interesting solution than would be expected for the number of pieces and the shape. Angelus is another such delightful surprise - there are just 2 burr sticks held in a simple frame but with a level 19.2 disassembly.

Jakub is releasing this in 2 wood combinations - Maple frame with either Wenge or Purpleheart sticks. It is also a nice pocketable size 60 x 58 x 48mm and beautifully finished. The quality of the workmanship can be seen by looking at the lovely shoulder joint on the frame in the picture above. The pieces move in a fun dance around and over each other and the sequence is relatively easy to find to the disassembly. With 19 moves it is very enjoyable and then yet more fun is possible - a fantastic challenge is to scramble the pieces and leave them a while (to ensure you forget the disassembly sequence) and then try and put it back together again. It is really fun and, despite the high number of moves, is very logical and doable by all puzzlers.

Just 2 sticks in a cage yet a brilliant assembly challenge
Even if you are not a "burr person" this is a very nice fun challenge and well worth adding to your collection. I have found myself playing with this like a very large worry bead for the last few days - very tactile and great fun.

The final puzzle (and the Pièce de résistance of the group) is the Blocage, also designed by Stéphane Chomine. I absolutely adore 6 piece burrs in a solid cage and was delighted to get the fabulous series of constrained burrs (designed by Logan Kleinwaks) from Eric Fuller a few years ago. When Jakub offered me another similar puzzle I jumped at the chance.

Clamped burr
This is a good bit bigger than the other puzzles at 96mm cubed and will be available in 5 combinations of wood: mine is Zebrano with an Applewood frame, there will also be Purpleheart and Maple, Wenge and Cherry, Ipe and Maple as well as Merbau and Apple - I have seen the photos and they are ALL fabulous! These puzzles share the 8x8x8 voxel grid that the constrained burrs have but here the frame that restricts the burr is narrower. The quality of craftsmanship is astounding making this one an absolute delight to play with. The sequence discovery is wonderful to work through and with a level disassembly with a couple of very well hidden moves, this is certainly a significant but enjoyable challenge. I got stuck on a couple of occasions and struggled to both backtrack and go forward. The full disassembly took me about 45 minutes before being left with a precariously balanced arrangement of sticks on a sleeping cat. Yes, yes, yes! I know that's a silly thing to do! I know I have been caught out by that before but I am not very bright and the cat was really deeply asleep...or so I thought!

Simply stunning!
The cat woke up, stretched and turned over leaving me with a pile of sticks on my lap and one on the floor and no idea which one went where! Burrtools required for the reassembly? Actually not! This puzzle is actually solvable in reverse from scratch with a bit of patience and just a little awareness of the initial disassembly - it did take me quite a long time, but eventually, it went back together without computer help. Not only does this puzzle look fabulous but it is a superb and enjoyable challenge.

So which should you buy? This is a very tough call - I personally would buy the whole lot - indeed I did! If you are not a burr puzzler then you could skip Aracna, but the burr zoo is a very fun subgroup to focus on. If you can only buy one then I would choose Blocage, if you have Addition already then Math is an essential addition to the collection. So many choices - Pelikan are probably the best puzzle craftsmen in the world just now and you will not regret buying any of them - I cannot resist getting everything they produce (I am very aware that I am lucky in having a well-paying job).

Just a quick follow up from last week's blog post:

Having disassembled the 136 minute puzzle at the end of the last post, I contemplated a more challenging reassembly - the puzzle had been sent out with an extra piece with a more complex pathway etched in it. It took several days to do it (I did get lost a couple of times but not too far down the wrong pathway before realising it) - the "205 minute box" is finally assembled after 12,282 moves! I don't think I will be taking it apart any time soon. Aleksandr has created a fantastic quality N-ary puzzle here!


  1. These look wonderful - I can hardly wait.

    While I envy the early sneak peek, I don't envy the pressure to solve and write up all the puzzles (especially the solving)

    As to "maths" if "mathematics" is a plural, what does a single "math" look like?

    1. Yes! It is sometimes a bit of pressure but is my pleasure to help Jakub and the puzzle community.

      As you say, “if”.....
      mathematics is definitely not a plural. The Americans are wrong again! ;-)