Sunday 16 August 2020

Jerry Expands My Menagerie

Burrlephant 3.0
Jerry McFarland is another craftsman whom I consider a good friend! He never fobs me off when I ask silly questions and seems genuinely interested in what I have to say about his puzzles. Many years ago, before I started on this rather expensive time-consuming pathway, I had seen that Jerry had created an interlocking puzzle/burr in the shape of an elephant. I had lusted after one since the beginning and have been badgering him to remake them for quite a few years. Jerry generally has a very low boredom threshold and seldom remakes puzzles or even makes a batch of puzzles for long. He only ever committed to letting me buy one if he every decided to make more.

Why was I so keen on the elephant? I love special shapes and I love Jerry's puzzles. But this had become almost a grail puzzle for me. Ever since my mother died a few years ago, I had wanted one of these as a reminder of her. My mother's family had been refugees from Germany in 1939 and arrived in the UK with only the clothes they were wearing. The authorities decided that England was full at that stage and they sent the later refugees out to the colonies to live. My grandparents were shipped off by boat to Kenya and were told they could buy a plot of land in the countryside with a grant the British government gave them. These store keepers had to learn very fast how to become farmers or die of starvation. My mother was born out there and used to tell tales of growing up with wild animals occasionally rampaging through their farm. She was particularly fond of elephants as several used to wander through quite frequently. After she returned to the UK in her 20s she continued to collect all sorts of ornaments to remind her of her country of birth. She had a nice collection of elephants that I managed to snaffle after she died (many of them had been bought by Mrs S and I over the years). I even managed to get her a puzzle elephant - the rather lovely but not terribly difficult elephant burr from Jakub's Pelikan puzzles. It was one of my favourite things to do when I visited, to take it apart and leave a pile of pieces on her coffee table. She would never even try and assemble it but would harangue me about being a bad son until I put it back together.

She was very intrigued by the lion I bought from Stephan Baumegger and after she died, I took her collection of elephants back into my care and most have been in my living room watching me in the evenings. Out of the blue Jerry informed me that he had some new ideas for a Burrlephant version 3. That was sometime last year and I had almost forgotten about it until he contacts me a few weeks ago to say that he has been successful and would I like to try out the prototype? I doubt that 30seconds went by before I said absolutely and let me send you some money! The puzzle arrived a couple of weeks later and to my horror, Mrs S insisted on a quarantine! She is much worse than a wild animal when angry so I had to just accept her rule. I was absolutely delighted when I took it out of the box:

Ebony eyes mimic the real thing
This puzzle was one of the first that he had made entirely from exotic woods and, as you can see is stunning. This has been constructed from Jatoba, Bloodwood, Bubinga and Ebony as well as metal and magnets. The size is a very decent 11cm high, 16cm long (including tusks) and 5.5cm wide (11cm if you include the ears). It is surprisingly heavy. Jerry always marks the pieces that can be mixed up to ensure that the assembled puzzle is smooth and no small differences in size ruin the look. The feet have been labelled:

All nicely labelled!
Initially nothing can move apart from there seems to be a spring inside as the tail can be pushed in and springs back into position. I pressed this tail many hundreds of times hoping that it would free something up to move - there are quite a lot pieces that are screaming at you to be locking mechanisms (especially if you have seen any of Jerry's other work). Of course he would not have made it quite that simple. I played over a few evenings, gradually finding more and more interesting features and getting further and further through the puzzle. Let me say this puzzle is not for the squeamish - you have to do a series of unspeakably horrible things to the poor elephant before finally tearing him asunder. There are basically 4 locking mechanisms holding the elephant together and, whilst not terribly difficult, they are great fun to explore and discover. The third lock really took me quite a while to work out - 3 evenings before I finally got it.

Having worked out all the locking mechanisms, there was no way I was going to take it apart in the living room with a cat on my lap! I had to wait until the weekend before I could dismantle the lovely elephant completely and scramble the pieces.

No longer recognisable as an elephant!
Certain pieces may not be shown here to avoid spoilers
The "key piece" has Jerry's usual maker's mark and the year. Mine has serial number 2 for which I am eternally grateful. The reassembly is also fun. Not so much because the locking mechanisms are hard to do in reverse but because after scrambling the pieces and not paying enough attention to what goes where, it is a nice challenge to put everything in the right place in the right order.

I know that Jerry will be making a few more of these over the next few months but I don’t know how many. If you want one then you should ask early as Jerry’s poor attention span will force him to move onto something new before long. It’s not a terribly difficult puzzle - I think it is pretty much just right! This is one of my most prized possessions - it is stunningly beautiful, it is a masterpiece by the Master himself and best of all, reminds me of my late mum! It is not on the shelf with my other McFarland puzzles:

Top 2 shelves from Jerry
Below that are cubes from Alfons and my prize possessions - wooden Hales puzzles
Jerry's "Caramel case" aka the 42 Piece burrset
The Burrlephant now lives in my living room watching me whilst I sit and watch TV or play. I think it will stay there forever! The rest of my menagerie is there watching over me and Mrs S:

My little zoo!
Thank you Jerry, you have made a grown man cry!


  1. These puzzles are really beautiful. Beyond the pleasure of solving them, I would like to have them if only as decoration in my living room.

    1. I’m so glad that you find them as gorgeous as I do! By the time you have a couple of thousand, you can’t really keep them in your living room. At least not if you don’t want to be murdered by Mrs S!