Sunday 21 March 2021

An Entirely New Type of Puzzle?

The recent collaboration between Chris Lohe and Andrew Crowell
Last week's post showed off the recent releases from Jakub and Jaroslav at the New Pelikan Workshop and I am pleased to see that many of you did read my drivel and have bought the wonderful new toys when they went up for sale. In fact two items are sold out already (if you did miss out on anything then I am sure that they will eventually be stocked by PuzzleMaster). I received all 7 of the puzzles and I am always very aware that Jakub is waiting for my reviews before he puts them up for sale so the pressure to solve and write is very high. Luckily for me this time there were two of the batch that were sent to the Zen puzzler himself, Ken Irvine, for review and I did not have to be too fast with these. Ken is a master of the design and solution of interlocking puzzles and is very uniquely placed to give an opinion of the two beautiful lumps of wood and if you read the blurb on the Pelikan site on them, then you already know that Ken was extremely enthusiastic. I did, however, really want to try them and give an opinion for you all (even if I am not sure why you even read my stuff let alone pay attention to what I think).

First of all, let me say that these puzzles are absolutely amazing and you should buy them straight away - unfortunately the Cyburr has sold out already but in my opinion the Chamburr is the best of the two and certainly MUCH more difficult. Stop reading this right now and rush over and buy - you will not regret it.

I have waxed lyrical about Christoph Lohe and his designs many many times over the years - he has a very unique talent for designing puzzles that are just the right difficulty level and really interesting to solve with some very long and difficult to find sequences but always fun to work through - he is almost a savant. Then we are all aware of the incredible effect that Andrew Crowell has had on the puzzle world. He has taken the rather small rarified area of Turning Interlocking Cubes (TICs) into the stratosphere in terms of interest and difficulty. So...when these two incredible puzzle designers team up I just have to sit up and pay attention! This is should definitely prove to be something simply spectacular and YES it is incredible - it is almost like they have developed a whole new category where the interlocking puzzle is combined with the TIC without making something that is impossible for humans.

Starting with Cyburr (this is the one you should pick up first), we have a gorgeous cube made with a Mahogany frame and Maple burr sticks. It has been beautifully finished and the initial moves are buttery smooth. There are a number of choices possible at the beginning and quickly you can home in on the correct path. Some puzzles I find are spoiled by having too many blind ends or some that go much too far before petering out. I like a fascinating sequence with a few side paths to explore but not too much risk of getting hopelessly lost. During the pathway through this disassembly, there is a wonderful dance as the pieces are weaved around each other inexorably towards an exit. The exit this time seems possible at several times as the burr sticks get less and less interwoven but even when one is separated from the pack then it still cannot be simply pushed out. This is where Andrew's wonderful skill has come in...rotations are required. Not too many that it is possible to get hopelessly lost and entangled. He has designed it so that rotations are actually very difficult to achieve and are only possible with exact positioning of all 3 of the pieces within the frame. This is not going to happen by accident - it requires thought©. The Aha! moment is wonderful. Two rotations are required and the pieces are ready for your exultant photo:

Stunning precision on that craftsmanship
The reassembly is a serious challenge! This puzzle cannot be solved by Burrtools but the process of disassembly should take you back and forth enough to lay down a decent muscle memory to allow you to scramble the pieces and still be able to put it back together again. If I can do it then all of you (who are considerably cleverer than me should manage it). I do agree with Ken that this puzzle is probably too difficult to be sent out as pieces to be assembled from scratch - only a very few of us could manage that. The Cyburr has a sequence 38 moves to remove the first piece which is a prodigiously high number especially as 36 are linear before the first rotation is required. If you see this up for sale again then buy it!

Next up is the Chamburr (I am not sure why it is named this but for me this is the "Champagne of the interlocking cubes" - it is stunningly fun and really quite a tough challenge. I did not know at the time that this was the harder of the two and this was the one that I started with. Again it is beautiful with the frame made from Merbau and the three burr sticks made from a lovely warm Pink Oak. It is slightly less aesthetically pleasing than Cyburr purely because it doesn't have the completely filled face that the other does. But it is stunning. The movements of the pieces are smooth and again there is just the right number and depth of dead ends to explore. The Chamburr is slightly easier at the beginning than the Cyburr but gets MUCH more difficult about ⅔ of the way through. With both of these puzzles, Pelikan has made all of the internal edges of the burr sticks and the frames very sharp which I suspect is to prevent any illegal rotations being found but the adverse effect of this is that finding some of the linear moves can be quite hard as the pieces need to be held just right and everything lined up perfectly for them to slide on each other. This can be a little infuriating at first but it does mean that finding the linear moves is more than just pushing and pulling the pieces randomly. It is more that the moves need to be thought out and planned. After 10 or 15 minutes of play with each of these puzzles I came to appreciate the precision and sharpness of these edges and used them to my advantage.

The Chamburr has a couple of very interesting rotations that are possible at about the ¾-way mark and apart from a bit of a panic when I thought I couldn't undo them, I realised that this made for a fun dead end and quite a bit more exploration without risking getting lost. After realising my misstep, I continued. The linear part of the path for this one is VERY complex and several times I got to a point where I could not backtrack without a huge re-exploration of that part of the path. I must have gone back and forth over that section of the solution 10 or 15 times before I understood the dance path of the pieces and could repeat them easily. After 43 moves (amazingly, all of which are linear) the first piece can be removed. This is a stunning odyssey before the remaining pieces can be taken out of the frame with a rotation:

43 moves to take the first piece out!
Despite the fact that the initial part of the solution is linear, this is by far the toughest of the two. It is incredibly difficult to find your winding path through the moves - these pieces dance about in and out of each other and the frame but the pathway is really well hidden. The requirement for the rotations is the icing on the cake - it makes the puzzle constructable and also means that if you get stuck you cannot just go to Burrtools and make yourself a solution file. You HAVE to persevere with it and work it out. It is worth it - just keep trying and you will understand it eventually.

Reassembly is just as challenging - the rotations are easy to find but then you have to backtrack through that very well hidden pathway. It took me several hours over 2 evenings to get there. This is a candidate for one of the puzzles of the year for 2021 - AMAZING!

At the moment the Chamburr is still available here - buy it straight away and if you find Cyburr up for sale again then don't hesitate.

1 comment:

  1. Well said! A great pair of puzzles! Glad you had a chance to enjoy them without the usual pressure of the Pelkan release.