Sunday 25 December 2022

Merry Christmas!

Dayan Double Circle Crazy Cube
I had hoped to have a wonderful Christmas tale of triumph over adversity! But of course, it was not to be. I bought the Dayan double circle crazy cube at the end of last year and had been much too frightened of it to do any more than idly test its' movement. First of all, I have to say the movement is absolutely bloody awful (which didn’t help me get the courage to properly play). I put it down for a year until my good friend, Jason Burgo, contacted me again after a long time away from puzzling. He had been playing and setting it up in various configurations to find interesting solves and finally convinced me to play with I in an adjacent face setup:

As you can see the red and yellow faces turn like Rubik cube faces, the blue and orange faces have the inner circle fixed in place and the green and white have the inner 2 circles fixed in place.

The end result is a monster:

What have I done?
My aim was to use simple Rubik cube algorithms like the Edge piece series and SUNE to rotate pieces around and pair up the circle pieces with their corresponding outer parts and then solve as either a Rubik cube or a Circle cube.

Unfortunately, a week into trying I am stuck with the last 3 edges impossible to recreate. I need to think© and my head hurts. I hope that this will not prove impossible for me because it is a wonderful idea with so many possibilities.

I hope that you all have a wonderful Xmas and a happy New Year. I will join you on New Year's day for the top ten(ish) puzzles of 2022.

Sunday 18 December 2022

New Kid on the Brick

The aMAZEing PuzzleBox
Out of the blue a few weeks ago I was contacted Peleg from Quizbrix. He had just completed design and manufacture of the aMAZEing PuzzleBox and wanted me to have a look at it and offer him feedback (as well as a review on here with a view to sending him some customers). I don't often do this and suggested that it would be more appropriate to send the box to Steve at Boxes and Booze as he was much more competent at puzzleboxes. To my surprise, Peleg accepted that but wanted to send us both a copy. In the face of such a keen producer and my inability to turn down a free puzzle, I accepted, chose the black version over the whilte and a package was duly posted from Israel. Despite the best efforts of a striking Royal Mail workforce, it arrived pretty quickly and I unpacked it to find a very solid feeling puzzle.

It has been made mostly the thin (⅓ height) lego bricks with a few full height ones in there too. Most are black in my version but there are a few white and a few clear ones and some holes allowing a limited view inside. It is 104x80x48mm in size and came with a credit card sized instruction leaflet. I had to take a photo of the instructions and blow the photo up to see them as the font was absolutely tiny. If you have raging eyesight like me then reading the card is impossible. The card said:
  • This is a PUZLLEBOX made of original LEGO® bricks
  • Your goal is to find the GOLDEN BAR
  • To do that you have to solve all the steps in the puzzle
  • All the steps are sequential (you can not bypass them)
  • Pay close attention to what you do (things move)
  • You can push, pull. turn and do what ever you want to solve the puzzle - BUT:
  • DON'T use too much force (if it doesn't move - maybe its not the time)
  • DON'T use your fingernails or any object that is not part of the puzzle
  • DON'T pull apart the puzzle (it will break)
  • If you are disconnecting a piece of from another piece - you are doing something wrong

It is described as a level 7/10 puzzle (I am not sure how that number has been decided) with 30+ steps.

There are lots of places to explore initially and all you can do is push at things with your finger and I was reassured that if it was not necessary to use a finger nail to poke tiny parts in or out. Only the tools provided should be used. Before my puzzle arrived I had been given an additional instruction to prevent a potential bypass. It is apparently possible to insert one of the tools into a hole and use it to pull something out. I was told not to do that and, to be honest, it would never have occurred to me to actually do such a thing. It just seems like the wrong thing to try and do.

After a few minutes, I found the first move and retrieved a tool which obviously could be used in quite a lot of different places on the puzzle...except in the vast majority of these places it did nothing. After another five minutes or so I had found that the tool would do something very specific and then several more specific things. I liked how the same tool could and should be used in multiple places but only in the correct order. These moves led to another very small tool dropping out onto the usual sleeping cat. At this point I decided to set it back to the beginning (also quite fun) and put it away so that I could play without the aid of a pussy boy who seemed to find tiny pieces of Lego very interesting. The second tool could quite easily be swallowed by the cat and it was definitely best to play without him around.

A few days later, I restarted and retrieved everything I had previously found and then discovered the reason for the name of the puzzle. There is a very small maze inside which needs to be navigated and then something else triggered. I got stuck here for a day. I learned the maze (it's not that challenging) but nothing happened at the end. I was missing something. As usual, I got focussed on one aspect for a while and could not get past it. Time for another reset and a think©. A day later, I started again and found what I was looking for - I had missed a whole sequence of moves which gave me another tool and then I could combine the use of all the tools into a fancy manoeuvre which moved me into yet another phase of the puzzle. It was reassuring to realise that if I could fit a small tool inside somewhere then I could always manipulate it either forward towards the solution or undo what I had done and retrieve it. At no point was there anything that I could do that was irreversible or would do harm.

I had out it down last night due to being unable to either get time without a cat or due to feeling under the weather (I have my first cold in over 2 years!) and then continued play this morning. With a very nice final Aha! moment, I retrieved the gold bar:

Gold bar found
The bar was attached to a tray with a QR code on it which took me to a congratulations page and links to videos which showed me how to reset the puzzle and also a video walkthrough of the solution. This is a very nice touch and greatly appreciated as I was not sure that I would have been able to reset it fully after one solve.

So what do I think? This is my first ever Lego puzzlebox and almost certainly not my last. There are now a couple of Lego based puzzle makers and if this is an example of what is possible then I am hooked. Could I design my own? No, I don't think so - Mrs S will NOT allow me to start buying Lego sets and I really don't know how to go about the design process. This is absolutely terrific and well worth the current $99 price point. The "full price" should be double that which I think is a bit steep but at sub 100 it is perfect. 

If boxes are your thing then you will like it. If, like me, you don't collect boxes then the box description is very loose. It does have a very small cavity but in reality this is a Sequential Discovery puzzle. You should buy it - I got mine for free but this has not influenced my review in any way. Buy it here whilst stocks last.

Sunday 11 December 2022

Several Twisty Challenges in One - The Dayan Gem X

It's Definitely a Little Gem!

Dayan Gem X
Yes, it's twisty time again! Don't run away - this one is really good and is actually solvable with a intuition alone and doesn't need any fancy algorithms or even making up any commutators. This Dayan Gem X is a fabulous little gem of a puzzle that can be scrambled and solved as a number of different challenges.

I would love to show you a photo of all of the Dayan gems but I have a bit of an organisation issue:

The gems are somewhere in there!
I can see a couple at the back but the thought of getting them out fills me with a sense of dread
Gem 1
The Dayan Gem series are a fabulous bunch of puzzles and this is the 9th to be produced - I have no idea what happened to the Gem 9 but I do hope that it will be coming. The Gem 1 (which I reviewed here way back in 2012) and Gem X look identical as truncated octahedra but they move differently. The whole point of all of this series is that they are interesting geometries and very interesting ways of moving. SuperAntonioVivaldi has made a fabulous summary video about the series). The original Gem 1 was a pure edge turner and had a similar solve process to a Curvy Copter. It was a fabulous challenge that mostly solved by intuition including the jumbling, double jumbling and shape shifting. I adored it...especially seeing as it didn't need a lot of fancy algorithms. Other Dayan Gems had similar truncated shapes and had face turning, deep and superficial cut face turning and even mixed edge and face turning. They were wonderful challenges that varied from easy intuition to mind-bogglingly difficult (especially for a bear of little brain like me). Every time one has come out I have been unable to resist adding it to my collection and frightened of them to varying degrees.

Of course, when I saw the Gem X come out I couldn't resist it and for once did not hold off scrambling and playing. As a general rule for you twisty novices or twisty-shy puzzlers, you should definitely embrace the edge turning puzzles. In my still extremely popular Twisty advice for beginners post and the follow up extension post I expounded on the delights of the edge turners. The addition of jumbling to a puzzle (with or without blocking) is so much fun and once you have got your head around the concept it really makes for extra interest. 

One edge and one face turn
So what does the Gem X add? First of all it turns on the same edges as the Gem 1 (see the purple and yellow edge is turned in the picture) and on top of that the square faces (of which there are six) also rotate (note the top left yellow face is turned. The end result of this is that we have 3 or even 4 puzzle challenges. Firstly I went for a face-turn only scramble and solve which, despite being extremely easy, was a lovely little challenge as a warm up for the more difficult puzzle scrambles.

After the face-turn only solve then, of course, there is a I went back to an edge only solve just like the Gem 1. It had been 10 years since I touched the original Gem and I had no recollection of the solve process at all. But keeping in mind what happens with the curvy copter, it is perfectly doable with just some intuition and thought.

After that then there is a mixed scramble of edges and faces but no jumbling and then attempting to solve that with only edge and face turns whilst avoiding jumbling in the solve (a jumble move has a very specific effect on the piece positions). Finally there is a full scramble with jumbling, double jumbling, and finished with shape shifting - GULP!

First of all, the face turning challenge:

Square faces only scrambled

The effect of face turning is to mix up the bicoloured edges and move them all over the puzzle whilst keeping the square faces intact. The solution to this challenge is pretty simple. It is effectively an octahedral version of the Dino cube and needs nothing more than my old favourite "up, up, down, down" sequence to move all those edges into place one at a time until the puzzle is left with a single 3 cycle which is also solved with that simple sequence. Stunningly easy and a perfect start to boost your confidence.

Next up the original edge (Dayan Gem 1) scramble. Like all edge turners the moving pieces remain in orbits and can be scrambled and solved logically just by moving the pieces within their orbits until you have 3 remaining to move into place and they solve with a simple intuitive 3-cycle. This, non-jumbling scramble was my second method of scrambling and solving. It is not difficult but it IS great fun. Then of course, once you have gained a little confidence then it's time for a jumble - this involves partial turns of adjacent edges and once lined up properly the edges can be rotated with shape shifting and pulling pieces out of their set orbits to add another facet to the challenge posed by this puzzle. The jumbling can be a double jumble which works like this and leaves the puzzle in the correct shape:
Two partial edge turns 
Then turn the central edge
End result 2 edges swapped
Performing an edges only scramble with double jumbling leads to a nice challenge - it looks much more scrambled than the face only scramble but it quickly becomes apparent that on the hexagonal faces 3 of the pieces are all in the correct place.
Edges only turned with double jumbles
Step one reveals it not to be too tough
The process of solving this puzzle is identical to the Gem 1 and if you have not bought that then there is no need to. It can be shapeshifted by single jumbling but I saved this for later.

One quirk of the double jumble solve is that occasionally it all solves leaving one or occasionally more edges flipped:
This is easy to fix if you remember the same thing on the Curvy copter
The reason for this is that the double jumbling can be done from 2 set up directions and therefore the solution is to redo the double jumbling twice. Extra fun for you.

Next up was a combined edge and face scramble that DID NOT utilise jumbling. Why bother with this? Because the next challenge is to solve the puzzle without using jumbling. It is not an easy challenge. The edge turned pieces are no longer within their orbits because the face turns disrupts the orbits. But, having scrambled it without jumbling I decided to attempt to solve it without jumbling:

It looks like any other non jumbled scramble
The difference here is that everything is scrambled and no simple turns will suddenly solve half the face pieces. I picked a hexagonal face and built it using a combination of face turns and edge turns. After that I basically worked my way up the puzzle in an almost layer by layer fashion adding pieces as I found them. I did not memories the colour scheme and had to work out which faces went where on the fly. Occasionally I would realise that I had placed pieces wrongly and did not realise it until I had 2 identical coloured faces adjacent to each other or reached a point where there was no bicoloured piece that would fit in the required space. This led to me rearranging hexagonal edges into different arrangements until I found a colour setup that was possible. I never got too far into it before realising my mistake (you could just memorise the colour scheme and avoid my pitfall). Once the colour scheme has been fathomed, then it, again, is mostly intuitively combining of pieces and working my way up layer by layer. Once I was above the equator line it began to get tougher. There was less room to move. Despite this there is a fabulous fun process that is STILL INTUITIVE! Or so I thought...

I solved the puzzle in this way a couple of times and was brimming with confidence until I hit an awkward moment:

Ooh! That shouldn't have happened.
I had to undo part of the top of the puzzle and reorganise it with one of the square faces turned through 90º. We had a parity caused by the fact that all the pieces on the square faces can be moved and if one of them is reassembled with the interior rotated then it is reflected in the exterior of the puzzle. I was scratching my head over that one for quite a few hours! All part of the fun.

Finally, we also have the ability to shapeshift by not pairing up the jumbles (i.e. single jumbles) which leads to a fearsome looking scramble:
Single unpaired jumble
Full face and edge scramble with ALL the jumbling
It looks horrific but having done the interim non-jumbling solves then it isn't too awkward to solve. The return to regular smooth shape just requires a bit of fiddling about until you learn how to line the gaps and the sticky-out bits properly and then twist them into each other. It is very satisfying to return it to proper truncated octahedral shape.

Having done that then the remaining solution proceeds just as I had with the combined scramble above. Mostly intuition is needed at the beginning and then towards the latter half it became obvious that I needed to use double jumbles to move pieces about as well as intuitive combinations of edge and face moves which rotate pieces into place. As long as you know what the double jumble does then it is fun
 to use it. The final process for this big scramble involves sometimes long complex setup moves which move the 2 pieces to be exchanged into the correct positions with respect to each other, performing the double jumble and then undoing those setup moves. Because I have the memory of a dementing goldfish, I had to write down a list of my setup moves so that I could undo them without mucking up all my hard work. 

The Dayan gem X is a fitting new member of the Gem family. If you are a collector then it is an essential purchase. If you are a twisty puzzler then it is an essential purchase. More importantly, for those of you who are just occasional twisty puzzlers and frightened of the more complex puzzles then this is definitely one to add to your collection and you can safely scramble and solve it in any of 5 different ways and have great fun playing and solving intuitively. Go for it - you won't be disappointed.

Sunday 4 December 2022

The Surgery Went Well - Angry Walter is No Longer a Danger

Angry Walter from DEDwood Crafts
I can't remember when I learned about Walter. I think it must have been at the end of last year that initial discussions began to happen and then Brent wrote a fabulous review of it in January. I was intrigued but somehow forgot about it completely due to pressure of work during the 5th or 6th wave of the pandemic. I may have sort of dismissed it because it had been labelled as a puzzle box and I really do try to steer away form these in a desperate attempt to keep my bank balance (and marriage) intact. The fact that it was more of a Sequential discovery puzzle didn't really impinge on me until much later when my friend Dominic asked me my opinion and was then horrified that I had not bought it (especially for such a silly reason). 

Suitably ashamed, I contacted Dee Dixon, the head honcho, and ashamedly enquired about purchasing a copy. Luckily he did not hold my earlier reticence against me and informed me that a new batch was about to be released and I manages to get hold of a copy which arrived in September with some rather frightening instructions. I particularly liked the "No crying or whining" line!

My copy was absolutely gorgeous made from some very vibrant woods. There is of course a bunch of magnets and  some very striking Canarywood, Peruvian Walnut, Bubinga, Claro Walnut, Sapele and Yellowheart. It is a pretty substantial item at 135x125x55mm. Mrs S was not impressed with the size of yet another toy left in the living room, kitchen, conservatory or wherever I happened to be (no puzzles in the bedroom)! She did agree that he was strikingly beautiful in an angry sort of way.

Dee says on his site:
"He's back...
Walter wasn't always angry. He was the world's best robot-friend, but time passed and the novelty wore off. He was left to rust in a junkyard alongside other abandoned robots. Walter swore revenge and started patching himself with whatever parts he could scavenge. He then began building his army. With his minions behind him, Angry Walter would emerge from the forgotten fields of misshapen metal mad as hell and ready to exact the revenge he promised on mankind. For humanity to have any hope of surviving his robot rage, you must find and remove his green power cell before it's too late. Stay calm as you make your way into Walter's inner workings and discover the tools and tricks you need to protect us all. It won't be easy, but the moments of discovery along the way will keep you from going mad. Now go forth and see if we can still be saved!"
So it would appear that my new patient needs some surgery to remove his green power cell. I have been known at work to scrub in to various surgeries (mostly orthopaedic) when the surgeon needs an assistant and if I have a suitably skilled junior doctor with me to give an anaesthetic. I do occasionally find it fun to wield a drill/saw or suture but not enough to make me want to change career. Luckily, as a robot he doesn't need to be anaesthetised whilst I perform surgery (it is not allowed to do both at the same time!)

That is usually quite painful!
There are lots of pieces that will obviously need to be removed. Just from looking at him, the eyes move, the mouth wiggles and so these may well need to be surgically manipulated. The ears and nose are rock solid however. During my initial viewing I turned him "prone" and did it without the usual Wilson frame and Proneview mask and eye tape. The cat in my lap (we don't usually have cats in the operating theatre!) was not impressed when Walter's right eye fell out on his head. It was quite heavy too! Well, encouraging for a Puzzlebox idiot like me, I had made progress straight away!

His left eye did not fall out but would rotate in its' socket which is not something I would advise any of you to do to yourselves - free medical advice for you!

For puzzles like this, I often bring out my trusty compass to allow me to detect magnet position and there are a LOT of magnets in Walter. I was obviously going to have to manipulate them somehow. I am usually rubbish at this but the early steps had very few choices for what could possibly be tried. It is down to the lack of options that I made progress and not due to any particular skill on my part. I moved stuff, I made things go click and before long Walter was being dismembered (actually, as an isolated head, he had already been dismembered but I don't know the word for having bits of his face ripped off surgically altered. After a while I had a few bits and needed to work out what to do with them. Here I stopped for several weeks. 2 of my "organs" were magnetic and I attempted to use them on all the other magnetic bits inside and got nowhere. I have no previous experience of Dee's puzzles and so tried everything I could think of...for a month!

Eventually Dominic contacted me to ask how I was getting on and I explained what I had and what I was trying to do. I could feel his exasperation across the pond and he admonished me to stop such silliness and just look at the puzzle again! Sigh! Yet another friend who realises that I am not terribly bright and am truly rubbish at puzzles. I stopped my silliness and did as he told me. 
Aha! That was very clever. That Dee Dixon hides stuff very well. The mechanism for that step I had missed for 4 weeks was  beautifully constructed and I should have noticed it earlier but I got fixated on the magnets. I now had another tool and could carry on working. Walter got more radical surgery and I found a small coloured ball bearing. I wondered whether that was me finished (was that a blue-green and his power cell?) and asked Dominic. I could almost feel his surprise that I hadn't noticed something else. He said I had more to try. I had noticed the other "thing" but had thought that it was related to the construction rather than the solution and had ignored it. 

It was back to trying everything I could think of and I couldn't think of much (not terribly bright) - back to the magnets again. In general, I am not a huge fan of having to blindly manipulate the interior of a puzzle with magnets because it is too much trial and error and just flailing around in the dark. But sometimes puzzle designers make you do that and I usually spend way too long failing to find the right moves. After a further 2 weeks or so of getting nowhere, Dominic contacted me to ask how I was getting on (he is not very patient!) and after I described my attempts, he gave me a clue. Not much of a clue but it was absolutely perfect - he said:
"Be brave!"

That was it! Just be brave. I knew what he meant by this and I "screwed my courage to the sticking place" and did something that I had previously thought was very silly. A metal piece then got stuck to a magnet in a hole and I couldn't for the life of me get it out again. I tried using a different magnet but it wasn't strong enough. Eventually, I retrieved that metal piece and tried a different object and promptly lost it! 😱😱😱

After my initial panic, I realised that this was what Dom and Dee had intended. I could hear it rattling around and then had a special thought..."what if I???" Now another piece was stuck in the wrong position. Quick! Backtrack a bit and think©. I wonder? I tried something else - similar but slightly different and Walter powered down!

The green power cell has been removed
Walter is no longer a threat to mankind and even after I put him back together he seemed very docile. Over the last day or so, I have heard mutterings from him about taking over the collected animals in the living room and forming a dictatorship. Each time I remove his power cell and he stops his nonsense and is as good as gold when I power him back up

If Walter takes charge then we may be devoured in our sleep!

My verdict? Absolutely brilliant! It will be a contender for my top 10 this year that I will be publishing on New Years Day. Of course, you all know that already because I am very late to the party here. It is beautifully made and very logical. My slow solve was due to my incompetence and I know that other puzzlers would sail through it much quicker than me. 

Thank you Dee, for a marvellous and beautiful puzzle that will remain on display in the living room rather than a cabinet and, thank you Dominic, for encouraging me to buy it and then just nudging me in the right direction without giving anything away! I cannot wait to try any new creations from the workshop of DEDwood crafts

Sunday 27 November 2022

Amazing How Much Difference Is Caused by a Half Voxel

Bubinburr by Juno
If you have not seen it yet - the puzzles that I reviewed last week from Pelikan have gone up for sale now - there are some incredible puzzles there - go get them quick.

It's been a bit of a struggle to get something to write about this weekend - I have had to work 3 weekends in a row and after the Herculean effort of solving all of the Pelikan puzzles, my poor little brain was mush! I have so far completely failed on the last steps of Angry Walter and also failed to solve my jingly puzzles I bought months ago from Aaron. In desperation, I picked up a gorgeous six piece board burr that has been on my to solve tray in the living room for over a year.

I bought a bunch of Juno's 6 piece board burrs way back in October 2021 - I couldn't resist the 5th and 6th in the series of Grooved board burrs which I solved and reviewed (#5 here and #6 here) within a few weeks of their arrival. I then hoped to solve the Bubinburr in the days or even week afterwards. I can now hear Juno and Yukari laughing at me from the other side of the world! They must have known that that was not going to happen! Their description of it should have warned me:
"This puzzle requires some very tricky 22 moves to remove the first piece from the assembled shape. Although a few pieces tend to rotate during the solving process, there seems to be no shortcut solution using rotational movements. It can be solved using rotational movements, but it still requires about the same steps as a rectilinear movement solution, though it is tricky to count while it involves rotational movements. The number of possible assemblies of the puzzle is a very large 30,592, and finding the unique solution among them is extremely difficult.
Once assembled, the puzzle looks just like an ordinary 6 board burr, but as you can see in the images below it has been designed using a grid system of half unit lengths. It doubled the number of moves for the first piece compared to an ordinary 6 board burr that has a maximum 11 moves unique solution. 
One of the most difficult aspects of designing this type of puzzle is to ensure that the puzzle has a unique solution. To achieve this, Juno has carefully modified the shape of a couple of pieces, which are cleverly hidden in the images below."
I thought that it wouldn't be too difficult when I bought it...especially since it did not have any extra grooves to catch me out. But I quickly realised that there was something really tough to this one. The exploration was fantastic with quite a few moves possible but no really deep blind ends. I was always able to return back to the beginning and try another path. There was a weird loop in the pathway as well which I frequently seemed to head through and back to the beginning without intending that. After many hours of attempts, I had to put it down. I just could not find the missing move(s).

The puzzle stayed on my tray for over a year and I would attempt to solve it every couple of weeks without success. It "only" has 22 moves to remove the first piece but I just couldn't seem to manage it. As Juno stated, the use of half voxels made all the difference. I did not bother to look for a rotational solution and tried to keep the pieces controlled as I played. Using that half voxel cut out or added in on every piece (some are not even full thickness) effectively meant that the puzzle was built on a 12x12x12 grid instead of the usual 6x6x6. 

I am not sure what happened today - maybe it was my desperation to have something solved to write about before I spend a day working on trauma patients, maybe it was the very nice gin that I had last night, I don't know. But, this morning, I picked it up and went through my usual initial exploration and attempted my usual moves but for some reason I tried a different move - I think it may have been because I held it differently and gravity found the move for me. But suddenly there was a whole lot more room to manoeuvre than before and Aha! I had my first piece out. The rest of the disassembly was pretty straightforward and I could take the all-important photo:

Finally after over a year of trying!
I don't think I can reassemble it from memory but that is absolutely fine as making the Burrtools file is a significant part of the fun!

So what is going to be next? I have a backlog of puzzles bought from Eric and my birthday present from the present wife, Mrs S has just arrived:

Dayan Gem 10, 16 axis hexadecagon
Eitan's Edge turning Octahedron, 4-Corners cube Plus

Sunday 20 November 2022

Anyone Want a Pelikan for Christmas?

Upcoming delights from Jakub and Jaroslav
10 or 11 days ago I received a rather large box! Mrs S was very unhappy about the rather large box and I had to apologise profusely about the state of my collection and how it had spilled everywhere in the house. She did have to admit that my recent partial tidy up had improved things but foresaw (probably realistically) that the latest set of arrivals might just undo all that. But...I have readers to think of and the danger I take on with every delivery is just for you!


Bornage by Stephane Chomine
I adore Stéphane Chomine’s designs - they always have a simplicity to them yet also are a real challenge. This is definitely the case here with a level of How can it be so difficult? There are just 4 burr sticks (gorgeous Purpleheart) in a very simple frame (made from Merbau). Starting off, there are only a few moves possible and they stop in a blind end very quickly. Only one sequence seems to progress and this promisingly opens up the visibility inside very quickly. After a short while it really looks like progress has been made and it would separate soon but I came to a hard stop here. Despite great visibility, I could not progress and was locked going back and forth to this position again and again. I must have been missing something but could not see it for the life of me. Eventually after putting it down for an hour I came back to it and then was able to find the sneaky move and dismantled it. 


As always with Stéphane it is a stunning design, beautifully made with moves as smooth as silk that was a delight to solve.


Vega by Stewart Coffin - 2 versions available
Vega is another classic Stewart Coffin puzzle based on the triangular star base puzzle. They are absolutely gorgeous in a Zebrano with either Purpleheart or Wenge corner tips. As you all know these puzzles dismantle into 2 groups of 3 pieces before fully falling apart. The 6 pieces here are identical and I thought that this would mean that there was only one solution. Interestingly this one only comes apart in one specific direction which took me a good few minutes to find. The craftsmanship is absolutely perfect with no clues whatsoever as to which direction it dismantles. Eventually I found the direction of travel and had it apart to admire the precision of the angles. 

Classic triangular star pieces
Then I reassembled the trios of pieces to put together in 2 halves and they were blocked! This surprised me - the puzzle has handedness and can be assembled in either way but the pairs must be correctly grouped. I corrected the assembly and after a little while fiddling to get the alignment just right (it needs to be absolutely perfect to get them to slide on each other) I reassembled the beautiful star. Later, I disassembled again and thought about my initial difficulty and realised that there are 2 distinct assemblies of these pieces which have a set “handedness” - the end result is identical but they are different assemblies. As a mark of the precision, they fit together absolutely perfectly regardless of how you pair up the pieces or which handedness you choose to assemble them in. All decent puzzle collections should have an assortment of these star based designs.


Rosebud by Stewart Coffin
I have never actually seen one of the Rosebud puzzles in the flesh/wood before! I have seen photos and blog posts but people seldom bring them out to let others play with them because it's such a difficult challenge to reassemble it. This amazing design by Stewart Coffin is one that sets the masters of their craft apart from a mere journeyman woodworker. Rosebud is a coordinate motion puzzle that is one of the most challenging to manufacture as the tolerances have to be accurate to fractions of a millimetre to allow the pieces to slide on each other and for it to close up into the rosebud form without showing any gaps. I have never owned one of these because the level of craftsmanship makes them very rare and very expensive. Of course, Jakub and Jaroslav have managed to make a superb version that is absolutely perfect with the wood choices being evocative of a rose and the precision being simply spot on. Finding the proper pressure points to cause it to slide apart is difficult but then you need to control it so that it doesn’t fly apart. You need to catch it in the expanding splendour that reveals the Rosebud come into bloom before the petals fall off and it dies like a fading flower. 

Just like the Vega, this puzzle is another based on the triangular star base but is fully coordinate motion. As are many puzzles based on the star, there is an alternative assembly which is a fun challenge even if the result is not interesting. You need to work out the proper combination and orientation to allow the pair of triplets to interlock. Having found the incorrect assembly and taken my photo, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the orientation that it went together and spent a frustrating time trying to find the disassembly. 

I definitely recommend buying the jig!
Reassembly into the true Rosebud form is the real challenge. It is so difficult to assemble that most puzzlers need a jig (or 4 more hands) to hold the pieces properly for the assembly. Luckily Pelikan have made a jig to help you which you may choose to buy with your puzzle. I heartily suggest that you do and I hope that you use it correctly unlike me! I didn’t realise that it has one side for display of the blooming rose and the other for reassembly. I spent a good hour or more desperately trying to assemble the puzzle using the jig the wrong way around. Even using it the correct way, the reassembly is a massive challenge. This puzzle is a masterpiece and should be on every serious collector's shelf.


Dracula by Alfons Eyckmans - NOT just another 6 piece burr
Alfons Eyckmans is a master at designing burrs (in fact all interlocking puzzles). The Dracula is a member of his Burr zoo set of puzzles but unlike previous designs this contains a blood drinking vampire in his coffin. Fittingly, he is made from a very pale Maple inside the light excluding Wenge six piece burr. This is one of the most enjoyable burrs I have played with for a long time. The design is very reminiscent of the fabulous 6 piece burrs designed by Stephan Baumegger which have the sticks based on a 3x3x9 grid which allows very complex interlocking shapes to be created. They must be an absolute nightmare to manufacture but, as expected, they are absolutely perfect. The disassembly did not take me very long but was absolutely delightful and even Mrs S laughed to see the contents hidden behind the spoiler button.


Pearl by Lucie Pauwels
This attractive puzzle by Lucie Pauwels is sent out in a special travel conformation - it is a nice hollow 3x3x3 cube containing a nice marble (pearl) and held in a frame by long dowels that go through each corner along each axis. The dowels need to be pushed out and the cube dismantled. I scrambled the pieces and left them for a while to lose any memory of the positioning and then set to rearranging the pieces back into shape. This is a nice logic puzzle that shouldn’t take long for experienced puzzlers but might be a decent challenge for a beginner. I found it quite fun after the effort required for the others. Looking at a Burrtools file there are 2 possible assemblies but I have so far only managed to find one of them.

Twinkle star

Twinkle star comes in a beautiful box
Inside a lovely puzzle
There are two puzzles by Osanori Yamamoto in this selection and they have been beautifully made in miniature form with extreme precision and are sent out in a lovely little box made from Cherry which also has been beautifully made. The box could definitely be used elsewhere like a bedside table for jewellery or another small object. Inside the box is one of Osanori-san’s delightful puzzles with captive pieces on a board. The aim is to rearrange everything so that the Merbau pieces can be removed from the Wenge frame and then reassemble later. This one requires a couple of nice rotational coordinate motion moves before they can be removed (there is also an alternative route of disassembly that requires some linear moves as well). This was not as difficult as some of his other challenges but fun all the same.


P-Badge comes in a lovely little box
Beautiful puzzle inside
The second of Osanori Yamamoto's lovely little sliding piece puzzles in beautifully made boxes is P-badge. This one has 3 P-shaped pieces made from Wenge held on an Acacia frame. The gorgeously precise puzzle is perfectly encased in an Ash box. The removal of the pieces requires only linear moves and is delightful in the sheer perfect precision of the manufacture. The real challenge is the reassembly after scrambling the pieces and leaving them for a while. It’s not a hugely difficult challenge but a nice one to show off to beginners.


Eros by the incredible Dr Volker Latussek
Did you enjoy Casino by the amazing Dr Volker Latussek? If not, then there’s something wrong with you - in my opinion it is one of the best puzzles of all time. If you did like Casino then you will love Eros! Volker has altered the Casino design he has split 2 of the circles in half and added them to adjacent edges of a square to make a couple of hearts. These 2 hearts (made from a lovely red Bubinga) need to be placed in the beautifully crafted box with the rest of the disks which have been made into rounded squares to make the challenge tougher. Initially, it’s even pretty difficulty to work out an arrangement that could possibly fit in the box...the dimensions will not allow a stack of 4 pieces (they all have the same thickness). Then, once you think you have worked out an assembly, the actual insertion of the last 2 pieces is incredibly hard to work out. The lip on either side of the entry hole really gets in the way. There is no squeezing it just won’t work that way. The correct sequence of moves is essential. I absolutely adored this puzzle, I personally think it is slightly simpler than Casino but the Aha! moment is just as delicious. I think this is the pick of this release from Pelikan.


Snooky by Stephan Baumegger
Stephan Baumegger designs some very interesting puzzles and my favourite burrs from him have been his 6 piece burr variants with complex piece shapes that turn the puzzle into a sort of burr with a maze. The Snooky is just one such is just 6 pieces but the basic sticks (Pink Oak) have been modified by the addiction of small Wenge extensions. These extensions make it look very attractive but block many moves that you might want to try. The difficulty level is not particularly high at (which to me is a good thing) and the number of blind ends is just right. There are quite a few moves to start with, but once the beginning of the correct pathway is found then the disassembly is a matter of exploration. I really enjoyed it and had done enough back and forth that I was also able to reassemble it without Burrtools.

Snooky pieces
All in all, a lovely addition to any burr collector’s display.

Corner pack

Corner Pack by Lucie Pauwels
Corner pack by Lucie Pauwels looks absolutely stunning with a pair of very striking woods - the box is made from Acacia and the rather complex pieces to be placed inside the box are a nice grained Wenge. It arrives with all the pieces inside but flush with the top surface. There are 3 L-shapes of various sizes and 7 corner pieces as you can see in the photo. All the pieces need to be placed inside the box to end up with the pieces under the lip which is on 3 of the 4 sides. This means there are a lot of complex shapes to be placed and a restricted entry as well. Once packed, the entrance to the box will be completely filled.

This is an incredibly difficult challenge which I have failed to solve after 3 days of attempts. There is certainly a logic to this because the pieces are quite complex and the correct way to make them link together is rather awkward and then trying to get that to happen through the top hole has proved completely impossible for me so far - I will keep at it! This is an essential for you packing puzzle aficionados.


Detonator by James Fortune
James Fortune has appeared in the puzzle world in the last couple of years and this is the first puzzle of his that I have tried. He designs fairly complex burr type puzzles (and also SD puzzles) which he 3D prints and sells from his web store. I have not bought any as yet but should probably remedy that soon. As always, I think that most puzzles look much nicer in wood and the gorgeous detonator made by Jakub and Jaroslav here is made from a vibrant Padauk, Wenge and Garapa. It looks just like one of the detonator boxes you would see in the old cartoons. It is not for the faint hearted as it has a solution level of The version here has quite a lot of moves which lead to several possible pathways. So far I have not managed to get very far due to my need to keep moving back and forth so as not to get lost. The movements are beautifully smooth and the bevelled pieces don't catch on each other preventing discovery. This is going to be a difficult puzzle to solve but should be a lot of fun. It will look glorious on display as well.

So what should you buy? Well, I would suggest all of them! But if you cannot manage that extravagance then pick those that meet your own puzzle preferences. BUT Everyone should get Eros! Everyone should get the Rosebud (don't forget the jig) and my next favourite amongst them has to be the Dracula.