Sunday 24 April 2022

The Burr Bot Took His Gold to the Burr Bank

Burr Bank by Andrew Crowell
I have been home alone for a week whilst "she who must be flinched from" has been oop north visiting the outlaws. You might think that this would be fabulous as I could slob about, eat crap, watch a lot of action movies on the TV and play with my toys! Unfortunately, I still had to work and I had been left a list of chores to do and had to look after a disturbed cat. I am far to frightened of her to leave the place in a filthy state for when she came home so the cleaning etc still had to be done. I did manage to find a little time for some action movies (Dune was a little slow) but I always appreciate a film with Milla Jovovich in it. The puzzling was really rather good as you will read below.

Two weeks ago I wrote about Andrew Crowell's Burr Bot and I absolutely loved it! Unfortunately it is not available any more as Andrew has shifted his attention to the next puzzle in the sequence, the Burr Bank. As far as I can tell, it is not yet available for general sale and my copy is an advance one prior to him making them more widely available. I do not know how many of them will be made because this is a tour de force - Many people seem to think that 3D printed puzzles are easy to make, you just set the machine to go and the puzzle comes out the other end. I know for certain that this is not the case - the design has to be perfected which may necessitate multiple reprinting, the machine settings need to be just right, the finish and infill need to be perfect and, in the case of these, lots of magnets need to be glued in place. The thought and work that has gone into this creation is staggering.

There are no real spoilers here but I have hidden several of the other photos behind spoiler buttons - don't click if you don't want to see.

Just like with Burr Bot, the aim is to open it up and find the hidden treasure inside - in this case it will be gold. Comparing it to the prior creation, this one is obviously significantly more complex. There is the usual four horizontal burr sticks (which I assumed were different form the predecessor) and also the vertical one that interacts with them. Except this time, the vertical one is trapped by a lid with a hole in it. Interesting to see but nothing moves apart from the horizontal sticks so off I go to see what is possible. Just like before, there are quite a few movement possibilities and I was worried that I would get lost (this is always my perpetual fear when playing with complex burr puzzles - I have one of Alfon's puzzles trapped in a halfway position which I cannot get out of).

I needn't have worried, the movements are not so many that I could not keep track. I made a particularly interesting discovery and was able to do it repeatedly and was happy to proceed with the next step. I was able to remove the top panel:

At this point I got a bit overconfident - remembering what had been done with Burr Bot, I attempted to do the same thing...again and again and again! 

Of course, I was too stupid to realise that Mr Crowell was not going to make it easy for me. I got stuck at this point for a couple of days - what I wanted to do just wasn't going to happen and I was too thick to stop and try something else. Eventually, I got fed up with failing and looked properly at what I had and what I could do. There was something obvious to try that I hadn't thought of (did I say already that I am not terribly bright?) and once I thunk it then I had something else to try as a result. 

This is fantastic! I really felt like I had achieved something and still had a long way to go. Looking at the lid and base was no help. There was obviously stuff to be done with them but I couldn't see how it was possible.

Maybe if I went back to what I had been trying and failing at before? Well that was clever - now my impossible aim seemed to be achievable.

Having done the puzzle multiple times now, I have come to realise that Andre has done something rather unexpected with the puzzle sequence. I can't tell you what it is but if you get a copy for yourself and play a few times then you will notice something special about the sequences that are needed. It is an added bonus that made me grin for quite some time.

Once I had feed a fair number of parts of the puzzle and looking at what I had, there seemed to be something obvious that I needed to do. I mean, really really obvious! So I did that obvious thing multiple times without anything happening. Yes, stuck again! At this point it was time for me to think© yet again. I am not good at think©ing and having to do it multiple times during one puzzle solve was pretty painful but quite enjoyable - everything that you need is there in front of you but despite being in plain sight, is not obvious. I noticed something special about one of the pieces and realised that was going to be useful. Also, at one point I did wonder to myself, why do I have two of those when previously I had achieved my procedure using just one of them? (No I can't show them to you) and then the reason hit me in the face. I had to use both of them (it was not because one was spare). 

I tried something doing something for a third time and this time it was useful:

That shark gets everywhere!
The rear of the coin - a ?
Having found the money, I was all flushed with success. Solved a puzzle in time for the blog post this week except...why was the a ? on the back of the money? I also had a nagging thought that maybe it was not the end result that was intended. The pieces that I had did look like there was another area to explore and the instructions (which I had not read since I took the photo a few weeks ago) were clear that the "cantankerous fellow" had hidden gold in the bank. The coin I had found was definitely not gold in colour. Time to think© yet again and maybe find some other tool and way to open the final compartment. It didn't take me much longer but the Aha! moment was wonderful - I had plundered the plastic gold:

What an incredible puzzle! There are multiple facets to it with tools to discover and work out how to use. Some parts have wonderful moments of realisation to them only after doing them a few times. Every single corner, plane, flange and magnet has been carefully designed into the puzzling process. Andrew has taken what he learned from Burr Bot and taken every aspect a step or two further. I adore my wooden puzzles but this is something I will treasure for a very long time - despite being plastic, it is still beautiful and is one of the best puzzles that I own. It will be a major contender for puzzle of the year 2022. Thank you, my friend!

Wil Tricks Me!

Aus dem Effeff
Recently I made a rather special purchase from Wil Strijbos and was delighted when there was a little extra gift in the very well taped box. The Aus den EffEff puzzle is a "simple" packing puzzle. A complex shaped hole in the frame in which there are a bunch of Eff's (10 of them). They are dual sided being white on one side and a really vibrant red (presumably Padauk) on the reverse. The instructions are to take all of them out and place all the pieces in place red side up. As you all know, I am terrible at this sort of puzzle but there is something compulsive about it - the pieces fit together nicely and it is strangely therapeutic placing them in the frame so that they lock together. At least it is for the first week!!! 

I have spent quite a few hours idly trying to put this together and was beginning to wonder whether this was one of those impossible puzzles that I have been a victim of before. I always would get extremely close and yet there was always one voxel in the wrong place:

Almost there but almost is not good enough!
I've been having a little email conversation with the great Michel van Ipenburg recently and he asked how I was getting on. After admitting my total failure he offered a clue - literally an emphasis on a single word did it for me. The solution was obvious if I had tried to actually think© about it but that is not my strong point and it took a little nudge. The aha! moment is delicious and I finally managed to pack the puzzle properly. Wonderful challenge as well!

Sunday 17 April 2022

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed...

And now I'm Blue!

My table of toys - some have been here months or even years!
Much to the chagrin of Mrs S, my puzzle arrivals keep on coming and I haven't had time to put any away in ages - they are EVERYWHERE! I have quite a lot that I haven't managed to solve or haven't managed to even play with yet. Some of my most longstanding puzzles that are suitable to be left somewhere warm and which are suitable to dip into periodically are left on a side table in our conservatory. I find that at weekends, after the obligatory exercise on the rower (if I get fat, she will chuck me out! 😱), I tend to sit on the sofa next to these puzzles and pick up something to idly fiddle with. Sometimes I don't get a chance to sit down because its not always my seat...

It's warm in here! Zzzzzz
Sometimes I wish I was a cat!
A correspondent of mine (that's you, Steve) also seems to have a penchant for Aaron Wang's disentanglement puzzles and recently asked me how I had gotten on with the Boxing Gloves puzzle and if I could provide a clue to help him. I shamefully had to admit that I had singularly failed to solve it in over 4 years - shame on me! That puzzle has been sitting on that glass table for longer than any other - I keep thinking that I should be able to solve it and keep failing at it. 

Boxing Gloves - looks familiar?
Does it look familiar? It should is "just" a Ball and Chain puzzle - I have written about them before in their various guises, from the original classic that I bought from the sadly missed Livewire puzzles to the fabulous complex versions from Aaron I bought in 2015 and again last year which I had so much fun with. The thing about ball and chain puzzles is that they have a base move that they all share but after (or even before) that they need careful setting up and obviously careful movements after that. The Boxing Gloves is doesn't even look that complicated unlike the Maze B&C that I failed at so spectacularly last July. One thing that frightens me about these puzzles is the tendency to get into a terrible knot. Recently, Aaron has been using wonderful quick release mechanisms so that it is easily possible to reset a tangled puzzle but this one has nothing to help you if you get into a mess - I was rather frightened of it but could not stop myself from trying it every few weeks or months.

After my recent correspondence, I had to try again. I sat down (having moved the cat) on Good Friday and started playing again. I kept getting into the usual trap and having to carefully backtrack to avoid the inevitable mess and ended up sitting staring at it thinking© to myself that it is just two interlocked Ball and chain puzzles! It should not need anything fancy to solve it. Why wasn't my standard B&C approach working? The second one always could not be set up properly. 

At that point the cat insisted on more food and I put it down to feed him. During that process my thoughts went along the lines of..."if the second one is always set up wrong then what if I don't have a second one?" That sounds fairly cryptic but if you are reading this, Steve, then you have a fairly big clue right there! I tried something that I had not thought of before in 4 years and it didn't work - something wasn't quite right. Looking at it, though, it was clear why and I needed a very specific setup move before trying the same thing again. It frightened me quite a bit because the whole thing seemed on the verge of a knot and it required every single bit of the length of that chain but suddenly...

Aha! At last!
I cannot believe it - I have finally solved an old puzzle after years of attempts. It is a fabulous idea and one I should have managed earlier but needed me to have a particular train of thought©! Returning it to the beginning requires the same setup move (which took me a little while to find again) and then the usual sequence for this style of puzzle. Thank you Aaron, it is wonderful!

Anti-Gravity Box+
Next I tried something new - I had received a few beauties from Eric recently including the Anti-gravity box+. The plus here is because Eric worked with Frederic Boucher to add an extra challenge to his original puzzle giving us 2 sets of 6 sticks to be inserted into the box, one has 2 solutions and the other solution. Eric has beautifully made this from Iroko and Paulownia with magnets glued in flush either on the side or end of the pieces. The two puzzle sets can be told from each other by the presence of a decorative dowel in the end of the set with the unique solution. 

The top of the box has a nicely fitted acrylic lid to allow the failed puzzler to quickly remove the pieces either to try the next puzzle or, more usually, to start again having failed miserably. My initial thought was to find a stacking method that would not allow the magnets to repel each other and then simply slide the pieces inside whilst using gravity and tilting to get the pieces to where I wanted them. Doh! I should have read the instructions properly - the box has to be placed on a work surface/table and cannot be manipulated after that. The challenge is to insert the pieces through the two windows and any manipulation of those pieces can ONLY be carried out using the sticks themselves - you are not even allowed to poke your fingers inside. Now that really ups the ante. Yesterday, having finally convinced myself that I had definitely understood the Boxing gloves, I decided to try this. Luckily this time the cat was on my lap and I could use him as a table. The snoring was a little off-putting though. The set with two solutions has an extra magnetic piece and this makes manipulation quite a bit simpler (although not easy by any stretch of the imagination). After about an hour of trying various ideas, I finally worked it out and had my box packed - the lazy boy had not even woken up to admire my efforts. The next challenge was a variant of the first needing quite a bit more thought© and planning. I had that challenge beaten in another half hour and was feeling quite chuffed. At last I can place my prowess on the same level as those of Brent (Five Sinatras) and Jerry Loo. Except...I have a nagging feeling when reading their reviews that I might have done something I was not allowed to do. I think I will have to ask Fred whether I have been silly or not. If you get a chance to buy this puzzle then I think it is a perfect challenge for an idle hour of puzzling which should leave you full of admiration for Fred's warped brain and Eric's craftsmanship.

Something borrowed??? Over 9 months ago, I was very kindly lent a copy of the ResQ puzzle (again designed by Frederic Boucher and made by Eric) and I have been playing with it off and on every few weeks when I get time. To my eternal shame, I have found only one move and discovered a tool. Having found my tool, I have no idea what to do with it - there seem to be absolutely no "tool-holes" for me to place it and all I can do is admire the wonderful workmanship. I am very grateful to Andrew for lending it to me and his enormous patience as I have kept it for so so long! This is how puzzle friends are - such a wonderful bunch!

This leaves me feeling a little blue - but not as much as a partial solve...

Sax 2

Another fabulous challenge that I had bought from Aaron was a set of pure wire puzzles designed by Shuai Chi and beautifully made by Heping Gao. I loved the look of these for the theming but also the fact that they are pure wire meaning no knots. It does not, however, mean that they are easy. Aaron has given them all a level of 10+ which means that he found them pretty hard to solve himself and that means that a simpleton like me will really struggle and, oh boy, did I struggle!

Over the last 6 months since they arrived I have played with all three of them and can vouch that they are very very tough. Whilst they look very similar, they are all distinctly different and moves that are possible on one are not possible on the others. Seeing as I was so flush with success from the Boxing gloves and then I chose to have yet another try at this set that had beaten me so far (it has been in my conservatory stash the whole time). I chose to try the Sax 2 puzzle because I thought that one less obstructing ball might make for an easier puzzle. To be honest, this probably isn't the case because the loop on the end of the shuttle effectively causes a major obstruction because it cannot pass through the lowest of the hoops on the main body. I wasn't to know that at the time. 

There are some very interesting movements possible in this puzzle and it blocks up quite easily but during all my experimentation had never gotten to a point where I got lost and couldn't backtrack to the beginning. I was on a bit of a roll - I made a discovery that wasn't going to work but looked like it should so it was time yet again to Think© (damn you, Allard and your thinking - it's not good for me). The discovery really looked like I was on track but the next step was blocked. This forced me to do something I had not done before - I tried to picture the moves in my head if the blockage wasn't there and this should definitely solve the puzzle. So how do I circumvent the blockage? Oooh! What if I? Yessss! I am not used to solving disentanglement puzzles like that - I was able to plan out the appropriate moves in my mind and before long I had this:

So why am I so blue? Having had something old, new and borrowed must be the reason. At this moment, I still have the puzzle in two pieces - I have spent a whole day trying to return it to the beginning and seem to be missing a trick. My head now hurts quite a lot and I think I might need to put it down for a while! Once I have it fully solved i.e. returned to the beginning and then moved both ways a second time then it will be time to try the others in the series - wish me luck!

Sunday 10 April 2022

Can a Robot Choke? Burr Bot by Andrew Crowell

Burr Bot by Andrew Crowell
Before I start today, I have to inform you (if you hadn't noticed already) that the puzzles I reviewed last week have been released for sale on the Pelikan puzzles store. Almost all of them are still available as I type this.

I have known Andrew for a rather long time and have had a LOT of fun with his puzzles over the years. Originally he was known for his gorgeous wooden creations - mostly interlocking puzzles of his own design as well as remakes of a few of his favourite Stewart Coffin puzzles.
Diagonal cube
Locked cube III
I was amazed by the quality and finish from a relative newcomer to the puzzling world at the time. and then it went a little quiet before he burst back onto the world having taken the rarified arena of Turning Interlocking Cubes (TICs) so beloved by me and one of my mentors, Bernhard Schweitzer, totally by storm and designed some of the most amazing puzzles any of us had ever seen. Whilst he still produced a few of his own designs in wood he has moved into 3D printing in a big way and sells them via his store here or through Etsy

I am always looking for more beautiful wood but I still love the puzzling experience in plastic but tend not to put many of these on display. The advantage of the plastic is that I can box them up and store them in my garage and then play with them again at a later date without having to worry that they might degrade in storage. Today's puzzle will definitely not be going into storage now that I have solved it - it will go on display in one of my cabinets - it is a stunning puzzle in looks as well as play experience. The Burr Bot came to my attention when it appeared in the IPP design competition last year. Unfortunately due to this pesky virus thing, we couldn't all get together and play with them and the viewing and voting was done on-line. I was very intrigued - it was a sequential discovery puzzle as well as a burr. It also won a Jury Honourable mention prize. I was determined to get a copy. 

At this time work caught up with me - the virus was running riot through the UK and hospitals were chock-a-block. My workload went through the roof and I had very little time for puzzling, let alone purchasing. I completely forgot about it until my friend Steve reviewed it (along with a rather wonderful looking cocktail) on his blog. If Steve professes to loving a burr then there must be something very special and/or very clever about it...he will be the first to admit that burrs are not his thing. As you all know, they really are my thing. So I wrote an email to Andrew asking if one might still be available. To my shame, I wasn't paying proper attention to my email app and sent the email to Andrew Coles (owner of the puzzle lock company) who delightfully was obviously used to this mistake happening and forwarded it on to the correct Andrew. Phew!

Before you head off to ask Andrew for your own copy of Burr Bot, I have to sadly inform you that they have sold out and Andrew has moved on to the next in his puzzle series. I was just in time because he had a few parts still lying around and was happy to print the pieces that he needed to complete the remainder of the puzzle. Lucky me! In fact he also offered (whilst he was posting to the UK) to make and send me the puzzle he has switched his attention to - Burr Bank which is supposed to be more complex and the next step in the evolution of this puzzle sequence. Well it would be rude to turn him down so I risked the wrath of Mrs S and both puzzles were being made and arrived a couple of weeks ago.

That week was quite a busy week for Mrs S and the various postal services as I also received the latest delivery from Jakub with the Pelikan puzzles to review, a gorgeous pair of puzzles from Stephan Baumegger as well as a lovely heavy metal delivery from Mr Strijbos. I won't say what she said when my delivery from Mr Fuller arrived this week. Let's leave it at Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear. Let it be known that whilst I apologised for so many arrivals, I did NOT promise not to buy any more.

My work has become quite chaotic over the last few weeks and months. There is a lot of staff sickness in hospitals just now due to Covid and this is placing a lot of strain on services. I spend my time trying very hard to get the work done and help my colleagues clear the enormous backlog of cases that have built up and often finish work late. I also am the fool who volunteered to write the on-call rotas for our department and am having to scrabble around on a weekly (if not daily) basis to fill suddenly opened gaps caused by sickness. Al of this does not leave me much time for puzzling and when I do have time, leaves me with a brain that doesn't seem work right. It was with considerable trepidation that I picked up Burr Bot and read the instructions. 

The cute cubic bot had swallowed something and it was definitely audible when gently shaken. There was no other information so I assumed that it was just a burr that I needed to dismantle. Looking at it I could see 4 horizontal sticks in the frame which would interact with what looked like a vertical central burrstick. Time to investigate and see how they interact. Whilst I love this sort of puzzle and have a MASSIVE collection of these interlocking cubes from Alfons Eyckmans, I do often really struggle to solve them due to getting terribly lost. 

There certainly is an interesting mechanism inside - I got a clue to this when I picked it up from my armchair and the key to the Popplock T13 was hanging from the bottom! There appear to be magnets inside!

Within a few moves!
I quickly became engrossed and realised that there was more to this than met the eye. The central piece rises up but the bottom piece is not attached to it. Whilst that was distracting, I did not know what else I could do and just carried on exploring. One evening in front of the TV left me going round and round in circles with the pieces quite well trapped amongst each other. I had to be careful not to be too noisy - 3D printed puzzles do make a certain scratchy noise when the pieces are moved and I did not want to upset "she who must be flinched from". I was also making lots of my usual muttering noises which she also finds very annoying ("Do you have to breathe like that?" I often hear). I got stuck that first evening but had a breakthrough the following one:

I had a key piece - now what? I got sidetracked trying to remove the cross pieces for an evening before abandoning that as fruitless. There are clearly magnets in it (both the interior of the Bot as well as the key) and it was going to be important to work out how they should be used.

Mrs S was very amused to see me rotating and spinning the bot whilst trying to stroke various parts of it with the magnets. Nope! That was not working for me - time to Think© - ouch!

At this point, I noticed something (no I can't tell you what it is) and this led very nicely to another discovery and then some experimentation produced a whole new challenge. I was off again. 

The remainder of the puzzle required more discoveries, more think©ing and more experimentation - I got quite good at manipulating the burr sticks during this and only got trapped 4 or 5 times. After my 7th or 8th Aha! moments I was finally able to cure Burr Bot's indigestion - it's a kind of radical way to do it (similar to what I see at work many days). In medical terms we have had a laparotomy (opening the abdomen), gastrotomy (opening the stomach), before delivery of the unwanted contents.

Not a spoiler - it was always obvious this was going to happen
It would appear that Burr Bot has swallowed a shark. No wonder he was feeling a little under the weather! At this point, I did think I had finished but there was still some unused parts of the puzzle and something was still gently rattling. After the next step (which I did wonder whether he would survive) I also had the coin that keeps his heart beating:

So much fun!
Time to take the photos and then reassemble it all before trying again to make sure that I properly understood it. A mark of a thoughtful design here, is that the reset of this wonderful puzzle is not just a reversal of every step that has been done so far. It can be reset very easily and then just needs a reinsertion of the key into the top. Fabulous!

I am very grateful to Andrew for finding the spare parts lying around to make me a copy. I can see why he won a prize in the design competition - it is a wonderful odyssey with personality and fun as well as a really nice sequence of discoveries, experimentation and thought. I am looking forward to working on Burr Bank which is supposed to be even tougher and more fun.

Thank you, my friend!

Sunday 3 April 2022

Pelikan's Best Release Ever!

Not my photo - this was done for Jakub by Ivan Danik
I unpacked them in a hurry after work and Mrs S was distinctly unimpressed with 8 puzzles arriving
I moved them into my study as quickly as possible to prevent violence occurring!
I have written this ahead of release date due to work pressures. My goodness what a week and a bit! Having returned from a week off I have had to pay for it dearly by working my little butt off - 2 weekends in a row and some late finishes at work have meant that trying to solve the latest Pelikan release has been a huge challenge. I have not managed to solve them all yet but I have beaten 6 in a Herculean effort. Let me say, that effort has been worth it - I think this might well be the best Pelikan release ever. 

We have (from back left):
The Cup designed by Ad van der Schagt (also designed the Fourfold puzzle)
Sliders 2 designed by Alexander Magyarics
Waltzing Whales designed by Alfons Eyckmans
Soma Squartata designed by Dr Volker Latussek
Castle Builder Set designed by Tamás Vanyo
TILL designed by Dr Volker Latussek
Double Symmetry designed by Osanori Yamamoto
JB4A designed by Osanori Yamamoto

Onto the puzzles and I will start with the centrepiece which I have not even attempted yet - it is the pick of the bunch and deserves my full attention and not a quick fiddle and fail. 

Castle Builder Set

Castle Builder Set designed by Tamás Vanyo (made from Oak)
This incredible design and work of art created by Jakub and Jaroslav is a sort of freeform pattern creating puzzle (I am not actually certain how it should be classified). I saw this design from Tamás back in January when he published it on his FB page and it intrigued me. The beauty and intricacy of the pieces were unusual and I was hopeful that it might be produced in large numbers for the puzzling world to try. I was not surprised when Jakub showed it to me - he is probably the only craftsman that I know who would take on such a huge production challenge like this.

Even the instructions are beautiful!

The aim is to build a castle with a path from the bottom level to the top that doesn't involve jumping. This sounds easy and just a matter of lifting the pieces out of the frame and placing them where you want them. BUT...whilst each of the pieces trapped in the frame seems to have a 2x2 footprint and looks like they should lift out, they won't actually come out easily. There is a gap in a corner and they will slide around but this was not helpful in my early casual play. I remembered the previous framed puzzles that Pelikan had made and realised that the frame comes apart allowing the pieces to be slid out and also shows why they are trapped:

The pieces have protruding feet!
From here, it can be seen that the pieces are based on a 3x3 footprint with the consequence that they cannot lift vertically out of the frame and also means that constructing your castle requires more thought than just placing the pieces just where you want them for the stairs and paths to line up. This will need a fair bit of space to spread out and then some considerable thought to design your own special castle. I have not yet tried to solve it yet due to time and space constraints but can't wait to get to it - it will be a fun new challenge and when finished will look absolutely stunning on display! This will need to go on the sideboard in my dining room - don't tell Mrs S!

Sliders 2

Sliders 2 by Alexander Magyarics (made from Cherry and Wenge)
Alexander has taken the puzzle world by storm over the last few years. He has designed some of the most complex and yet still fun interlocking packing puzzles I have ever seen and I just cannot resist his stuff. Luckily for us puzzlers, Jakub also agrees that his designs need to be made available to the world. The fun thing (just like Osanori-san) is the ability to create something that looks simple, with only a few pieces which aren't even that complex but requiring real thought and experimentation to solve. Sliders 2 is simply amazing but it comes with a might frighten you too.

When it arrived, the 4 pieces were placed in the 3x3x3 box in such a way that I seriously struggled to remove them - this was a hint of things to come. After 5 minutes of swearing and upsetting Mrs S, I got my pieces for the photo and realised that this was a lot different to the previous Sliders challenge (and, I think, better for it). The 2 sliders are identical which means that the puzzle can be solved in any orientation and interestingly they are held in place without intruding into the puzzle space - they purely block the entrance and oh boy, the really block it! The aim is to create a 3x3x3 cube from the 4 pieces and place them such that they completely fill the entrance (there will be empty cubies below that top face).

Having solved it (with a considerable struggle), I went to Burrtools and found that there are 21 possible ways to make a 3x3x3 cube but only 9 assemblies that have a complete face. This is going to take you quite a bit of thought and I would not be surprised if you need a little hint (I did). Alexander contacted me before I started to play and told me that...

Thank heavens for the hint - it stopped me from using quite a few of the 3x3x3 assemblies that I had found. Now, I wonder whether any of you remember the warning? This puzzle frightened me at one point during the solve process. I thought that I had worked out what to do and was fiddling around with 3 pieces inside and adding a fourth when suddenly I could make several moves but not the one I wanted to. OMG! Time to backtrack and think©...except I could not backtrack. Things had moved inside and I could not work out where they were. I spent a furious ½ hour offing and blinding before realising that one of the pieces inside had partially rotated and was blocking the critical move. had I killed my puzzle before solving it? Thankfully no - once I had realised the issue I was able to rotate it and correct the issue. This then told me there was an added puzzling element - the puzzle needs to be manipulated just right to let the pieces slide but not rotate in the wrong direction. 

My goodness that was tough!

This took me quite a few hours to solve and is probably my favourite of this release - it is super difficult, super fun and frightening too. I would very much suggest that you don't leave this in the solved position for storage because once you have forgotten the solution the chances of dismantling it blind without using a Burrtools file is pretty low. Well done Alexander and Pelikan for a fabulous creation!

Waltzing Whales

Waltzing Whales by Alfons Eyckmans
Alfons is one of the absolute masters of clever burr designs and he has been adding more and more puzzles to Goetz' Burr zoo over the last few years. This wonderful design which looks like a 10 piece burr (an unusual number) actually has 2 hidden pieces inside. As the name implies the external whales and internal whales dance around each other a fair bit before the puzzle comes apart. It has been gloriously manufactured using bright vibrant woods (Wenge, Padauk, Purpleheart, Maple and Cherry) and the attention to detail is stunning - the whales have eyes made with contrasting dowels that have been shaved flush with the surface. It is this craftsmanship that brings us back to Pelikan again and again. 

The movements of the pieces are smooth with the fit being just tight enough where needed to keep it stable and the internal whales (which you realise are there when suddenly a beady eye is looking at you) slide freely as required using gravity to manipulate them. The initial pathway is a lovely bit of experimentation without too many false paths and actually seems pretty logical for the first 15 moves or so. A few of the moves need precise placement of the pieces first which caused me to be blocked for quite a while - I thought that I knew what I had to do but it wouldn't work and only after an hour or so of searching for a hidden path did I realise what I had done wrong before continuing on my way. About 20 moves in I got stuck...the puzzle was quite stretched out with several pieces that looked like they should be removable soon but I just couldn't find the release mechanism. Back and forth I went before I suddenly found a very lovely compound move involving a bunch of pieces at once and Aha! The first piece came out. The puzzle has a perfect challenging level of and the removal of pieces 2 and 3 are still a tough challenge despite being only another 6 moves each - the 2nd and 3rd pieces took me another hour to remove. The pieces remain well held in place, if a little squishy, as they slide and partially rotate on each other. There doesn't seem to be any rotational shortcut and even after 3 pieces have been removed the whole thing stays together without collapsing into a heap. This was a fabulous challenge, extremely well made and my second favourite of the bunch.

The whales have been released
Maybe if you are a genius you can assemble it from memory or even work it out. I will definitely be using Burrtools to put it back together.

Soma Squartata

Soma Squartata by Dr Volker Latussek

Dr Latussek is, quite probably, one of the most clever and interesting puzzle designers in the world just now. He creates challenges that are much more involved and require a lot more understanding than most other designers. A huge number of his designs are too difficult for me because I seem to have a mental block with certain pattern type challenges and block packing puzzles but I am aware that many other puzzlers absolutely adore his challenges. I just wish that my brain worked like his does. It was with considerable trepidation that I picked up the Soma Squartata from the pile sent by Jakub. I did not understand the name and once I had removed the pieces from the box (Volker always instructs a special delivery arrangement), I was extremely frightened by the complexity of the pieces - this does not look like a Soma cube! Luckily for me, Volker always sends me extra information when Jakub sends the puzzles for me to review. This time the extra information included an explanation of the name and the complex shape of the pieces.

This puzzle IS based on a Soma cube shapes but for each of the pieces of a soma cube, a quarter has been removed leaving a sort of spindly more complex shape:

Using just one piece as an example it can be seen how it has been carved out leaving just a "quartata"         
All seven quartered or squartata'd
The aim of this incredible puzzle is, as with all soma cubes, to place the pieces into a cube formation and back into the box so that the opening is completely covered. Initially I was very frightened of this because I thought it might be one of those anti slide type puzzles that Volker seems to love and my brain doesn't understand. Thankfully, that is not the case. It is "just" an assembly puzzle with an extra constraint of requiring the top face to be complete. To me, this was a fabulous fun challenge - it is basically an interlocking challenge - I have ben enjoying the TICs over the last few years and this is similar without the rotations. I did find a couple of assemblies that did not have the completed face and this will be useful for storage. The requirement of the completed face really adds to the challenge and allows you to home in on the one unique solution. It took me quite a few hours to find an assembly that would work but the fun prolonged by the need to place the pieces in the correct order otherwise the assembly gets blocked. For once, a puzzle from Dr Latussek that I found challenging and still very possible - a huge amount of fun which has been beautifully made from Wenge and Acacia by Jakub and Jaroslav.

Double Symmetry

Double Symmetry by Osanori Yamamoto
Osanori-san designs fabulous packing puzzles which I have reviewed many times on this blog but he also is very well known for his stunning interlocking designs that require a very well hidden sequence of moves to dismantle (some of my favourites have included the various Galaxy puzzles (see here, here and here). This gorgeous creation in Ash and Wenge has a beautifully edged frame and 4 pieces interlocked inside. Obviously the aim is to take it apart and this is much easier said than done.

It becomes clear quite quickly that the name of the puzzle comes from the fact that the 2 pairs of identical pieces have been arranged symmetrically in several directions (rotational in the X/Y plane and also in the X/Z plane). There are quite a few moves possible and I found myself getting stuck several times in a loop because the symmetry seemed to force me to do something which the moves on the other side just reversed. After about a ½ hour of fiddling I suddenly made a breakthrough and found a move that did not seem to force me round in circles and from there the pieces dance around each other a bit before finally the first piece can be removed. It is a nice clever sequence as one would expect from Osanori.

The pieces and the frame are symmetrical too
Having taken this apart in the evening, I left it overnight and set to the reassembly from scratch with only a very vague memory of the sequence I had previously found. The challenge is absolutely perfect! It takes a lot of thought and discovery (with several false starts) to reassemble the puzzle - the sense of satisfaction for someone like me who is terrible at assembly puzzles like me was fabulous. This one is right up there with the Galaxy puzzles in my opinion.


JB4A by Osanori Yamamoto (made from Bubinga and Maple)
A release from Pelikan would really not be complete without one of Osanori-san's wonderful small packing puzzles. This is one of my favourites so far - it is made from a gorgeously coloured and grained Bubinga and is a seriously fun challenge. As always, there is a small shape to be made (this time a 3x3x3 cube) from some pretty complex pieces with what at first looks like a rather large opening which you might think would make the puzzle much easier. However, the end result has to have the pieces completely covering up all the openings once finished and with such a big gap this really limits the options. The large hole on the top does allow initial easy insertion but these pieces are quite large and complex and then movement and access get blocked pretty quickly. Looking at the shape of the small columnar hole in the box gives an idea of what is going to be required/possible during the solve but actually doing it is another thing entirely.

No spoiler here
These puzzles look almost trivial when first picked up (especially with the large entry hole) but the reality is that they are a proper challenge for any experienced puzzler. I really enjoyed it - the puzzling time for me was about 2 hours and the sense of satisfaction at the end was fabulous.


TILL by Dr Latussek (made from Garapa)
This lovely chunky puzzle design by Dr Latussek looks wonderful in the yellow wood. It is named after Till Eugenspiel who was an early 14th century resident of Saxony and a prankster responsible for a "chapbook" on which his name sake owl and mirror could be found. The aim of the puzzle is to use the pieces to create mirror symmetric shapes using 2 (easy) or 3 of the pieces (harder).

I am terrible at pattern finding and symmetry puzzles but the size and tactile nature of this one was quite appealing. It is a nice thing to sit in an armchair with and fiddle with 3 relatively simple shapes and put them together to try and find mirror symmetries. I have found 3 symmetries using 2 pieces and 2 solutions using 3 pieces. Interestingly one of the three piece assemblies has mirror symmetries on several different faces. This is a really nice gentle challenge that is suitable for all grades of puzzlers - I think kids would find this fun and might help teach them about symmetry.

The Cup

The Cup by Ad van der Schlag
This last puzzle in the current release is one that I have not had time to solve yet. It is absolutely stunning made from American Walnut and Cherry. This will be a very tough puzzle to dismantle - I love these specially shaped burrs but the combination of rings, boards with burrsticks through the centre do make for a tremendously difficult challenge. It has a level of to take apart and will include quite a few sideways movements of the rings as well as the burrsticks. I always seem to struggle to find the appropriate shifts and then get lost. I look forward to trying this new one as I have never seen a burr from Ad before.

All these puzzles should be available from Pelikan within a week or so - whatever you buy, you will not be disappointed, they are all lovely to look at on display and really nice challenges to puzzle on. I am sure that for those of you in North America who would prefer to buy more locally then they will arrive at PuzzleMaster not long after that.