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!

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