Sunday 3 July 2022

Puzzling for Leisure With Stephan

After the horror of realising that I had created my videos of the skull puzzle from PuzzleMaster with quite a lot of the movement and piece removal out of the camera's view, I spent a lot of the evenings this week desperately trying to put it back together. It took all week and a lot of trial and error but gradually it went back together and my Skull is complete! Phew! If anyone has a full BT file for the puzzle then please let me know.

I have been trying to broaden my puzzling a bit recently. There are obviously some very big producers and sellers of puzzles and I buy a lot from them. This means that my blog is rather top heavy with puzzles from Eric and Jakub and the other manufacturers get seen less. I do try to branch out and try other manufacturers and also try to go back to the more mass produced puzzles a bit including getting back into twisty puzzles. Unfortunately, I seem to only have a little bit of time during the week to play and often actually solving something is a challenge in the time I have. My week this week was absolutely horrendous with a lot of big operations being done and finishing late and a fair bit of admin that I needed to do in my non-theatre time. The evenings were spent on the skull.

I had bought a couple of new creations from Stephan Baumegger (he sells via his Facebook page, PuzzleLeisure) way back in April and they had been idly fiddled with but had not really been attempted properly since they arrived. I have been leaving my new arrivals in the dining room for the last few months as a storage area to ensure that I don't lose the new ones amongst all the stuff that is solved and waiting to be put away (yes my study is a shithole again!) Mrs S looks in the dining room periodically and when she has tidied away all of her acquisitions then notices that mine are still there and then grumbles at me with a violent "I might just burn them" look in her eyes. Gulp!

This, along with the wish to try some other craftsmen's stuff, made me wander into my "accessory puzzle store" 😈😈😈 and pick up the Tetraboard and give it a try.

This puzzle is a new design from Stephan which he had originally designed way back in 2013 with the help of the incredibly talented Stephane Chomine and produced in very limited numbers at that time. At that time, my puzzle budget had been quite a lot lower than in recent years and I had marvelled at it but been either too frightened of the level (56 in total) or had not been ready to spend more money. Stephan had decided to make a few more this year and I couldn't resist the wonderful stepped look of it and the 2 contrasting woods (Wenge and Maple). 

I picked it up on Saturday morning thinking that I would have enough time to solve it that day. That was before I realised just how difficult it would be and also that Mrs S would send me out into the garden to do some maintenance work there whilst she cooked a Moroccan chilli for dinner (Yum). I managed to spend an hour on it before I was banished and had found a few moves which went nowhere and that was it. Four hours of gardening and a bout of sciatica later, I was back inside feeling sorry for myself and started again. It is quite hard to concentrate on a puzzle with lightning pains shooting down the back of your thigh! But for my readers, I persevered! It took me another hour to find a very well disguised move that would open out quite a lot more movement in the puzzle. The puzzle is made from a cubic frame and 5 plate burrs which are very tough to get oriented. I repeatedly found that if I put the puzzle down for a bit then I couldn't easily work out the correct orientation to start again. The way they interlock seriously constrains the movement and every time I thought I was getting somewhere, I came to a halt and could not seem to advance. Luckily returning to the beginning was always a simple task. 

I had explored all the paths I could find and was never able to get more than 10 or 12 moves into the solution before I came to a dead end. I was missing something. It is pretty difficult to see inside the puzzle and plan possible moves so I was stuck. At the end of the day, I went to bed with an unsolved puzzle, a headache  and back pain! Damn I'm getting old and useless!

This morning I bounded out of bed after my cat decided he was going to lick my nose, face and the top of my head! He has a very rough tongue and bad breath! Time to get up and feed him (which was what he wanted). A bit of painful exercise on the rowing machine and I was ready to puzzle again. Refreshedin body and mind and only a little residual sciatica left over. I did what I had done multiple times on the previous day and immediately found a new move. I have no idea how I missed it (it must have been very well hidden) but I wasn't going to backtrack and lose the progress. A few minutes later and the first board came out.

This was a cause for celebration but not complacency. There had been 18 moves required for the first piece and the next was going to need another 18. With the removal of the first board the puzzle was still 100% stable and a few new moves were opened up as possibilities. None of them worked and I was stumped again. The view inside was slightly better but not enough to really help plan future moves. I was missing an idea. An hour later, I had backtracked the remaining pieces almost to the beginning of the puzzle with the one board left out. I quickly realised that another sequence had been opened up from almost the beginning and a new short path was available which allowed a second piece to be removed. Yay!

Now, with 2 boards removed, it was still very stable(just a little bit wobbly) and I could properly see inside. Now I could easily mange the next 12 moves to remove the third piece and there after it was fairly trivial (it did not collapse at any point which is quite refreshing for a burr disassembly). Amazingly, I realised that one of the boards had not moved at all during the disassembly of the first 3 pieces. I had tried on numerous occasions to use it in my solution but it just was totally trapped. Very clever puzzle design. I took my obligatory puzzle piece photo:

Tetraboard pieces
All in all, about 6 hours of puzzling and now I had the extra delight of making my Burrtools file which is always part of the fun. I was definitely going to need it for the reassembly.

I love these challenges - it needs to be just the right level. I am not a burr genius like Goetz and when a first piece requires about 18-25 moves that is just difficult enough for me. If you are interested in buying any beautifully made burr and interlocking puzzles from Stephan then get in touch via his FB page.

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