Sunday 8 October 2023

It Would Be Nice To Have Enough Hands For This Burr

Handy Burr by Jerry McFarland
Jerry McFarland has an attention span problem! He makes fantastic puzzles which are always immediately recognisable - I am sure that all serious puzzlers could look at the photo above and know the creator without reading the caption. He gets inundated with requests to make his toys by the puzzling community and happily starts manufacturing puzzles and earning some money and then he quickly gets bored and distracted. Before he knows it, he's thinking about something new and abandons his order book to play with his beautiful wood and, if you've been following his creations from the last few years, his very strong magnets. 

He contacted me a few weeks ago to ask whether I would be interested in looking at his latest creation - the Handy Burr and I practically bit his keyboard off and sent him a bunch of PayPal. The puzzle winged its way across the Atlantic faster than I've ever seen and I got my grubby hands (due to DIY) on it in just 4 days! I did not get much chance to do more than fiddle and admire for the first few days because of said DIY but I could tell straight away that the magnetism was strong in this one.

It is a beautiful cuboid containing 23 pieces of wood and an unbelievable 32 magnets (16 of which are in the key piece - Jerry says this must be a record). There are 2 obvious pins in the puzzle too with some obvious tracks for the pins visible in the key piece. The wood choices are stunning - Mahogany, Bubinga, Walnut, Cherry, Maple and Bloodwood.

Jerry had been initially working on a 3D coordinate motion puzzle but this did not work out so he moved on to a springy puzzle with magnets and this is definitely that.

I started work after I had finally finished constructing my cabinets (still empty) and found that there are 6 pieces that can be pushed in varying directions and need quite a bit of pressure to push them - those magnets are STRONG! If you loosen your grip even momentarily then it all springs straight back into the original shape. Having played with quite a few of Jerry's creations over the years, I sort of had an inkling what to do and managed with 6 fingers plus holding on to various other bits of the puzzle for stability and suddenly the key piece sprung upwards. Progress!

It only sprung up one voxel and the magnetic pieces stabilised. I was then able to work on manipulating the pieces and getting the key piece extended further and further until it stopped dead. Time to explore and find the release mechanism. Here I got stuck for a while and in the end I reset the puzzle by pushing it all back to the bottom and manipulating the magnetic sticks as I went. The final push of the key piece flush with the top releases the magnetic pieces all together and there is a truly wonderful CLACK! as it all reset.

I got stuck here for rather a long time - back and forth to the almost released position and stopped dead in my tracks each time. I couldn't seem to find the correct path - Jerry had hidden it all just out of sight inside. Despite doing this dozens of times, I never tired of the wonderful noise of the reset (this is a feature of a few of his magnetic puzzles).

After a whole day of trying the same thing multiple times, it was time to think© which did hurt quite a bit. I know that Jerry is quite sneaky and I got wondering in the evening whilst watching TV. What if I??

I tried my new idea and found that I needed more than 2 hands - Jerry had sent me a couple of little envelopes with clues in it and afterward I had finally saved it, I opened the envelopes and had a proper laugh out loud moment. I had looked at she who must be feared during the evening whilst wishing I had more hands/fingers/useful body parts. Each time I thought of asking her, I decided that was probably not a good idea. 


Eventually after I dislocated a digit moving it into an appropriate place, I suddenly had the key piece free and I could see how well disguised the path had been.

Key piece removed (JM mark revealed with serial number on other side
The cat was not impressed with me dropping more wood on his head but he puts up with it. I put it back together immediately and then found that I could not repeat the process - that will teach me to watch TV at the same time as playing with something complex.

The following day, I managed to work it out again and was delighted with how it resisted solution but when you do the right thing it shoots out. I couldn't resist a full disassembly:

Awesome puzzle!
After taking the above picture I did scramble all the pieces and then attempted the reassembly - Jerry very helpfully writes the frame piece portions on them to ensure that the fit is good when reassembled and then I got a bit stuck on the assembly of the mechanism and had to create it outside the frame before attempting the final assembly - picture of mechanism is hidden behind a spoiler button:

This is a very satisfying solve and after reading the supplied solution sheet, I realised that there is another aspect to it that I had not seen. I tried the suggested approach by Jerry and this was even better and adds more understanding to the name. Jerry will be making a few more of these in the future and it will be worth while contacting him to ask to reserve one.

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