Thursday 16 August 2012

Nickel Box

Nickel Box
In honour of the recently concluded 32nd International Puzzle Party in Washington DC I thought I should review a puzzle that is significantly more than just ordinary. One day I hope that I might be invited to join the great and the good in the puzzling world at an IPP and to show that I am a serious collector of "beautiful and tough puzzles", I introduce the Nickel Box!

Quite a few blind ends!
I have been playing with this on and off for a couple of weeks and have solved it today (at least half solved it). I bought this from the Arteludes webstore. This is a french-based site run by Jean-Baptiste Jacquin which I was able to browse easily courtesy of the built in translation from the Chrome browser (my French is pretty poor)!! For international customers you need to contact Jean-Baptiste himself and he is very helpful. The puzzles on this site are beautiful and most (if not all) have been crafted by the superb Maurice Vigouroux (my copy of the incredibly tough 150 move 18 piece burr, the Tiros, was made by him and is available on the site too - Allard reviewed Tiros here). I couldn't resist it and bought it and another puzzle at the same time!

This puzzle was initially designed by Donald Osselaer and Stephane Chomine added the ornamentation to make it harder. Limited to only 20 copies, it is a caged burr measuring 7.5cm on each axis and is surprisingly heavy (400g) due to the use of Ebony as its main component. The burr pieces are made of Purpleheart in my copy but it is also available as Padauk. The burrs are carved from a single piece of wood with no gluing used at all. The embellishments to the burr pieces and box are made from Beech. Even the present Mrs S (doing ok for a first wife!) immediately said that it was stunning and actually allowed it to sit on the coffee table in the living room for a few days before returning it to my study - this is a major feat for her!!

Without the colouring provided by the Beech dowels there 19,344 possible assemblies of these pieces of which 1914 can actually be achieved. The toughest achievable assembly is enforced by the use of the extra colours/Beech dowels. This limits the possibilities to 3 assemblies and only one actually achieveable! It does not arrive with a solution and before you go looking at Ishino's Puzzle will be Played for it, I have to tell you that it is incorrect!!! If you look at the top picture in the solution then you will see that the frame is drawn incorrectly. This means that YOU HAVE TO SOLVE IT YOURSELF!!! I understand that you can request a burrtools file from Arteludes - if you can stand the humiliation!!

This puzzle has a solution level of 68 - so it must be easy right? Oh no! It requires 28 moves for the first piece extraction, then 18 for the second and an amazing further 17 for the third! The final pieces come out easily after that. Whilst 28 moves should not be tremendously difficult, there are dozens of false starts and blind alleys to go down making this a really really tough puzzle. It took me 2 weeks of attention to get the first piece out and then several more days before I finally managed to extract the rest.  Even after 2 pieces had been removed, I was staggered at how difficult it was to get the third out!

Finally 7 beautiful pieces!
What about reassembly? OMG!! You have got to be joking. Even on the Arteludes site it gives the reassembly a staggeringly high 10/10 difficulty level! The disassembly was a paltry 8/10! By now you all realise that I just love using Burrtools (from our great puzzle friend Andreas Röver) and consider this an integral part of my enjoyment of any new burr puzzle. I have created a couple of files (with and without the colouring) and confirmed the number of solutions/assemblies. Whilst the colouring and a memory of the order of extraction allowed me to remember which pieces go where but there was no way I was going to manage it alone. I have reassembled it with my Burrtools solution and plan to take it apart a few more times before I attempt a non-assisted reconstruction!

If anyone would like the burrtools file then just drop me a note.

If you have some (quite a lot really!) spare cash for a puzzle and a work of art then definitely get this puzzle! It is beautiful, difficult (but not horrific) and well worth the outlay. It is limited edition and may not be available for long.

I love it!!!


  1. Wow Kevin!!! I think that is most attractive burr puzzle I've ever seen.

    1. One day you will go to the IPP and I will learn how to form complete sentences but it will not be this day.

    2. I do think it is rather lovely - buy one whilst you still can!

      As for the complete sentences and my attending an IPP - the question is: which will occur first?

    3. Fear not, lads! Forming complete sentences not a prerequisite for attending IPP!

    4. Thank heavens for that! I'm fairly incoherent a lot of the time! I blaming my profession!

    5. I'm not sure how anyone solving any of those puzzles at the IPP with all the alcohol floating around. Someone forgot to take a picture of the renegade folks on the floor passed out.

  2. Hi Kevin,
    Nice review. This is a hard, but very interesting puzzle. If you start with the puzzle assembled, the reassembly is no more difficult than the disassembly. It is quite harder to start with the puzzle disassembled and try to pack the pieces into the box.
    Ishino's solution is right. I just checked with mine. He just shaved off the top of the box, so that we can see what happens inside.

  3. I'm glad you like my puzzle, Kevin :)
    It is indeed beautifully crafted, isn't it?

    1. Indeed it is beautifully crafted - this puzzle is so beautiful that it has pride of place on my shelf right in front of me as I sit at my desk! All I need to do is look up and I can admire it!!

      Thank you very much - I look forward to receiving more of your fabulous work!

    2. Don't be intimidated by the high number of moves for my Fermium.
      I designed the fermium completely by hand and brain, so all the moves have actually been envisioned and purposely designed by me, a human being (last time I checked) and so the moves are logical and very sequential.
      With a bit of wit and understanding of burrs, I'm sure you'll figure it out :)

    3. I am flattered that you would read my blog, Donald! I have been playing for short periods with Fermium and it does seem to progress nicely. I am frightened of getting lost and ending up with a huge mess which I cannot get out of! I tend to do a few moves, then backtrack, redo it with a few more and backtrack again. Eventually I will have learned the who solution but it is VERY time consuming. When I have a long period free I will give it a go properly.

      In the meantime it sits next to Nickel box in the perfect spot to remind me that I'm rubbish!!!!! I can hear it sneering at me!

    4. Hehehe ... you're definately not rubbish if you even try puzzles like these.
      I believe the problem with many complex puzzles of today is that they have been designed by computers and so they become "inhumane" in their moves.
      You won't have that problem with my puzzles.
      It's a good idea to slowly progress in the Fermium. Every piece has it's purpose and sometimes multiple purposes throughout the solution.
      Once you understand the way things work ... you'll figure out the right combination :)
      After a while Fermium actually becomes quite easy ... I've uploaded a video of me solving it in a couple of minutes on Youtube ... don't watch that before you did it yourself, though, as it could spoil the fun.