Saturday 15 June 2013

6 Piece burrs don't have to be boring!

Arch Burr
First of all let me make an apology in advance - a large part of this post was written at 4am on my phone - for some reason I was absolutely wide awake! Actually, when I say for some reason, it may well have something to do with Mrs S sleeping flat on her back in a star shaped configuration at about 90 decibels, leaving me a very narrow strip of bed! Plus I also had a very large clump of cats noisily purring on my chest. So lack of sleep and inability to breathe may cause more than the usual amount of nonsense today!

I have been topping up my now rather extensive collection of wire and string disentanglement puzzles recently from Puzzle Master's huge selection. But I'm aware that not all of you like to do the really complex ones and many don't really like disentanglements so now I'll review a rather unusual burr puzzle that I found in their Metal puzzle collection. I don't often review burrs because apart from the workmanship and how many moves, there is little to say about them. But here I have something rather different!

I have seen this brought along to a Midlands Puzzle Party a few times and each time I've watched a success and a rather nice grin on someone's face. I have never had a chance to try it so ordered it from Puzzle Master. It is certainly very different from most burrs you will see more commonly (even if it is "just" another 6 piece burr). It doesn't seem to be available just now on the Puzzle Master site but I'm sure you can find it online somewhere. Unfortunately because it no longer appears on their site I can't tell you how they rated its difficulty - the Puzzle Master Amazon web store says that it is an 8 on their 5-10 point scale. I would suggest that is more of a 7. I think that it is about $14 when they get it back in stock.

It was designed by the amazing Oskar van Deventer and manufactured by Bits and Pieces. I have heard a huge number of complaints about the dreadful quality of puzzles from them both in terms of the puzzle fit but also the look being very poorly finished. This image begins very early with the packaging - it is just a plain white cardboard box and the puzzle is shrink wrapped inside - not the most enticing of packages! Taking it out of the wrapping reveals a black and silver puzzle with quite a few marks on it - also disappointing. Dimensions are: 8 x 6.5 x 5.4 cm - it feels nice and solid. The object of this puzzle, once taken apart, is to assemble the silver and black arches into a complete selt-standing burr. The solution is provided as a leaflet in the box but I would hope you don't need it - it can also been downloaded from here.

Now let me say that despite all the initial negatives, this is a really great puzzle! Well worthy of Oskar's name and certainly good value for money!

Initial fiddling reveals that this is a level 1 burr, there is a solid key piece which slides out and unlocks the later moves. Even this initial movement is pleasant as the arched pieces slide nicely around each other. Now having said earlier that this is a 6 piece burr, I should qualify this that this is correct only as far as the number of pieces is concerned - a little playing quickly gives the realisation that this is actually two 6 piece burrs that interlock with each other at each end because the arched pieces force them to meet in 2 places! Much more interesting than the initial impression.

I dismantled it fairly easily - in fact Mrs S actually dismantled it too! She even enjoyed doing so! But not enough to attempt to put it back together. The disassembly is really not the puzzling part - you quite quickly slide out the first 3 pieces and the final 3 sort of collapse at that point. They all look fairly similar!

6 Arches - all notched differently
I was careful to pay attention to which were the final 3 pieces and then just scrambled them up and left it for about 1/2 hour. The reassembly was a very pleasant little challenge - it took me about 20 minutes of fiddling and was far from laborious. It is possible to work out which piece goes where by logical deduction and luckily the pieces are symmetrical. I would probably say that it took me about 30 mins and just like at the Midlands puzzle parties, I too had a big grin on my face after having solved it.

This one is definitely worth buying, I have been using mine as a little worry bead now for several days and it is quite soothing to play with - either badger the lovely guys at Puzzle Master to get it back in stock, find it on eBay or risk buying it direct form Bits and Pieces.

Now if more unusual burrs do interest you (ones that are a small challenge but not obscenely difficult) then I can heartily recommend the current bunch being sold by Eric Fuller at Cubic Dissection. These are considerably more expensive than the cheaper mass produced puzzles but are well worth the money for the tremendous craftsmanship. Eric still has a few of the constrained burrs left - designed by Logan Kleinwaks, they are a rather nice twist on the standard 6 piece burr. they look just like standard 6 piece burrs but they have been extended and inserted into various frames. Here are mine:

Bookend Burr
Cornered Burr
Clamped Burr
Looped Burr
So far I have only solved the first one and loved it - the others get progressively harder but never too bad. There are still just a few available.

Also you might consider a new double burr also designed by Logan Kleinwaks called Fusion. I bought my copy from Arteludes in France but Eric has made a very reasonably priced version too. This is a phenomenally fun puzzle involving solving 2 6 piece burrs at once. There are a couple of tricky moves in it. Well worth buying.

Fusion - my version by Maurice Vigouroux
So go to Cubic dissection if you are interested but be quick whilst stocks last (the constrained burrs are almost sold out) - I don't get any kick backs!!


  1. Hi Kevin,

    Nice review!
    There is more of Oskar's genius in the Arch Burr than may at first be apparent. The two burrs aren't exactly equal. All the pieces are symmetric in that the "traditional" burr piece that exists on each end of an arched piece is the same, except for the smallest silver piece (at the top of your photo of the pieces). On that one, the pieces on the ends are mirror images!
    Using my ID scheme, the left black piece in your photo is a 1024/1024,
    the top right black piece is 52/52, and the lower right black piece is the key 1/1. The two lower silver pieces are both 1024/1024, but the top silver is 824/975. Oskar has realized that the two traditional six-piece burrs { 1, 52, 824, 3x1024 } and { 1, 52, 975, 3x1024 } can be juxtaposed in this arched configuration allowing the shared key to be slid into place simultaneously!
    Another note - when you remove the key and glance inside you will see that there is a unit cavity on each end - neither burr is truly "solid" - each has one hole that could have been filled with an extra unit cube. If the large silver piece, instead of being 1024/1024 was
    960/992, the burrs would be solid and I believe could still be constructible in this dual configuration. However, the simplification of this piece by the removal of those "fingers" no doubt improved durability and reduced manufacturing complexity and cost.
    Thanks for inspiring me to take this great little puzzle off my shelf and play with it again!


    1. Rob, you are a genius! I bow to your greater knowledge. I enjoy burrs and am starting to do some high level ones from Alfons but I have a very long way to go to make even a fraction of your understanding of them. Maybe after another 10 years I might be there.

      I am glad that I inspired you though. I hope that others try them and also get the beauties from Eric which are just a bit different from the usual.

  2. Very nice review, Kevin! I especially like to see "Fusion" and "Arch Burr" in one review. Both combine two six-piece burrs in one puzzle, but in completely different ways. I have Eric's version of the Fusion -- added that to my recent order of binary/ternary puzzles. :)

    I got my "Arch Burr" directly from Oscar, from whom I also got a "Cold Fusion" ( see puzzle 1073 in my collection site ). Another double six piece burr and it also has "fusion" in the name -- would very well fit into this review.

    1. Hi Goetz, I'm glad you liked it. I do try to keep a theme running through my blogs if at all possible.

      I just love the Fusion - it is so nice to just play with. I may have to see whether I can get hold of a copy of Cold fusion myself from somewhere. I see that it is a Shapeways puzzle - unfortunately if I buy it in white then it will have to stay that way as I am definitely not allowed to dye puzzles at home!!

  3. There is also Oskar's "Candy Wrapper", another pair of connected 6-piece burrs.

    Time to dye puzzles in the backyard on an a camping stove!

    1. Another one for me to drool over! Thanks George.

      The dyeing outdoor thing also ain't goin to happen - newly redone patio! Sigh!

      I have the deepest thumbprint in the world!