Sunday 25 January 2015

He called me a genius!

Positively devilish - the HELLical Burr
If you follow me on FaceBook then you will have seen a late night post from me with a puzzle finally solved and an exclamation about the incredible skills of two of my friends! I posted this:
Derek Bosch - you are a genius! This HELLical burr is phenomenal - it took me quite a few hours to dismantle it! Lots of blind ends and even a loop and a hidden exit! Steve Nicholls - your 3D printing of this puzzle is nothing short of stunning! Everyone should go to to see the machine you use - I WANT one!!!
In part of the subsequent conversation that follows, Derek actually said that I was a genius too!
Kevin, you are the genius, for solving it (and remembering how it goes back together!) Even I need my cheat sheet! 
This came as a bit of a shock to me because I remain convinced that I am a puzzling amateur. Yep! I still think of myself as a newbie to this game with a bit of a fetish for burrs, twisties, disentanglements, N-ary puzzles, sequential discovery puzzles and assorted wooden interlocking puzzles. Oh dear! That’s quite a list isn’t it? BLUSH!! The present Mrs S would definitely say that I am no genius as I barely remember my own name some days and have much more purchasing power than sense!

It's Helical - such fun!
So what is all this about? You may think you recognise the puzzle at the top of the post - it is a 4 piece burr puzzle which has been twisted into a helical conformation. I wrote about the predecessor of this a long time ago - The Helical Burr. Derek Bosch designed it and won the Jury's grand prize for it in the 2013 IPP puzzle design competition. More importantly it was very high (number 3) in my 2013 puzzles of the year list! At last year's IPP he showed off a follow up puzzle which required significantly more moves which was subsequently named the HELLical burr because it was HELLishly difficult. Shortly after that, Shapeways killed off affordable puzzle production and I mourned the fact that I would probably never manage to obtain a copy. Luckily, earlier this year we heard from the equally brilliant designer and puzzle producer Steve Nicholls (one of the coproducers of the Threedy printer) and he showed off the first copy of the HELLical burr produced using an FDM printer. I drooled and told him that I wanted one as soon as he was able to produce them for sale. An email exchange took place between Steve, Derek and I and over a couple of days,  and I got progressively more excited! Between the two of them they had managed to produce an animation of the disassembly which stuttered away on my iPad and definitely did not give me much of a clue but really whetted my appetite! I was then recruited (as had occured with the original version) to use my photography and editing skills, along with my now famous kitchen granite to make a solution sheet for it. I played all keen to the boys but was actually quite worried that I would be completely unable to solve it at all!

I was stunned and grateful to arrive home on Friday evening to find a lovely box from postie and inside was the HELLical burr and another secret project which I cannot say anything more about apart from to say that it is GREAT! After dinner, I began to play for a bit and simultaneously chatted with Steve on FaceBook. Even finding the first move took me a while! The fact that this had been made with an FDM printer to such accuracy amazed me; Steve had even smoothed off the surfaces using an acetone vapour bath and this produced an absolutely glorious shiny puzzle in royal blue and bright orange. It measures 63mm in diameter and 82mm high making it ever so slightly bigger than the original:

A beautiful pair! One is helical and the other HELLical!
The puzzle has a reply nice feel to it, smooth to the touch although beware of sharp edges at the top and bottom of the spirals where the incredible accuracy of Steve's machine makes it almost like a knife edge. The sliding of the pieces requires firm pressure but they move easily. When the pieces meet a stop then there is a firm end to the slide and it is quite clear that the end of a pathway has been reached BUT are you sure that you didn't miss a pathway branching off before that point? The delight of this puzzle, as well as contributing to the incredible difficulty, is that during the exploration, you will find dead ends, loops which take you mysteriously back to an earlier point as well as hidden pathways - it is almost mazelike. At one point I breathlessly reached a near solution:

Sooo close! But sooo far!
From that point, it is just about possible to force it apart but only using an obviously illegal twisting and bending move that comes close to a snap. I realised immediately that this was not the correct route and backed off. This blasted near solution had me fooled for ages! I went around and around it for ages and singularly failed to make progress. I took it to work at the private hospital yesterday (working with a plastic surgeon making various parts of ladies look better or bigger) and showed it off to the surgeon who always seems bemused by my antics. I did not get much chance to play, but my assistant did and she managed to nearly give me a heart attack (that's myocardial infarction if you wish to get medical!) by finding a configuration that I could not back out of - it took me ages to return to the beginning again!

Having got home after a long day, I sat down to play whilst the cats chased things around my ankles. Even with the distraction of sharp claws sinking into my ankles, I managed a eureka moment! Yesssssss! I had gotten into a new configuration which meant that I must have found another hidden pathway. As I always do, I backtracked to the beginning to ensure I could remember what I had done and to help lay down the memory for the reassembly. Unfortunately, having returned to the beginning, I could not find the new pathway again! Damn! I’m really not very bright! I think Derek was very wrong calling me a genius.

Finally after another hour of fiddling after dinner and some very nice wine (which always helps), I found the pathway and had a lovely time exploring a new part of the puzzle. Shortly afterwards I had this:

Now THAT is one HELL of a challenge! Sheer genius!
OMG! Quick! put it back together whilst you remember it! I actually managed to reassemble it in just a few minutes! Muscle memory is a wonderful thing! The next time I disassembled it, I took a whole sequence of photos to make a solution page (going to be more like a booklet!!) and played a few more times! It is a fabulous design - MUCH more difficult than the original but not out of reach of the experienced puzzler. I heartily recommend this puzzle to all of you - Derek IS a genius for designing it and Steve is too for making a home FDM printer capable of producing such a wonderful toy for us. I am told that the puzzle solving machine that is Louis Coolen actually managed to assemble a Shapeways version from pieces without having disassembled it first! Now THAT is genius! I, on the other hand, am definitely still a bit of a puzzling newbie who just happened to have had a bit of a lucky streak with this one - definitely not a genius (just ask Mrs S)!

The HELLical burrs are available just now in several colour combinations on Puzzle Paradise for a very reasonable £45, so buy them now whilst they are still available!

The shitlhole gets even worse!!!
At the beginning of the year I mentioned how my study was a shithole and that prevented me from taking a nice collection photo for you all to ogle at. Well since then it has got quite a bit worse as you can see in the photo above.

I am going to have to tidy up soon before Mrs S just starts chucking things out and also because I ordered a couple more lovelies from Brian Menold - I need to make some room for them all! Have a look at Brian's site - Woodwonders - there’s still quite a lot available. His workmanship is awesome, you won't regret it!


  1. and congratulations... seriously you now understand this puzzle far more than I do :)

    1. I doubt that very much - but I will accept all complements sent my way!!!

    2. I've now assembled quite a few of these too and I still don't understand the solution - maybe I should start sending the pieces to you for assembly! Congratulations from me too for the fast solve! Impressed

    3. It must have been about 6-8 hours of play time! Most spent caught at a dead end! I'm not sure it is that fast!

      I'd be happy to help in any way you need!

  2. Busy trying to get an account on Puzzle Pardise. Steve is that Red and Black Helical Burr the same design as you had at IPP? It says its 100mm tall where as the HELLical Burr is 80mm tall and in this post the original Helical Burr looks shorter then the HELLical Burr. I'd be happy to buy both but it seems my account needs to be approved by the administrator first.

    1. Hi Carl,
      I've forwarded the notification email I got to Steve. Hopefully he will answer soon. As far as I can see the puzzles on Paradise are both HELLical and the same as this. I don't think Steve has any of the originals yet. Derek might though!

  3. Carl, I didn't have the Helical Burr at IPP though Derek may have. Kevin's pictures show the HELLical that I have printed and a Helical that Derek originally had produced by Shapeways. The original Shapeways Helical puzzle was closer to 60mm tall which is why it looks (and is!) shorter in Kevin's pictures. Hope this makes sense! Steve

  4. Cool! I didn't realize the Helical and HELLical were different, I thought one was just mis-spelled! I just ordered a HELLical Burr from Steve!