Sunday 22 February 2015

Puzzle brothers recognise a great puzzle

Board Burr in a Cage - It's stunning
This blog has helped me make friends all over the world - I converse with them on FaceBook and also in a more disjointed fashion using email with many people initially using my Contact page to find me. For quite a few years now I have been chatting via email with a friend from the Far East (who's English is amazingly good) and he gives me lots of advice for puzzles that he thinks are worthwhile for my collection and he has even sent me quite a lot of puzzles to try of his own creation. I am always delighted to hear from him and usually learn something new from him when we chat.

A few weeks ago I made a purchase from one of my favourite craftsmen who I really try hard to support, Brian Menold from Wood Wonders and posted my pictures of my new arrivals on my New Additions page and on my FaceBook wall. Within a few hours my correspondent contacted me to congratulate me on my choices - it would appear that we both bought the exact same 2 puzzles from Brian and this (along with another similar coincidence from a year or so ago) makes us not just Puzzle friends but also Puzzle Brothers - we are both able to discern puzzles of great quality and with great puzzling value! Needless to say, I am delighted to have my choices confirmed!

The first puzzle for me to review is a gorgeous construction - it is the Board Burr in a Cage designed by Stéphane Chomine. The cage is made from Granadillo (aka Brown Ebony) and the burr pieces are made of Walnut with Olivewood caps. You will agree that it is stunning - the picture doesn't show the size; this is a pretty big puzzle at 9.6cm on all sides and is a really good weight. I am really glad for the size because board burrs tend to become rather unstable during the solution and a tiny puzzle would be very hard to manipulate.

Sunday 15 February 2015

Funzzle puzzle - Epsilon!

Funzzle - Epsilon
Returning to my more mass produced puzzles - I planned to "quickly" solve and review one of my Puzzle Master stash for you today. I say quickly because yesterday (on Valentine's day) I abandoned the beloved Mrs S to attend the 17th Midlands Puzzle Party at Allard's house and left her feeling rather sorry for herself - yes I had finally gotten over my Manbola but it had mutated and infected her and she was feeling shocking! Mutated into something FAR more virulent - the deadly SHEbola! In fact whilst I was away she was obviously feeling in need of medication and I found an 'empty' this morning. This either means she had hit the bottle in Valentine's day grief or just needed something to help her sleep through the tidal wave of mucus that comes with the 'bola variety of illnesses!

Having said that I wanted to turn out a quick solve and review, I have to sheepishly admit that this one wasn't quick at all! In fact it took me a couple of hours! My last blog post was about caged burrs and mentioned the fabulous constrained burr set from Eric Fuller and I therefore decided to follow it up with something similar which is open for everyone to buy at a reasonable price - this is the Epsilon puzzle. I leapt immediately when I saw this new series of puzzles available at Puzzle Master - they appear nicely made from bamboo and are therefore from a sustainable wood and look to be reasonably cost effective at just $14.95.

I had seen this first at last August's MPP just before the International puzzle party when my friend Otis Cheng showed it to me having brought an early version over from one of his friends in China. I had a quick play at the time but did not have time to solve it then and forgot about it until I saw it on the Puzzle Master site. I remember that it was a level 1 puzzle which leans that the first piece just slides straight out and with many burrs this can often mean that the rest of the puzzle tends to be fairly trivial. Believe me, this one is anything but trivial - it is a real challenge and really took me a long time! Puzzle Master have rated it as Level 10 (Mind Boggling) and I have to agree - it is certainly a level 9 -10. It is nicely made from Bamboo and finished fairly well. Certainly not a patch on the amazing hand made puzzles by Eric Fuller, Brian Menold, Stephan Baumegger or Alfons Eyckmans but it is a fraction of the price. It has coloured pieces as well to enforce a particular assembly and measure 6 x 6 x 6 cm. The puzzle was designed by Mr Y Gong Yong Ming and appears to be based on a design by Yavuz Demirrhan (attribution has been given on Puzzle Master's product page). There has been some controversy on the internet about this series with claims of plagiarism but I have kept away from that discussion. It seems to be have been commissioned by Puzzle Master for their own sales and is very nicely packaged:

Well presented

Sunday 8 February 2015

A Burr so Tough it had to be Caged!

Trichromat by Yavuz Demirrhan - Stunning!
Constrained burrs!
Quite some time ago I was completely enthralled by the stunning caged burr series designed by Logan Kleinwaks and beautifully made by Eric Fuller - I reviewed them here in an article extolling the virtues of 6 piece burrs "with a difference". I have always loved the burr puzzles but ever since obtaining and solving that series, I have been especially interested in burrs that have something extra to make them interesting like these.

2 creatures inside - Gobi
Not long ago I wrote about some burrs from Alfons that, apart from having unusual numbers of pieces, also have other pieces inside (usually animal figures) which interfere with the solution. Most recently I played with Gobi (still available for sale) designed by Alfons and made by Eric again. It was so good that it was mentioned in my best of 2014 puzzles list. So adding constraints or adding extra internal blocking pieces to burrs of various sizes really make them more interesting for me. Another feature of some of the more interesting puzzles that have intrigued me has been the return to a 6 piece burr but one in which the burr pieces don't interlock properly instead they are held together by the addition of a cage around the outside.

The picture at the top is the Trichromat burr designed by the incredibly talented puzzle designer from Turkey, Yavuz Demirrhan. What you may not know, is that Yavuz is also an entirely self taught but highly skilled puzzle maker. I receive regular (several a week) Facebook updates from Yavuz about his new designs usually in the form of screenshots of Burrtools creations or just diagrams but a couple of months ago I was astonished to see a gorgeous wooden thing rather than a diagram! After a short exchange of FB messages it was on its way to me - and I must say for a very reasonable price!

The Trichromat puzzle is made of Wenge, Padauk, Walnut and Maple and looks stunning! Interestingly it is waxed rather than lacquered (European craftsmen seem to prefer wax or oil) and it smells absolutely wonderful! Looking at it reveals that it is nothing more than a burr with 6 non-interlocking pieces held in a cage BUT the quoted difficulty level is which means that it is a significant challenge.

One of my earlier attempts at solving this sort of design was the Neighbourhood by Stephan Baumegger - it looks very similar in shape and is a similarly constrained 6 piece burr but has an easier level of  "just"(!!!) moves. I played with and managed to solve the Neighbourhood in just a single evening of fun! So I thought I'd just follow it straight away with Stephan's next creation, the Rush hour (level but after months of on and off trying I have singularly failed! It is currently in my bag with me undergoing a 6th attempt at solution!

Rush Hour
2 more caged non-interlocked 6 piece burrs (these by Stephan Baumegger)

So, having solved one caged 6 piece burr easily and failed dismally at another, it was with some trepidation that I attempted the puzzle from Yavuz. I had a quick play initially when it arrived and I got frightened off by a really complex multi-piece move that I found. I put it away for a while. But after a recent conversation with Yavuz I decided it was time to try again and hopefully not be humiliated again!

There are loads of possible moves quite early on and a few blind ends but luckily not too deep! There even appears to be a loop at some point! Lots of pieces seem to move quite a long way and after a relatively short period I had all 6 burr pieces over halfway out:

Almost there? Surely one piece will just slip out?
But alas, this position was as far as I got. Every single piece was blocked from advancing - I could only backtrack. Back and forth, back and forth, for a couple of days and each time trying something new or maybe repeating something old ands not realising it! Remember, I'm really not very bright! Then on Thursday night I was idly fiddling again whilst watch TV with Mrs S, when a piece dropped onto the cat's head on my lap! Aaaaaargh! I had no idea how it came out and had also no idea which way round it had been! So I couldn't even put it back in and try backtracking! The remaining pieces came out pretty easily and I was forced (happily) to make a Burrtools file for reassembly. There appear to be 6 assemblies possible but using the colour constraints there is only one with the level 44 for the first piece.

Having gotten it back together using Burrtools, I started again and luckily something from my random meandering must have penetrated my dull brain! After another hour of play - and this time it was proper exploration, taking note of the piece shapes and the movements/blockages, I had it apart again.

Trichromat pieces - notice how simple they are!
This time I found that I was able to reassemble it from just pieces using memory alone (I had needed Burrtools first because it disassembled by accident) and since that initial solve I have assembled and disassembled it 20 or 30 times - it is fun to wander back and forth admiring the design and smelling the lovely wood aroma. I doubt whether I could assemble it from pieces without having first disassembled it but I know that some geniuses out there insist on starting with a disassembled puzzle. I leave that sort of crazy behaviour to Laurie Brokenshire, Goetz Schwandtner and Adin Townsend.

If you would like a gorgeous caged 6 piece burr that is significantly more than trivial but not too tough for a normal human to solve and which you stand a good chance of being able to reassemble without instructions then let me know and I'll put you in touch with Yavuz (or contact him directly via FB)

Now it's time to get back to Rush hour and maybe then I might attempt the fabulously beautiful but even tougher Centauri and Odin from Stephan! These are much more difficult - they are classic 18 piece burrs which are constrained by a cage - I actually doubt whether I will ever be skilled enough but at least they look gorgeous on display!

Centauri (level and Odin (level - GULP!
Also in the future I should get some of a really interesting series of burrs designed recently by Alfons in which the cage itself is in pieces, mobile and dismantles along with the rest of the puzzle. I do have just one now - I posted on my New Additions page about a new burr which Alfons named after me! This one has 4 walls around it which interlock and move and will dismantle with the burr.

With a nod to the title of my post - there are so many burrs that are tough enough to require a cage! I need more spare time and more money!!!! Remember that you can buy the Trichromat now from Yavuz for a very reasonable price - you won't be disappointed!!

Sunday 1 February 2015

Cast U&U

Hanayama's Cast U&U
I was all set to write about this puzzle last Sunday when I got rudely interrupted by Derek and Steve's HELLical Burr. So I set this aside and have got to it now. Yet again my apologies - this may be shorter or lower quality than my usual writing as I am producing this from my sickbed - I have a cold and it seems to be bad enough to rename it "MANBOLA"! I seldom get ill but when I get a cold it always seems to knock me sideways!

The Cast U&U was designed by Kyoo Wong from Hong Kong, who also designed the very ingenious Cast Delta and, like his first puzzle, the U&U is a very new mechanism/idea. It was released in April 2014 and seemed to take quite a long time to reach the West. I did get to play with a prototype at a Midlands Puzzle Party which Wil was letting people play with. I only tried for a few minutes before getting sidetracked by other toys/people and on that one, found that one of the nuts would unscrew off one end. That was as far as I got.

The usual puzzle provider sold out very quickly and even Puzzle Master did not have any for ages. So I was left to reading other reviews by Jerry and Gabriel and drooling over yet another shiny toy for a while before I could get a hold of one for myself. I finally managed to get my grimy mitts on one in my last delivery from Puzzle Master and am quite pleased that I did. It arrived in the usual immaculate black Hanayama packaging and, as intended, looks pleasantly industrial! It consists of 2 double ended bolts with nuts on each end which have been intertwined. From the look of it, it could easily have been made from parts bought from a hardware store. The instructions on the box are simply to separate the 2 bolts and then put them back how you found them. Hanayama rate this as level 4/6 and Puzzle Master as 8 (Demanding) on their scale of 5-10. I think they got the difficulty level just about right - it will not take a seasoned puzzler too long to solve but a beginner might struggle for quite some time. As usual, there is no solution included but it can be downloaded from Puzzle Master here.