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.

I began playing one evening before the MPP expecting to solve it fairly quickly (after all it is only supposed to be level which should be a little challenge but not too horrific) and after an hour of fiddling I realised why my friend had been so enthusiastic about this puzzle (he is much less swayed than me by the beautiful woods). There are several false starts to this puzzle and, whilst you can see inside at what is happening as you manipulate, there is enough obscuring of the pieces that it is easy to miss the correct moves. The fit is just about perfect - pieces slide nicely and only very occasionally is a movement a little tight. I completely failed to dismantle it before the MPP and so couldn't bring it with me to show off.

I persevered at it for a couple more evenings after the MPP and suddenly had a breakthrough - I managed to release first one and then a second piece from the puzzle leaving just 4 boards inside the cage. I quickly backtracked to ensure that I remembered what I had done and couldn't believe that I had found it so hard. Next it was time to complete the disassembly of the puzzle and despite there being only 4 fairly simple pieces left, I really struggled to make it happen! The curse of the unstable boards made it a bit awkward but I was able to control the pieces and interestingly the instability made rotations possible but, because of the frame, it wouldn't allow any illegal removals of those pieces. Finally I removed the third piece after quite a lot of F'ing and blinding under my breath. It came apart quite by surprise and dropped onto my cat's head! He was really not at all happy because it was quite weighty- and he sunk his teeth into my leg in retaliation! See - I even suffer for my puzzling! After the third piece it was simplicity to fully dismantle it:

Truly lovely pieces - you can see how simple the pieces are.
I really only had a vague idea of how I had removed that 3rd piece and so whilst I remembered the positions of the pieces I immediately attempted reconstruction and failed totally! I couldn't even work out how to get the first 4 pieces into the frame! I tried on and off for a few days and was stumped!

It was getting close to the time for writing this blog post so I decided to reassemble using the solution on Ishino's site. Even with the solution in front of me, I just couldn't make it work! The fear hit me that my manual dexterity was not up to it! I spent 2 evenings desperately trying to follow the instructions and failed. I hadn't given up yet! I decided to got to our favourite piece of software, Burrtools to help me and entered my pieces into the program. It was actually quite difficult to make the file because of the difficulty with the final assembled shape but I got there eventually and finally after about 10 days of playing about, I completed the solve! Now THAT is good value for money! I haven't dared try it again but now that the blog post is written I can have a go again! Listen out for more swear words emanating from South Yorkshire!

Two Piece Oddity - Look at that craftsmanship!
The other piece I bought from Brian was this curiosity designed by Tom Jolly. I was aware of it's existence before I saw Brian's version but had never seen one made and when Brian made 2 different copies available with such amazing embellishment I just couldn't resist. This one has a box/frame made from Purpleheart and a Holly trim and the burr piece inside is Padauk - it is a bit smaller than the Board burr at 8.1cm on all sides.

This puzzle is very much like it's name - it is more of an oddity than a difficult puzzle. I was able to disassemble it within just 5 minutes and the reassembly about the same despite scrambling and leaving the pieces for a while:

Put it back - not too hard but which way?
There are obviously several ways that it cannot possibly go back because the hook on the burr piece will not fit with the centre of the burr in the middle of the frame and in trying my reassembly I realised that several other orientations are impossible because the hook gets caught during a slide. I successfully reassembled it and thought nothing more of it. Then I took it apart for the photo and realised that there are actually 3 different assemblies of this puzzle. I recommend this one for its sheer beauty and for the interest - can you find all 3 assemblies? It is still a challenge - it took me a good hour to exhaustively find them and rule out any others!

I heartily recommend Wood Wonders to you all - Brian is a delight to deal with and his workmanship continues to improve - he is the equal of all the best craftsmen out there. I particularly like how he chamfers all the edges of the burrs to allow pieces to slide and not catch on each other and of course he uses some beautiful woods. If my Puzzle brother buys from him then I KNOW that I am doing the right thing.

Fight cube - make your own interlocking puzzles
Next on my list once I have really got to grips with the Board Burr in a Cage will be to create a few of the 4x4 cubes using my Fight cubes - the challenge with these is to work out how best to construct all the pieces and then assemble the puzzle without assistance! So far I have done one by the man I bought it from - Rich Gain's Triaxial was a very nice little puzzle to start with. I also have a new twisty or two to solve!

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