Friday 1 January 2016

Happy New Year - My best puzzles from 2015

Happy New Year to all my readers - may it be a happy, healthy and successful year for you all!

Yet again, my study was in a huge state of disarray and I was forced to tidy it up last weekend and can now provide photos of the state of the study! When she who frightens me to death shouts at me again, I will try to tidy up the rest and take some more pics to show off. Here are the ones in my study for your perusal: (edited - she saw the nice tidy study and forced me to clean up the dining room and living room piles too - pictures added)

Above the computer we have some of my most prized possessions:

Ooh! Shiny shiny! And gorgeous wood!

To the left is my display of N-ary puzzles, Eyckmans specials, Fuller loveliness, Menold gorgeousness as well as Vinco's and Young! There are so many from Eric and Brian that they are getting intermingled!

Notice the bat in a privileged position 
To the right of my desk are hand made twisties as well as puzzle books and Interlocking puzzles from Bernhard (and a few others) Packed VERY tightly!

Katie watches my every move!
Finally in the study on display are my Pelikan lovelies and the incredible work (most of it) from Stephan Baumegger. Some are on display in the living room and dining room!

How much more wood can a man take?
Since I published this post at midnight she made me tidy up more and here are the results:

Larger and special puzzles in the dining room:

Stickmen, Hales puzzles, Heyns Puzzles, Burrsets, and a monster from Bill Cutler

On a lamp table are some gorgeous but smaller toys that Mrs S seems to approve of:

Specials from Brian Menold, Scott Peterson puzzles, KCubes and a beauty from Jakub
 Finally on a basket on the floor are my special burrs that meet "her" approval:

Fuller Burrs, Baumegger special 6 piece burrs and Arteludes beauties
For the last few years on New Years Day I have been posting a summary of my favourite puzzles that I solved in the preceding year. This always coincides with the emailed vote that Peter Hajek takes of the puzzle world for his End of year Puzzle Party (EPP) and publishes shortly after. However there is a major difference between the result that Peter seeks to mine - he asks for the top 3 puzzles that a collector has acquired in the previous 12 months and for me I only include the top puzzles that I have solved in that time. I use a combination of my database and my photo gallery to work out which ones were solved when. It is a lovely excuse to peruse back and drool over all the gorgeous toys I have played with.

Making the decision for my top 10 is very tough - I am very fortunate to be in contact with some great designers and craftsmen and brilliant friends who give me advice on what to buy! Inevitably I fail to choose just 10 and hence I cheat!

Honourable Mention
The Fire Puzzle
I absolutely have to make a special mention of one puzzle that absolutely set the puzzle world alight when it was released. The hugely talented pyromaniac in charge of Pyro puzzles, Steve Miller, had been tantalising us with pictures and rumours of his latest design. It took absolutely ages to come to fruition and we all jumped at a chance to obtain such a beautiful and complex puzzle. As you can see above, it was of a quality beyond our dreams with fabulous presentation. There were multiple facets to the puzzle and it kept me occupied for months. Why not in the top 10 as I posed it might be when I announced it back in March here? For me, I loved the quality of the puzzle and the slick production but a very large part of the solution of this puzzle was deciphering encoded clues and then understanding the very cryptic clues to get instructions on what to physically do with the puzzle. I just could not fathom the cryptic clues and needed a lot of help to work out what to do with the puzzle. In retrospect it is perfectly clear but I cannot do cryptic crosswords and these are a very similar idea. For this reason it slipped to just below my top 10 but if you are interested then they are still available here.

.....and now for the top 10(ish)!

10) Really Bent Board Burr
Lusted after for so long!
By now you are all aware that I am a huge fan of the work of the "Genius" that is Derek Bosch. This started with my very first experience with Eric Fuller's copy of Derek's Half Dozen from a few years ago. I have enjoyed his Helical and HELLical burrs and others. Over the years he has become a tremendous friend and support - we chat on-line several times a week. One of his fabulous designs that I had lusted after for such a long time was his Really Bent Board Burr, originally made by Tom Lensch. I borrowed an original from "Big Steve" and failed to solve it but couldn't find one to buy for love nor money. I have been chatting to Johan Heyns from South Africa for a couple of years and he offered to make me a copy one day. Much to my surprise, earlier this year Johan did actually make it for me and I was only too delighted to add one to my collection (I practically bit his hand off in my eagerness). This puzzle has only been solved with assistance from Burrtools but I absolutely love it and you can see here why!

9) Two Caged Burrs from Wood Wonders
Board Burr in a Cage
This year Brian Menold became a full time puzzle maker after losing his job. Brian has had enough hardship in his life and I think that if my puzzle addiction can help him out, then that can only be a really good thing. I try to buy something from him with every update. The quality of his work has just launched through the stratosphere. His choice of puzzles is superb (guided by a good friend) with a decent challenge without being completely impossible for normal human beings. His normal run-of-the-mill productions are superb but every now and then he produces a "special edition". I was lucky enough to get the first one. Caged burrs are a particularly fun challenge for me and I have a few from Stephan Baumegger and Alphons Eyckmans. I could not resist the 3 piece caged burr called Trombone, designed by Chi-Ren Chen which was the first special edition (just look at it!!!) and of course the Board Burr in Cage designed by Stéphane Chomine with 6 caged boards are a stunning challenge and still very much solvable with thought and understanding (it is only level

8) Castle
Castle from Pelikan
The Castle puzzle was originally made for me by a very good friend and I loved it. His version was functional but I couldn't resist it when Jakub and Jaroslav made a production run of it. The workmanship from Pelikan is simply amazing and in my opinion pretty much the best in the world! This puzzle was my favourite of what they produced this year - it is beautifully complex but still solvable and sits with pride on the shelf next to me. There are a few more beauties from Pelikan that look even better but I have not yet solved them and can not include them here!

7) Burrset, Burrset, Burrset
The Ultimate Burrset
I guess you all know that I love burrs but up until this year I only own 2 or 3 standard 6 piece burrs and that was it. I was jealous when Allard managed to get a micro burrset from Jack Krijnen in 2012 but I missed out on that set. I had read about the options on Rob's amazing resource page and was absolutely delighted to find out that Jack was producing another burrset. This time it was the 27 piece Ultimate Burrset with 637 challenges varying from Level 1 to level 8. It looked stunning and was beautifully made - it even has tweezers for picking the pieces out of the box - I was hooked!

The Level 5 Burrset
I was later offered a special copy of the same Level 5 burrset which of course I jumped at the chance of receiving. This gorgeous version was made for me from Teak by a fantastic craftsman called Mr K Y Wu of Taiwan. This has 162 possible level 5 assemblies to keep a puzzler out of mischief! This set is very large and really satisfying to play with! Just stupendous!

Caramel Case Burrset from Jerry McFarland
Not wanting to stop at the first 2 burrsets, I had been chatting with Jerry McFarland for nearly 3 years about a version from him. He finally finished designing and testing and produced this absolutely gorgeous box of treats for me. Made from Wenge, Walnut, Cherry, Acrylic, magnets, and Maple plywood, he called it the Caramel case burrset. This set is the "standard" 42-piece set which can make 314 solid burrs as well as many many additional holey burrs! The pieces are engraved using the von Känel numbering system mentioned on Rob's page as well as the standard Pentangle letter ID. In the box, Jerry's wife thought it looked like a box of caramels - hence the name! The acrylic lid and magnetically attached Wenge edges are a fabulous finishing touch. I got serial number 2 (Rob got #3). I now have enough six piece burrs to keep me going for a lifetime!

6) Power Tower
A set complete with extras and a tray
The shape makes it nice to hold
I couldn't resist having an N-ary puzzle in my top 10ish. This is the Power Tower made by Jack Krijnen. Not only has he made me a burrset but he also provided me with this gorgeous puzzle with both binary and ternary sticks as well as blocker pieces to allow just over 60 different puzzles to be made. The puzzles need to be assembled and then disassembled making for a beautiful and rather time consuming series of challenges. I think I must have spent the best part of 3 weeks of evenings having a lovely time with these! They even have repeatability because I can barely remember one of them let alone 60! If he makes any more then don't hesitate!

5) Simply More Six Piece Burrs?
How can I possibly include any more 6 piece burrs in my top 10ish after including the thousands of puzzles possible with those 3 burrsets? Well these are six piece burrs with a HUGE difference!

Stephan Baumegger is another incredible designer and also a fabulous wood craftsman. I have bought quite a lot from him over the last couple of years and it is really hard to choose any favourites as they are all so amazing. However, he produced a lovely series of 6 piece burrs with a completely different
approach to their solution. Instead of the usual 2x2x6 (or 8) unit stick dimensions these are based on a 3x3xn stick and they form a sort of hidden maze to be negotiated. These are incredibly satisfying and I enjoyed them so much that I put one of them on my YouTube channel. There is one more that I hope to buy when Stephan builds up the courage to attempt to build it - it is called Gwendoline and recently he announced another one with a hidden piece inside - Alligator. I have to have it! These puzzles are special enough to have a permanent position in my living room with only a small glare from Mrs S and no sign of a Whack! Ouch!.....yet!

My special 6 piece burr arrivals this year also included this amazing design by my good friend Adin (yes, he designed one of my previous top ten - the Symmple puzzle which I still carry with me everywhere). Despite getting married this year, he still found time to continue his journey into woodworking. He dropped into my hospital one day (he works as a trainer for very specialised hospital beds) to meet me whilst I nipped out of the operating theatre to say hello. As a gift for a special favour that I had done for him and his gorgeous wife, he gave me the Amulet. It is "just" a 6 piece burr based on a 2x2x10 grid but has a really fun sequence of moves which is very unexpected. I love it for the puzzling as well as what it means to me as a gift. Thanks so much mate!

4) The Dreidel Cube
Dreidel from Lim cubes
Looks horrific scrambled
I love it but can't solve it!
Of course my top 10ish would not be complete without a twisty puzzle - you know that I love these!

Back in May, Lim cubes, a new twisty puzzle company, released a stunning new design which I reviewed here. It has been universally acclaimed as a stupendous puzzle in quality of construction, quality of movement and shear puzzling challenge (it took me 3 weeks to work out). It is fun and tough without actually being too horrific. Considering we are currently in the golden years of twisty puzzle development, this is a tremendous achievement. I did also receive another fabulous twisty from my friend Gr_cubed - one of the AI tetrahedra. It is superb but cannot be in my top 10 because I have not yet managed to solve it after over 6 months of trying!

3) Butterfly Lock Box (aka Pleasure and Pain)
Butterfly lock box
Back in June, the incredible Wil Strijbos released the Pleasure and Pain puzzle on to an unsuspecting world and like most of his puzzles it has a very unusual twist! It provides lots of pleasure and for a few unlucky souls (myself included) it provided a huge amount of pain. Some people didn't even realise that they had pain until it was pointed out to them which made it all the more fun. After the release I was inundated with support emails to provide help (I am the official troubleshooter for Streetwise puzzles) - Wil received a huge amount of pleasure watching everyone else's pain! After solving it, the fun continues as you work out exactly how Wil achieved the steps required. It has to be in my top 10!

2) The Pentagon
It even came with a puzzle case!
Always stunning workmanship!
Shane Hales has had a puzzle in my top puzzle list for the last 2 years in a row - basically ever since he has been producing them. This time it is fitting that his latest extravaganza be in the top 3 (in fact it is joint number 2)!

The Pentagon was an amazing challenge - this time a sequential discovery puzzle with a theme to it. I reviewed it here and was blown away by what a man can achieve in his home workshop! Other puzzlers also received a copy and everyone who played really loved the ideas and the many facets to the solution process! It also looks beautiful on display - albeit outside of the case which Mrs S has forced me to put up in the loft! Shane's puzzles always have something totally original to them and this was no exception. I fathomed it out fairly quickly but other experienced puzzlers like Allard actually struggled with the finally locking mechanism. He is never quite satisfied with the finish but I have to say this one is the best looking of them all - it is just stunning and very tactile. He has such talent and is still so low key about it! Well done mate - I am so impressed, I cannot wait to see where you go next! I can't wait for the Hales locks to come out.

Where could he go next - running out of shapes!

2) The Naga
The Naga
This is joint second with Shane's Pentagon as I could not decide between them. I also did cheat as the next one after joint second should be number 4 but here it was still number 3 - hence my top '10ish' puzzles!

2 Piece cube
The Naga was another home-made puzzle which blew me away! Carsten Elsäßer had given me one of his brilliant designs, the 2 piece cube (pictured left), in March this year and it was a fun and very clever idea which also looked beautiful. I was absolutely staggered when he contacted me again a few months later to ask my opinion of his newest design, the Naga. Based on an Asian mythology he created a sequential discovery puzzle made from brass and wood. This is an amazing quality puzzle from an amateur designer and received universal approval when I sent it to the Midlands Puzzle attendees which in itself is no mean feat! It has to be in my top 3 puzzles of the year! What also makes this more amazing is that Carten works aboard a cruise ship and spends most of his life at sea. He draws up his ideas whilst at sea and then during his short periods at home he manages to put together such amazing puzzles in just his father's shed! A stunning talent - Thank you Carsten.

1) Katie Koala
Katie had to be number 1
After this review which took me over a year to be ready to produce, you must have realised that my number one of 2015 could only be Katie Koala by Brian Young and Junichi Yananose. Brian produced an absolutely epic puzzle with many many parts and facets. It was made from several different indigenous Australian woods, hand made brass pieces and included magnets, screws, reverse threads and many more features. There were so many complex steps that I got stuck several times. This yet again proves that Brian deserves his name of MR PUZZLE! It says something that none of the 65 made have come up for sale at auction yet. This is a very special puzzle and currently sits on my desk next to me watching as I type this top 10ish list. I think it might just stay there! I cannot wait for the next LE puzzle when it is produced.


  1. I'm intrigued by the burrsets. They look like a nice box of fun and (I think) that they come with a list of burrs you can build, which is a plus. It is nice to see some twisty puzzles made your list. The 3x3x3 Dreidel Cube is certainly worthy.

    1. Hi Pete, good of you to check out my top 10ish! Every year there has been at least 1 twisty in it but because twisties tend not to be as beautiful as the wooden toys, the puzzling aspect of a twisty needs to be absolutely top notch to push it into the top of the year puzzles. I really thought the AI Megamorphinx might be there but I couldn't solve it! This has motivated me to get back to it soon and see what I can do!

  2. Thank you so much for this honour Kevin! :)

    1. Hi Carsten, you very much deserve your spot in joint second! That design was one of the best I have ever seen! Well done!

      Kevin Puzzlemad