Sunday 1 May 2016

Masterful Craftsmanship Leads to Hours of Fun!

Momus on its' stand
I've mentioned Johan Heyns quite a few times on this blog - he had stopped making puzzles for a very long time and focussed on other hobbies for a while but, dare I say it, thanks to encouragement from me as well as unfortunately losing his job, he has begun making puzzles again. Luckily for us in the community, they are available in small numbers for purchase. They are not cheap but they ARE very high quality and so far have always had something interesting about their design or solution. The Alfons Eyckmans' Cocoon puzzle is one of my all time favourites which remains on show in my living room. Today I will be focussing on another one that I couldn't resist as well as another delight that I received as a gift.

When Johan emailed out and posted on Facebook that he was going to make a batch of Momus puzzles designed by the rather prolific Terry Smart, I couldn't resist it. Terry is a Scotsman who spends much of his time working offshore on the oil rigs and hence has quite a bit of time away from his home and family which no doubt helps him hone his design skills. Having trained as a med student and junior doctor in Edinburgh as well as Fife and the Borders, I have a bit of a soft spot for anything that originates from there (yes, including Mrs S! Whack! Ouch! Of course I had to say that, dear) so when a puzzle by a Scotsman comes up - even Mrs S can't talk me out of it!

I have watched Terry begin to play with Burrtools and very rapidly become a real expert. The thing about using BT for puzzle design is that many people seem to get fixated on producing the highest difficulty level possible and the end result is a puzzle that is only solvable by super humans like Goetz (and a few others I know on Facebook). I personally only own a few very high level burr puzzles and expect that I will never be able to solve them - I top out at level 40-50 for the first piece! Terry decided to take a different route entirely in his design - he went for unusual shapes or interesting solution pathways. This interesting approach was so evident that Eric Fuller also couldn't resist producing one or two of his designs. Eric is not interested in super tough puzzles - he wants fun and interesting ones and he obviously agrees with me that Terry does just that.

Look at that stand!
Johan decided to make this batch using Iroko, Mahogany and Silky Oak and he made them absolutely beautiful - the contrasting coloured dowels in the ring pieces are a beautiful touch. As is usual he always designs a stand that will fit with the puzzle and show it off to best effect - I absolutely adore this aspect of Johan's puzzles - every single one that is not just a solid block comes with a stand and they are as much of a feature as the puzzle itself. The only downside is that they mean storage can become an issue if you are limited in space (like I am, thanks to my perpetual fear of the Whack! Ouch!) Apart from Cocon in the living room, all of Johan's creations live in my dining room on the sideboard and I am rapidly running out of surface for more! Johan also usually uses 15mm wood stock which makes for rather chunky puzzles which take up lots of room - the Momus is 105x105x60mm but when on its' stand it is 180mm high!

I wanted to take this to London with me last weekend but space constraints prevented it but as soon as I returned back to Sheffield and my "puzzletorium" I immediately picked it up to have a nice long play! Mrs S gave me a laser burning stare and threatened another Whack! Ouch! for not helping with the unpacking but after what I had been forced to do over the preceding few days, even she relented and let me play! Playing with the puzzle immediately reveals that there are a number of possible starting moves and a couple of rotations seem to be possible. I established with Johan that a rotation was not required and was careful to prevent it from happening inadvertently. The stripes on the burr pieces give the ability to discern orientation which I am sure Johan did deliberately. During my correspondence he taunted me that there was considerable dancing to be done - at level I had suspected that the corner burr pieces were going to have to swap positions quite a few times and then they were going to move with the 2 ring plates as well. This was a very interesting puzzle to play with - not too many dead ends but some very well hidden moves.

An alternative configuration
Getting closer? Maybe!
I got stuck! I had found what seemed to be the correct pathway but could not progress at all and for a little while, due to several pieces moving at once, I couldn't even backtrack to the beginning. Eventually, my Aha! moment occurred and I suddenly had a piece drop way down through the frame. It still wouldn't come out but after yet another dance of pieces I had the first part removed. The remaining disassembly was fairly trivial but still fun and finally the magnificent construction could be viewed:

2 rings and 2 pairs of identical simple burr sticks
After the obligatory photos, the reassembly did not prove too tough - after several hours of back and forth play searching for the hidden move, I had it more or less memorised. This is a lovely addition to my collection - it looks fabulous and is my first puzzle designed by Terry (I missed out on the last update by Eric due to unfortunate timing).

When I opened the box from Johan, I was rather surprised to reach in and pull this out first - I actually pulled out several of the pieces! I wasn't expecting it and for a short while thought that the transport from South Africa had completely destroyed the Momus. Gradually a few more pieces came out and then an interesting stand. After that I found the Momus (nicely intact) and a letter explaining what this was.

Johan had found this on Ishino's site (I cannot read Japanese characters to tell who the designer is) and apparently whilst "playing around" on a Saturday afternoon he had constructed this out of Rhodesian Teak and Maple. Even whilst "playing around" he still managed to produce a wonderful stand for the puzzle - I love it! There are 8 possible tetrominoes and all of them are included in the set, the aim is to combine them all to make large versions of the tetrominoes at double scale. Most of the puzzle challenges are not hugely difficult - they each took me about 5-10 minutes but it was a really fun experience and perfect for both the serious puzzler as well as more "normal" people including children!

112 unique assemblies
695 unique assemblies

902 unique assemblies
178 unique assemblies

385 unique assemblies
803 unique assemblies
The final challenge was to make the shape that it had been shipped in that I had never seen up until that point. Surprisingly this one took me quite a long time - the 6 above had taken 10 minutes each but this one took me nearly 45minutes! I really am not terribly bright.

63 unique assemblies
Now we see the reason for the strange frame!
These puzzles have provided a good few hours of pleasure - thanks so much Johan! Be sure to watch Johan's Facebook page for news of any new ones he is going to be making. It is a pleasure to deal with him and a pleasure to receive and play with his masterful creations. I cannot wait for the next (which strangely enough is already on its' way - Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear!)

Whilst I am writing about Master craftsmen and brilliant designers, I have also just received a "little" package from my good friend from Austria, Stephan Baumegger who also designs and produces the most fantastic puzzles! The box contained:


Gwendoline is one of those 6 piece burr lookalikes that I adored so much that they got into my top 10 puzzles of 2015. Stephan made this design but didn't think that he would be able to construct it. I was so astounded several months later when he managed to produce it that I immediately had to ask for a copy! It is only level 11.14 but will be a wonderful puzzle to explore.

The Maahes puzzle is the odd one out - Stephan very seldom produces puzzles designed by someone else but he also fell under the spell of Terry Smart's design prowess and made Maahes (the Egyptian Lion God of War) which Mrs S liked so much that I also asked for a copy of.

Maahes - The Lion God. Look at the mane - fab!
These should keep me occupied a little while - they certainly have ensured that I stay away from the current Haubrich auction!

I hope you all have as much puzzling fun as I am about to have!


  1. Nice post, Kevin. The Momus seems very impressive.

    I believe Divorce is by Dan Fast, i.e. also someone else's design...

  2. Hi Kevin, as indicated, Tetro's designer is unknown and it resides in that category on Ishino's site. Thanks for the kind words! These comments and reaction to photos from puzzlers and you on FB is what is keeping me going. Much appreciated! Johan