Sunday 12 June 2016

Not Just a Lowly 6 Piece Burr!

Just 6 piece burrs? Definitely not!
From the left... Wallace, Gwendoline, Thrym and Gromit
I still have 'Manflubola' and have massive burns, bruises and bleeding ears because it mutated and the present Mrs S now has 'Shebola' and is blaming me for it. I promise that I didn't share any of the technicolour mucus with her as she wouldn’t let me! Of course I still went to work and did my on-call last Monday as it was probably safest for me to get out of the house rather than risk being at home and being murdered by “she who has a lethal stare”. On top of being ill it was time, yet again, for me to write our triple consultant on-call rotas and with all the summer annual leave requests it was a bit of a nightmare that took me 9 hours yesterday. All in all, I haven't been able to do much puzzling this week…..except for a few burrs - I couldn't resist those! I am a bit stuck on the Canal House from Jakub/Pelikan and have put it down for a while to allow a break and coming back to it with fresh eyes later. There are still copies of all the latest burrs available so get them whilst you can!

The pic at the top of the post is a wonderful series by Stephan Baumegger. Three of them were in my top 10 favourite puzzles from last year. They all look like variants of the standard 6 piece burr but they are much more fun than the normal burr. They do consist of 6 pieces but that's pretty much where the similarity ceases. Most 6 piece burrs (I have three very very beautiful sets (see number 7 from the top 10)) are based on a 2x2x6 or 2x2x8 grid for each stick and so there are severe limitations on the shape of the pieces that can be made and the moves that are required to assemble or disassemble them. Rob Stegmann has a huge discourse on the possible shapes of burr sticks and is probably the world's greatest authority on them - his site is well worth reading through. This series of burrs from Stephan is of great interest to me because the sticks are actually based on a 3x3x8 grid which allows for hugely complex constructions and effectively allows him to design a moving interlocking maze. They are less difficult than the 18 piece high level burrs because they have less pieces and a lower number of moves to solve them but I find them absolutely fascinating because I love the exploration involved in solving the maze and much of it is open to be seen and explored.

Gwendoline (I have no idea why)
At the end of last year Stephan showed me a burrtools file for a fourth in the series which he had called Gwendoline (I have no idea why!) and said that it was unlikely that it would ever be made because the pieces were just too complex and difficult to make. They would probably not be stable. After I admired it and the complexity of the pieces, I said that if he ever was to make a copy then he should put my name down for it as I loved this type of puzzle and wanted to continue with the series. I heard nothing for several months and then was surprised and delighted when he told me that he was going to be able to make it and he also offered me a few others that I had admired on his FB page. How could I resist? Much to Mrs S’ disgust, I couldn’t!

Gwendoline was the first one I played with about 6 or 8 weeks ago and it took me about ½ to ¾ of an hour to dismantle it and the reassembly after scrambling the pieces was another hour. It’s a wonderful maze to explore and a fabulous piece of the puzzle maker’s art. The pieces are phenomenally complex and I see why Stephan thought that it was impossible but it has proved to be very stable and a fantastic worry bead to play with.

Gwendoline pieces - incredibly complex
I have made videos of others in the series and I know that a few of you like to see them in video form so have a look below. Warning - if you don't want to see a spoiler then don't click play on the video!

Next up is another fantastic burr that Stephan sent me called Backflip:

I originally thought that it was more than 6 pieces but I very quickly realised that this one also is a 6 piece burr based on a 3x3x7 grid. It is therefore almost part of the series above. However when I began to explore I realised that this was less of a maze and more of a serially interlocking puzzle. After just a few minutes I had made a few moves and couldn't find any more. It took another 15 minutes of staring at it to see that a certain push would split the puzzle partially apart and then after another move or 2 I had this:

2 halves of Backflip
The two 3 piece halves come apart quite easily to reveal their beauty with distinct layers of Wenge and Maple and hence the name Backflip. Several of the pieces look very similar and I had inadvertently mixed them up on my lap-sleeping cat!

Showing off the front and back sides of the sticks - a brilliant design!

What followed last night was a good hour of swearing under my breath to work out firstly which way to group them into 2 sets and then how to interlock them in a way that will let the 2 halves come back together. This is some serious fun (at least I can say that in retrospect) and is another that I can heartily recommend. It’s not part of that series but very nearly.

Divorce - an odd name?
Amulet from Adin
Another burr that I solved this week is Divorce - this one is not on his Puzzlewillbeplayed page and so if you want to see it then you’ll need to buy a copy from Stephan. I originally thought this was another oddly designed 6 piece burr with extra pieces added to it a bit like the fabulous design called Amulet that was a gift from Adin which also made it into my top 10.

After seeing Divorce in the flesh I wondered whether it was a caged 6 piece burr. However when I started to play with it I realised that it was a very different beast entirely - it was a 6 piece burr in a cage that splits apart. There are a few blind ends but like many of Stephan’s designs there is a lovely pathway through the puzzle with the main challenge being to work out what move goes next - it’s almost a sequential discovery puzzle but without tools. I was playing with this at work when after a fair while it split apart and my mouth must have dropped open because the nursing staff around me started to laugh at my expression. I quickly put it back together again and went back and forth to this point a few times but never dared to go any further at work. I now understand the reason for the name - a married couple are a very complex series of interlocking parts and it takes some real determination to split them apart. That evening at home, whilst trying to block out the sound of Mrs S coughing her lungs onto the work surface, I split it apart and took a couple of quick iPhone photos of the two halves (just as an emergency clue in case I got totally stuck later) and marvelled at the design.

2 parts of the divorce - like a married couple?

I finally dared to take it completely apart to take my final photo of the scrambled the pieces. Just as in a separated couple, the 2 halves don't fall apart but it is possible to make it happen. Again, as in a divorce it is with some determination perfectly possible to put it all back together but it takes a fairly good memory and a good bit of determination. I do think that puzzle assembly is easier than people assembly although the madmen I work with seem to dismantle people quite regularly - it is amazing what you can do with a knife and a powersaw! The reassembly of the puzzle is great fun - there is the initial challenge (like Backflip) of organising the 2 halves correctly and believe me, when you’re not very bright like me, this is a huge challenge!

If these are pieces of a divorced couple then these must be organs?
Now I'm getting silly - I blame the Manflubola!
My lesson for today (as well as my profound statements on marital therapy) is not to look down on burrs with a low number of pieces - a “simple 6 piece burr” may not be quite as simple as you might think. It is well worth asking the craftsmen about some of their designs with lower numbers of pieces - they can be very interesting indeed! Another great example of that was the Gravity puzzle that I described last week - it is a delight to explore!

Have a nice weekend everybody - keep well and try to avoid either being pulled apart or falling apart (save that for the puzzles).


  1. Divorce is actually by Dan Fast. Here's the link:

    1. You are absolutely right! I think Stephan did tell me about it and I forgot. It is a great design. Dan is a friend of mine and his designs are always interesting - I have quite a few of them in my collection.

  2. Goetz emailed me with some very interesting information which I'll post here:

    "Just read through your nice blog post and watched the video of "Gwendoline" disassembly and reassembly. Looks like a fascinating burr, and one thing I consider typical for Stephan's burrs is what I tend to call "Baumegger hooks" -- the U-shaped hooks he designs into many of his pieces with 2x3xn or 3x3xn grid.

    I still have one of these burrs to solve, and it is in a cage: Ruebezahl. It has 6 pieces of 3x3x9 grid, and there is a 1x3 gap between them. Also contains those U hooks.

    To answer your question about the markings: It is an abbreviation for Stephan's name and the year, i.e. "Ste 16". The line over the year is something typically found in southern Germany or Austria. They tend to highlight year numbers that way."

    Thanks for the info Goetz!