Sunday, 24 March 2019

Simply A-Maze-ing puzzles from Eric and Yavuz!

Split Maze Burr
For several months now I have been chatting with the genius (yes, you know that I am referring to Derek Boscch) about his latest ideas. Some he seems to struggle with but I always know that he will get there eventually. One design that I loved the idea of from the very first mention was the Split Maze burr.

The original Maze burr was a wonderful design by Kagen Schaefer (now Kagen Sound) which predated my puzzling addiction but when Tom Lensch produced his own (more versatile) version I couldn't resist it and it retains a special place in my heart as the first ever seriously expensive wooden puzzle that I bought - I wrote about it here in my two year celebration. I went on to buy a copy of Derek's Rhombic version and absolutely love it even if it fries my brain keeping track of so many faces. It was probably the first sign for me how much of a genius he really is.

When he told me about his exploration of a version with 2 maze pieces per side I was at first amazed and then hopeful that he would be able to 3D print a copy for me to play with. Later on, he showed it to the Doctor of wood, Eric Fuller, who said that he would look into making it in wood and acrylic. Very surprisingly, it did not take Eric long to work out all the kinks of the construction and Derek continued to work on a computer analysis of the best plate/maze combinations and a puzzle booklet to go with the commercial production.

Eric's update (with quite a few stunning puzzles) went on sale just about 2 weeks ago with 61 copies up for sale. I was rather fortunate in that I had been assigned to be the "duty floor anaesthetist" that afternoon, providing cover for the theatre suite (17 theatres) and the recovery room and hence would likely be free when the site went live. At 5pm dead, I had set a todo alarm to check Eric's site and in between boluses of a vasoconstrictor for a patient, I quickly checked the site and made a purchase on my phone...thank heavens for the mobile internet and Apple pay! There were several other simply amazing puzzles going up but I had my eye only on one and after my recent splurge decided that I really should stop there! The rest of them sold out in a few hours as did the simply GORGEOUS version of the Casino puzzle which I had reviewed here and which was last years puzzle of the year from Pelikan.

A week or so later, I had a third Maze burr for my collection:

Maze Burrs - the box is for the fully disassembled Cubic version from Tom with extra plates
The Split Maze burr is made from Granadillo, Birdseye Maple and Acrylic with metal screws as the maze pins and measures 9.9cm across each face. There was a downloadable pdf with a whole bunch (50) of challenges ranging from 31 to 382 moves. Derek has offered to make a nicely printed and wire bound booklet for sale to people who bought this puzzle and I am hoping will also provide a huge bunch more challenges as a pdf to download. This will make this a very good value puzzle despite the $189 price tag. It was set up as problem 1 when it arrived:
The premise is exactly the same as the other Maze burrs. Each face has a shape cut into it with a pin protruding through from the layer beneath. Only one of the faces has a pathway from the shape to the edge allowing a face to slide off completely. As each piece slides back and forth it will make room for adjacent faces to move if the track will allow it.

Even with the low-level puzzles I found this a real challenge - trying to keep track of 2 mazes per side is a huge challenge for my feeble brain and it did require a number of backtracks before I was finally able to get it. Once the first puzzle is solved then the acrylic maze piece with an exit can slide out of the puzzle.

The exit maze slides off
At this point, I discovered a catch - the pin plate could not come out - it was blocked by the acrylic piece on the side (you should be able to see it on the right in the picture above) and I then had to continue the maze movements to allow that blocking piece to drop and then could remove the pin plate. This means that there is often 2 challenges per set-up and thus even more puzzling fun.

Yay! Solved puzzle challenge 1
Inside is a nice little bag containing an Allen key to allow the pins to be unscrewed. After that, the other pins need to be unscrewed and then the plates removed so that the next challenge can be accepted. Having these unscrewable pins is a huge advantage over the original Cocobolo Maze burr from Kagen as it means that at any time that you get lost or confused then it is just a matter of unscrewing some pins and then resetting the puzzle. It also means that the puzzle does not need to be moved through the full solution in reverse to set up each challenge.

Once fully disassembled then one can fully admire Eric's masterful craftsmanship - it is simply superb:

Just gorgeous!
So far I have worked my way through the first 8 puzzles and am enjoying the progression - it certainly starts to get very very tough for me as I approach challenges requiring 50 moves - I suspect that I will never get above 100! If Derek can provide a whole bunch of level 30-60(ish) challenges then I will be a very happy man. Thanks to Eric and Derek for another fabulous toy for my collection!

I do not know whether Eric plans on producing any more of these - he doesn't usually rerun a puzzle unless there is a huge demand - I am sorry if you missed out after they sold so quickly.

Front - the cube is 1 voxel off the frame on each side
My friend Yavuz Demirhan has been at it again! He released a bunch of gorgeous new designs on his Etsy store a few weeks ago and I jumped at the chance having been tantalised by them when he showed them on Facebook a while ago. The first that I bought and solved was the Maze cube (currently sold out) which consists of a cubic maze made from Sapele with Wenge slipfeathers which is partially seated in a frame made from the same woods (but with the woods reversed). The maze is seated on 3 maple dowels on each of the 3 faces and the cube needs to move through 3 mazes simultaneously to be taken off the frame. It is 8cm across each face.

The aim is for it to be seated fully inside and flush with the frame. There is apparently only one solution to this. I initially did not understand and took the cube off without too much difficulty and then put it back to the same position and thought I had solved it really easily! Silly me! I then repeated it and realised that there are at least 2 paths to seat the maze cube in that starting position. At this point, I had my "Doh" moment and realised there was more to it than that. A proper analysis was required!

After a good 2 hours of working my way through numerous starting orientations and playing with various directions, I was finally able to say that I had beaten it. It is a lovely thing to look at and a delight to play with - not too tough but just right. The final position is hidden by the show/hide button. If you don't want to know the orientation of the maze in the final position then don't look:

Mrs S Makes Me Tidy Up!

If you go to my New Additions page then you will see that Mrs S bought me something very special for our upcoming anniversary. After it arrived she rather pointedly told me that my puzzle room/study was a shithole and I could not really disagree with her. She said that until I tidied it up, I was not allowed to play with any of my wonderful new toys. I could not say no after her present arrived earlier this week. The shithole is no longer a shithole!

Yes, I really do need to sort this out!

After several hours I had this:

Much better.
The rest of my collection has been partially reorganised - I will show this off at a later date.
A Whack! Ouch! has been temporarily put on hold - phew!

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Stretching my Abilities

Stretchy 12 Burr
In mid-February, Juno and Yukari announced that 3 new burrs were going to be put on sale and I instantly jumped over to have a look. There is something special about Juno's work - he has a tremendous mind that seems to come up with brilliant stuff all the time and then, unlike a lot of what goes up on Puzzlewillbeplayed, he critically looks at the design to see whether it has anything specific to mark it out as worth making and us purchasing. Only a very small number of his designs seem to get out into the world for which my bank account and Mrs S are very grateful! Of the 3, I could not resist adding the Stretchy 12 burr to my collection and playing with it fairly soon after arrival.

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, it does look like I buy absolutely everything but believe me, I do choose only puzzles that I think I might be able to solve or that will be fun to play with. My eyes immediately jumped to the description:
This diabolical puzzle requires 15 moves to remove the first piece from the assembled shape and another 19 moves to remove the second piece. 
The puzzle and its pieces have 7-unit length. Just before the first piece and the second piece is removed from the assembled shape of the puzzle, it stretches to a 13-unit length. Every single piece moves during the assembling and disassembling process. It’s quite a transformation of the shape.
Most of the movements follow the X or Y axis but very rarely the Z axis. Find a flat surface and choose a stable orientation of the puzzle and then, you can easily push and pull puzzle pieces.
The fact that a higher number of moves is required for the second piece removal and the enormous changes in conformation during the solve process made it very interesting to me. The kicker, however, is the last paragraph - a burr puzzle that can be solved on a flat surface struck me as something that I really had to experience.

When it arrived the first thing to strike me was the size - this is a fairly large burr at 10cm across in every direction and the fact that it is a mixture of boards and sticks too with boards made from his own home-made plywood. Not just any old plywood (this is layers if American Black Walnut surrounding European Beech - very striking) and the burr sticks are rather substantial made from rather gorgeous PNG Rosewood (aka Amboyna or Narra). Every part of this puzzle is substantial and an absolute delight to fiddle with - pieces are loose and slide easily. The construction is such that it is relatively easy to see inside and see whether certain moves might work or what is blocking a particular slide.

The initial exploration produces some wild expansions of the puzzle which is great fun. I was bearing in mind the X-Y axis claim and found an orientation to explore in. After 12 or 13 moves I was stuck! There were quite a few moves possible with several potential branch points but none seemed to lead anywhere. This stayed on my armchair for play for weeks with me getting nowhere - what was I doing wrong?

I began to get rather desperate! The weekend was coming up and I was at risk of having nothing to write about for you, my slightly less crazy than me, readers. Yesterday evening after a nice day out with "the frightening one" I sat down to watch TV and play with it. At this point, I reread the description and saw the "rarely Z axis" words - Aha! Now I looked afresh at what I had done and at multiple points on my pathway I pulled upwards and pushed downwards with no effect until I saw that if I move this one piece over here...
Wow! How had I missed that? It opened up a whole new sequence and my first piece came out. Phew! I might just have a blog post for you. Then it was a matter of discovering how a really large number of moves might lead to the removal of another piece - there were a lot of possibilities but one approach immediately stood out and was successful. Brilliant!

The remainder of the disassembly proceeded quite easily and seemed to remain very stable right up to the end which is very unusual.

The pieces are stunning!
In my rush to disassemble it for the blog, I had not paid any attention to the disassembly order and orientation for anything other than the first 2 pieces and after admiring the beauty of the wood and workmanship, I was forced to resort to Burrtools for the reassembly - but if you are careful then you might not need this yourself.

It is one of the most enjoyable burrs to play with and explore - there is one left on Juno's Pluredro shop and it is well worth adding this puzzle to your collection.

Just made available.
Whilst you are there you might want to consider buying one of the remaining copies of the Grooved 6 board burr #2 which was released yesterday. It looks fabulous and if it is anywhere near as good as the 1st version which I reviewed here and Allard reviewed here, then it will be a wonderful and fun challenge. I couldn't resist and it is winging its way to me now.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Cubes, Cubes, CUBES!

Or How a Fixation is My Undoing

They don't look much like cubes! From the left:
HypnoTIC, OcTIC, PackTIC and StarTIC #2
Many of you will have seen the shiny new website and the latest gorgeous production run by Brian Menold, the "published professor of wood". It included yet more of the amazing designs from the incredible 3D mind of Andrew Crowell. Andrew has been shall we say, rather prolific recently! Bernhard who is the world's foremost expert on Turning Interlocking Cubes has mentioned that there have been at least 27 new designs recently from Andrew and I, of course, wanted to get as many as I possibly could because I have a cube fixation! At least that is what Mrs S thinks. I reviewed the previous TIC from Andrew and Brian here and of course, it was fabulous. When Brian released another batch of four, I jumped straight away and the four beauties pictured above arrived.

StarTIC #2
You will have realised straight away that these don't look like cubes! Brian asked whether I wanted them sent out assembled or disassembled and gave me a little advice. Only StarTIC #2 arrived assembled - it is a cube in a frame. I started with this one because I always find disassembly much easier than assembly and wanted to give myself a little headstart for the blog. made from Walnut and Maple, there is 1 easy to find move (it works under gravity) and then another fairly easy to find but rather unexpected move. At this point things get interesting. Opening up spaces in the interior further pieces can move and then the inevitable and confusing rotations begin. Oh boy! This gets fun very quickly! During the disassembly, several pieces have to rotate and I found it fun to explore. I think it took about an hour to take it all apart and as a starter puzzle, it was perfect.

Looks very innocuous
Having scrambled the pieces, I set to reassembling which was definitely a tougher challenge. I had very rapidly forgotten the orientation and managed to confuse 2 of the similar-shaped pieces. Reassembly took me well over 2 hours and quite a lot of swearing. Why swear? Because if I could not put it back together again there was no solution and Burrtools would not be able to help me. Plus, remember that I am rubbish at assembly! I have to say that 3 hours plus of puzzling for $60 is pretty good and I had a beautiful wooden ornament/worry bead to display/fiddle with.

OcTIC - notice the reinforcing pin where a joint may get stressed
Next up was the one that Brian suggested would be the easiest and definitely best sent out in pieces, OcTIC. Not sure why that particular name when there are 5 rather than 8 pieces but he was right for it to be the starter. There are 2 nice large chunks of cube which are a good pair to begin with and not much of a problem working out how they fit together. Having done that, it becomes fairly obvious where the remaining pieces fit inside even if they won't just slot in. My fixation on the cube shape was my undoing! I could work out how to put most of the pieces inside (even with the nice easy rotation move for one of them) but I could not get all of them in. Everything I tried ended up with one piece outside. My fixation was killing me! It took a couple of hours before I finally let go of the initial cube shape and started with other pieces first. Then I discovered another unexpected rotation and a lovely sliding sequence before my Aha! moment was complete - beautiful!

It took an embarrassingly long time!
So I was 3 days into my puzzling when I got sick and ended up with a nice pile of new deliveries and no energy to open them! 2 days later I was back and puzzling again! I went with the HypnoTIC cube which Brian had said was pretty tough but doable as an assembly puzzle.

HypnoTIC pieces
It has vibrantly stunning woods and also a couple of those nice brass pins. I found that I could fathom the positions of the pieces pretty quickly and progressed quite rapidly. In fact, within a few minutes, I shouted my Aha! and was very pleased with myself until Mrs S pointed out that I had not made a proper cube:

Oh dear!
Embarrassed, I started afresh and every time my assembly ended up with this. I could not for the life of me see any other way to assemble this puzzle. This was supposed to be "not too bad" and I was in danger of having yet another unsolvable puzzle in my collection! Time to go to bed and try again another day. The following evening I continued to get stuck at the same point. It took me a whole extra evening before I overcame yet another fixation! I had quickly found a very nice way to assemble the initial cube starter shape - it fitted together beautifully with an easy sliding motion and I was convinced it was correct. Only after 2 evenings of failure did I reassess and realise that my easy start moves were wrong and there was an alternative (harder to find) starter:
Looks great? WRONG!
Ashamed to say that it took 2 days to find this!
Having done this the next 2 pieces fit in with multiple rotational moves and setups but a very satisfying search. The last piece fits in ONLY if things are absolutely perfectly aligned. It requires a very subtle rotation and position - if you are out by a degree or 2 and not aligned right then no chance. Another day to find this and finally after many hours AHA!

OMG! It nearly killed me!
Wow! What a challenge! I was exhausted and feeling very stupid but also exhilarated about the new skills I was obtaining. Again, fantastic value for $60. Finally, it was time to attempt the tough one, PackTIC...

A packing puzzle with rotations? Hell yeah!
 Again, a gorgeous choice of woods and I could see that with so many smaller pieces to be packed inside that this might be a little challenging for my tiny brain. As usual, I started with the larger pieces and immediately struggled. Each of them could fit into the larger cube but would not leave enough space for the other one to go in and extend the full 4 unit length across the cube. I gradually found a second method of adding a long piece but it still would not leave a channel for the other to pass through. Uncharitably, I did start to think that Brian might have put the wrong pieces together in the box but I quickly shrugged that suspicion off. I was fixated...YET AGAIN! It took me the whole of Saturday evening before I could even put the first 2 pieces into position! Damn! I am rubbish at puzzling!

Having worked out the 2 big pieces it was time to work on the smaller one. How hard could they be? Stupid boy! There are a number of ways that 2 or even 3 of the small pieces can go inside and once or twice I found a technique to get them there. After that, I either discovered that the space for the final piece was split into 2 sections or it was impossible to put it in there. The sequence and positioning took me another 3 hours and the Aha! moment was fabulous! I could not believe how clever that assembly was. Brian was right that they should have been sent out in pieces. Only just before writing this article did I finally solve it - nearly missed my deadline! Phew! Another stunning cube for my fixation and to reinforce to Mrs S that all my toys look the same!

Packed them in! Brilliant puzzle!
If Brian or anyone else produces these again then just say yes and hand over your cash without question! They are wonderful additions to anyone's collection.

Finally able to take a collection photo!
Now how should I store them? Assembled or not? It's a bit of a dilemma.

I might have received a few more of this series of puzzles from a certain German "enabler" friend of mine. How many? More than I am letting on to and enough to make Mrs S very VERY angry! OMG!

Sunday, 3 March 2019

Just a 6 Piece Burr?

Heck No!

Grooved 6 Board Burr #1
Just a quick review of Juno's Grooved 6 Board Burr #1 today - I spent all of yesterday looking at a pile of boxes from all over the world whilst not being allowed to open them. Mrs S had chores and DIY for me to do and after she had opened the door to several delivery men on Friday she was firing her laser burning stare rather indiscriminately all over the place! I feared for my life and decided that I should do whatever she wanted me to do for a while. I did not even open the boxes until I had finished a whole day of work around the house - there was no puzzling to be had either! Someone else was very interested.

Sob! Not allowed to touch!
A few weeks ago I finally managed to solve a rather tough puzzle and was going to review it at the time but Allard beat me to it - I solved my copy of this just before he published his very fine review here. I put off my blog post but decided I should still post something as this puzzle is still for sale with just 2 left and maybe I can convince a few of you who ignored him to buy it. It is a magnificent puzzle!

I have a few 6 piece burrs and 3 very beautiful burr sets which allow me to make a hundred or more extras. I also have a few board burrs which I enjoy and find fun to play with. They tend to be only slightly difficult because most of the pieces are based on a simple 1x4x6 orthogonal grid and hence cannot be terribly complex. In fact, when Juno put this puzzle up for sale way back in October last year, I bought the Spade case and the Tangled clip burr but decided not to buy the simple looking board burr.....Stupid boy! A few weeks later I got to play with it at the MPP. It looked like someone had nearly dismantled it and left it like that. I overheard them say that they could not go any further and also could not get it back to the beginning. My interest was piqued and I picked it up - Ah! I see! This is a much more interesting puzzle than I had thought initially - the grooved aspect to it made a HUGE difference. I did manage to return it to the start position and left it like that because I had decided that I really ought to buy my own copy. Yes, it is THAT good!

It arrived in December and I started to play. It is wonderfully tactile and remarkably beautiful to look at. It is 8cm cubed and made of American Cherry, with Jarrah (reinforcement splines) and Bamboo dowel pins. Really stunning. I couldn't resist playing with it straight away and discovered that there are lots of moves possible very quickly after you start. This gives quite a few pathways to try and one or two are really quite long with multiple branches to wander along. This may seem quite frightening but I personally found that retracing my steps was never a problem - I am quite disciplined about maintaining a set orientation all the time whilst I explore and so never lose my place. At least one of the paths is long enough that I was convinced that I was going the right way - it just felt right and was reinforced when I appeared to be just a step or two away from removing one of the boards:

It looks like that left-hand board should come off soon
You know how it is? It all seems to be going so well and you get so close but that final step just never quite happens! I worked on it for a few months without managing to get any closer to removing that first board. Why was it so blasted difficult? Most 6 board burrs are nowhere near this tough and at this point, I realised that with the pins and grooves these boards were not based on that 1x4x6 grid, these were actually based on a 3x12x18 grid which allows a MUCH higher level solution. Even so, the stated level of 22 for the first piece removal of 22 should still have been possible for me without so much difficulty. Nothing I could do would let me get any further. I just couldn't find the final few steps.

You all know me by now! If I can't solve something then I just keep at it until I get it. Sometimes it takes a few days or weeks and sometimes it may take months. Eventually, after 3 months of playing most evenings, I had that highly craved Aha! moment. Juno had completely led me astray! The true pathway was quite an early divergence from that initial path. The correct sequence was really very well hidden and I kicked myself for failing to find it earlier. Even having found the new pathway, it is still not a straightforward sequence to remove the first and subsequent pieces and requires quite a bit of thought and planning. Absolutely genius!

It looks so innocuous!
Having spent so long working on it I had quite a lot of muscle memory for the sequence of moves and the first few times I was able to reassemble it without difficulty. The key factor though is that I always kept the pieces in order and sort of oriented correctly. When it came to lining them up for the photograph, I lost that order and orientation and then was unable to reassemble it. There are 4246 possible assemblies of the pieces but only one is achievable - this might explain the difficulty of reassembly.

Luckily I find the making of a Burrtools file an essential part of my burr enjoyment and had a lovely time entering it in and discovering the level is - a considerable challenge for "just" a 6 board burr.

Hopefully, I have tempted you (along with Allard) to go and buy the last 2 - it is fabulous and you will not be disappointed.

So you may be asking what was in my boxes? After a frenzy of unpacking it appeared that there was a cat in one of my boxes - he certainly approved of Robert Yarger's choice of box:

If I fits, I sits!
The space inside (rapidly filled by cat) was some long-awaited puzzles:

Mrs S is unimpressed by my splurge!
We have a Stickman, some Menolds, another Juno and of course, several Krasnows. This might keep me going for a while. Don't tell Mrs S that I'm expecting 1 or 2 (or 3) more deliveries soon!

Whack! Ouch! 

Sorry dear.


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