Sunday 27 November 2022

Amazing How Much Difference Is Caused by a Half Voxel

Bubinburr by Juno
If you have not seen it yet - the puzzles that I reviewed last week from Pelikan have gone up for sale now - there are some incredible puzzles there - go get them quick.

It's been a bit of a struggle to get something to write about this weekend - I have had to work 3 weekends in a row and after the Herculean effort of solving all of the Pelikan puzzles, my poor little brain was mush! I have so far completely failed on the last steps of Angry Walter and also failed to solve my jingly puzzles I bought months ago from Aaron. In desperation, I picked up a gorgeous six piece board burr that has been on my to solve tray in the living room for over a year.

I bought a bunch of Juno's 6 piece board burrs way back in October 2021 - I couldn't resist the 5th and 6th in the series of Grooved board burrs which I solved and reviewed (#5 here and #6 here) within a few weeks of their arrival. I then hoped to solve the Bubinburr in the days or even week afterwards. I can now hear Juno and Yukari laughing at me from the other side of the world! They must have known that that was not going to happen! Their description of it should have warned me:
"This puzzle requires some very tricky 22 moves to remove the first piece from the assembled shape. Although a few pieces tend to rotate during the solving process, there seems to be no shortcut solution using rotational movements. It can be solved using rotational movements, but it still requires about the same steps as a rectilinear movement solution, though it is tricky to count while it involves rotational movements. The number of possible assemblies of the puzzle is a very large 30,592, and finding the unique solution among them is extremely difficult.
Once assembled, the puzzle looks just like an ordinary 6 board burr, but as you can see in the images below it has been designed using a grid system of half unit lengths. It doubled the number of moves for the first piece compared to an ordinary 6 board burr that has a maximum 11 moves unique solution. 
One of the most difficult aspects of designing this type of puzzle is to ensure that the puzzle has a unique solution. To achieve this, Juno has carefully modified the shape of a couple of pieces, which are cleverly hidden in the images below."
I thought that it wouldn't be too difficult when I bought it...especially since it did not have any extra grooves to catch me out. But I quickly realised that there was something really tough to this one. The exploration was fantastic with quite a few moves possible but no really deep blind ends. I was always able to return back to the beginning and try another path. There was a weird loop in the pathway as well which I frequently seemed to head through and back to the beginning without intending that. After many hours of attempts, I had to put it down. I just could not find the missing move(s).

The puzzle stayed on my tray for over a year and I would attempt to solve it every couple of weeks without success. It "only" has 22 moves to remove the first piece but I just couldn't seem to manage it. As Juno stated, the use of half voxels made all the difference. I did not bother to look for a rotational solution and tried to keep the pieces controlled as I played. Using that half voxel cut out or added in on every piece (some are not even full thickness) effectively meant that the puzzle was built on a 12x12x12 grid instead of the usual 6x6x6. 

I am not sure what happened today - maybe it was my desperation to have something solved to write about before I spend a day working on trauma patients, maybe it was the very nice gin that I had last night, I don't know. But, this morning, I picked it up and went through my usual initial exploration and attempted my usual moves but for some reason I tried a different move - I think it may have been because I held it differently and gravity found the move for me. But suddenly there was a whole lot more room to manoeuvre than before and Aha! I had my first piece out. The rest of the disassembly was pretty straightforward and I could take the all-important photo:

Finally after over a year of trying!
I don't think I can reassemble it from memory but that is absolutely fine as making the Burrtools file is a significant part of the fun!

So what is going to be next? I have a backlog of puzzles bought from Eric and my birthday present from the present wife, Mrs S has just arrived:

Dayan Gem 10, 16 axis hexadecagon
Eitan's Edge turning Octahedron, 4-Corners cube Plus

Sunday 20 November 2022

Anyone Want a Pelikan for Christmas?

Upcoming delights from Jakub and Jaroslav
10 or 11 days ago I received a rather large box! Mrs S was very unhappy about the rather large box and I had to apologise profusely about the state of my collection and how it had spilled everywhere in the house. She did have to admit that my recent partial tidy up had improved things but foresaw (probably realistically) that the latest set of arrivals might just undo all that. But...I have readers to think of and the danger I take on with every delivery is just for you!


Bornage by Stephane Chomine
I adore Stéphane Chomine’s designs - they always have a simplicity to them yet also are a real challenge. This is definitely the case here with a level of How can it be so difficult? There are just 4 burr sticks (gorgeous Purpleheart) in a very simple frame (made from Merbau). Starting off, there are only a few moves possible and they stop in a blind end very quickly. Only one sequence seems to progress and this promisingly opens up the visibility inside very quickly. After a short while it really looks like progress has been made and it would separate soon but I came to a hard stop here. Despite great visibility, I could not progress and was locked going back and forth to this position again and again. I must have been missing something but could not see it for the life of me. Eventually after putting it down for an hour I came back to it and then was able to find the sneaky move and dismantled it. 


As always with Stéphane it is a stunning design, beautifully made with moves as smooth as silk that was a delight to solve.


Vega by Stewart Coffin - 2 versions available
Vega is another classic Stewart Coffin puzzle based on the triangular star base puzzle. They are absolutely gorgeous in a Zebrano with either Purpleheart or Wenge corner tips. As you all know these puzzles dismantle into 2 groups of 3 pieces before fully falling apart. The 6 pieces here are identical and I thought that this would mean that there was only one solution. Interestingly this one only comes apart in one specific direction which took me a good few minutes to find. The craftsmanship is absolutely perfect with no clues whatsoever as to which direction it dismantles. Eventually I found the direction of travel and had it apart to admire the precision of the angles. 

Classic triangular star pieces
Then I reassembled the trios of pieces to put together in 2 halves and they were blocked! This surprised me - the puzzle has handedness and can be assembled in either way but the pairs must be correctly grouped. I corrected the assembly and after a little while fiddling to get the alignment just right (it needs to be absolutely perfect to get them to slide on each other) I reassembled the beautiful star. Later, I disassembled again and thought about my initial difficulty and realised that there are 2 distinct assemblies of these pieces which have a set “handedness” - the end result is identical but they are different assemblies. As a mark of the precision, they fit together absolutely perfectly regardless of how you pair up the pieces or which handedness you choose to assemble them in. All decent puzzle collections should have an assortment of these star based designs.


Rosebud by Stewart Coffin
I have never actually seen one of the Rosebud puzzles in the flesh/wood before! I have seen photos and blog posts but people seldom bring them out to let others play with them because it's such a difficult challenge to reassemble it. This amazing design by Stewart Coffin is one that sets the masters of their craft apart from a mere journeyman woodworker. Rosebud is a coordinate motion puzzle that is one of the most challenging to manufacture as the tolerances have to be accurate to fractions of a millimetre to allow the pieces to slide on each other and for it to close up into the rosebud form without showing any gaps. I have never owned one of these because the level of craftsmanship makes them very rare and very expensive. Of course, Jakub and Jaroslav have managed to make a superb version that is absolutely perfect with the wood choices being evocative of a rose and the precision being simply spot on. Finding the proper pressure points to cause it to slide apart is difficult but then you need to control it so that it doesn’t fly apart. You need to catch it in the expanding splendour that reveals the Rosebud come into bloom before the petals fall off and it dies like a fading flower. 

Just like the Vega, this puzzle is another based on the triangular star base but is fully coordinate motion. As are many puzzles based on the star, there is an alternative assembly which is a fun challenge even if the result is not interesting. You need to work out the proper combination and orientation to allow the pair of triplets to interlock. Having found the incorrect assembly and taken my photo, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the orientation that it went together and spent a frustrating time trying to find the disassembly. 

I definitely recommend buying the jig!
Reassembly into the true Rosebud form is the real challenge. It is so difficult to assemble that most puzzlers need a jig (or 4 more hands) to hold the pieces properly for the assembly. Luckily Pelikan have made a jig to help you which you may choose to buy with your puzzle. I heartily suggest that you do and I hope that you use it correctly unlike me! I didn’t realise that it has one side for display of the blooming rose and the other for reassembly. I spent a good hour or more desperately trying to assemble the puzzle using the jig the wrong way around. Even using it the correct way, the reassembly is a massive challenge. This puzzle is a masterpiece and should be on every serious collector's shelf.


Dracula by Alfons Eyckmans - NOT just another 6 piece burr
Alfons Eyckmans is a master at designing burrs (in fact all interlocking puzzles). The Dracula is a member of his Burr zoo set of puzzles but unlike previous designs this contains a blood drinking vampire in his coffin. Fittingly, he is made from a very pale Maple inside the light excluding Wenge six piece burr. This is one of the most enjoyable burrs I have played with for a long time. The design is very reminiscent of the fabulous 6 piece burrs designed by Stephan Baumegger which have the sticks based on a 3x3x9 grid which allows very complex interlocking shapes to be created. They must be an absolute nightmare to manufacture but, as expected, they are absolutely perfect. The disassembly did not take me very long but was absolutely delightful and even Mrs S laughed to see the contents hidden behind the spoiler button.


Pearl by Lucie Pauwels
This attractive puzzle by Lucie Pauwels is sent out in a special travel conformation - it is a nice hollow 3x3x3 cube containing a nice marble (pearl) and held in a frame by long dowels that go through each corner along each axis. The dowels need to be pushed out and the cube dismantled. I scrambled the pieces and left them for a while to lose any memory of the positioning and then set to rearranging the pieces back into shape. This is a nice logic puzzle that shouldn’t take long for experienced puzzlers but might be a decent challenge for a beginner. I found it quite fun after the effort required for the others. Looking at a Burrtools file there are 2 possible assemblies but I have so far only managed to find one of them.

Twinkle star

Twinkle star comes in a beautiful box
Inside a lovely puzzle
There are two puzzles by Osanori Yamamoto in this selection and they have been beautifully made in miniature form with extreme precision and are sent out in a lovely little box made from Cherry which also has been beautifully made. The box could definitely be used elsewhere like a bedside table for jewellery or another small object. Inside the box is one of Osanori-san’s delightful puzzles with captive pieces on a board. The aim is to rearrange everything so that the Merbau pieces can be removed from the Wenge frame and then reassemble later. This one requires a couple of nice rotational coordinate motion moves before they can be removed (there is also an alternative route of disassembly that requires some linear moves as well). This was not as difficult as some of his other challenges but fun all the same.


P-Badge comes in a lovely little box
Beautiful puzzle inside
The second of Osanori Yamamoto's lovely little sliding piece puzzles in beautifully made boxes is P-badge. This one has 3 P-shaped pieces made from Wenge held on an Acacia frame. The gorgeously precise puzzle is perfectly encased in an Ash box. The removal of the pieces requires only linear moves and is delightful in the sheer perfect precision of the manufacture. The real challenge is the reassembly after scrambling the pieces and leaving them for a while. It’s not a hugely difficult challenge but a nice one to show off to beginners.


Eros by the incredible Dr Volker Latussek
Did you enjoy Casino by the amazing Dr Volker Latussek? If not, then there’s something wrong with you - in my opinion it is one of the best puzzles of all time. If you did like Casino then you will love Eros! Volker has altered the Casino design he has split 2 of the circles in half and added them to adjacent edges of a square to make a couple of hearts. These 2 hearts (made from a lovely red Bubinga) need to be placed in the beautifully crafted box with the rest of the disks which have been made into rounded squares to make the challenge tougher. Initially, it’s even pretty difficulty to work out an arrangement that could possibly fit in the box...the dimensions will not allow a stack of 4 pieces (they all have the same thickness). Then, once you think you have worked out an assembly, the actual insertion of the last 2 pieces is incredibly hard to work out. The lip on either side of the entry hole really gets in the way. There is no squeezing it just won’t work that way. The correct sequence of moves is essential. I absolutely adored this puzzle, I personally think it is slightly simpler than Casino but the Aha! moment is just as delicious. I think this is the pick of this release from Pelikan.


Snooky by Stephan Baumegger
Stephan Baumegger designs some very interesting puzzles and my favourite burrs from him have been his 6 piece burr variants with complex piece shapes that turn the puzzle into a sort of burr with a maze. The Snooky is just one such is just 6 pieces but the basic sticks (Pink Oak) have been modified by the addiction of small Wenge extensions. These extensions make it look very attractive but block many moves that you might want to try. The difficulty level is not particularly high at (which to me is a good thing) and the number of blind ends is just right. There are quite a few moves to start with, but once the beginning of the correct pathway is found then the disassembly is a matter of exploration. I really enjoyed it and had done enough back and forth that I was also able to reassemble it without Burrtools.

Snooky pieces
All in all, a lovely addition to any burr collector’s display.

Corner pack

Corner Pack by Lucie Pauwels
Corner pack by Lucie Pauwels looks absolutely stunning with a pair of very striking woods - the box is made from Acacia and the rather complex pieces to be placed inside the box are a nice grained Wenge. It arrives with all the pieces inside but flush with the top surface. There are 3 L-shapes of various sizes and 7 corner pieces as you can see in the photo. All the pieces need to be placed inside the box to end up with the pieces under the lip which is on 3 of the 4 sides. This means there are a lot of complex shapes to be placed and a restricted entry as well. Once packed, the entrance to the box will be completely filled.

This is an incredibly difficult challenge which I have failed to solve after 3 days of attempts. There is certainly a logic to this because the pieces are quite complex and the correct way to make them link together is rather awkward and then trying to get that to happen through the top hole has proved completely impossible for me so far - I will keep at it! This is an essential for you packing puzzle aficionados.


Detonator by James Fortune
James Fortune has appeared in the puzzle world in the last couple of years and this is the first puzzle of his that I have tried. He designs fairly complex burr type puzzles (and also SD puzzles) which he 3D prints and sells from his web store. I have not bought any as yet but should probably remedy that soon. As always, I think that most puzzles look much nicer in wood and the gorgeous detonator made by Jakub and Jaroslav here is made from a vibrant Padauk, Wenge and Garapa. It looks just like one of the detonator boxes you would see in the old cartoons. It is not for the faint hearted as it has a solution level of The version here has quite a lot of moves which lead to several possible pathways. So far I have not managed to get very far due to my need to keep moving back and forth so as not to get lost. The movements are beautifully smooth and the bevelled pieces don't catch on each other preventing discovery. This is going to be a difficult puzzle to solve but should be a lot of fun. It will look glorious on display as well.

So what should you buy? Well, I would suggest all of them! But if you cannot manage that extravagance then pick those that meet your own puzzle preferences. BUT Everyone should get Eros! Everyone should get the Rosebud (don't forget the jig) and my next favourite amongst them has to be the Dracula.

Sunday 13 November 2022

Eric Fuller - A Cubic Tribute

My main 3 Cubic Dissection shelves
Of course! There are others strewn throughout my house including a good few in my to be solved pile.
My first!
The puzzling world was rocked at the beginning of this week when word was posted of the very premature death of my friend Eric Fuller at only 47 years old. He was an unhealthy influence on my finances right from the start of my puzzling career with my first small batch having been bought from him in May 2011 under very special circumstances - when I reviewed them I pointed out how amazing and helpful he had been and this has been the case ever since. 

Eric was a man of strong feelings and strong actions - and as described by Steve of Boxes and Booze, he was fantastic fun to talk to and even better to hang around with (I met him at the 2 IPPs that I have attended). heaven help you if he took a disliking to you but his natural state was to be happy and outgoing and to everyone I have talked to he was larger than life and one of the most helpful puzzle creators you could hope to meet. 

His website was named because Eric loved puzzles that seemed to be made of smaller shapes/dissections. He particularly loved burrs and when he struggled to buy more for his own collection he decided to make his own and quickly decided this was what he wanted to do for a career. Despite being told that the idea would likely fail, Eric went to work and with the help of some of the best craftsmen in the world in 2002/3 he learned the techniques to make wooden shapes with extreme precision and Cubic Dissection was born. It very quickly became one of the go to sites for puzzlers and collectors to visit for high quality and, especially important to Eric, affordable wooden puzzles. For me when I started out in 2011, I had little idea how expensive things could be and after my beginning with the only moderately expensive revomazes, I moved onto mass produced puzzles before Eric's offerings were mentioned to me. Let's just say that things went downhill for my finances after May 2011!

Steve discussed the fabulous boxes that Eric created in his tribute and I, to my shame, only own one of Eric's boxes...the Be-box and Reactor box combination which I was able to justify as being firstly an N-ary puzzle. 
Reactor box freed from Bebox
I hate to think how much of my money has ended up in Eric's bank account but I cannot complain...I have some of the most beautiful and fun toys to show for it and can say that I helped support one of the best puzzle craftsmen on the planet and helped him continue to make us all more objects of beauty and addiction. Here are just a few of those he created that I think show off the pinnacle of his craftsmanship.   

In my opinion, one series of puzzles that Eric created that shows off the incredible breadth of his skills are the New Old School burrs designed by the amazing Gregory Benedetti. He started out with the easier ones and stated that there were some that he never expected to be able to create but after pressure was applied by the puzzle community (we basically begged him to try), the whole set was finally brought into reality.

The NOS burr series in all their glory
The interior intricacies have to be seen to be believed!

The Ternary burr designed by Goh Pit Khiam (and improved by Eric) had been a huge object of desire for many puzzlers after the original limited edition made by Brian Young had long sold out. Eric managed to convince the designer to allow him to produce another set and we all pounced on it. In that same year Eric convinced Bill Cutler to let him make a set of his Binary burr puzzles as well. Let's just say that these were bought with alarming rapidity.

Ternary burr
Binary burr
Eric opened my eyes into the variety of 6 piece burrs that were possible by producing a set of captive 6 piece burrs which seemed very simple but were great fun to play with:

They look so simple and yet they are so much fun
Of course, you all know that I am partial to a burrset or 5 and my collection was hugely enhanced when Eric decided to make some for us poor addicted souls. He would not be content with just making the sets of sticks...he would always want to produce a beautiful and even puzzling box to store them in:
Penultimate Burrset
DDD Burrset
I started out in this puzzling catastrophe playing with some very complex maze puzzles and whilst they quickly were superseded by beautiful wood, there has always been a call to go back to a maze or two over the years and the very first "expensive" puzzle that I purchased was the Maze burr made by Tom Lensch and later I managed to get a copy of Derek's Rhombic dodecahedral version. Eric couldn't stand to be left out of such fabulous challenges and he started working with Derek to create a new and more challenging version. The final creation was one of the most gorgeous things Eric has ever created - the Split maze burr:

Split Maze burr
I still have a whole lot of the challenges to go through and that is before I start on the thousands and thousands that Derek created with his computer analysis.

After Andrew Crowell brought us a whole bunch of a sort of new type of puzzle that the community took to their hearts with huge enthusiasm, Eric wanted to jump on the bandwagon and produced a really lovely chunky and satisfying puzzle to solve, the BioTIC.

BioTIC doesn't look like much
28 moves and 9 rotations to assemble
The puzzling trend then really embraced sequential discovery puzzles and Eric not only jumped on board, he produced something really really special the Lock box (I know it's a box but I can have one because it is also SD!) I described this as a Masterpiece in thoughtful design:

Lock Box - a wonderful solve
Later that year, Eric went back to his very best craftsmanship - he combined a sort of Sudoku puzzle with interlocking linear pieces (dissections of a cube) with beautiful box making - the Reticulated cubes takes a very prominent place in one of my puzzle cabinets:

Just stunning and for someone addicted to wood, this is an essential collector's piece
Finally in this post and certainly not exhaustive but I have to actually post this. I recently solved the Akaki's picnic puzzle. This was Eric's contribution to TICs in a fancy box. The puzzling world has adored this series of puzzles and I only have Eric's version but it will be one of my top 10 puzzles solved this year.

Pieces all jumbled up here but beautifully made and enormously fun
Finally, bringing my collection up to date, I have to show off a couple of SD puzzles produced by Eric that I have not yet managed to solve: Jammed Gem and Pennytentiary look beautifully made as one would expect and according to the puzzle community, they are brilliant puzzles to work your way through. Above all, Eric knew that he could make more or less anything, but he his ability to spot something that was truly fun and challenging to solve rather than just yet another interlocking puzzle was what set him apart for the 20 years that he has been creating wonderful toys for us.

Jammed Gem

Rest in peace Eric. You will be hugely missed by a large community as well as your family and many many friends. I wish all the best to Steve, Tom, and Jeff who remain at Cubic Dissection and I hope that they can continue your incredible legacy. It has been a blast knowing you, talking to you and puzzling with you.
Rest in peace my friend.