Sunday 27 August 2023

Pelikan Will Keep You Puzzling For A Long Time With These

Coming very soon from Jakub and Jaroslav's Pelikan Puzzle store

At the end of last week, I took delivery of a lovely new batch of puzzles that are due to be released from the Pelikan puzzle store within the next week. I have to say that this bunch are incredibly challenging and will keep even the best puzzlers playing for a considerable time. Here we have, starting at the back left:

Paternoster by Alexander Magyarics
Mustang by Alfons Eyckmans
Lange Vinger by Alfons Eyckmans
Der Kreis ist Blau by Volker Latussek
Dunant revised edition by Volker Latussek
King Box by Osanori Yamamoto
Crab by Pelikan

I have had yet another very long work week and have not managed to solve them all but have something to say about every one of them which may help you make a decision on what you should buy (you definitely want a few of these!)


Crab designed by the Pelikan team
I had to start with this one! It is just so cute! It is stunningly made from Bubinga, Wenge and Ash. Thos one continues the line of the animal themed puzzles that Jakub and Jaroslav are producing from their own designs (I don't actually know who is responsible for the actual design of these). So far we have had Turtle,Snail, and Ladybug. All of these have been Kumike style puzzles that are interlocking rather than burr puzzles and have required less in the way of sequential move exploration as many of the burr puzzles have. I was sort of expecting something along those lines but very quickly realised that this is actually a framed burr with the exoskeleton of the crab being a frame and the main body being the burr sticks...Except these are not traditional burr sticks - some of them are hooked. 

The exploration of these is great fun with only a few short blind ends and some really interesting moves. I did get stuck for a little while towards the end of the first piece removal because I was not looking at it properly but found my way after a short break. After a short break I had my first piece removed and then the rest were removed relatively easily after that - the level given to me by Burrtools is which is perfect for me:

A burr with some rather interesting pieces
Having done my usual to and fro approach to the disassembly and retained the orientation of the pieces as they came out, I was even able to reassemble it all the way to the beginning from memory giving me a huge sense of achievement. I think that if the pieces were scrambled then only the very best of you would be able to manage this assembly from scratch.

King Box

King Box designed by Osanori Yamamoto

As soon as I saw this, I wondered whether I had seen it before (don't tell 'she who must be feared' that I don't remember my previous puzzles) and, indeed, I have reviewed this way back in 2018. Pelikan and produced a little brother to the King box called Wing Hanger which I absolutely loved and found it very similar but simpler than the King Box which had been produced by Tom Lensch.

This version is made using Wenge, Padauk and Elm and is stunning. The checkerboard pattern on the end of the 2 pieces will make it easier to reassemble but could make it more confusing to work out the orientation. The two sticks dance around each other multiple times, going in and out of the box as they gradually work their way out. In the end there are just 2 simple burr sticks and a box that has several windows in it. 

Simply gorgeous and fun
Having removed the pieces, I scrambled them and left them for a couple of days. I had no real memory of the assembly and had to work it out from scratch (just as I had done in 2018). I actually found that whilst the checkerboard pattern was sort of useful, it did mislead me for a little while and I spent a happy half hour trying to assemble the puzzle with the sticks the wrong way around. There was a nice Aha! moment when I realised my mistake and assembled the puzzle again.


Paternoster by Alexander Magyarics

We have not had one of Alexander's cubic packing puzzles for a little while and this one is a stunner both for the tremendous design as well as for the incredible workmanship that has been put into this one by Jakub and his team. It has been made with a Mahogany box with 3 Wenge pieces inside which completely fill the cross shaped entrance. The truly special thing about this is that it has a moving part - a whole corner of the box ascends and descends like a lift (elevator to you Yanks) and hence the name Paternoster. To the right you can see the ascending segment.

However, whilst the name is very clever, I really think it should be called "scares the crap out you" because this is what it did! Initially I did not know how many pieces there were inside and quickly discovered the first moves in the removal sequence. That movement of the corner section is really satisfying and smooth. It shows off the superb accuracy of the Pelikan craftsmanship. I moved the corner and one of the pieces and realised that what was inside could now move as it slid without me realising it. I then was unable to return the puzzle back to the start position! Aaaargh! I spent a fairly frenzied half hour or so desperately trying to reset the puzzle with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I put my fingers inside and moved pieces in various directions and found a partial rotational move. OMG! What if I had rotated a piece without realising it? Eventually, with my heart pounding, I reset it and put it down for a while. This was going to be really tough. Having screwed my courage "to the sticking place", I tried again and yes, I did the same thing again - I was stuck! Another half hour and it was back but without me really understanding why it was back. The third time I did it again but instead of panicking and returning to the beginning I decided to continue to try and dismantle it without really understanding what was going on. I found several more movements that may or may not be useful and gradually worked the pieces out. This was a really interesting exploration which did not really leave me with an understanding of the puzzle. When the final piece came out, I was very relieved but had a huge sense of achievement from just a 3 piece puzzle. It's a packing puzzle and I hadn't even packed it yet!

Three piece packing puzzle - soooo difficult
At this point, I could see that it was "just" one of Alexander's 3x3x3 cubes to be assembled in a box with obstructions. I say "just" because I had no real idea of what I had done to take the pieces out and so packing them in was just as hard. Yes, yet again, I got the bloody thing blocked up again several times before I finally got it reassembled. This creation from Alex and Pelikan is stunning!

Lange Vinger

Lange Vinger by Alfons Eyckmans
Alfons specialises in fabulous burr designs. They are all very beautiful and many of them are incredibly tough. This is definitely the case here - the two burrs that have been designed and created are stunning and are extremely difficult puzzles. I think that the disassembly is hard enough - the reassembly will be absolutely impossible without Burrtools. The Lange Vinger is yet another of Alfons' incredible framed 6 piece burrs. This burr is made from Wenge with Lime pieces. It has an odd rotational symmetry to it which really throws my ability to follow moves. The frame pieces have been made so that each one of the main burr sticks is blocked at one end making the disassembly much more complex. I started working on this after the previous ones and was aware that I did not have much time to get it done before the review was due. Previous puzzles have mostly had the frame interfering with the burr stick moves but ultimately the 6 piece burr is mostly dismantled from within the frame until quite late when frame pieces can come out. I spent quite a while working with this thought in mind before realising that this wasn't going to work and then concentrated on trying to move the frame pieces. I think I got lucky on several occasions because I found some very hidden moves that suddenly allowed a frame piece to move sideways and then another axially which freed up a whole lot more movement. 

This took me quite a few hours to dismantle and I was very lucky to do so. The amazing thing about it was that the whole frame came off the burr leaving all 6 pieces in place before they were disassembled. There are a lot of pieces:

6 burr sticks plus 12 frame pieces
It is NOT a puzzle for a burr newbie - it is very tough with a level of It was great fun using Burrtools to reassemble it again.


Mustang by Alfons Eyckmans
This glorious looking burr designed by Alfons has been made from Wenge and Acacia. It is another framed 6 piece burr but, unlike Lange Vinger, it is symmetrical and there is a LOT of possible movement in the 6 central burr sticks. I spent a considerable amount of time going round in circles trying to find a way to make the 6 piece burr begin to disentangle and could not for the life of me find a way to do it. I then figured that the frame possibly would come apart around the burr and attempted to find a way to make space to move a frame stick. I could not do that and had to admit defeat. I had to get the Burrtools file from Jakub and had a look at it to get me started. To my horror and delight, I saw that this was a significantly difficult level at! There would be no way that I would manage to dismantle this without help from Burrtools in the small amount of time allotted to me. I used the file to remove the first two pieces and then proceeded to try to get the rest apart by myself. Even this was a tough challenge as finding the next 9 moves to remove the third piece was very hard. I did manage it eventually and then the rest of the disassembly was a nice sequence. The puzzle remained stable for quite a while before dissolving into a pile of pieces on my lap. 

I haven't yet assembled this - it will be a challenge!
This is another brilliant design that has been perfectly brought to life by Jakub and Jaroslav. It is one of the toughest burr puzzles that they have ever made and is definitely only recommended to burr experts or enthusiasts with a penchant for punishment.

Dunant Second Edition

Dunant 2nd edition by Dr Volker Latussek

When I unwrapped this one, I was almost certain that I had seen it before and then I looked at the name on the box which confirmed that this was one we had seen and loved before. In fact, the first edition, along with with a few others made the top 3 of my best of 2019 list. As soon as I removed the pieces from the initial position, I could see that this new version was very different. 

I have not yet had time to play with this one but Volker knew that it was coming and sent me a little explanation of the rationale for it:
"Playing with C-shaped pieces a few years ago, I discovered their wonderful properties and so HARUN was initially designed. Here, the C-shaped pieces consist of three 2 x 2 x 1 squares joined together and an open 5 x 5 x 5 box. Similarly, DUNANT was born from the idea of developing something from a small number of identical C-shaped pieces, each consisting of three 3 x 3 x 1 squares to be placed in a restricted box. In the end, there were 5 pieces and a 5 x 5 x 8 box with a 5 x 5 square opening through which a red cross is visible. It was named after Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross. Unfortunately, I could not position the opening centrally...

With the current release of DUNANT 2ND REVISED EDITION, I have retained the construction principles of DUNANT but abandoned the integer dimensions of 1, 3, 5 and 8. The red cross now looks centred in the box. I hope that the new DUNANT is both easier on the eye and that the path to the solution still feels good, and perhaps that it will inspire you to read about the impressive and harrowing life of Henry Dunant, the first Nobel Peace Prize winner."
I cannot wait to have a proper try with this - if it is anything like as good as the first edition then it is bound to end up in my list for best of 2023!

Der Kreis Ist Blau

Der Kreis Ist Blau by Dr Volker Latussek
(except here is is rot)
This fabulous packing puzzle is another of the amazing creations from the warped mind of Volker Latussek. I removed all the pieces and was very surprised to see no blue cross before realising that Kreis means circle. These pieces are prisms made from six of the fundamental geometric shapes. I was still mystified that it was red but apparently blue wood is kind of hard to come by so Pelikan chose the vibrant Padauk for the circle as well as Acacia and Beech for the other pieces and the box. The box is Volker's standard lipped box which has been very precisely designed and made to just fit the pieces with sliding room only. Rotations will obviously be needed but I have not yet had time to play with this. I suspect that it will be VERY difficult! 

Volker sent me his reasoning behind this puzzle:
"Wassily Kandinsky and most of the teachers at the Bauhaus assigned the colour blue to the shape of the circle. Pelikan nevertheless followed the assignment of Oskar Schlemmer, another highly esteemed teacher at the Bauhaus, and chose the colour red for the circle. A visit to the new Bauhaus Museum in Weimar is well worth the trip for fans of craft art and architectural history, and for me it was a great stimulus to think about polygons: triangle, quadrilateral (square), pentagon, hexagon, octagon, and circle and how they could be packed into my typical box. As with FERMAT, the triangle is full of surprises and so I wish you a long journey of discovery as you play with the polygons.

And if you do manage to pack the six shapes under the lips, you will have learned a lot from this play of shapes, especially when the circle is in the top layer.

DER KREIS IST BLAU (THE CIRCLE IS BLUE) is my first homage to the Bauhaus (1919-1933)."
I am sure that most of you will find this one an essential purchase. Good luck with it!

Sunday 20 August 2023

Scramb L Was Less of a Strugg L

Scramb L by Junichi Yananose
Beautifully made from Iroko, with the protrusions crafted from Jarrah and Bamboo, and the box constructed from American Cherry and bamboo plywood. It is a nice solid 100x100x64mm in size.

Scramb L and Strugg L
I jumped on the order for Scramb L as soon as possible. Juno made it available to IPP members who had bought multiple of his puzzles before and I just couldn't resist. The Strugg L puzzle had been a wonderful new development in the packing puzzle genre having relatively simple shapes to be packed into a box but with no limits to the opening of the box. The limits had been created by the use of pins and tracks between the pieces and also in the walls of the box. With this new one, Juno had removed the externally visible grooves and it looked like a very simple packing puzzle. Only when you make the second of the possible moves do you realise that there is something special in this puzzle:

There are rails and tracks!
I had been expecting more pins and grooves and was quite taken aback to see the rails here. This made the blurb on the product page make sense:
"The design of this puzzle involved battling against shortcut solutions caused by unintended piece rotations. To prevent the pieces from rotating, Juno added protuberances and grooves. Still, unexpected movements occurred, and the pieces came off with fewer moves. Such unforeseen rotations were discovered even when the puzzle's manufacturing was nearly 70% complete, and leaving it unresolved would significantly compromise the puzzle's enjoyment. As the boxes for the puzzle were already glued together, it was impossible to add grooves internally. Juno addressed the issue by further modifying the shape of the pieces to deter rotations."

There are pins and grooves inside this puzzle but they allowed movements that Juno did not want and thus he had to be more radical in the design of move limiting pieces. The rails and tracks are a very interesting design and once you have dismantled it, then you will also see that there is an extra feature of the rail to prevent a piece sliding off the end. I don't think I have ever seen this sort of thing before.

The disassembly did not take me very long (about a ½ hour) but was a delight to explore what was and wasn't possible. At several points, it looked like there might be a rotational move but the careful design of the various pins and rails worked to prevent any unwanted moves. I had a nice pile of pieces for my obligatory photo and then stuffed them all into the box and left it for a week to see how tough it might be as an assembly/packing puzzle.

Only 5 simple pieces
This will help me forget the assembly
After a week I had mostly forgotten the moves to reassemble the puzzle and set to trying to rediscover it. The presence of the rails and tracks made it considerably easier to assemble my cuboid shape outside the box and then aligning the shape with the grooves in the walls of the box was easy. At this point, I had to dismantle the cuboid and then reassemble it in the box. I had successfully forgotten a critical move and did Strugg L to reassemble the Scramb L'd pieces but only for about an hour. This was a good bit easier than its' predecessor but nevertheless, quite fun to do.

Who knows what Juno is cooking up for us next? I can't wait to see it. He and Yukari are taking a well-earned break for a few weeks before getting back to the hard business of providing us addicts with new toys.

Sunday 13 August 2023

I Have a Parasite

And it affected my brain! (no I am not Venom)

Parasitic Burr by Tyler Hudson from Cubic Dissection
I am so delighted to see that the guys at Cubic Dissection are continuing Eric's legacy by producing puzzles that are both interesting and fun to solve (not just incredibly tough or high-level) and also stunningly made. This burr is definitely both of those. The level is just a level 3 to remove the first piece and then it comes apart sequentially and this might make you think that there is not much fun or challenge to it. The pleasure of a puzzle is far more than the number of moves - I have never managed to solve my SuperNova or Tiros burrs and don't actually enjoy trying to solve puzzles like that. The incredibly high number of moves required makes it less than fun. This level 3 puzzle is sent out as an assembly challenge and is just the right difficulty level. It really hurt my tiny brain.

It was available in two different versions (unfortunately sold out now) and I chose the 3 (4) colour version made from Maple, Purpleheart and Jatoba, with Black Limba parasites. Whilst the other version (Jatoba and Ash) was stunning, I figured that since I was so terrible at assembly puzzles, I would need the extra help provided by the colours of the pieces. 

A few burrsets!
Yes, I know that it is "just" a six-piece burr with some extra pieces added but that "just" is unnecessary. The TICs are "just" interlocking cubes but that doesn't make them less of a challenge or less fun. The pieces have been beautifully made with nice chamfering both externally and internally. One of the complaints that many of us had over the years was that Eric would never add internal chamfering to his burrs and this could often make solving them very difficult because the movements sometimes were too difficult to get started due to edge catching. This puzzle has a teeny tiny chamfering internally and this means that the moves are just possible as long as the pieces are lined up. My first aim was to assemble the burr. I have a LOT of burrsets in my collection and to my eternal shame have to admit that I am absolutely terrible at assembling 6-piece burrs (I stand no chance at all with the 18-piece set!) I have known it to take me a whole day to assemble just one burr from some of them. I love them but am rubbish at them.

I fully expected to need to resort to Burrtools for this but I really did give it a try. It actually took me a week of play to assemble a 6-piece burr and then I had to find a way to insert the parasites (as a medic, that sounds very wrong!) The problem for me was that there were several ways to assemble the burr and working out which way to place the extra pieces nearly caused the parasite to eat my brain. I realised that the burr could be created with two different external results for the colouring i.e. chirality and each of those chiral structures could be disassembled in more than one way. That first week of play had assembled the puzzle the wrong way and it took me the best part of another week to realise that there was no space inside for the extra pieces. I am not very good at visualising inside things blind. At the end of that second week of failure, it dawned on me that I could not find an assembly with all 8 parts and there must be another way to put the burr together. Sigh! At least this was making the puzzle very good value for money.

In the third week of play, I finally found another assembly that did not have visible external holes and noticed straight away that there was space inside for the 2 identical tetrominoes to fit inside. And here I got stuck for a VERY long time! I knew where they went but every time I tried to put them inside, I was blocked. There are 4 different assemblies of the burr in this chiral form and 3 of them have space for the parasitic pieces. However, only one of the assemblies is achievable. I discovered this retrospectively this morning using Burrtools to model the puzzle and the different colour scheme variants. In retrospect, I realised that I actually found the correct assembly the first time but could not get it to work.

The interesting thing about this challenge was that I got stuck on the movements because of the parasitic paralysis of my little grey cells. When assembling the correct burr shape there are several assembly methods when not using the tetrominoes. I got completely fixated on one particular assembly/disassembly method and no matter what way I placed the extra pieces, I just could not find my way past that assembly. Finally, on Friday night whilst chatting to Derek, I realised I needed to think outside my brain and maybe try the same assembly but look for a different sequence to achieve it. 

Trust me, the parasites are inside.
It took me over 3 weeks but I finally got there and feel really chuffed to have done it without using BT. Of course, using BT afterwards to complete my analysis was also a lot of fun. It did reinforce to me that I was completely right to buy the coloured version as the non-coloured 6-piece burr has 132 different assemblies with 68 of them having an achievable solution. If I had chosen that one then I would still be trying in several years. 

Thank you to Tyler for a great challenge of just the right difficulty level and thank you to the team at Cubic for continuing Eric's legacy.

Sunday 6 August 2023

Dial Case Required a Dual Solve

Dial Case from Junichi Yananose
I just cannot resist almost anything produced by Juno! His interlocking puzzles are different from everyone else's, his burrs have something extra that makes them especially fun and, of course, his sequential discovery puzzles are just simply awesome and definitely not simple. I particularly love how Juno has tried to reward his most loyal followers and when his special new puzzles are released, he allows those who have purchased multiple of his creations before to have a priority access to them and place an order early before they go on general sale. He requested a photo of a group of 3 or more of your previous purchases from him as proof for access to the early order. Having made 180 of them, there were still a lot left for the rest of the puzzling fraternity to buy after the initial frenzy. I have an embarrassingly large Yananose collection (I think that I am up to 38 now - please don't tell Mrs S!) I definitely took advantage of the offer to buy early and it arrived in under a week which is pretty impressive for such a huge distance!

On opening the package, I immediately had to laugh out loud because Juno (for was it Yukari?) was trolling me yet again - there is a very long history now of the Yananoses gently teasing me for my collection. I maintain that I don't collect puzzle boxes and if the occasional puzzle has a cavity then I can't help that, can I? When I took the puzzle out of the box there was a piece of paper in the bag with the puzzle that had a dig at me:

Even Mrs S saw the funny side of that even if she despairs at the sheer volume of puzzles in the house!

This gorgeous creation is 155 x 80 x 52 mm in size and made of Silky Oak (top panel), Fijian Mahogany (middle layer), Koto (bottom panel), Jarrah (dark part of the dial and knobs) and a whole bunch of magnets. The description (which I did not read when I read it) said:
"Dial Case is a sequential discovery puzzle that typically requires about 15 moves to open the box, depending on your approach. When you solve the puzzle and open the box, you'll find a message indicating what you should do next."

I, honestly, did not notice the "box" in the blurb when it went on sale! I would have bought it anyway but don't Juno! It was allegedly supposed to be the same sort of difficulty level as his previous sequential discovery puzzles but he is aware that this varies from person to person. In fact Juno said:

"Some people may solve this puzzle quickly, while others may take much longer compared to other puzzles."

He certainly wasn't kidding! This took me nearly 6 weeks to solve and needed a back and forth dual solve with a puzzling friend to get me on my way.  When it arrived, I was all set to have an intense few days and solve it quickly to be the first to publish a review. Who am I kidding? I am clearly not terribly bright as I watched both Steve and Allard solved it and posted their reviews before me! Sob!

I managed the trivial first move of pulling the bottom knob out and realised that it had magnets on it and that the presence of the knob was locking the dial. Once the knob had been removed the dial could turn in either direction and when turned anti-clockwise it would stop at a certain point and could turn no further. I am fairly sure that most of you who find a magnet on a removed piece will then use that magnet on the main body of the puzzle to find the position of either other magnets or at least hidden pieces of metal inside. I certainly found one magnet on that bottom drawer but of course pulling on it did not open it (Juno would never make something so obvious).

I went around and around in circles with this one for weeks. It lived on my puzzling armchair in the living room so that I could pick it up in the evening when we sat down after dinner for a bit of TV. I picked it up every single bloody day for weeks! I did the same thing over and over again. I span it around, I tried manipulating it in various positions, I submerged it in gin (OK no I didn't do that but I did submerge myself in gin to try and free up my thinking© processes). Nothing new could be found.

During this time, my friend Dominic contacted me and asked how I was getting on as he was also stuck at the same early position. Over many years he and I have helped each other out on some of these complex puzzles with little hints here and there. I actually love doing dual solves with someone else - it makes me feel less stupid when I know that someone else is also struggling and also adds to the fun to be in contact with a fellow puzzler. Years ago, Shane and I did quite a few of these on Mr Strijbos' wonderful creations.

When we were both a few weeks into trying, Dominic had managed to find the next move and got stuck after that so recontacted me to see where I was only to be told that I was still right at the beginning. He offered a teeny tiny clue which I took him up on and he wasn't kidding! It was a teeny tiny clue - he didn't tell me any moves, didn't tell me any positions, he just suggested that I use my senses. Hmmm! I admitted that I had used all my senses and the puzzle smells of wood and tastes of nothing much but there is a noise when you do something. I had noticed that noise and thought that I had realised what it was but, as usual, I was wrong! Having been told again that the noise was important I had another think© and tried something that I had been trying many many times before but this time I tried it differently. YeeeeeHaw! I had a new move. I informed Dominic that I was on my way which he was pleased about because he had got stuck after his discovery and wanted me to assist him.

At this point I made lots more discoveries as each one led to another. Amongst the first few it was quite unnerving to dismantle more and more of the puzzle and realise that it might be quite difficult to reassemble it. After another 5 or 6 moves and tools were found, I got a little bit stuck again. After an extra 15 minutes on that step, I discovered that the evil genius was now expecting us to use multiple tools simultaneously for each step. He is a devious man! Time to give Dominic my own teeny tiny clue. Oddly though, my clue didn't make any sense to him whatsoever. It appeared that Dominic had gotten stuck a little earlier than I had thought and needed to complete an earlier step or so in the solve process. After explaining this, he rapidly caught up and was working on the same step as me. I had thought that Juno had reached a pinnacle of deviousness when I had to use two tools simultaneously but no, he took it even further and for the final move it required the use of 3 tools at the same time. Each tool is perfectly designed for it's purpose but it's not immediately clear until you have that "what if I do this?" thought. The end Aha! moment is simply delicious and the drawer opens:

Yessss! Opened it.
Inside the drawer is a message with instructions for what to do next. He has a very warped sense of humour - when I saw the message I laughed out loud again! The instructions are very succinct and not in the least bit helpful. My suggestion to you, if you haven't solved your copy yet is to pay real attention to what you did to open it. 

Dominic's solve followed mine very quickly and we both agreed that it was a fabulous puzzle. If you find one up for sale at auction then don't hesitate - it's well worth adding to your collection. This is another candidate for my top ten of the year.

Not satisfied with having 38 of Juno's toys in my collection, I have recently ordered his latest, which just went on sale this morning. The Scramb L is still in stock for the moment and is a puzzle very like the fantastic Strugg L. It looks like Juno has made it more difficult by ensuring that the grooves in the box are not visible from the outside. If you want a copy then you should grab one soon.