Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
18Jun/140

Shake Something

In the recent batch of puzzles from Eric Fuller, Shake Something caught my eye. From a new designer, Dan Fast, this packing puzzle uses four burr pieces in a box to create an interesting challenge. It's always good to see a new designer creating puzzles which are both fun and different, and when they're made by Eric, you know they'll be well made. In this case Eric's living in the future, but it's all good.

Shake Something by Dan Fast

Shake Something by Dan Fast

Made from a Walnut box with Paduak base and internal pins, with Yellowheart and Chakte Viga pieces the puzzle looks great. 38 copies were made for sale, and all sold out quickly, as is common for Eric's puzzles. It's a good sign for Dan, and I look forward to seeing more of his designs.

The pieces have a superb contrast, and do make the solution easier. It's a good sized puzzle, measuring 2.5" x 2.5" x 2.825" making manipulation of the pieces easy. Eric mentioned that there was plenty of room inside the puzzle for wood movement, however I've found from my own copy that a couple of the pieces are rather tight. The last piece to come out, I actually believed was glued into the box by the blocks on the walls and didn't come out. As it happens, it was just an incredibly tight fit, and with a little encouragement it did come out. The pieces are all burr style pieces, and all feel solid so there's no worry about breaking anything. Equally, the pins are well attached to the box, so they're unlikely to come off without some serious abuse.

The goal of the puzzle is to remove the burr pieces and return them to their box. What makes the puzzle different is that for the most part, it's not possible to manipulate the pieces directly, but instead you need to shake, turn and jiggle the box to move the pieces. To make things more interesting, the internal blockages in the box remain hidden, meaning you can't see the interactions between the pieces, and need to carefully observe and react to the obstructions you find.

Shake Something pieces

Shake Something pieces

In total, there are 14 moves required to remove the first piece, with a total complexity of 14.2.4. I found that removing the pieces wasn't too much of a challenge, taking around 5 minutes, however I didn't pay all that much attention to how the pieces came out, and left them scrambled before trying to put them back into the box. I think this was my own folly, as I thought it was fairly straight forward when taking it apart.

As it turns out, I had a much bigger challenge putting it back together, and it took several hours over a few nights to get it back to the starting position. As I mentioned previously, given that I have one piece which I thought was stuck in place, I was only having to worry about 3 pieces, as there was one which had to be in the right place and orientation. Still I got lots of puzzling for my money!

Shake Something's knobbly box

Shake Something's knobbly box

With all the pieces removed, you can see the blocks on the inside of the box which interact with the burr pieces, and make the puzzle both challenging, and a lot of fun. Having solved the puzzle without the need for help, I was pretty happy, so took the expected step of plugging the puzzle into Burr Tools, and seeing what it came up with. Apparently there are 1924 ways that the pieces can fit in the box, but only 3 ways to assemble the pieces. That means that if you didn't have the walls of the box glued together, there would be 1924 ways to put the pieces together, however with them glued up, only 3 of the possible combinations can be assembled into the solution. I feel pretty good having found one of the three on my own. It's certainly manageable, and I highly recommend that you give it a try before just asking Burr Tools to help.

Eric is living in the Future

Eric is living in the Future

No doubt I confused you at the start of my post, by suggesting Eric was living in the future. Looking at how he signed this box, perhaps my comment makes more sense. Apparently Eric made this in May 2015. Guess I slept well last night! (Either that or Eric has a time machine, and I'd really like to borrow it!)



27May/140

Penta Beams

Oskar van Deventer has been at it again, and this is the latest (well latest published as far as I know) design from the incredible puzzle generating mind of the Dutchman. This time it's an intersection of six pentagonal sticks to form a pyramidal shape. The goal is to take the sticks apart, and put them back together again.

Penta Beams by Oskar

Penta Beams by Oskar

3D printed by Shapeways, the pieces are dyed into six bright colours (plus black and white) and have a solid feel to them. the trapped powder inside each stick really adds weight and a feeling of quality that can sometimes be lacking in Shapeways printed materials. The puzzle measures approximately 3.5" tall once assembled, with each stick being 3.5" long with a 7/8" cross-section.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The fit is perfect, and each of the sticks holds the others at the right angles all the way until the last two pieces. That certainly makes this a much more enjoyable puzzle to play with, as you don't feel like you're fighting your own fingers and wrestling with a dexterity challenge.

Six pentagonal pieces

Six pentagonal pieces

There's one key piece, followed by five notched sticks which must be removed in sequence to take the puzzle apart. While it's not trivial after the pieces are mixed up, I'd say that this is certainly an approachable puzzle for most people. Having taken it apart, and mixed the pieces, then left them alone for a while, I was able to put it back together in around 20 minutes. Now, I'm no expert in this style of assembly puzzle, but it was both fun and a good level of challenge for me.

Penta Beams is available from Oskar's Shapeways shop if you'd like a copy of your own.



16May/140

2 Halves Cage 4 A

Well that's a bit of a mouthful isn't it! 2 Halves is a burr puzzle designed by Gregory Benedetti, with my copy being made by the very talented Maurice Vigouroux. Back in November 2013, this came up for sale on Puzzle Paradise with a couple of options for woods used. Seeing the Ebony cage and Bloodwood pieces, I didn't hesitate, and bought it there and then. I certainly wasn't disappointed.

2 Halves Caged 4 A by Gregory Benedetti

2 Halves Caged 4 A by Gregory Benedetti

Despite not being particularly good with Burr puzzles, this doesn't look like a burr, and the jet black Ebony surrounding the deep red of the Bloodwood makes it look imposing. That's probably a good thing, as this is not a simple puzzle. It's not a small puzzle either. Each cubie is 7/16", making it 3" x 3" x 3" overall, meaning that Maurice was working with 1" thick stock to make the burr pieces. It's a great size and manipulating the pieces inside the frame is easy given the size of the pieces. It's heavy too. Ebony is a very dense heavy wood, so this puzzle has a really solid heft to it. The fit and finish are excellent with the Ebony being polished to a reflective shine. The pieces all slide past each other perfectly, and the tolerances are spot on.

The first night I spent around 40 minutes playing around with the puzzle and managed to create some space in the cage to move the burr pieces around a little, but I hit a dead-end and couldn't see a way to progress further. There seemed to be a huge amount of space in the puzzle, but the cage was still firmly held in place, and the was no way I was sliding any of the burr pieces out of the cage.

Partially solved with pieces sticking out like a Hedgehog

Partially solved with pieces sticking out like a Hedgehog

This carried on for a few days where I'd spend 20 minutes or so each night trying to make progress and really getting nowhere. As often happens, things got busy, and the puzzle was left on a shelf for a while with pieces sticking out of the sides, looking a little like a hedgehog. Recently I had a little free time, and picked this up again, since it was sitting looking at me and I felt bad that I'd not finished it.

After about an hour, I finally managed to shuffle the burr pieces into the right locations to be able to remove one half of the cage! Progress. It was quite the achievement to have made it this far, and spurred on by my success, I carried on to remove the rest of the pieces. I thought I was past the difficult part and the remainder was going to be easy. After all, I now had a lot of space, and removing the remaining pieces should be easy!

Isn't it great when you're totally wrong. The puzzle is a level 17.14.9.5.3 puzzle. So removing the first half of the cage, I'd only finished the first 17 steps. I had another 14 to remove the first burr piece, and then another 9 to remove the second. This is one tough puzzle. I spent another 15 minutes figuring out how to move the pieces around and take that first burr piece out of the remaining cage half, but I finally got there. Let's just say I didn't do it in just 14 moves!

Six burr pieces, plus the two cage halves

Six burr pieces, plus the two cage halves

As far as value for money goes, this has been a great puzzle. I've had a lot of puzzling time out of it, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. This is a little worrying for me, as I've never really found much fun in playing with Burr's. Maybe I've found something else that I do enjoy after all.

The 2 Halves is certainly a different style of Burr, with the cage interacting with the burr pieces in such a way that it really adds an extra challenge. The cage itself blocks your view of the voids in the burr, making it much more difficult to see how to progress, and it also adds some structure, keeping the pieces in the right locations without needing an extra hand to prevent them from falling or rotating into a position which makes it difficult to move the next piece.

Now, I freely admit that I'm not good enough with burr's to be able to re-assemble this one on my own. It was enough of a challenge to just take it apart. Not to mention that I didn't pay any attention to how the pieces came out, or the order, so I didn't even have a reference to how to put them back.

There's only one possible assembly out of 1,844 possible orientations of the pieces in the final shape, so it could take a very long time to put this back together with trial and error. I know when I'm beaten, and turned to the trusty Burr Tools to help. Even there it took me three attempts to get the pieces entered correctly for Burr Tools to be able to solve the puzzle. I have no idea how Gregory designed this, but I have to take my hat off to him. It's a great design, and I can't recommend it enough, even if you're like me, and are not a fan of Burr's normally.



30Apr/140

Rail Box

In his most recent round of puzzle offerings, Eric Fuller offered a couple of designs by Yavuz Demirhan. Being Burr type puzzles I wasn't overly interested myself (so why I picked up a copy of the Cutler Cube I'll never know), however a good puzzling friend in the UK was interested. Postage was going to cost as much as the puzzle though, so I offered to have it thrown into my box, with the offer to bring it to the UK when I'm there later this year. As a bonus, I was allowed to play with it.

Rail box by Yavuz Demirhan

Rail box by Yavuz Demirhan

As you'd expect this small puzzle is crafted to Eric's high standards and measuring in at 2.25" x 2.25" x 1/5" the pieces are a good size to manipulate through the cage, and it doesn't feel fiddly, unlike some of the smaller wood/acrylic puzzles Eric has been making recently. The cage is made from Maple, and you might be forgiven for thinking that the pieces are all the same wood. The shorter four pieces are Paduak and the longer two are Purpleheart. To be honest, the difference in colour between the pieces is not strong at all, but that certainly doesn't detract from the puzzle.

At a level 18 burr, meaning there are 18 moves needed to remove the first piece, this is the sort of puzzle I wouldn't normally pick up to play with myself. Having said that I'm glad I was able to play with it. The four pieces in the centre (top) of the puzzle are identical, and the two longer pieces which run horizontally through the cage interact with the shorter pieces to create a sort of dance as you slide the pieces back and forth, up and down to create the space you need to remove the first piece.

Rail box pieces

Rail box pieces

After a little experimenting, most people should be able to find out how to create the space needed to remove the first piece. After that the rest comes apart pretty quickly. Putting the puzzle back to the solved position is simply a case of reversing the steps, but I can assure you that's easier said than done if you mix the orientation and position of the two longer pieces.

This is a great puzzle design, and certainly one that I'd recommend you have a play with. Even if you're like me and not a huge fan of Burr type puzzles, this one is accessible, and even enjoyable for the average puzzler.



9May/131

Tornado Burr

I wasn't fortunate enough to be able to buy one of Junichi Yananose Tornado Burr's when it was offered by either Eric Fuller however I am lucky enough to have a puzzle friend who was kind enough to let me borrow his copy to have a play.

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

When Brian Young made copies of this puzzle, there were only 30 copies made way back in December 2008. And when you see how it's made you'll understand why. Each piece is made from a single stick, and while it may not be apparent at first look why that's such an issue, I think it will become apparent as you read on.

The first thing that hits you about this puzzle is the scale. At 6" x 6" x 6" this is a very large burr. Brian has taken a great deal of care when finishing the ends of the burr pieces, and each is beautifully detailed, with a fit and finish that you'd expect from a master craftsman such as himself. The fact that this was part of his Craftsman line is really no surprise. The only other person I know of to have attempted this puzzle is Eric Fuller, and having seen his copy, while much smaller, it's every bit as well made!

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

Tornado Burr Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Mr Puzzle

With a modest 12 pieces in the puzzle, while it would normally be considered a significant challenge, the Tornado is a challenge in an entirely different way. This is no conventional burr puzzle. As I soon found out, no amount of pushing, pulling or tugging on any of the pieces will help you to find the 'first move' that you normally need to get a burr puzzle started. So with that done, what's left? I don't recommend blowing on it, or spinning it as you'll quickly end up dizzy and out of breath. The clue to the puzzle is in the name.

"This ingenious burr was designed by Junichi in May 2007 with "head and hands; no computer". Junichi had the idea for a multiple rotational movement but did not get to finally apply it to a puzzle until he came up with the Tornado Burr. People often ask puzzle designers "What was going on in your head to design this puzzle?" What was going on in Junichi's head when he designed the Tornado Burr? Visualising things going up and down and back and forth at the same time is one thing, but things going up and down, back and forth and around as well is quite another! Junichi says the Tornado Burr "has very eccentric movements" and challenges puzzlers to "Try your luck, and stop this fierce tornado."

Needless to say this puzzle is not solvable in any computer program that we know of.

Tornado Burr starting to move

Tornado Burr starting to move

Eccentric movements indeed! As you can see above, this puzzle has rotations, although not like any you'd have thought about before playing with this puzzle. How Junichi came up with this is beyond me. It's an insane puzzle mechanism, that simply imagining the interactions and movements entirely in your head takes a special type of mind.

Coming back to my comments about the pieces all being solid and the significance of that fact becomes apparent. For the puzzle to work, it needs dowels rather than notches in the pieces. Each of these rods was hand turned on the lathe and has to be very accurately made. Not only that but it is turned on an off centre axis, making things just a little bit scarier! Having done a lot of work on the lathe recently myself, I can truly appreciate the work that goes into making each and every one of these pieces.

At IPP27 in Australia, this puzzle received an Honourable mention. Having had the opportunity to play with one, I can see why. Despite not being a burr fan, I'd not hesitate to add one of these to my collection if it became available. The chances of that happening though may be fairly slim.



9Oct/124

Blind Burr

One of the Top 10 Vote Getters at this years IPP design competition was the Blind Burr, designed by Gregory Benedetti and made by Maurice Vigouroux. I had the great pleasure of being able to talk to Gregory about his puzzle designs and certainly enjoyed playing with his entry in the puzzle competition, so when I had the chance to pick one up on the day of the puzzle party, I didn't hesitate.

Blind Burr by Gregory Benedetti

Blind Burr by Gregory Benedetti

Made from some beautiful slabs of purple heart, the puzzle measures 3.25" x 3.25" x 3.25". Each piece is cut from a solid chunk of purple heart, measuring a full inch thick, so the pieces are incredibly sturdy and finished to the high standard that is common for work from Maurice Vigouroux. Each of the pieces is polished to a high shine, and the ends of the pieces have been chamfered to really finish the puzzle nicely.

Limited edition number and Maurice's stamp

Limited edition number and Maurice's stamp

As you can see each puzzle was numbered in a limited edition of 50, and the number is stamped into the wood, along with Maurice's signature. There was a very interesting discussion on one of the Puzzle Forum's about what makes a puzzle Limited Edition, which showed that there are many definitions to many different people. It turns out that in this case it's limited because Maurice agreed to make 50, and no more! The reason why is fairly obvious when you start to play with the puzzle.

I've probably mentioned before that I'm not a huge Burr puzzle fan. There's many other puzzle types out there that I get far more excited about than Burrs. So why did I make sure to get a copy of this one. And why's it called a Blind Burr .... in my experience pretty much all Burr's are blind. Well I'm not sure I can answer the second question, but I will answer the first. And the answer is pretty simple, this is no ordinary burr!

Edit: I can't answer why it's called the Blind Burr, but Greg did. Check out the comments for the answer!

Lots of movement but little progress

Lots of movement but little progress

Immediately on picking up the puzzle, you find that there are three pieces which are pretty loose, and move a fair distance. Looking at the inner part of the piece which slides out you'll see it's completely smooth, so whatever burrs exist, they are only in the top 1/3 of the piece which remains hidden in the centre of the puzzle. Of course all of this movement doesn't really help much, as there is no movement at all in the remaining three pieces. Strange and definitely not an average burr.

Despite the piece on the right in the image above leaving enough space for the top piece to slide over it, that piece won't budge. Something in there is keeping it in place and there's no real hint of movement. Time to go back to the drawing board and figure out what else can move in the puzzle.

After some feeling around, you start to see that there may be another way to make progress, and sure enough that yields a little more movement in one of the pieces, and after that the rest of the puzzle will come apart using coordinate motion. It's a really beautiful movement if not particularly difficult, and well worth the time to understand.

The pieces of the Blind burr (some details hidden)

The pieces of the Blind burr (some details hidden)

I don't want to give too much away, as the discovery of the puzzle mechanism is a joy but you can see the seven pieces which make up the puzzle, with some familiar 45 degree blocks in there which are used in the coordinate motion. That cube was a bit of a surprise!

Putting the puzzle back together is marginally trickier than taking it apart as some dexterity is required during the assembly, and despite taking it apart and putting it back together a number of times now, I still struggle a little to get the first three pieces aligned correctly.

All in all it's a great design, and rather deserving of its Top 10 vote. All of these are currently sold, but if you see one come up for sale, grab it. It really is a fun puzzle, and even for a non-Burr fan like me, you'll enjoy it.