Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
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.



28Sep/124

Washington Monument – IPP32 Exchange

One of the puzzles I really liked the look of while taking part in the IPP32 Puzzle Exchange was Mr Puzzle's Washington Monument. Brian's description of the puzzle when he presented it, plus the really high quality and great look of the puzzle meant this was one that I went looking for on the day of the Puzzle Party, and was lucky enough to get one (amongst a number of other puzzles from Brian's table that day!)

The Washington Monument by Mr Puzzle

The Washington Monument by Mr Puzzle

It's a good looking puzzle which sits at 5" tall and the base is 2.5" x 2.5" which makes for a good sized puzzle. The puzzle is a very close replica of the Washington monument, right down to the lightning rod in the top of the tower, and the flags surrounding the base. Made from Queensland Silver Ash for the monument and a Western Australian Jarrah base there's a good contrast between the woods, and it makes for a striking puzzle. Brian has also used this in the description of the puzzle which reads:

Washington Monument description card

Washington Monument description card

"There’s Red, While & Blue on the flags. There’s the White monument on a Red base. Can you find the other Blue?
If you keep searching you’ll find it inside the puzzle.
And we’re not referring to the use of “blue” language or going “blue” in the face (excuse our Aussie slang) with frustration.
The object of the puzzle is to unlock and open it, find the blue, close and relock it. You’ll have solved the puzzle when you can complete these two stages.
All the tools you’ll require to do the puzzle are given with the puzzle.
The puzzle we’ve presented is a representation of the Washington Monument, right down to the lightening rod in the top, which can come out, so be careful not to lose it. You’ll more than likely need it to complete the puzzle."

The monument spins freely 360 degrees on its base and you can hear a number of things moving inside the puzzle. Removing the flags, and looking into the drilled holes, you can see some metal pegs as you turn the monument, so it gives you an idea of what's going on in there, but not how you'd solve it. In order to have solved it correctly, there's two extra pieces of information that Brian gave you when the puzzle was exchanged (and now appear on his website):

"First stage:
Lock all gravity pins inside the round base of the obelisk so they do not move.
This will allow you to remove the obelisk from the base.
If you open the puzzle by chance then the gravity pins will still move freely; this is not the intended solution. The first stage is not completed until the gravity pins are locked inside the round base.

Second stage:
Unlock the gravity pins so they flow freely again. This allows you to lock the obelisk back in the square base.
You could find that relocking the puzzle might be more challenging than unlocking it was."

So when I first opened the puzzle, I'd not completed this first stage correctly. The pins were still lose, and I had 'got lucky' in terms of opening the puzzle. Being able to see the insides actually didn't help that much to be able to understand what I should have done, however I'd already figured out that there was something hiding inside the monument that I hadn't used so far, and clearly that was key. After another 10 minutes or so playing with the puzzle and applying some physics (no I didn't blow on it or spin it!) I had found out how the puzzle should be solved, and was left with the challenge of locking the puzzle back up again.

The mechanism is very clever and makes for a fun puzzle. I'm not sure how many people will solve it 'correctly' first time, but it certainly is a great mechanism, and very well executed. The puzzle received the 3rd Prize for the themed puzzle at IPP32, and it's deserving of that recognition, both for its iconic look and for being a genuinely good puzzle. I'd recommend getting a copy of this while there are still some available!

I'll be reviewing the other puzzles I picked up from Brian soon, as well as many more of the IPP puzzles, so keep an eye out for those soon.



10Jul/122

The Opening Bat

The Opening Bat by Mr Puzzle is a pretty serious sequential discovery puzzle which was ten years in the making. When the puzzle was first released in 2010 I looked longingly at it, but had to resist the urge to buy one as I couldn't justify it at the time. A year later, and Brian still had a few copies available. Well the money was burning a hole in my pocket, and even though I'm not a huge cricket fan (despite playing in my youth) I'd heard a lot of good things about the puzzle, so took the plunge and ordered a copy.

The Opening Bat by Mr Puzzle

The Opening Bat by Mr Puzzle

A few weeks later, the puzzle arrived very carefully wrapped and I excitedly opened the box to find the bat, and wickets securely stowed along with a couple of other puzzles I'd ordered at the same time. To give you an idea of scale and the look and feel of the puzzle, I've put together the video below. Read on for my full thoughts, and a rather scary moment when I was solving the puzzle for the first time.

As you can see from the video, the puzzle is not small. The Bat measures 13.75" x 2.3" x 1.3", the Oval is 7.25" x 5" and the wickets stand 7.9" tall. Limited to just 50 copies, there's not too many of these around, so I'm pleased to have been able to get one. Brian tries to use local Australian woods wherever possible, and The Opening Bat is no exception. Normally cricket bats are made from willow, as it stands up well to the impacts from the hard cricket ball. Unfortunately it's not a great wood for making puzzles from. Brian uses Queensland Silver Ash for the blade of the bat in the puzzle. The handle is Tasmanian Blackwood and the Oval, Wickets and Bails are all Papua New Guinean Ebony. Overall it's a stunning looking puzzle, and given it's size certainly has a presence on my puzzle shelves. (Not to mention that I had to re-arrange the shelves somewhat to accommodate its height!) There is a small brass pin embedded in the base of the oval which matches with a similar hole in the bottom of the bat, which allows the bat to sit as though it is resting against the wickets. It's a nice touch and makes for a great display piece.

Sir Donald Bradman coin crowns the handle

Sir Donald Bradman coin crowns the handle

The final goal of the puzzle is to remove the Sir Donald Bradman coin from the top of the handle. There's no chance of prising the coin out of its current spot, and certainly not without damaging the handle, so I'll save you the trouble of thinking like that and tell you to forget that idea now. Besides, if you could get to the end of the puzzle without taking the journey then you'd really be missing out.

The coin itself is really the inspiration for the puzzle and according to Brian, the first ideas for the puzzle came around when the coin was released in 2001. From that point, it seems like Brian's mind went into overdrive and he continued to add elements to the puzzle. Now some people may disagree given the difficulty, but I for one am pretty happy with all the work Brian put into the puzzle. The size and shape of the bat has given Brian a lot of space to work with, and he's crammed a lot of steps into that space. The puzzle consists of three main puzzle locks, which must be solved to release the coin at the top of the handle. However there are many more steps along the way to find all the tools required to open each lock. In Brian's own words, "As far as sequential discovery puzzles go this one's on steroids!"

When it came to solving the puzzle, I'll admit it took around two months for me to solve the puzzle with probably around 5-6 hours of time actually spent working on the puzzle. Why so long? Well sadly work had been hectic and I simply didn't have the time to sit and play with puzzles. As a result there were long periods where the puzzle and the tools I'd found sat on a table taunting me with my lack of progress.

The first lock defeated

The first lock defeated

Nothing in the puzzle is quite what it seems. Brian has managed to conceal tools in every possible part of the puzzle, and some very close attention is required to be able to find everything you need. I was fairly lucky and found the first hidden tool fairly quickly, which also revealed the Baggy Green Cap. Another ten minutes or so, and I'd successfully navigated the first lock, and removed the bottom of the bat.

With the first piece of the bat removed, it can be set aside. There's nothing else useful in there. What you're presented with now is the head of two hex bolts and the lock from the first stage, neatly hiding in holes drilled into the main section of the bat. Now being a good puzzler, I know that external tools are not required, so I didn't go hunting in my tool box for a way to remove those bolts. Instead, more investigation of the puzzle is required. As it happens, I was remarkably lucky, and stumbled upon the tool I needed by pure luck.

I was sitting with the pieces of the puzzle on my table, and happened to have a folding knife sitting on the table. At one point I must have nudged one of the pieces, and it rolled across the table, un-noticed by me. After a while fiddling, I looked across and found that the piece was stuck to the blade of the knife!

Well Brian mentioned that there were lots of magnets used in the puzzle, and it seems I'd found one! As it happens this piece if the puzzle is so well disguised, I have no idea how long it would have taken me to find this tool had it not been for that piece of luck. I have to commend Brian here, as the grain matching, and fit of the particular piece is incredible!

So with a new tool found, I quickly removed the rods on either side of the second section of the bat, before hitting another dead end. I had no idea how to remove the central rod, but there is a small clue as to what you might need to help with that process. It took probably another half an hour, or more for me to find the well disguised tool needed and be able to remove the third rod. At this point I've now managed to discover the three extra wickets needed to play Cricket, but I'm still no closer to opening that second lock!

From here I sent several hours trying to combine the various tools I'd found up to this point, along with a torch to try to see to the bottom of those long holes in an attempt to open the second lock. I lost count of the number of combinations of things I'd tried, and none of them seemed to help. In a fit of desperation, I placed a particular tool I'd found into the hole, thread first, and then used a different tool to reach to the bottom of the hole, and turn it. Now, that was a pretty bad idea, as the first tool ended up stuck and I was pretty sure at this point that I'd gone wrong.

I sent an email to Brian who helped me confirm exactly what I'd done then gave me a few suggestions as to how to fix the problem, and the assurance that regardless of what I'd done, in the worst case, I could send it back to him and he'd fix it. Now I appreciate that I've been remarkably vague here, but I'm trying not to give anything away. As it happens Brian's suggestion worked, and I was back in business. If you want to see what I did, then click here. And if you have this puzzle yourself, don't drop anything down the holes that you can't reach to pull back out! as it turns out, I'm not the only person to have put something into the puzzle that wasn't intended... at least I used something that came with the puzzle.

The second lock defeated

The second lock defeated

So with my panic over, I was back on track to solve the puzzle, however I still hadn't opened the second lock. Fortunately, it didn't take too much more time to be able to remove the final piece holding that dovetail joint in place and I had the second lock open!

All that remained now was the handle of the bat, and the third lock. Now I already knew that the puzzle here was the same as the one contained in "Houdini’s Torture Cell" as Brian had noted that the reason he made the Torture cell was so that more people could have access to this little puzzle, however that didn't make solving it any easier. Unlike the Torture Cell where you can see what's going on, here everything is blind. That said, you can figure out what's going on fairly easily, and with a little luck, you'll have that coin rising out of the handle fairly quickly.

The puzzle fully solved

The puzzle fully solved

True to Brian's word, when you open the last lock, not only is the coin removed, but you'll find you have a second set of wickets (brass rods), the cricket ball (silver ball bearing) and at this point, you should be good for that game of cricket to win back the Urn containing the ashes, which is also there.

For the observant amongst the readers, you'll notice that I'm not really showing many of the tools in the pictures, and that is entirely deliberate. I don't want to give anything away, that might spoil the discovery should you get a chance to play with this puzzle yourself. I've also been very careful not to give any clues when it comes to how things are hidden in the puzzle. Really a huge part of this puzzle is the journey of discovery as you find each element, and I'd hate to spoil that. It's too good a puzzle to ruin it for you.

Overall, I really enjoyed the puzzle, and highly recommend it should you get the chance to own one, or if someone is willing to let you play with their copy, don't pass on the opportunity. Brian has done a great job and there's clearly a lot of time and care went into the puzzle. Hat's off to you sir, it's a great puzzle!

Allard and Brian have also reviewed the puzzle on their blogs, so if you want another opinion, then go read what they have to say.



15Dec/111

Houdini’s Torture Cell

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series IPP 31

Carrying on in the IPP series, today I'm looking at Mr Puzzle's IPP31 exchange puzzle "Houdini's Torture Cell". I was lucky enough to be given this one as a gift from my fiancée for my birthday, after dropping a few hints. Mr Puzzle (Brian Young) is great at making sure that his exchange puzzles are relevant to the location of that year's IPP, and this is no exception. The puzzle celebrates Harry Houdini’s first public performance of The Torture Cell at the Circus Busch in Berlin on 12th September 1912. A small copy of the original poster from that show is printed on the presentation card as you can see below.

Houdini's Torture Cell

Houdini's Torture Cell

As the info card states, the object of the puzzle is to free Houdini from the torture cell. For those not familiar, during this illusion, Harry Houdini was suspended by his feet, locked through the top of the box which was filled with water, and escaped without drowning. Now having performed this illusion myself many years ago while I was still doing magic, I can confirm that there was no steel ball in the bottom of the tank, however the puzzle does recreate nicely the shape of a suspended figure, with no apparent way to escape.

The puzzle is very well made, as with all of Brian's puzzles. The puzzle makes use of the wood and perspex together to create a very sharp looking puzzle. On the bottom of the puzzle you'll find the Mr Puzzle Logo branded into the wood. Despite the very visible screws, there's no screw driver required to solve the puzzle, so you can stop thinking along those lines! At just under 4" tall, and a little under 2" square at the base, this is a good sized puzzle, and feels good in your hands when you're working on it. Not too small that it's fiddly.

If you're a seasoned puzzler, you'll be tempted to get the compass out for this puzzle, as Brian states that there's lots of magnets, but no "tapping" required to solve the puzzle. You'll find a very strong magnet in the base, and a couple of others elsewhere. The question is what to do with them.

On the Mr Puzzle website, Brian states that the idea for Houdini's Torture Cell came from one of the locks in the incredibly complex "The Opening Bat" puzzle. Brian felt the idea was unique and very satisfying to solve so he revisited the idea and changed it to present in a way that would suit IPP; this way it's available for lots more people to experience a great 'Ah Ha' moment.

Houdini safely out of the cell

Houdini safely out of the cell

And the Ah Ha moment in this puzzle is excellent. The beauty of the puzzle is that everything is on show for you, so really you can; after a quick investigation; think about how to solve the puzzle and then go ahead and solve it. Well, when I say everything, I mean almost everything is on show for you. There's a little bit of discovery required, and you'll need to find a tool or two hidden in the puzzle to help you solve it, but everything you need is right there in front of you. If you really get stuck there is a solution provided in a folded piece of paper, so if you don't want hints, don't unfold that paper.

Balancing the Ball on the base is easier than it looks

Balancing the Ball on the base is easier than it looks

The puzzle's party piece as I think of it is that once you've figured out how to solve it, you can leave it sitting on the shelf with the metal ball balanced on the podium at the bottom of the puzzle. Trust me, there's no way you're going to be able to get it there with dexterity alone, and leaving it in this state not only makes it look great on display, but also makes people wonder how on earth you got it there.

I highly recommend this to any and all. It's a brilliant little puzzle, and solving it is a lot of fun. I have to agree with Brian's thoughts, that this is a very satisfying puzzle to solve, and I'm really glad he decided to make this version of the puzzle as it's unlikely I'll get the chance to play with an Opening Bat. With Christmas coming up, this would make a great gift for the puzzler in your life. To see what other people think of it, read Allard's review and Oli's review for another perspective.



3Nov/112

Birthday Puzzling

As some of you know, I celebrated my birthday last week, and the day came with some shiny new puzzles and tools thanks to my family.

Some Zebra Wood to make puzzles, and a few new tools

Some Zebra Wood to make puzzles, and a few new tools

It seems that my fiancée had been hard at work, talking to a few of my friends and figuring out what and how to get me a few puzzles and tools. Not only was I lucky enough to receive three puzzles from Mr Puzzle, but there were also some tools to help in making more puzzles myself, and three board feet of Zebra Wood to make into puzzles as well.

I have been talking about getting a small random orbit sander for quite a while now. Believe it or not, up to this point, all the sanding that Ive done, regardless of the size of the project has all been done by hand. So to get a nice palm sander plus several different grits of paper was really nice. I have a couple of biggish projects that I'm working on just now, including the charity build of two children's rocking horses, so that will come in really handy there, as well as finishing the outer surfaces on some of the puzzles I've been making.

Also among the tools was a nice hand plane. It's another tool that I didn't own and will make a nice addition to my tools. I have a very small plane for fine work, but this will help for some of the bigger projects that I have planned. Finally there's an interesting corner clamp. I have no doubt this will come in very handy for making boxes for some of the puzzles.

Three puzzles from Mr Puzzle

Three puzzles from Mr Puzzle

From the puzzle side, I had mentioned to my fiancée that I really wanted to have a proper go at Mr. Puzzle's IPP exchange puzzle from IPP 31 this year, the Houdini's Torture Cell. Well it seems that when she went looking for it, she decided it wasn't very expensive, and had a look around some of the other puzzles on the site to pick up a few puzzles for me. In the end she decided on the Cable Car from the San Francisco IPP, and One Four All & All Four One from IPP30 designed by Arcady Dyskin & Pantazis Houlis.

I'll be writing full reviews of all the puzzles once I've had a chance to play with them all so keep an eye out for them soon.

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