Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Supporting Social Distancing - Burr Lock “E”

Burr Lock "E" (Vertical Orientation) by Christoph LoheAs many of us find ourselves shut in and social distancing becomes de rigueur, I thought it would be appropriate to review a lock puzzle.  Of course, since I’m a burr guy, I chose a burr lock, Burr Lock “E” to be specific.

Burr Lock “E” was designed by Christoph Lohe and released by Cubicdissection in April, 2017.  It was made from Honduran Mahogany, Ash, and Bocote.   Where does the “E” come into play?  Well, apparently there were several versions that didn’t make the cut before “E”.  I’m guessing, somewhere around 4.

A lot of puzzles have a key piece that you need to discover.  This puzzle has a rather explicit, in your face, key piece.  The nice thing about this puzzle is that it really is the key that keeps this puzzle locked.  In addition to the key, there is a frame, a hasp, and 4 other burr pieces that get packed in the frame.

I know it looks like a lock but please don’t try to turn the key.  That would be bad.  If you do and you hear a click, that would be really, really bad and you’ll need some glue.  No rotations are required and you may want to provide that useful hint to puzzlers that you hand this to.  Not to help them out of course, but to ensure that you get back the same number of pieces that you started with.

Burr Lock "E" (Horizontal Orientation) by Christoph LoheNormally, when you take apart a puzzle, I recommend that you wait weeks, months, or even years before reassembling it to ensure that you don’t remember any of the critical moves required to solve it.  When you finally stare at the pieces and wonder what shape they make, you know you are ready to begin the reassembly journey.  Burr Lock “E” attempts to solve this dilemma by having 2 solutions: one with the key in a vertical orientation and the other with the key in a horizontal orientation.  This way you can take it apart every couple of years and put the key in the alternate orientation.  According to Burr Tools, the vertical orientation has a level solution and the horizontal orientation has a level solution.  However, the solution to the horizontal orientation has an obvious rotation (I mentioned earlier that rotations aren't required, but I never said they didn't exist) to remove the first piece halfway through the 26 moves.  In fact, if you aren't consciously keeping it in place, it may just fall out. 

Burr Lock "E" PiecesBurr Lock “E” is well made and well designed.  It is a lot of fun to solve and the required movements are fun to discover, especially the interactions with the key.  If you are tackling this as a fresh assembly, the locations of the pieces can be deduced fairly quickly and I recommend going through that process.

With respect to the 2 solutions, I was a bit disappointed that they weren’t more different.  Once you take it apart, you may still want to wait a year or so before assembling it to re-experience the joy of discovery.  However, the difference that was there, I didn’t see coming.  It wasn’t difficult to discover, but I wasn’t expecting it.

Burr Lock "E" Key PieceThis puzzle has been sitting out on the china cabinet for several years waiting for me to solve the alternate configuration. You know how it goes.  You buy a puzzle with multiple solutions, you solve one of them, you mentally check off that you solved it, and then you never quite get back to completing the others.  Even though Burr Lock “E” only has 2 configurations, it's taken me almost 3 years to revisit it and solve the other configuration.

I noticed when I took it apart again that the exposed parts of the pieces were a different shade than the parts that were inside the puzzle.  This was most notable on the key.  Did it fade from the exposure to light?  No, it got darker.  However, it’s really not a problem when the puzzle is on display since it’s usually assembled and you can’t see the tan lines.  If this is a problem for you, you should keep your puzzles in the dark, in which case you might as well keep them in a plastic bag to cut down on the humidity fluctuations as well.  For those of you with humidity-controlled puzzle cabinets with electronically tinted glass doors, continue as usual.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Inspiration from Grandchildren - Little Kenny and Wooden Puzzles

Little Kenny by Ken IrvineHow would you like to take a journey through 20 different must-have classic puzzle designs by world-renowned puzzle designers?  Along the way, the secrets of how to make them yourself will be revealed.

Several years ago, my good friend and master craftsman, Brian Menold, informed me that he was writing the definitive book on how to make wooden puzzles and asked if I would like to contribute a design.  Even before I knew of the world-class puzzle designers that would be included, I readily agreed.  I later found out that the book included designs from Stewart Coffin, Jos Bergmans, Yavuz Demirhan, Stéphane Chomine, Primitivo Familiar Ramos, Tom Jolly, and of course Brian Menold.  The cognoscenti of puzzledom.  Fortunately, I didn’t have the pressure of knowing the other contributors beforehand.

Brian’s guidance to me was that the book, called Wooden Puzzles, was targeting entry level woodworkers and he was looking for a simple design.  I translated simple to mean a puzzle based on a cubic dissection with rectilinear moves and a fairly small form factor, i.e., no larger than a 4x4x4 cube.

At about the same time that Brian asked for my contribution, along came my first grandson, Kenny.  He is a continual source of puzzlement and wonder.  When my grandson was 4, I informed him on some random sunny afternoon that he would be starting school the following year.  He looked at me, and in no uncertain terms said, “My mom said I don’t have to go to school”.   Trying my best to realign his thinking, I told him that everyone had to go to school.  Unfazed, he peered over at me again and replied, “I don’t need to go to school.  My job is inspiration!”  Well, how do you argue with that?  Needless to say, this post is about the puzzle that was inspired by Little Kenny.

The initial version of Little Kenny that was included in Wooden Puzzles is comprised of 4 pieces in a 4x4x3 format.  Only rectilinear moves are required and the level of difficulty is 5.1.1.  I was very happy with this design and thought that it was an excellent fit for the book.  Since the book has been released, I’ve received feedback from a couple of woodworkers with Wooden Puzzles and they loved Little Kenny.

Wooden Puzzles by Brian MenoldBrian did an amazing job writing Wooden Puzzles.  Not only is it informative, but it is crammed full of pictures of puzzles, tools, jigs, and various types of wood.  The book is comprised of 4 main sections.  The first section provides an overview of tools for puzzle making, selecting wood for puzzles, and jigs for making puzzles.  The second section is the majority of the book and describes in detail how to make the 20 puzzles covered.  By the time you get through all 20, you should have a good understanding of the woodworking basics required to make these types of puzzles.  The following section provides some recommendations for taking your puzzle making to the next level.  Alas, the last section shows the solution for solving each of the puzzles covered in the book, but I know that you won’t be tempted to look.

Although Brian indicated that his book was for beginning woodworkers, I believe that it is suitable for woodworkers at all levels.  There are great little nuggets of information for everyone.  I pulled out my copy of Wooden Puzzles as I was writing this post and as I was flipping through it, I realized that it was time to read it again in preparation for making this year’s puzzle prototypes.  The book may also be of interest to puzzle collectors interested in the process of creating the puzzles that they collect.  Just don’t read the solutions to the puzzles provided in the back of the book.

Little Kenny PiecesShortly after providing the initial Little Kenny design to Brian, I decided to make a more difficult version for the upcoming IPP35.  I was able to split one of the blocks to require rotational moves in the solution, thus becoming the first puzzle in the half-cube series.  I brought my updated Little Kenny prototype to IPP35 and it was well received.  Just like my grandson, it’s small size with only 4 pieces makes it look fairly innocuous but it does have a little bite to it.  And no, the solution provided in Wooden Puzzles won’t help you with the updated version.

After IPP35, Little Kenny was produced by the world-class craftsman, Tom Lensch.  The pictures in this post are of Tom’s version made with Jatoba.  With the successful release at IPP35, I decided to enter it in the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition the following year at IPP36 where it received the award for …. nothing!  Oh well.  It was up against some pretty stiff competition like Chain Store (Yanked My Chain - Chain Store) and Bitten Biscuits (Food For Thought - Bitten Biscuits).

You should get a copy of Wooden Puzzles.  It is available on Amazon here.  Then you can make your own copy of the original Little Kenny design.  If you want a copy of the updated half-cube version of Little Kenny, they will be available soon from Brian Menold at Wood Wonders.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Green Beer ‘ill Cure What Ails Ya - BioTIC

BioTIC by Andrew CrowellIf AntibioTIC is something that cures you, surely BioTIC is a thing that will try to kill you.  I decided to test that.  Using a sophisticated algorithm to choose which Andrew Crowell delicacy to chew on this month, BioTIC was chosen because it’s, ugh, well, it’s green.  Yes, it’s that time of year for all things green, even green beer, with Saint Patrick’s Day coming up on 17 March.  You may also find that a little green beer may take the edge off of working on a little green puzzle.

If you are interested in solving BioTIC without any hints whatsoever, don’t read this post.  You can look at the pictures, but some of the things that I will talk about may help you in solving the puzzle.  I know it would have helped me. 

BioTIC was solved in 2 lengthy sessions.  During the first effort, I was attempting to figure out where the 6 pieces needed to be within the frame.  During this process, I alternated between trying to insert pieces within the frame and trying to combine pieces outside the frame in the shape of the void.  Sometimes I did both by inserting some pieces within the frame and then trying to reconstruct the smaller void with the remaining pieces outside.

Most of this time was focused on trying to determine where the largest piece went in the puzzle.  There were a couple of spots of interest and then there was the possibility that this piece was just a space filler that trivially pulled out in one move from the constructed puzzle.  I did my best to wish that possibility away and my mind shied away from that to focus on the interesting positions with potential.  Session 1 was a bust and I ended up right where I started - 6 pieces looking for a home in the frame.

Session 2 started with the sad realization that I needed to accept the possibility that the large piece was a space filler.  With that mindset, I was able to find the assembly for the pieces.  Having found the assembly (and yes, I was assuming that there was only 1 assembly), I quickly determined that 3 pieces could be pulled directly out of the puzzle in 1 move each and I just put them aside.  Yes, I was a bit disappointed.  Here’s a hint for you:  Since the pieces are made from 64 cubies, the same number of cubies in a 4x4x4 cube, the first piece is going to come directly out of the puzzle in 1 move.  So, I was expecting at least 1 of those space fillers to be included.  However, 3 was more than I was expecting and 1 was certainly bigger than I was expecting.

BioTIC PiecesThe solution was just reduced to putting 3 pieces in the frame, which would obviously require rotations.  Of course, since this is an Andrew Crowell TIC puzzle, you know it’s not going to be easy.  Naturally, I started with the biggest and most convoluted of the 3 pieces.  This is the part where you should have a green beer handy.  I spent at least an hour trying to get that single piece into the frame where it needed to go with no other pieces in the frame.

Getting the second piece inside the frame where it belonged took some effort, but nothing like the first piece, although the first piece always seems to be in the way.  The third piece was even easier, but not as trivial as the final 3 pieces.  Getting those first 3 pieces in required a lot of rotations and juggling of piece positions.  The process is fantastic!

I could easily say that I didn’t like this puzzle because half the pieces basically fall out of the frame (not in the tight version that I have), but that would be unfair.  Instead of thinking about this puzzle as a 4x4x4 TIC, I suggest that you think about it as a 6-piece packing puzzle with some interesting rotational challenges.  This mindset will get you further in appreciating BioTIC.  You will then appreciate the addition of the trivially removed pieces for the help they provide in discovering the assembly instead of the lack of moves they represent in the solution.  Even for myself, I have a natural bias against burr puzzles that have one or more 1’s at the beginning of their difficulty level, but I really enjoyed the dance of the first 3 BioTIC pieces.

Now it’s time for a green beer.  Or a beer of any color.  Or maybe a root beer since I don’t drink alcohol.  Or maybe some orange juice since I’ve pretty much given up soda.  Or maybe some watered-down orange juice since I’m trying to cut down on the sugar that I consume.  I had an agreement with my wife that I could buy puzzles with the orange juice that I saved.  That’s about 4 gallons worth of puzzles per month.  Of course, I got busted by my wife when I was caught going by weight and not price.

This is the third post of the monthly Andrew Crowell Rotations and Obstructions Series - Turning Interlocking Cubes (ACROSTIC).  You can find the prior posts of the series here:

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Foreign Fame - 4 In Frame

4 In Frame by Stéphane ChomineOne of my favorite puzzle designers from the other side of the pond is Stéphane Chomine.  I own quite a few puzzles designed by Stéphane but nothing close to the 648 designs (as I write this, but it increases every few days) that he has on Puzzle Will Be Played.  This particular post is about Stéphane’s puzzle, 4 In Frame.  It is #40 on Stéphane’s Puzzle Will Be Played page and was added on 3 January 2011.

I bought this puzzle from Wood Wonders in August 2017.  It was beautifully made by Brian Menold with an Ash frame and Kingwood pieces.  I really like the look of Kingwood and the end grain is spectacular.  It also contrasts nicely with the Ash.  The first thing that I did when I received it was to take it apart and then summarily forget about it.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve pulled it out for a few sessions but never managed to solve it.  Recently noticing that the puzzle was blocking the dust from settling on the china cabinet shelf, I decided that it was finally time to do something about it. 

4 In Frame PiecesThere’s only 4 pieces that have to go in the frame, so how difficult can it be.  Like most puzzles of this type, there are those pesky blocks that are glued to the inside of the frame to frustrate the movement of the pieces.  With a difficulty level of, that’s a total of 46 moves to get the pieces in or out of the frame.  That’s a sizeable number of moves considering that there are only 4 pieces.  This puzzle doesn’t give up easily.  When taking it apart, even when it is half empty with only 2 pieces left, it still takes 9 moves to take the next one out.

According to Puzzle Will Be Played, there are 8350 assemblies and only 1 solution.  What this means is that the there are 8350 ways that the 4 pieces can be situated in the puzzle looking like the final solution, BUT only 1 of those ways can actually be realized.  I’m glad that I didn’t look up these statistics before solving the puzzle but it was obvious that those meddling blocks within the frame weren’t prohibiting any potential final resting places for the pieces - another way of saying this is that there were no easy hints as to where pieces couldn’t go.  Oh, and with 8350 assemblies, a brute force attack is not the way to go!

4 In Frame In ProgressHaving failed to solve this puzzle a couple to times in the past, I didn’t have much hope of knocking this one out quickly.  However, I was surprised to find that I was able to assemble it within a couple of hours.  For this attempt, I felt like I had, “the knack”, an innate sense of ethereal metagrobology channeling through my corporeal body.  It’s also possible that I had a bit of a head cold but it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between these things.

I was able to look at the frame and identify where one of the pieces had to go.  From there I was able to identify where the next piece had to go and how it interacted with the first piece.  Once It was completely assembled, I marveled at the moves required to get there and aside from a couple of backtracking steps, I was amazed at how accurate I was in my assumptions.  Of course, it’s always possible that my brain was leveraging those prior failed attempts under all those cobwebs throughout the dusty gray matter.

4 In Frame is a great puzzle and I recommend it for burr puzzle collectors.  If you’re new to these types of puzzles, you may want to try a less difficult puzzle first.