Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Novice's Burr

Most serious puzzlers in the community would probably have heard of Yvon Pelletier, the affable and very friendly French Canadian living in Montreal who crafts wooden puzzles as a hobby. Its an almost full-time hobby I would imagine, for Yvon has made over 700 burrs and interlocking puzzles to-date and will no doubt continue to make even more. 

I was very pleasantly surprised when I met Yvon at IPP35 in Canada this past August, barely recognizing him from his Facebook photo (not everyone has a mohawk!). He gave me as a present one of my designs that he had made. This puzzle is my Novice's Burr.

I was surprised that Yvon bothered to make a copy of the design since there are so many other more interesting, nicer and highly complicated burrs out there on PWBP. And he didn't just fashion it out using one type of wood (which would have made the puzzle looking rather plain) but in fact selected four types of wood including Oak, Louro Faia, Ebony and Wenge. And painstakingly gluing cube units together to create a puzzle that is aesthetically pleasing with contrasting colour tones and texture. From the top, the puzzle even looks like it has a checker board pattern. 

Yvon Pelletier with some of his beautiful creations
This is the first time I have seen Yvon's work in person and I must say (for an amateur woodworker) his quality of craftsmanship is up there with the very best. Unfortunately Yvon only makes puzzles for himself (or as gifts for friends) and does not sell any commercially. The fit and finish of my Novice's Burr is very good although the pieces were a wee bit too snug due to the humid Singapore weather. But a few days in the dry box did the trick. I was pleased to be able to handle a real copy of my puzzle design; sadly most of my other designs will probably only remain on paper and never see the light of day.

The Novice's Burr is a Level (hence the name!) which requires a total of 18 moves to totally disassemble. I tried to make it as simple as possible from a design standpoint using just two plates with four congruent (and simple) burr pieces. While it has a Level 5 solution, but as I played with it, I discovered that I could actually rotate the plates with all the pieces still intact and one or two of the pieces can also rotate accordingly. Perhaps after drying, the looseness contributed to this. It would appear then the rotations can possibly increase the number of steps to remove the first piece and make the puzzle harder. Anyway I didn't bother to experiment further. A design flaw of mine and certainly unintended of course! Oh well....

Really happy to have a working copy of my Novice's Burr in my collection. My sincere thanks to Yvon for a beautifully crafted present!

Wednesday, 11 November 2015


Triburrlism is my second Steve Nicholls designed puzzle. My first was the Kray Twins, his IPP34 Exchange Puzzle to me which I had no success because it was tough. But for this second puzzle, I had much better luck.

Triburrlism, like the Kray Twins is a "diagonal" burr. Consisting of three pieces, it was made by Steve from 3D printing out of ABS resin. My copy (which I acquired from Steve during the IPP35 Puzzle Party) came in three colours with a slightly textured surface. The printing and finishing is very good and the puzzle has a smooth snug fit with nice clean edges. Dimensionally its around 4cm x 4cm x 3cm thick; not a large puzzle by any means, but easy enough handle comfortably.

The Triburrlism came un-assembled and the object is to get the three pieces together to form a symmetrical shape. which must fit inside the tin it came in. While the final shape is not stated, you can roughly tell by examining the pieces and their notches what the solved state is supposed to end up looking like. 

Unlike the Kray Twins which I needed Burr Tools help from Steve, I managed to solve the Triburrlism with a bit of persistence and experimentation. From a design standpoint, the Triburrlism, by nature of having just three pieces is a lot easier than the Kray Twins which has six. With just only three pieces, its not too difficult to figure out how the pieces will interlock together in its final shape but getting the moves right for the pieces to mesh properly is the challenging part. Half the number of pieces versus the Kray Twins but IMHO less than half the difficulty. But nonetheless still fairly challenging and this one has a twist to it; two in fact :-). It takes approximately ten moves to fully assemble the puzzle.

Once solved, repeat solving is pretty easy with a bit of practice. If diagonal burrs is what you like, the Triburrlism is a great little puzzle and a good lead up to the Kray Twins! Its available from Steve by request.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Packed Pyramid

I am on a's another packing puzzle featuring a pyramid. This time the puzzle in question is the Packed Pyramid, Norton Starr's IPP35 Exchange Puzzle. The Packed Pyramid was designed and crafted by Bill Sheckels, a custom furniture maker who also makes very nice looking puzzles on the side.

This puzzle is quite a thing of beauty. The pieces are made from dark Mexican Ebony while the tray is Zebrawood. All in all, good colour contrast, solid, very well made with a nice smooth finish.The 4 pieces are identical pentehedrons (a 5 sided 3D polygon).

There are 3 challenges here; namely to form a pyramid shape outside the tray, then form the pyramid inside tray and finally packing the 4 pieces flat into the tray. The last challenge really isn't one since the puzzle came packed already, probably for ease of transportation and storage for the Exchange.

While there are only 4 pieces and all look the same, the task of the forming the pyramid is not as easy as it may fact, rather difficult and tricky. Trying to just combine two of the four pieces together to form some sort of coherent shape is itself pretty confusing and I found myself fumbling quite a bit. The trick is not to try to work all four pieces at the same time but start with just two. Eventually you will figure it out after some time. For some puzzlers, that may take quite a while.

Once the first challenge is solved, the second of forming the pyramid inside the tray is not difficult, at least not as difficult as the pyramid packing puzzle the "Lockdown" reviewed in the previous post. Here things are pretty straight forward. The third challenge of just placing all the 4 pieces back flat into the tray is also easy.

Overall a really nice high quality shape-forming cum packing puzzle that is challenging but not frustratingly so. Again, just the right level of difficulty for an Exchange Puzzle! 

The Packed Pyramid is available from Bill via his Etsy puzzle shop linked from his site mentioned above. 

Sunday, 1 November 2015


Is Lockdown a packing puzzle? Well, I guess it probably is. It's also my first puzzle comprising of pieces in the shape of linked spheres. 

LockDown is a Stewart Coffin design (#271-A). Also made by Stewart Coffin for Rob Jones' Exchange Puzzle at IPP35 in Ottawa, Canada this last August. I am not sure the species of the woods used but the puzzle is well made and feels solid and sturdy. It measures about 10cm wide and 7.5cm tall in the assembled state. The spheres are around 2.3cm in diameter.

The puzzle consists of 3 different pieces, each formed by linked spheres. The puzzle came un-assembled and the object is to pack all 3 pieces into the triangular tray to form a pyramid. One edge of the tray has a curved recess to facilitate access of the pieces. 

To form the pyramid outside of the tray is not too difficult. With some thinking, you can probably figure out how the final shape would look, given that there are just 10 spheres. Its the packing that requires a lot more effort. The instructions are also explicit that no force is required.

While I figured out the shape of the pyramid pretty soon, it took me the better part of an hour before I managed to get the pieces into the tray. Some experimentation is required to get the right orientation of the pieces and aside from this, the movements also require twisting and rotation. Indeed once the pieces are inside the tray, you could grab the top few balls and lift the entire puzzle off the surface it's on. Truly "locked down".

There are not too many moves involved to solve this puzzle; no need actually since the shapes of the mutil-sphere pieces are enough create a good deal of confusion.  Although there are only 3 pieces, the packing is more than moderately challenging and pretty tricky.
To put it another way, the Lockdown is just the right level of difficulty for an Exchange Puzzle. None commercially available but Rob may have some extra copies for sale, just maybe.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Euro Falle 03

Over the weekend I had read Mike Desilets' guest post about the Euro Falle 02 on Kevin Sadler's puzzle blog and decided that I should bring my copy of the Euro Falle 03 with me for my five-day business trip. I thought I could get in some puzzling during the evenings after work. Of course I also wanted to make sure that I had something that can withstand the rigors of being tightly packed in my luggage without a risk of damage. The Euro Falle 03 was just the right puzzle.

I had obtained my Euro Falle 03 from Allan Stein during the IPP35 Puzzle Exchange in Ottawa, Canada just this past August. Like the Euro Falle 02 and 04, the 03 is the design of Jurgen Rieche and one of the more recent offerings in a range of products coming from Siebenstein-Spiele.

In terms of quality, manufacture and attention to detail, I think Mike has already summed it up pretty well. In fact his review (for a first time blog post) is not only impressive but comprehensive; and I have really nothing more to add. Like the Euro Falle 02, the puzzle consists of layers of laser cut wood stacked together and as Mike has stated, it is very solid and heavy. 

Dimensionally the Euro Falle 03 is just slightly short of 8 cm x 8 cm, about 2.5 cm high and bears a rounded shape with protruding corners. The 03 has 4 wooden layers making it thicker and heftier than the 02. This puzzle can stand a lot of abuse!

What's the solving like? Well I have not played with 02, but based on Mike's description of the 02, it would appear that the 03 probably has a similar mechanism. While it took me around half an hour to figure how to remove the Euro coin, the actual solving itself is pretty fast (once you know how). 

Suffice to say, the Euro Falle 03 is a rather tricky puzzle for the uninitiated and inexperienced. Looking at the way its been designed, one could conceivably spend a considerable amount of time trying to figure things out (and possibly barking up the wrong tree) before the "a-ha" moment finally kicks in. But once you know the solution, re-solving is easy. Damn...I should have brought a couple more puzzles...I have another 3 nights to go!

Puzzle Master retails the Euro Falle 02 (CA$23.99), 03 and 04 (CA$34.99 each), stocks the 03 and 04 (25 Euros each) while Brilliant Puzzles carry only the 02 (US$24.95)

[All photos above of the Euro Falle 03 shot with an iPhone on my hotel room bed]

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The (Very) Affordable Berrocal (Alternative)

Can't afford a Berrocal? Read on...this may just be the thing for you!

Last week my son and I played with two very cute, colourful and interesting "put together cum packing" puzzles. These were the "Restoration Puzzle-Human Model" ("Mannequin") and "Cow" from Japanese toy manufacturer Megahouse.

Both puzzles came to me courtesy of YC Lam of Hong Kong who runs his Felix Puzzle site. Although the site is in Chinese, Google translate will help matters and he has a pretty good selection of puzzles from various manufacturers.

As you can tell from the photos, it is pretty obvious what the respective goals of the puzzles are; fix together the limbs, head etc and "pack" all the internal organs into the body. The Mannequin has 36 pieces while the "Berro-cow" has 37. 

Both are entirely made of plastic, but to my surprise, not some cheapo light plastic to be scoffed at. This is really heavy duty stuff which makes the completed figurines very hefty and solid. The pieces don't snap into place as I had expected them to, but rather rely on friction to hold each other together. In the assembled state the puzzles would not come apart unless you bash the puzzle around.

Both are uniquely attractive and make excellent display and conversation pieces. In a bed of wooden burrs, these two would really stand out! To be honest, how many of you puzzlers have seen something like this before? And before I forget to mention....they are really useful for aspiring doctors and vets! I don't know about the Cow, but the Mannequin looks anatomically correct to me!

For the price of HK$130 (slightly less than US$17) each, the quality of manufacture is really very good and I was pretty impressed. If you can't afford a Berrocal, well I guess here's a really inexpensive and viable alternative...which happens also not to need polishing ...move over, Mini David!

From a puzzling perspective, both are not difficult puzzles. The Cow tho' I felt was much more challenging than the Mannequin. The former has a lot more small and similar looking internal organs which had to be inserted into the body forming twin layers; very much like a two layer packing puzzle. Solutions come in the form of a QR code download so help is at hand should you need it. 

Friday, 16 October 2015

Yee Dian Lee - Puzzle Books Collector Extraordinaire

Its always nice to get together with fellow puzzlers/collectors and last week while I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for business, I had the pleasure of having dinner with Yee Dian Lee at his home and spending a great evening with him talking about puzzles and admiring his extensive collection.

The puzzle den is actually longer than what the photo shows
Some of you puzzlers would know Yee Dian pretty well, especially those who have attended past IPPs. Yee Dian attended his first IPP at IPP12 in Tokyo in 1992, over twenty three years ago. Since then he has not missed a single IPP to-date! I had met Yee Dian the first time over three years ago at IPP33 in Japan and since then we have regularly kept in touch. it was only now that I paid a visit to his home and see vast puzzle and puzzle books collection.

Yee Dian is an Electrical Engineer by training and graduated from Osaka University, Japan. Professionally he a corporate trainer working mainly with various Malaysian government departments. Apart from mechanical puzzles, Yee Dian is also the Testing Procter for the Malaysian Mensa as well as Secretary of the Malaysian Sudoku Society. 

I was hosted to a sumptious dinner by Yee Dian and his lovely wife, the meal home-cooked by Yee Dian's mother-in-law. Thereafter I spent the rest of the evening in his puzzle room. As I ascended halfway to his puzzle room, Yee Dian's puzzle vessel collection greeted me. It occupies an entire wall and the cabinet houses several puzzle vessels/pots from all over the world. What a sight to behold!

Puzzle vessels galore!
Yee Dian's puzzle den occupies the better portion of the third floor of his three storey house with both sides lined with shelves from floor to ceiling. The right shelves comprise mainly of puzzles and some books while the left are almost all puzzle books. I have never seen so many puzzle books in my life!

His IPP Exchange Puzzles, which number over 2,000 are not in the same puzzle den; there is just not enough space for them. Instead they are kept in boxes (all marked and numbered by year/country) which line one side of the corridor leading to his daughter's bedroom. 

Yee Dian does not just collect mechanical puzzles (his main interests being puzzle vessels and interlocking) but also focuses on puzzle books. While his mechanical puzzle collection numbers several thousand (he says he has lost count), his puzzle book collection is well over 5,000 titles! They are in several languages including English, Japanese and Chinese. 

Outside of Japan, Yee Dian has the largest private collection of puzzle books in South East Asia. A real treasure trove of puzzle literature acquired over many years with each and every title/details recorded meticulously. His passion is hunting for rare puzzle books both on the internet and when he travels abroad.

All puzzle books here
To go through just his mechanical puzzles alone, it would probably take a whole week. Yee Dian recounted to me that there was once a European collector (a pretty well know name in the puzzle community whom I shall keep anonymous) who visited some years back; he had spent three days in the puzzle den only coming out for meals and toilet breaks. Yee Dian welcomes any puzzler visiting Malaysia to drop by his home for a visit. Nowadays I go to Malaysia for business quite regularly. I am already looking forward to my next trip!

Well, enough said, I will let the photos do the rest of the talking....

Ultra rare puzzle books on this shelf

Notice some of the wooden puzzle boxes at the lower right?
These were from Akio Kamei before he became famous

Yee Dian and I exchanging gifts. 
I received a very nice puzzle vessel (a wine pot) 
which will be the subject of a future blog post

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...