Sunday 13 September 2015

Helical Burr

The Helical Burr was Derek Bosch's second "cylindrical" burr design. Prior to the Helical, he had the Tubular Burr. Subsequent to it, he came up with the Hellical Burr which by various accounts is horrendously difficult and his fourth design, the W(h)orl(e)d Burr. Being in the puzzle community I was aware when each of them hit the market. I am lousy at burrs and since I am not even good at the normal square ones, I gave the miss on these cylindrical burrs at that time. But when I saw several of them being displayed for sale on Steve Nicholls' table during the IPP35 Puzzle Party and how beautiful and colourful they looked, I just had to go for one and chose the easiest of the lot, the Helical Burr.

Derek's Helical Burr also won him the Jury's Grand Prize at IPP33 in Japan in 2013. At that time, the competition puzzle was in prototype form made of SLS nylon and didn't look that great. But the copy that I have today was 3D printed by Steve and looks gorgeous in red and black. Not only that, its larger than the prototype, well made and feels very solid with a textured finish for better grip. In fact while playing with it, once I dropped it several feet onto my tiled balcony floor but nothing cracked or broke; 3D plastic is pretty tough! In terms of the movement of the pieces, while the sliding is not as smooth as wood for sure, the puzzle functions very well and I did not experience any jamming of any sort.

The Helical Burr comprises of four pieces. Two of the larger "spiraling" pieces (if this is the correct term) wrap around two internal "cock-screw" shaped pieces. Like a normal burr puzzle, you need to manipulate the various pieces to extract the first piece. And like a normal burr, you need to push and pull the different pieces to find out which piece makes the opening move. In this case, because its cylindrical, the pushing, pulling and twisting move the pieces up and down, instead of up/down and left/right. And because the Helical Burr does not behave like the latter, with spirals and rotations, it makes it even more confusing.

Is it difficult? Of course! But I tackled the Helical Burr by slowly studying the moves and trying to see how the four pieces interact with each other. My method was to use the ends, "notches" and various parts of both the larger outer pieces and internal pieces as reference points ie at which point the twisting should stop, where the ends of the pieces meet at which stage, how the first piece goes out/in first etc There is a sequence here. This is important especially during the reassembly which is in the reverse order. Without careful observation initially, chances are putting the pieces back together will really be very painful. Careful play at the take-apart stage will yield dividends later on. 

By my count, it takes about eleven moves (assuming one continuous rotation is one move) to remove the first piece. After that the rest comes out fairly easily. It is fortunate that Steve did not print all the pieces in a single colour otherwise I think the Helical Burr would have been an even more difficult puzzle. The two-tone colours not only add to the overall aesthetics but actually aids in the solving as well. There is also an alternative solution which is easier and I stumbled upon it half way, but I didn't try to experiment further with that path; the intended solution here is already tough enough to figure out.

An awesome puzzle I would say; incredible how Derek designed it cylinder shaped to function like a burr with multiple movements and dead ends if you get the sequence of the moves wrong. From Kevin Sadler's review of the other two later designs, and the Hellical Burr which takes over forty moves, I am not sure I want to try those anytime soon.

To get a copy of the Helical, Hellical or W(h)orl(e)d Burrs, you may wish to contact Steve through his site. Each puzzle being individually printed, he may be able to provide custom colours for you as well.

1 comment:

  1. You absolutely should try the HELLical burr too! It is tough but definitely a great fun one to explore! It's certainly not impossible!