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!


  1. Stunning! You just cannot beat Yvon's workmanship and choice of beautiful woods. Combined with your design this is a must have puzzle. It's a shame about the rotations but until a prototype has been actually built it is hard to tell whether this is present.

    Enjoy your gift!