December 13, 2010

Lovely Burr

As I mentioned in my last post about The Pentangle Puzzle, on Saturday I headed over to Eureka Puzzles and Games in Brookline. Puzzle Master had sent me four Hanayama puzzles to review, but I already had three of them: Cast H&H, Cast Vortex and Cast Marble (which it appears that I forgot to review). So I was hoping that David, the owner of Eureka, would be kind enough to trade me for some that I didn't have.

When I arrived, the store was jammed with holiday shoppers! I was glad to see that business was going so well, but didn't want to take up too much of David's time during the holiday rush. Despite being busy, he was nice enough to spend some time chatting and pointing out some of the new puzzles that I might be interested in.  That's one of the great things about this store, there are always plenty of folks who are happy to help customers out, so even when they are busy you feel like you get enough personal attention.

David told me that he had recently received a puzzle from Jerry McFarland named Lovely Eighteen-Piece Burr and handed it to me to try out. He told me that it was designed by Bruce Love of New Zealand in the 1980's and was crafted by Jerry. Jerry does some awesome work with burrs and has crafted many fine burr puzzles designed by Bill Cutler.

The layout of the burr is the standard 18-piece design, with six pieces in each axis. As such, you can't really tell by looking at it which design it is. The photo on the right shows an older run of this puzzle that Jerry had done. The version that I tried had three different colors of wood used, one for each axis, which makes it somewhat easier to re-assemble if you are foolhardy enough to attempt that. It takes 18 moves to remove the first piece, which is cute considering that it is an 18 piece burr.

I set myself to the task of trying to remove the first piece. I didn't want to disassemble it completely since I would need a lot of room to lay the pieces out so I didn't forget where they came from. Also, if I screwed up it could take many hours to get it back together. As it was, I had a hard enough time getting the first piece out!

This is a very tricky burr because there are frequently a number of moves possible at any point, only one of which is correct. This makes it very easy to get lost along the solution path and end up at a dead end. I think it took me about 25 minutes to get it apart and just as long to get it back. There was one piece in particular that I had trouble remembering how I moved in the first place, which was what took me so long to get it back to the start. This is definitely not one that you can easily muddle through to get it apart, you need to think about what you're doing.

The craftsmanship is very nice, as I've seen in all of Jerry's work. This particular copy was slightly loose, I prefer a burr that is tight enough so that the pieces do not slide accidentally by gravity. This is difficult to achieve and can vary with humidity, but most of Jerry's work that I have tried his property.

The solution itself is quite convoluted and has some pretty tricky moves. It is a great design by Bruce and I would definitely recommend it if you like burrs with a fairly moderate number of moves. I think Eureka only has one copy and it is currently not listed on their website, but if anyone is interested I'll bet they will sell it to you over the phone and ship it. I think that Jerry is planning to make more in 2011 too.

Even though it was enjoyable, I was quite relieved to finally get it back to where it started! I would have hated to leave it partially solved, that is poor puzzling form. After that, David was indeed kind enough to trade the three Hanayamas I mentioned earlier for three that I didn't have: Cast Bike, Cast Plate, and Cast Ring II. Reviews for these will be coming up soon!

As I was picking these out, there was a fellow who was examining Cast Baroq and couldn't resist telling him that it was my favorite in the series. I hoped that he knew something about puzzles so we could chat for a bit, but unfortunately he did not. He asked if I thought it would be a good difficulty for a 15-year-old, and I said yes and proceeded to describe why it is an awesome puzzle. He said that he was also shopping for an 11-year-old and a 12-year-old, so I recommended Cast Loop and Cast Key to him, since those are a bit easier but still quite good. He ended up purchasing all three. Hopefully the kids will enjoy them!

As I was getting ready to head out, I was glad to see Saul Bobroff and Tim Udall walk in, two mechanical puzzle collectors in the area with awesome collections. We talked about puzzles for a bit and what we were all purchasing. I don't recall what Saul got, but Tim bought Cast Helix (another one I've forgotten to write about) and Cast Rattle (which is very cool). I told him abut the fun I had with Chain Gang, so he ended up grabbing that one as well. After we made our purchases, we parted ways. It was great seeing them both! What a funny coincidence!

I headed over to get a piece of pizza at The Upper Crust and solve some of the puzzles I just got. I'll be writing about those in my next few posts.

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