Saturday, 27 June 2015


Here's another put-together puzzle that I got nowhere with. Supersymmetry is Stewart Coffin's #247 design and was Tom Rodger's IPP30 exchange puzzle in Osaka, Japan in 2010.

I saw the Supersymmetry during one of Nick Baxter's puzzle auctions and there were around seven copies available for sale. It looked really cool (and had such a cool name too!) being made of walnut, with its own plastic container and "appeared" quite do-able for me. After all, there are only 6 pieces and they didn't look like complicated burr pieces with multiple notches and grooves, so how tough could it be right? wrong, I should have know better that a Coffin puzzle would not be easy. So I went for it and made sure I won a copy.

Looks symmetrical, but is not and can't fit into the container

Well, when it arrived a couple of weeks later, I had problems from day one. While only 6 pieces consisting of equal length rods, the notches were cut diagonally. The object was to form a symmetrical shape and there were 8 solutions for this. I would have been happy to just find one solution, never mind it didn't fit into the plastic container. But unfortunately, I could not even get the rods to interlock together to form any sort of shape at all!

Burr Tools of course was no help for puzzles like these. But I happen to know that fellow puzzler and collector, Oli Sovary-Soos had a copy of the same puzzle (and Oli is quite a super-solver). So I promptly shot him a message for help. He very kindly responded with photos of the solved Supersymmetry from different angles. After quite a good number of days of on-and-off trying, I still got nowhere and asked if he had a step by step solution. The orientation of the rods and how they interlocked I just couldn't figure out from the photos. He sent a second round of photos, this time one photo showed a partial dis-assembly. With this I managed to get an interlocking puzzle, but still not a symmetrical one. Finally after several more tries, I got the right solution; which slipped nicely into the container.

Very difficult, even looking at photos. Trying to get the pieces just to come together properly (without force) is very hard in itself (and even Oli says he doesn't dare to fully take apart his copy). I doubt I will be removing and disentangling the pieces anytime soon, just happy to leave it in its container.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Visible Burr

This interlocking burr gave me a real headache! In fact I was "visibly" frustrated trying to assemble the thing after it arrived in pieces....all twenty four of them. More about this later.

The Visible Burr, designed by Bill Cutler is a handsome puzzle. With its size about 13cm x 13cm x 13cm, this thing is relatively large and displays really well. Made by Eric Fuller, the craftsmanship is excellent. All the pieces are precisely cut and  slide smoothly against each other with just the right amount of tolerance. Eric had chosen Canarywood, Purpleheart and Paduak which gives it a contrast of rich colours. 

Now what is so special about the Visible Burr? Well, for one, its a classic and dates back to 1978. It has been made by different puzzle craftsmen since that time. Here's what Bill said about his design...

"I like to design burrs which are difficult to take apart. This requires irregular notches in the pieces, and I usually like to hide these in the interior of the puzzle. With the Visible Burr, I decided to make all of the notches visible to the solver. Solution of this puzzle can thus be done by analyzing the notches, rather then by using trial-and-error."

While it may look extremely complicated, dis-assembly is humanly possible as Kevin Sadler can testify. He has gotten it into pieces and now (still) figuring how to fix it back together; good luck Kevin! On paper its not that difficult being a Level 7 solution with a total of 46 moves. But its apparently a real tough cookie! And I am not so sure about the re-assembly tho'

I thought with the aid of that savior of puzzlers a.k.a Burr Tools, I could get the twenty four pieces backed to the solved state in a jiffy but no such luck. I was in for a rude shock! It is very difficult to assemble even with Burr Tools. The fact that the pieces slide smoothly caused me the biggest problem, I could not get the early six or seven pieces to "stay put" together in my left hand while using my right to handle the assembly. Identification of the pieces is also not easy at all, given there are so many and looking similar (Hint-mark your pieces according to the numbering in Burr Tools; it will save you a lot of hassle later). 

Missed a step and had to back track...with only two pieces left to go

So what did I do?...ha ha, I allowed the pieces to stay outside of my dehumidifier puzzle closet in the open to let the pieces expand a bit so they would be more "sticky" against each other. For once, I was really thankful that Singapore has high humidity, 70-90%. Two days of exposure to the environment and presto... the pieces "held" themselves and I could concentrate on the fixing instead of the grappling. But even with this problem solved, it was still a very tricky task...the movements of many of the pieces are very subtle, tiny even. Miss one and you can get stuck for a while wondering what went wrong. I made it all the way with only two pieces left before I discovered I had overlooked a step (and a piece) and had to back track about 5 moves and start again. 

All in, I think it took me nearly three hours from start to finish. The most difficult assembly I have ever done for a burr, and mind you, this is with guidance of Burr Tools.

The Visible Burr is still available from Eric for US$109, fully assembled. Previously you had to top up another US$10 for an assembled puzzle.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Limited Edition Dita Von Teese Perrier Bottle Puzzle

It's been quite a while since I played with a bottle puzzle. The last one was in 2012; Wil Strijbos' Coke Bottle #1.

This time round, co-incidentally it is another of Wil's bottle puzzles, which I received from him at IPP34 in London last year. But I happen to have placed it at the back of my puzzle closet and consequently forgot about it until I was doing some tidying over the weekend.

This one is his limited edition Dita Von Teese Perrier version which as you can see, comes with a very delectable "autographed" photo of Dita Von Teese, a well known burlesque dancer. I cannot show the entire photo for obvious reasons, otherwise my blog would have to include an "adult content' warning :-). If any reader wishes to see the entire photo, please email me via my blog email :-)

The puzzle consists of a standard Dita Von Teese Perrier bottle with a metal tube inserted down to about three-fifths past the opening. Inside is a black bullet shaped plug and the object is to get the plug out of the bottle without using any external tools whatsoever. You can only use whatever comes with the bottle. (clue: the photo does NOT in any way contribute to or help in the solving other than perhaps give the puzzler some much needed inspiration). You also do not require a bottle opener to remove the cap.

It is obvious that to get the plug out, it would have to travel out through the metal tube...but how to get it into the tube other than perhaps random shaking of the bottle.... and hoping that it would pop into into the tube by chance?

This puzzle didn't take me long to solve. The solution is actually very interesting and in puzzle speak, very "elegant". In fact once you know it, its rather easy to execute. But novices or less than seasoned puzzlers may find it very challenging! 

No force is needed at all and any violent shaking may cause the plug inside to crack the glass. In some sense, this could be classified as a sequential discovery type puzzle. (Check this out and I think you will know what I mean). Some principles of physics also come into play as you go through the process of solving. Those who own the puzzle will understand what I am referring to.

Once the plug came out, I also found a hidden surprise inside the plug; trust Wil to hide things all over. Again I am restrained from showing what Wil had placed inside the plug, except to say that the item was unusually small and short and fitted just nicely into the shaft of the plug. I wonder where on earth Wil gets all this stuff from?

Overall a great bottle puzzle designed and made by Wil with a unique, fun and repeatable solution!

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Tool Box

About a month back, I wrote about a 3D packing puzzle called "Marble Cake", designed and made by Frederic Boucher. This was very well received and several puzzlers made copies for themselves and a couple more contacted Frederic to purchase a copy. Recently Frederic sent me a new puzzle; a 2D packing puzzle he had just designed and wanted me to have a go at it.

This one is called Tool Box and it consists of a square tray and five odd-shaped pieces. The copy I received is made from Magnolia wood and very well made. There are 3 challenges to this puzzle which consist of packing a combination of four out of the five pieces flat in the tray. Like the Marble Cake, some of the pieces here have half units!

The three challenges are:-

#1 - ABCD
#2 - ABCE 
#3 - BCDE

Doesn't look that difficult right? Well I was clearly wrong! It took me about five minutes to figure out the solution for challenge #1. But even after several days of trying on and off, for some reason, I just couldn't quite figure out #2 and #3. Somehow one of the four pieces would always stick out of the tray! Don't even bother with Burr Tools here; it won't work! Finally I threw in the towel and asked Frederic for the solutions. He duly sent them to me and low and behold, it became one of those situations...." come I missed that layout"? On hindsight, I should have just asked him for a clue to let me keep progressing.

My copy is Frederic's first design prototype and he is already making some design changes, after one of his other puzzle friends discovered that two of the challenges each had two possible solutions. I am sure the final version will be perfect with each challenge having only a unique solution.

For anyone who loves packing puzzles, this one is a keeper and with three challenges, a lot of puzzling to keep one busy. Already I am looking forward to his next puzzle design!

Monday, 8 June 2015


Cube+ is my first experience with this sort "shape forming" puzzle. This puzzle came to me courtesy of David Goodman during the IPP34 Puzzle Exchange in London last year.

I am not sure what the wood used is, but it looks pretty well made by Gaya Game (this is the first time I have come across this online seller and they have a pretty decent catalog of products). 
Challenge #1 - Use all 7 pieces

The puzzle contains seven pieces comprising three congruent pairs. Each piece per pair consists of five units. The seventh piece is two units long. There are two challenges here; the first is to use all seven pieces to form a typical "burr" shape and the second is to find six pieces to form a 3 x 3 x 3 cube. As of late, there are quite a number of these designs from various puzzlers the goal which is to form a 3D symmetrical shape of one type or another.

Challenge #2 - Use 6 of the 7 pieces

For some strange reason I started off with the second challenge and oddly enough, I managed to solve the puzzle rather quickly within twenty minutes or so of fiddling. However I took well over forty five minutes for the first challenge which I thought would be the easier challenge since all seven pieces have to be used. 

I won't say the puzzle is by any means easy but its not that overly difficult either. And I am happy to report I didn't have to resort to Burr Tools! There must be only one unique solution to either challenge also, I would assume. For both challenges, especially the first, some logical thinking rather than random assembly would certainly help with the solve.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

A Voyage To Terra Australis

Here's a 2D packing puzzle that I have been toiling over on and off the last several weeks...but got nowhere.

It's Brian Young's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle, designed by Junichi Yananose with an Australia theme. Its a "double-sided" packing puzzle because the twelve pentominoe pieces are printed on both sides with the Australian coastline. The description states...

The puzzle is to help Matthew Flinders fix his map of the Australian Coastline so that the entire coastline joins up and makes a correct map of Australia....Matthew Flinders and his crew had a few extra tots of rum as they were sailing past Bundaberg; in fact they must have used up the whole quota for the trip because they were way off course. They thought they had found the great inland sea but it was really Uluru sticking up out of the desert! You need to help them redraw the map of the Coastline so it joins up correctly and they can get on their way back to England to report to King George III.

The object is to rearrange the pieces to fit the tray and get the coastline of Australia correct but some of the pieces have to be flipped over to complete the puzzle correctly. 

According to Brian, "there are 2,339 different ways to pack the twelve pentominoe pieces into the 6 x 10 unit rectangular frame. And that number does not include the permutations of flipping pieces". However the way the puzzle has been designed, it has only one solution! The puzzle is made of laser cut hoop pinewood and lacquered.

If you are not sure what the outline of Australia looks like, or want to get more information about this beautiful country which I had the opportunity to visit twice in the past (Perth and Melbourne), click here.

The puzzle came with a scrambled (wrong) coastline and despite my many attempts at trying to get it right, each time I came up short. This is a very difficult puzzle (even tho' it appears to look easy) from what Sue (Brian's wife) tells me, after I threw in the towel and emailed her for the solution. Looking at the solution, well it looked rather do-able...and I got the "how come I didn't try putting that piece there?" questions running through my mind. I had missed some things that with more careful observation, I would have spotted. Sigh!

A Voyage To Terra Australis (and other exclusive past IPP exchange puzzles) is available at Brian's site Mr Puzzle for AU$27.50. 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Pocket Pento - The Search For Symmetry

I was very pleasantly surprised when I received an email from Eric Fuller a couple of months back. He had asked if he could make copies of my Pocket Pento for sale on his website together with some other puzzles he was also planning on making. He had spotted my Pocket Pento design published on PWBP and thought it would make a nice addition to his offerings. Of course I said yes without hesitation (well, who wouldn't?) and even emailed him several variations of the design for him to pick from. The next thing I knew, he had made the first copy and posted it on his FaceBook page.

Wow, this was the first time I have seen a design of mine made into a working copy (well, not really the first time as such; other puzzlers have made copies of some of my other designs) but the first from a master puzzle craftsman producing it for commercial sale.

The Pocket Pento is actually one of my early designs, my fourth that was published on PWBP. At that time I was trying my hand at designing and packing puzzles were the easiest and logical choice to begin with. Thanks to Goh Pit Khiam who taught me the use of burr tools and gave me loads of useful advice, I managed to come up with five designs of various shapes and sizes with the common theme of using all twelve flat pentominoes. As the name implies, the Pocket Pento was intended as a small-ish and flat-ish puzzle that could easily be put into the pocket and taken around. The version made by Eric with half inch square units is on the larger size of things and probably would only fit into pants, jacket or trench-coat pockets and handbags.

Eric made the Pocket Pento box out of Maple and the pieces in twelve different exotic hardwoods. The box had acrylic transparent sides which displayed the pieces in the solved state. A really nice touch which shows off the contrasting coloured woods very well. Construction and finish of my copy is excellent with very fine beveling of the edges on the pieces. The fit is very good and everything slides smoothly with no "looseness" of any sort. Thirty-nine copies were put up for sale on Eric's site at US$84 each; and like most of Eric's puzzles, all were sold out within a day or two.

I am not sure if owners of the Pocket Pento have noticed this....the placement of holes on the two sides, the entry/exit point and opposite bottom all have a certain "similarity" of appearance. I was not content to just design a box to house the twelve pieces (which is not too difficult) but I wanted something more...a "symmetry" to the overall look and shape, to make the puzzle as unique as possible. I think close to 100% symmetry may have been possible if Eric had used an acrylic plate to seal the bottom holes instead of another layer of wood which added an extra half inch to the height of the puzzle. But then again this may have affected the overall construction and aesthetics somewhat...and well, Eric's the expert so he must have known what he was doing. 

The puzzle is not easy by any means and I too have had problems remembering the exact sequence of moves and once or twice resorted to burr tools for help.

Thanks very much to Eric for turning my design into reality and I am happy to know that there are thirty nine other puzzlers out there in the world with a Pocket Pento in their possession!

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