One of my favourite puzzles from this year’s Edward Hordern Puzzle Exchange came from Brian Young – aka Mr Puzzle. Brian and his exchange assistant, John Moores, were roaming the exchange room with a sack-full of these little guys and while Brian was giving you the schpiel about the puzzle, John fished around in his bag of tricks and produced a personalised boarding pass for each exchange participant, along with a complimentary air-sickness bag … actually, the former and the latter were in fact the same thing. The front of the bag has the boarding pass printed on it and the back of the bag has the following disclaimer on it: “Kumiki Airlines SICK BAG / Puzzle at own risk / Please do not remove from the aircraft … (unless it has been used)”.
Brian was dishing out the little aircraft with their wings on backwards and their tail planes somewhat misshapen. The challenge was merely to reassemble them in a slightly more aerodynamic manner … but they come with a health warning ... and a sick bag …
Right, so the clue’s in the name – it’s a Kumiki puzzle, yeah?
Well, maybe … maybe not … fiddle with this guy for even just a few minutes and you’ll pretty quickly convince yourself this is no straight-forward Kumiki puzzle!
Look a bit more closely at the middle of the body and you’ll see a the two wing bits wrap around the two engine bits, that in turn enclose the two fuselage pieces and they in turn trap the two wing bits …
HANG ON! This isn’t a Kumiki puzzle, it’s a blimming burr! A burr with a couple of rather long pieces which happen to have a restriction in their relative movement thanks to a pair of pieces trapped at their one end (aka the tail plane).
I didn’t spend much time on this puzzle in Japan, leaving it until I got home to have a serious go at it – and that was probably a good decision. Taking the plane apart wasn’t that tricky, and working out where you want the various pieces to end up is reasonably straight forward as well – everyone knows what a plane looks like after all … there a couple of bits that have potentially more than one final resting place, but it always feel like you have a reasonable chance of solving this puzzle…
The penny drops … albeit slowly – this is a rather nasty little burr – and the clue to that should have been in the name of the designer, not in the name of the puzzle – this puzzle is from the rather fruitful mind of Junichi Yananose – and it’s actually a level 13.4 burr ... (!)
Thankfully, I hadn’t realised that it was a level 13 burr so I continued to think I might actually be able to solve this puzzle. (I’m rubbish at complicated burrs! – If it weren’t for BurrTools, most of my collection would look like a selection of bags of notched sticks!) I ended up spending a couple of hours, spread over a few weeks, getting annoyingly close to solving this puzzle – I’d invariably end up with one half of the tail plane in just the wrong place with no way of manipulating the rest of the pieces in order to manoeuvre that last bit into the right place… it felt like ages playing around with variations on that theme but somehow I always ended up with that one piece stubbornly refusing to get into place.
After a bit more head-scratching I went looking for an alternative starting point and managed to find a slight variation on my tried and tested (and wrong!) approach which allowed a few extra sorts of moves along the way, and with a little experimentation, managed to find a way to achieve aerodynamic perfection.
Looking back on what I was doing, it seems pretty obvious that I was trying the same thing over and over in the hope of finding a different outcome (Yip, I know that definition!) – and it was only when I noticed that there were some features of the pieces that I hadn’t actively used yet in my assembly process, that I realised I was missing something important … nothing’s there by accident – this is a great design.
Brian’s website still has these puzzles listed and I heartily recommend them – don’t think of them as a level 13.4 burr, think of them as a tough Kumiki puzzle, and if you’re like me (an AMATEUR!) you might stand a better chance of conning yourself into solving it.