Monday, 20 September 2021

Polar Burr

Many weeks ago, Steve included a copy of Derek’s latest helical burr in one of my regular care packages. Polar Burr is the product of Derek’s relentless research into all possible helical variants – this one comes with the dubious title of being the highest level helical burr to date… at somewhere over 30 moves to remove the first piece.

That probably won’t scare you – like me, you’ve probably been victorious over many level-30 burrs in your time. Heck, you’ve probably even done plenty of them with a lot more pieces than this one… and yet this one is very, very different! You should respect this one, even approach it with deference… and if you don’t, it will bite you on the bum – guaranteed.

Now I’ve acquired several helical variants over the years – and virtually all of them have been great fun. Sure they mess with your head a little when you start playing with them, but once you get used to the movements and the interactions and you start forming a mental picture of how the blockages and passages inside are interacting, you can almost picture a route through them… or you can just blindly fiddle and often that’ll be enough to take them apart. Of course blind luck is seldom sufficient for reassembly!

Polar Burr seriously ups the ante however… I must have spent hours over the course of several weeks trying to get the darn thing apart without making the lightest bit of progress. Sure, I could get the pieces to start coming apart – heck, I could get them to the point where they were literally hanging together by a thread – but get them totally apart? Nope – not a sausage.

Truth be told, if it hadn’t been for the kind offer of a BurrTools file from a fellow-puzzler, that thing would never have come apart. Even with the BurrTools file it’s a pretty tricky task! 

There are some wonderfully sneaky little moves in there that casual fiddling (my usual approach to solving puzzles!) will simply never find… so if you want a thoroughly serious helical burr, hit up the Two Brass Monkeys for a copy of Polar Burr – but please don’t blame me if your vocabulary gets a lot more colourful than it ever used to be as a result.

Derek 1 – Allard 0

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Enter if you can…

Peter Hajek’s new book, “Enter if you can – The art of puzzle boxes” will be available for sale at both Pelikan (already!) and Cubic Dissection (shortly…).

I was fortunate to be given an advance copy of this lovely book and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves puzzles – and especially those who love puzzle boxes. Peter has produced a beautiful coffee table book full of stunning photographs of hundreds of puzzle boxes (including some thoroughly unobtainable ones!).

The book takes the reader on a journey through the development of puzzle boxes over the years and then spends several chapters looking at some of the recent masters of the art. Peter’s gone to great lengths to try and entice new puzzlers into his love for puzzle boxes, and I’m sure he’s going to win lots of new converts with this lovely book.

So if you’re interested in the history of Sorrento boxes or looking to find out more about Frank Chambers’ puzzles, looking for a discourse on difficulty or what makes a good puzzle (box), Enter if you can has you covered.

Thank you Peter for putting it all together so beautifully and creating a record of some of the things that really amuse us puzzle box lovers.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021


When Volker reached out to me a little while back to ask me to have a look at some blurb he’d written for a new puzzle he’d designed, my interest was piqued. It was called Fermat and the blurb described a lengthy design process that resulted in a single solution for putting three innocuous-looking triangular pieces inside a slightly lipped box.

The box will be familiar to anyone who’s played with any of the Euklid series (and a few others) – there’s just enough of a lip that you can’t ignore it, but it hardly seems to block off any of the entrance at all – until, that is, you start to try and place pieces inside the box.

Several weeks later the good folks at Pelikan announced that Fermat was ready for sale so I loaded up the virtual shopping cart and checked out – I ended up buying quite a few things from that release, and Fermat is definitely a firm favourite.

There are indeed three slightly differently sized triangular wooden blocks to be placed inside the box, below the lip. Each of the pieces will readily slide in and out and once inside they can all be manoeuvred around… in fact putting two in simultaneously isn’t all that complicated either – however, putting three of them in at the same time is impossible. (I’ll just tell you that now to save you all the bother.)

I spent an inordinate amount of time working out how best to move things around inside the box and I’d pretty much decided how the pieces need to be in there for the last piece to be inserted (my go-to strategy for these sorts of puzzle). I found a lot of ways to do stuff, just not the right stuff.

At one point I did what I suspect is a bit of a right of passage for this puzzle: I encouraged two blocks to slide past one another with the teeniest amount of pressure and then had a real heart-hits-the-table-kind-of-moment when I realised that I couldn’t get in underneath those pieces to push it back with the same teeny-tiny amount of pressure. For the next few days I tried variations on variations for getting the pieces properly aligned and getting one to slide past the other – all with zero success… I let some of my puzzling mates know that I’d done something a little silly and they mustered all their sympathy and duly laughed uproariously at me. (Thanks chaps!)

I applied a little thought to the subject and came up with a handy way of getting myself out of my little predicament and thankfully that worked a treat – but learn from my silly mistake folks: literally NO FORCE should be applied – seriously.  

Newly invigorated by all my mates solving it and telling me how much they liked it, I set at it again, being a lot more circumspect this time… I spent a while exploring the same blind alleyways I’d tried over the past week or two and then changed my perspective entirely… and that proved to be the right thing to do – I broke it down into a set of smaller problems and solved those in turn and then bundled the whole thing up into one big solution – and I think it’s great…

Unless Nick says otherwise, I think Volker has successfully designed out all of the other solutions and forced the solver to replicate the exact set of manoeuvres he set out to build into the solution.

This is definitely one of those puzzles that suckers you in thinking “How hard can it be” and then shows you exactly how hard!

Wednesday, 1 September 2021


I love a bit of machined brass… especially the puzzling variety – so when I spotted a couple of pics from Radek on Facebook of a new chunky little brass caged hedgehog, I reached out to ask him if there might be any available for sale. His post mentioned he’d only made about 10 copies and two of them were already somewhat spoken-for – with one to them being rather permanently attached to a custom Harley Davidson – I didn’t rate my chances of snagging a copy particularly highly, but reckoned it was worth a shout and thanks to the marvels of an international courier, a couple of days later I had a copy in my grubby paws.

This puzzle comes in a neat plastic sleeve that holds some additional meta-puzzling and a leather bag that keeps the cage and hedgehog snug inside. Open it all up and you have a handsome hunk of brass machined into a chunky cage with a nice spikey hedgehog nestling inside.

As usual you need to release the hedgehog – and this one’s a classic design – nothing super-funky like some of Radek’s other takes on the genre – some of which might look like a standard hedgehog in a cage, but they are anything but!

A little sleuthing and a little fiddling about will soon enough release the little spikey fella, and normally at this point you’d be done, except Radek has added an extra little mystery or two in the form of a challenge card and map… which asks you to find the new home of the puzzle’s real secret.

This bit of the challenge will test your observations skills and your puzzling nous but when you bring everything together it’s all right there in front of your eyes, as clear as day… and of course that leads you to some wonderful extra material that I particularly enjoyed. (I really loved the little nod to the other mythology around this puzzle.)

Even if it’s “just a standard hedgehog puzzle” – I rather like this copy – the cage is machined from a single lump of brass and the back-story in the extra challenge is lovely bonus.

Nice one, Radek!

Monday, 23 August 2021

Sequential Discovery Cubed Box

Juno’s latest sequential discovery design is another box (with a cavity large enough for the obligatory loaf of bread!) – this time in the shape of a cube rather than a burr – just in case you were wondering where the name came from!

As has become customary, they sold out in a flash when they were released, however this time a small number have been held back to either be sold on auction or to be sold to folks who know Juno personally in an attempt to get more of them into the hands of long-term collectors. While there are doubtless going to be folks who’re less happy with the new process, I was very glad to be able to secure a copy.

Outwardly the SDCB looks like a chunky 3*3*3 cube assembly with not a clue to its true nature – unless you count a little rattling sound when you give it a shake. Interestingly for an apparent assembly puzzle, it doesn’t seem to want to come apart – pulling bits and pieces in various random directions (my normal approach disassembly!) yields quite literally nothing… and it takes some careful exploring to find the right way into this puzzle.

Find it and it’s immediately a little alarming – your immediate instincts might lead you to want to do something and it’s rather unsettling when you realise you can’t… in for a penny… you might as well keep going now.

Really early on you’ll start finding some unexpected little features inside that keep things together and running in straight lines and the beginnings of some tools… and from there the game is really on.

You may well find yourself with a large tangle of wood at one point, unable to find a way of untangling them, but you’ll know that they went together somehow, so they must be able to come apart… somehow…

Once you get past that bit, the really awesome bit of sequential discovery and exploration awaits – and it’s a fabulously fun journey. Everything is beautifully thought out and you need to do everything in the right order, with the right tools – it’s a wonderfully FUN process with some very clever little tools, and as you’d expect with Juno, half the battle is working out what the right tool for the job is.

You’re never too far from making the discovery and more progress and when you reach the end, you’ll definitely know it, you lucky devil!

But wait, there’s more! There’s a fun little challenge in the reassembly that might just leave you scratching your head for a while!

This puzzle’s designed for puzzlers’ enjoyment – it’s not there to defy and confound you for days on end – it’s there to remind you that puzzling is a fun journey to share with friends. I will definitely be sharing this one with my mates when we get back together again.

A(nother) sequential discovery gem from Juno! 

But don't just take my word for it! Kevin and Ken both agree it's awesome!

Sunday, 15 August 2021


We held our fifth virtual Midlands Puzzle Party last weekend and got to spend time with our puzzling friends from around the world – I really like the way we’ve been able to meet up with old friends around the world and make some new puzzling friends even though there are all sorts of restrictions on travel and actually getting together in the real world. For some of us these virtual gatherings really have been a bit of a silver lining – so thanks to everyone who’s been coming along for the chat and especially to those who’ve been contributing!

This time around we decided to flip the schedule around a little so that we could subject our afternoon audience to one of Frank’s quizzes. (Why shouldn’t they have to suffer like the other sessions have?!) So we had some general puzzle chat in the morning session, Frank’s latest quiz and some impromptu puzzle identification in the afternoon session, and then the evening session was given over to an update from George and Roxanne on the world’s biggest puzzle unboxing ever, and Big-Steve doing the scoring of the scavenger hunt we’d run during the course of the day.

The morning session saw about twenty-five of us literally just talking about the puzzles we’d received recently, what we were puzzling on and what we wanted to recommend to our friends. It probably won’t come as a big surprise that Brian’s Abraham’s Well got a LOT of mentions during the course of the morning – it felt like every second puzzler was wanting to talk about it and tell everyone how much they’d enjoyed it – amusingly, virtually every single one of us was still searching for the more elegant solution to one of the main steps, and we all had a good laugh about some of the approaches we’d heard of – Ali definitely took the cake!

Juno’s Sequential Discovery Cubed Box also got several mentions with everyone agreeing that it’s a wonderfully FUN puzzle to work through – there aren’t any sections that really require any hard work and some of the tools are a joy to experiment with and then use… invariably there was a conversation about how tricky it’s getting to acquire some of these puzzles with most folks just really grateful they’d managed to somehow get their hands on one.

Rainer’s T13 got several mentions too with everyone agreeing this was another masterpiece and a proper puzzle – nobody had managed to just blast through it – everyone had spent days and weeks solving it the first time.

Derek’s latest helical Polar Burr got several mentions and at least one of us had to hold up our hands to not being able to even disassemble their copy yet, let alone actually solve it!

One of the absolute delights was when Jack showed us his contribution to Gwen’s Puzzle Cave Chest project – stunning work Jack – congratulations!

In between serving customers in the shop, Tomas spent the majority of the day working on his green Revomaze – his first Revomaze. Some of us tried to suggest that he should map out the maze but he felt that was cheating so he was wished good luck – he’s going to need a boat-load of it with that strategy. :-)

Michael D shared some of the work he’d been doing on tessellations and grudgingly admitted that he’d been awarded the inaugural Ray Bathke Puzzle Design award earlier in the week at the first Camden Puzzle Party in absolute ages – congratulations Michael! His wife managed to fish out the trophy so he could share it’s punny design with all of us – it’s a big wooden key with a bath at one end… think about it.

Peter told us all about the puzzles he’d been playing with recently and then showed us a new puzzle from Dick Hensel and invited us all to get in touch with Dick if we were interested… I certainly was!

We told everyone about the slightly tweaked puzzle scavenger hunt for the day – apart from the usual explicit descriptions, there were a couple of encoded clues to be deciphered as well as a few slightly hidden clues thanks to some excellent suggestions from Nick! We published the sheet and invited all comers to submit entries to Steve for the evening’s judgement. (There’s a link to it from our Facebook page if you want a look-see.)

After a break of a couple of hours we re-joined for the latest of Frank’s Puzzle Quizzes -this time with the promise of actual prizes for the winners. Brian and Sue had donated a copy of Ten of Diamonds and I’d laid out a few things from my drawer of duplicates…

Frank took us through the quiz, featuring the odd pun (literally!), some puzzle-related questions and some tests of elementary arithmetic (I failed horribly!) and by the end Marc won himself the Ten of diamonds, Goetz bagged a recent Endo-san creation and Tamsin won herself a copy of Gobi by Eric and Alfons.

We hadn’t planned much for the rest of that session so we had a little bit more chat with some of the folks who hadn’t been there for the morning session and we lapsed into a spot of puzzle identification – I failed miserably at getting three of the puzzles I’ve been trying to identify for a few months now (admittedly I haven’t been trying that hard!). We manage to identify a whole pile of puzzle boxes that Roxanne needed identifying leaving only one or two still unidentified in the end.

George and Roxanne gave us a superb tour of the Puzzle Palace Museum after they’d managed to unpack all of the puzzles from James’ collection into their new dedicated museum (except for the ceramics that needed to wait until the shelving and the loading system were ready!). Given that earlier this year that transfer had only just been agreed and the packers hadn’t even started packing anything into the 729 boxes until late March(?) – and the containers spent a couple of months at sea – that is a phenomenal effort! 

(Rox admitted she’d kept George up working on the unpacking until 1am on the day so it would all be done in time for our “visit”!)

They took us from room to room showing how they’ve got literally everything displayed and ready for play in line with their ethos for the collection – it’s there to be played with!

There was a follow up on the interesting conversation about cataloguing the puzzles with George talking about his plans to create his own database and then potentially allow others to use the same database to store information about their own collections on it – forming the beginning of an uber-database of puzzles available as a public service for anyone interested in researching them.

After the thorough tour (thanks guys!!!!) and the invitations to visit and either help with cataloguing, repairing or just playing with puzzles, we moved on to judgement day for the participants in our scavenger hunt. This time we had a handful of entries – some of them more complete than others!

Ken’s entry was quite light in terms of actual content, but he did lay on the Brass Monkey pandering (which I believe is illegal in some states!) rather thickly - in spite of that he didn’t score very highly – perhaps the pressure of having actual prizes was playing with Steve’s playfulness (ironically something else that’s illegal in some states!).

We’d lost Brian by then so I ended up having to talk through his entry – not being privy to the man’s thinking I ad-libbed a bit but found myself getting somewhat distracted at one point (or should that be two?).

In the end most folks had managed to find some of the hidden clues, but every single person missed the requirement for a Hamster Poem, so Steve launched a quick-fire deciding round and the in the end Tamsin took the spoils with her hamster ode.

…and that was the fifth Virtual MPP… links to the recording of the sessions below for anyone wanting to re-live the sheer terror of the day, or see what you missed. (OK, it wasn’t really that terrifying… more mildly amusing, with puzzles.)

V MPP V Morning session

V MPP V Afternoon session

V MPP V Evening session