Sunday 3 April 2011

Jerry McFarland’s Burrcube #1

A couple of weeks back I plucked up the courage to drop a few leading lights in the puzzling community an email asking them whether they had any puzzles in stock – one of those was Jerry McFarland ... I’d come across his web-site some time ago and had marvelled at some the equipment that Jerry has in his workshop – clearly he’s serious about making stunning puzzles. 

As luck would have it, Jerry didn’t have the puzzles I was after (and in fairness that’s what his web-site was saying too, but I asked anyway!) but he mentioned that he was putting together a new puzzle of his own design and asked if I’d be interested.

Jerry’s Burrcube#1 (because it’s a burr, in a cube, the first one, and there may be more along ...) is described as a 3*3*3 cube in a box that’s made up of 15 pieces – it sounded interesting and he was offering it at a jolly good price because he was interested in some feedback ... I couldn’t turn down an offer like that!

About a week later a box arrived from Jerry containing a Lovely Burr (I’ll get to that one when I’ve worked out how the heck to get it apart!), a nicely made 5 sided cube and a bag of bits ... object of the Burrcube#1 is to decant bag of bits into box ... but there’s effectively only one way to do that, and the photo that Jerry had of the completed puzzle in the cube deliberately shows you the least useful side ... nice guy, that Jerry!

Usual disclaimer – I’d already told Jerry that I wasn’t the world’s best burr solver and that I wasn’t a big fan of packing problems that relied on brute force – when I said that, he added that someone called Cutler  (yes, HIM!) had played around with the first prototype and enjoyed it and solved it using analysis ... so I'm thinking I’m going to enjoy this...

First off, the bits are all beautifully made – just like everything else that I’ve seen from Jerry. When I initially said that I’d like one, Jerry was a bit apologetic that he hadn’t knocked up any boxes yet, so I got the impression that he was going to knock up something quickly on his table saw - the initial pics I saw had a ply box – which at the price point wasn’t out of place! I certainly wasn’t expecting a beautifully finished walnut box with Jerry’s initials stamped on the bottom along with the serial number 002 ... the inside bits are made in cherry, maple and walnut and are all finished beautifully and fit perfectly. There are a couple of unusual shapes in there. 

You’ll recognise a number of similar pieces and they’ll help you come up with the guts of the solution, and from there it’s really a bit of experimentation to find the right combinations of bits. Thankfully there aren’t any curve-balls like some burrs, where you end up holding the last piece with no apparent means of getting it into the remaining assembly! Right up to the end, you can go backwards and forwards and add in bits...

All in all, it is a lovely little puzzle – it took about 20 minutes of gentle playing and experimentation to find a solution and it shows some lovely patterns on the sides as a result of the three different woods – as I said, the most boring one is the one that Jerry’s using to display the puzzle so as to give you as few clues as possible to the solution...

After I’d solved it, I dropped Jerry a note with some thoughts and some encouragement to develop it into a small series of increasing complexity ... and then we traded emails on how he could give the puzzler even fewer clues to the solution while still giving a genuine photo of the puzzle. [He dismissed my suggestion of making an alternate set of bits in the wrong colours and using a photo of that one’s solution as being too mean ...] – swapping a couple of different coloured pieces that share the same shape might just fit the bill, and give a less symmetrical, but still rather pleasing solution... 
If he does start selling them, please encourage him to make some more and expand on his ideas... the world doesn’t have enough puzzles yet... :-) 


  1. Nice review Allard and an interesting new puzzle... in a series hopefully!

  2. Hi Allard

    Dropped Jerry an Email this week to see what he has available and he is offering these puzzles as now available for purchase - have ordered one off him for the reasonable price he is asking. So thanks for the review.