Wednesday 14 December 2011

Nemesis: Monster Packing Puzzles and Big Burrs

Recently I’ve bought a few puzzles that I never expect to solve. 
That’s probably fair, but hear me out…
The first one is a packing puzzle that came from a recent auction – it’s a copy of Parcel Post made by John Devost in June 2008. It was sitting there looking rather unloved with nobody bidding on it, so I bought it. It’s a really beautiful piece of work – the pieces are made from walnut and the tray is made in padauk with maple slipfeathers. The tolerances between the pieces when they’re packed in the tray properly are incredibly fine – there is virtually no wiggle room at all, yet the pieces literally just drop into place – perfect!
The Parcel Post design has been around for ages (one source quotes “early 1900’s”), although the mists of time appear to have obscured the original designer’s name. The puzzle contains eighteen rectangular pieces to be placed inside a shallow tray. Pretty soon after you start playing with this puzzle, you’ll work out that there will be three layers of pieces in the solution, but that unless some of the pieces are arranged vertically across layers, you’re not going to get very far … and that little twist makes this an absolute killer puzzle in my books. I’ve spent a fair amount of time fiddling around with it and it has beaten me every time. There are too many pieces that could fit vertically and too many ways of almost making up three layers of bits with suitable gaps in them for the vertical pieces – I’m satisfied that I’m beaten, but it looks great in the collection, so it’s going to stay.

So that’s my first nemesis… (By the way, what is the plural of nemesis?) 

The other two puzzles that are likely to defeat me forever are fairly recent acquisitions. They are Big Burrs by literally any definition – first off, they are eighteen-piece burrs, the smaller of the two has pieces that are 12 centimetres long and the larger’s pieces are 15 centimetres in length. They’re called Tiros and Lange Wapper 14 respectively – both creations of Alfons Eyckmans’ fertile mind – although these are both variants of the original design with variations added by Guillaume Largounez to eliminate the alternative assemblies. The puzzles were made by Maurice Vigouroux and they came via a slightly circuitous route via Guillaume through my puzzling mate Chris – the Puzzle-Place guy. They are pretty unique as these burrs aren’t often manufactured (they present a couple of manufacturing challenges like blind corners and weak elbows that a lot of folks might avoid – but Maurice handles them with apparent ease – and some hand-chiselling and dowel reinforcement if you’re interested). They’re beautifully finished, including some decorative finishing around the edges of the pieces so that when properly assembled, the bevelling matches – and provides a unique solution – nice touch Guillaume! Take a look at Chris’ ‘special’ copy over here – it is simply gorgeous! 
The ‘easier’ of the two, Lange Wapper 14 was shipped disassembled as an assembly challenge – chance would be a fine thing! The complete solution requires 70 moves – removing the first piece from a completed burr takes 14 moves, and the next two pieces take another 21 and 15 moves respectively – now can you see why I think it’s a monster?! “Assembly challenge” may be a little bit of an understatement!
Tiros, mercifully was shipped assembled (and it may well stay largely that way forever! – Nah, at some point I’m going to take it apart just so that I can say I have!). This particular monster requires 150 (!!) moves to release the first piece(!) and I think it currently holds the record for burr level on a standard 18-piece burr – a further 36 moves dispatch the remaining pieces to a pile on the desk.
These burrs are lovely, and given their pedigree, I’m very chuffed to have been able to add them to the pile o’ puzzles I try hard not to call a “collection”. But do I stand a hope in heck in of ever working out how to take them apart and put them together again (without the use of Master Röver’s software) – I very much doubt it …
So there you are, three of my current nemeses, or nemesi if you prefer, to answer my own question…


  1. Guess that makes me a 'Weirdo' too Allard...
    having spent my childhood looking at an Arrow through a Bottle I accepted that there were some things I was not capable of working out without a little help. Like you I buy the odd puzzle that I am sure is beyond me, they remind me of my limits. Chris's puzzle is really lovely as are yours.

  2. Hi Allard,

    You should definitely work on Tiros. I have a copy too - via a similar route! I have managed the first 100 moves so far and am stuck at the moment. I have actually put it down for the last few months but will try again later.

    I am assured by Guillaume that it is solvable by a human!!


  3. I'm glad to see one of my packing puzzles in your collection...I made twelve in this wood combination :)

  4. Tiros is a very fun burr puzzle!
    Before I tackled Tiros I took apart another Alfons 18 pc burr called "Vulture" which requires 62 moves to take the first piece out. The practice I received from "Vulture" made "Tiros" easier. I needed a few hints but I managed to get it done took about 1 weeks worth of work. I have yet to work up the courage to disassemble the entire puzzle!!! Or for that fact disassemble and mix up all the pieces and reassemble. I have had it for about a month.