Thursday 18 March 2021

Juno's Crooked Six-Piece Burrs

Somewhere around the tail-end of December Juno released a few new puzzles on Pluredro and I wasn’t quite quick enough to pick up a copy of each, but I did manage to get a pair of the Crooked 6 Piece Burrs… which I thought was great.

Juno had released a remake of his original Crooked 6 Piece Burr along with a slightly souped-up pinned version…

 and while they may look alike, there is really no comparison between them at all.

The one is a polite, genteel puzzle that rewards some analysis and behaves like an absolute gentleman throughout the entire solving process. The other is a wolf in sheep’s clothing out to mug you and take your last shred of dignity – you’ve been warned.

The original one is the gentleman here. Taking it apart is a nice, predictable affair, and scrambling the pieces provides a gentle, relaxing solve. The piece shapes may be more than a little confusing – it certainly took me a while to get my head around how things were inter-related, but once you’ve mentally switched gears and got yourself thinking around corners, you’ll be fine!

There’s a little analysis of the pieces and then some logic required to decide how you’re going to try and reassemble the little guy – but pay it enough respect and it rewards without a lot of protest…

As I’ve said, it’s a delightful puzzle.

The pinned version is a different kettle of fish altogether.

Start playing around with the pinned version and it’s immediately clear that it ain’t going to come apart nearly as easily as the original version… those little pins in the name are there to claw on for dear life as you try and take the little guy apart – and while it isn’t tremendously tough to work out how to take it apart, it will absolutely kick you in the teeth in the process.

No matter how carefully you proceed, this little illegitimate child (see, PG friendly references!) is going to fly apart in a million pieces when you really don’t want it to. I was warned, and I proceeded carefully, and I still made use of some rather colourful language when it all let go rather spectacularly and gave me a messed-up pile of pieces.

And that’s the easy part… 

... the really hard part is putting the thing back together again… this time you’ll literally be finding those pins fighting you all of the way, trying to keep the jolly pieces apart – it is uncanny!

Playing with the original version is like a gentle game of chess with an old friend.

Playing with the pinned version is like the wildest rollercoaster ride you’ve ever taken – heaps of adrenaline along the way and you’re really glad when it’s all over!

Choose your poison carefully.

Sunday 7 March 2021

Triple Chocolate Box

George Bell has a knack for designing mean puzzles that mess with my head – admittedly I’m setting a low bar here – but I suspect that his love of playing with spheres and truncated octahedra manage to confuse some others as well.

My latest puzzle from George’s Etsy shop was Triple Chocolate Box – his entry in the 2020 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design competition. This puzzle makes great use of George’s new 3D printer to produce the three black and white boxes adorned with your favourite brands of chocolate. Your task is to pack the 24 little (slightly wooden) chocolates into each of the three boxes in turn, so that their lids are fully closed. Of course George has helpfully joined those 24 little balls into six sets of differently shaped pieces, just so you aren’t bored to death by a trivial packing task.

Clearly the boxes presented provide a basic round, triangular and square shape for the packing, but the boxes are all slightly different heights… which is interesting.

When the puzzle arrived, the pieces were all snugly inside the Lindt box, and George’s helpful note suggested tipping the pieces out blindly before playing – and that’s great advice, but let me assure you, gentle puzzler, that even if you catch a view of the pieces as they come tumbling out, it will help you not a jot, because they do tumble rather chaotically and then lie there on your desk mocking you, of perhaps that was just me.

I started off with the round box and it took quite a while of fiddling and experimenting for me find some almost-solutions – and then some more experimentation to find an actual solution – and by now I’d found that I’d started getting the hang of how the different shapes interacted among layers of the packing and I actually felt like I was beginning to understand things with the first one solved…

…which is probably exactly what George was hoping, because when I moved on to the triangular box, I found that most of what I thought I knew, was pretty useless. Try as I might to get things to work in the second box, they wouldn’t… until I literally went right back to basics – and that really helped. So I built up a while new model of “how things worked” and managed to squeeze them all into the second box.

At this point I’m probably feeling a little smug and I dive into our old friend the Lindt box… after all, I’ve got two different packing schemas available to me so it’s just a case of finding the best one for the job and bashing through it…

Of course George strikes again – and soon enough you realise that neither of those is any use at all… so you head back to the drawing board yet again… the final box is pretty mean and the first two do a great job of gently leading you up the garden path before the third one positively crushes you. You’ll need what you learned on the first two, but you’ll need to find an altogether different approach, yet again.

It does provide an excellent sense of satisfaction when you finally find The Third Way and you can drop that final little piece neatly into place… what I love most about this puzzle is the fact that George’s three boxes force you into totally different ways of packing those little spheres together – each of them seemingly pretty compact, and all of them recycling the same set of pieces. 

It’s a great set of packing puzzles.