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Friday, 18 May 2012

BurrCube No.1 (Jerry McFarland)

This next puzzle is pretty interesting due to the fact that it can fall into two different puzzle categories, both as a burr and as a packing puzzle. I first came across it when I had a quick go at Allard's copy during MPP1, and I failed to solve it there. As my excuse there were many other shiny puzzles to play with, so I'm going to say I was distracted by something else forcing me to leave this one unsolved. Luckily my good friend recently loaned me his copy to have a go at, so I got another chance to redeem my past failure.

 This is BurrCube No.1, designed and made by Jerry McFarland. As you can see it has a box, therefore it probably is a packing puzzle. But then look at the next picture, those are definitely burr pieces...that pack into the box. Hence the burr/packing hybrid puzzle classification.

Keeping true to his style Jerry has put serious effort into making this puzzle. The cuts and finishes are absolutely superb, plus his chose some really nice woods as well. The box is made from walnut with a maple bottom plate, and the fifteen burr pieces are made from walnut, cherry and maple.

The goal here is to get all fifteen pieces flush into the box. The solution is unique and has no internal voids.

I started my solving approach the same way I start all packing puzzles, by dumping all of the pieces straight out with my eyes closed and scrambling the pieces.
Straight away I noticed something about the pieces that I failed to notice the first time, and it gave me a massive hint towards the solution. After that it was a matter of trial and error using my initial observation, which yielded a correct solution after about 20 minutes or so.

This is a really fun puzzle to solve! It really makes a change playing with burr pieces without trying to make them into a standard burr shape. Assembling burr pieces into a 3x3x3 cube felt really bizarre, but I think there should definitely be more puzzles like this! It is easy enough for anyone to attempt, but I'd say that it's also difficult and enjoyable enough to grab the attention of the more adept burr solvers out there.

For anyone interested in this and other puzzles of extraordinary quality, check out Jerry's site. Also have a read of Allard's thoughts on the BurrCube No.1.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

TARDIS Cube (Gus)

Whilst browsing the usual puzzle forums (which is a pretty regular occurrence) I came across a member of the TwistyPuzzles Forum by the username of Gus that had just announced a twisty puzzle modification that immediately caught my eye.

Time And Relative Dimension In Space
As any sci-fi fan should be able to tell, this puzzle has been modified to look just like a 1960s British police box, which is the disguise of choice for Doctor Who's time machine the TARDIS.

The puzzle itself is nothing special, just a standard black 2x2x4 twisty. Gus designed a full set of 16 outer panels complete with stickers in order to create the shape seen here. All of the outer panels were 3D printed by the US company Shapeways in their 'White Strong & Flexible' material, and then the pieces had to be dyed blue by hand. A white TARDIS would just look plain wrong.

Some pretty funky scrambling
The stickers were also designed by Gus and printed onto self-adhesive sticker paper to make the application to the puzzle much easier. You won't be able to tell without close inspection, but each of the sets of reflections on the window panels are slightly different, meaning that the top pieces can only be orientated in one way for the correct solution. That coupled with the Bad Wolf graffiti on the lower panels means that the whole puzzle has only one correct orientation as the solution.

Signed and numbered by Gus
Because the puzzle isn't even in all dimensions it can create some pretty funky shapes when scrambled. I haven't properly scrambled the TARDIS as I really don't want to damage it at all. I'm sure it could take it, as I know from experience that when Shapeways says 'strong and flexible' they really do mean it, but I'd rather get a bog standard 2x2x4 to play with and keep this in a nice condition for my collection.

I got this copy fully dyed, stickered, assembled and signed directly from Gus. But he has also made it available on his Shapeways shop for anyone who is willing to dye, assemble and sticker it themselves.

This is easily one of my favourite puzzle modifications. If you're a Doctor Who fan and a puzzler then this is something you shouldn't pass up. Allons-y!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Ultimate Useless Machine

Again this isn't a puzzle post as such, but as it has been so popular whenever I have taken it to puzzle gatherings and the like I thought it would definitely be worth a quick mention here.

In this particular incarnation this wonderfully pointless device is called the 'Ultimate Useless Machine' and I bought it as a DIY assembly kit from the Canadian based manufacturers the Frivolous Engineering Company.

I'm sure at some point many of you will have seen a device like this before. It's sole purpose in life is to turn itself off whenever someone flicks the switch to the on position.
I honestly have no idea why it is so satisfying to play with, but after watching many many other people constantly flicking the switch on this mysterious black box I know I'm not alone in finding it so fascinating.

This version is made from black laser cut acrylic which I think looks really sleek. Plus the clear acrylic finger that flicks the switch lights up in both red and green depending on the direction of travel.

The Frivolous Engineering Company does sell the Ultimate Useless Machine fully assembled, but as I thought it would be fun (plus it's a bit cheaper) I ordered it as a kit that I could assemble myself. The website includes full soldering and assembly instructions that are incredibly easy to follow, and even though I haven't soldered anything for many years I had no trouble with it at all.

Check out the assembly and soldering instructions page for some good pictures of the parts and what is involved. I think it took me about an hour and a half to two hours to finish the build.

The whole kit came to me as a flat-pack. The electronic parts get soldered and assembled first, then the case gets assembled using the little nuts and bolts provided. There is no glue involved in the whole process, which I was quite thankful for as that would normally mean some kind of mess when I'm involved.

This is a great little gizmo to own. And also I'd say a pretty neat thing to give as a gift!

Check out this video on YouTube for an idea of just how useless and charming this machine is:
Order either the kit or the fully assembled Ultimate Useless Machine from the Frivolous Engineering Company Store for a very reasonable price.
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