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Monday, 16 March 2015

Le Mini David (Miguel Ortiz Berrocal)

It's hard not to be excited every time a new puzzle is on its way, but for this special case I must've checked the post tracking website twenty times a day until it arrived!

David, all shiny and clean after his bath
This is 'Le Mini David' (I'm going to refer to him here as just 'David'), and I know he (I'm also going to refer to him as a he) looks quite different from most of the puzzles I have spoken about to date.

David was created by the late Spanish sculptor, Miguel Ortiz Berrocal in 1968. Berrocal is best known for his works that blended together sculpture and mechanical puzzle design, of which David here is a fine example. Sadly, Berrocal passed away in 2006.

Ever since I first had the chance to play with one of Berrocal's creations at Gathering for Gardner CoM II (2011), I knew I wanted one. However I knew that due to their rather high average price tag it probably wasn't going to be for a while. Recently however the stars aligned!

I found David here at auction, looking incredibly neglected. When I say he was neglected I mean that I don't think he had been taken apart or cleaned in literally decades. There was metal powder buildup on most of the pieces, and there was dust and dirt clogging up every gap. This edition is nickel plated, and luckily there were no major signs of damage to that.

On the face of it David looks like a standard 'bust' style sculpture, and it's easy to miss the fact that he is made up of 23 unique and quite complex pieces, all fully interlocked into the sculpture you can see here. Since he had not even been taken apart by the seller, I was very nervous to see if all of the parts were actually there, as well as in a functional state.

I started to disassemble the bust, and as well as being very relieved to see that all of the parts were there, I was also surprised at exactly how complex the individual pieces were. One of the parts (usually giggled at by most people when noticed first time) is the genitalia, which when disassembled takes the form of a gold plated and agate stone set ring.

I never thought I'd end up bathing a puzzle someday
I decided immediately after his arrival that David needed a bath. The pieces needed a lot of cleaning, but I wanted to be as gentle as possible. I wasn't exactly going to be putting the poor guy in the dishwasher or anything like that. I decided the safest bet was using only a sponge and warm water. I didn't want to risk anything chemical based in case of reactions with the nickel plating.

The picture here shows the pieces rinsing off after what must've been close to an hour of cleaning. I don't even want to tell you what colour the water was after the first clean!

Overall I'm really happy with the finish I managed to get all of the pieces back to. A few marks remain here and there, but considering the condition he was in, and his age, I think the result is excellent!

I dried all of the pieces off, and further hand dried with a cloth to prevent water marking. Now I could get on with the best bit...the reassembly!

23 unique and surprisingly complex pieces
This is the point where I realised that I didn't really pay much attention when I took him apart. I was so worried about the condition and number of pieces I completely forgot to note how the pieces went together. This was a brilliant bit of luck, because now I got to solve it properly!

It was genuinely more difficult than I thought to get him back together again. The assembly sequence goes from one piece to the next, and occasionally I tried to get ahead of myself and had to go back and put a piece in that I missed out.

When I visited James Dalgety at his Puzzle Museum there was one rule he was very adamant about, and that was that if you took anything apart you weren't allowed to leave until it was put back together again. The only exception to this rule was when it came to the Berrocal's. He said that he enjoyed assembling these sculptures so much that they were the only puzzles he didn't mind people leaving for him to put back together. Now that I have one of my own I can see exactly why these are the exception.

Le Mini David has become an instant favourite in my collection. Not because of something as boring as rarity or monetary value, but because everything about the design is a joy to behold. The assembled look is artistically striking. The pieces are beautifully complex, and fit perfectly. The puzzle aspect is tricky, but certainly solvable by anyone who really tries (Mrs. Paradox did it!).

There's only one real problem, and that is that David here is part of a series of designs...and I just know the hunt will be back on again at some point to find him a companion.

Also check out my video showing the full disassembly and reassembly process:

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