Six Questions with Alfons Eyckmans on “Supernova”

Supernova is a fitting first puzzle for this blog since it is more like a maze than any other burr puzzle I have ever attempted. In navigating its long, complex and elaborate opening sequence you come across dead ends and misdirections until discovering the right path. A total of 166 moves are required before the first piece can be removed, currently the record for an 18-piece burr.
I have read or heard people say that Supernova is for experienced puzzlers only. While this is not an incorrect statement, I would rather say it is for serious puzzlers – moreover, for patient ones. There is no quick route through this puzzle. Finding the correct disassembly sequence takes time, concentration, memory and stamina.

Alfons sent a photo of the Supernova he built me before shipping. It arrived a few days later. When I opened the box I could smell the beeswax he used to treat the wood

Alfons sent a photo of the Supernova he built me before shipping. It arrived a few days later. When I opened the box I could smell the beeswax he used to treat the wood. (Photo courtesy Alfons Eyckmans)

Alfons first started selling his puzzles in 2011 after posting two copies of the 16-piece burr Dirty Dozen on eBay. They were bought by Goetz Schwandtner and Aaron Davila, the latter who asked Alfons for more puzzles with word of mouth doing the rest. Alfons says that building puzzles is his second hobby after his first love of fishing on the beach.

Now retired, he worked for 40 years as a mechanic on engines, mostly boat and ship engines but also generators, compressors and trains in work that took him as far as Indonesia from his native Belgium.

In September 2013, Alfons took time out from fishing and building puzzles to answer some questions via email on his latest conquest of complexity, the Supernova burr.

Saul Symonds: You mentioned that Supernova is the last (for the moment) in a series of puzzles that began with Condor. Why stop now? Do you feel that you can not get higher than 166 moves?

Alfons Eyckmans: I stop now because I’ve found a higher level and that is very difficult to do. I think that it is possible to increase the level but that takes a lot of time and for the moment I will take a break in searching for a higher level.

SS: Apart from increasing the level of the burr, are there other goals you had with this series?

AE: Yes, to find a high level burr that is notchable.

SS: Can you tell me about your choice of names for this series of puzzles. They all involve some kind of celestial beings: birds, both mythical and real (Condor, Garuda and Phoenix), weather and ballon satellites (Tiros and Echo-1) and finally an exploding star (Supernova).

AE: When I designed Condor, the highest level of an 18-piece puzzle was 50, so I thought which bird is flying highest, I thought it was the condor. When I designed Phoenix I took the puzzle Condor’s Peeper and I took away all the voxels that were not required in that puzzle, almost starting from scratch. When I started to build the puzzle again, suddenly the level 109 appeared and like the phoenix it rose out of the ashes.

Tiros is one of the highest man made objects in the sky, Echo-1 is a mirror version of Tiros and the name is given by Aaron Davilla. When I discovered the puzzle Supernova I thought this is a super puzzle, the next thing that came to me was supernova.

The six burr pieces with which Condor began. Alfons said, “If you use a tree of each of these piece in Burr Tools after a few hours you reach a level of 45 and with this I started Condor”.

The six burr pieces with which Condor began. Alfons said, “If you use a tree of each of these piece in Burr Tools after a few hours you reach a level of 45 and with this I started Condor”. (Image courtesy Alfons Eyckmans)

SS: Can you tell me about the race between you and Jack Krijnen to find an 18-piece burr with the highest number of opening moves. How did it start? It seems that with Supernova you are the winner of the race.

AE: It seems that for the moment I’m the winner. The race started with the puzzle Condor. Jack has written a programme that he named Puzzle Growing, that he leaves running day and night, and so he discovered Condor’s Peeper. After the puzzle Phoenix he did the same and discovered Phoenix 111. After a year of searching I found the puzzle Phoenix Cabracan. Jack used Puzzle Growing again, but I was a little faster than his programme and found Tiros level 150. A few days later Jack found the three Burrly Sane with levels 138, 148, and 152. After two years of searching, I found the puzzle The Barones level 152. Because this was not the same pieces as the puzzle Burrly Sane for Extreme Puzzlers, also level 152, Jack used The Barones in his Puzzle Growing programme and found the puzzle Excelsior level 156. I told him that when he publishes the puzzle he also has to mention my name because he used my puzzle to find a higher level. So we made an agreement to mention both names with these puzzles. After the Excelsior I start searching again and I found before Jack the Supernova and I used Jack’s name when I published the puzzle.

SS: How do you go about increasing the number of opening moves on a burr?

AE: For Increasing the level of a puzzle I use only Burr Tools and my brain. (Note: when I pressed Alfons for more information on how he increases the level of a burr all he would say is with insight and luck!)

SS: What is it about high-level burrs that you find so fascinating?

AE: It gives me a kick to create something that is difficult to solve.

The Supernova burr can be ordered directly from Alfons Eyckmans who can be contacted via email

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8 Responses to Six Questions with Alfons Eyckmans on “Supernova”

  1. Fantastic first entry into the puzzle blogging world. Whilst I do chat with Alfons, it tends not to be a series of questions like this. It is also really refreshing to have a site that doesn’t just review more puzzles. I look forward to future posts.

    Kevin
    PuzzleMad

  2. Ali Morris says:

    Hi Saul, another puzzle blog???? This was my first thought but I do like your angle. This may also be because I have a few of Alfons 18 piece burrs and Jacks.
    The animal series of eighteen piece burrs + extra internal animal shape pieces are superb.
    Free the Monkeys
    Save the Gorilla
    Devils Pet

    I look forward to further interviews with puzzle designers and a small insight to their approach to design.

    Regards
    Ali

    • saulsymonds says:

      Hi Ali,

      I hope to try one of the 18-piece burrs + internal animals. I remember seeing a photo of “Free the Monkeys” a while back and loving the idea. Which of those three did you like the best? Have you tried “Beware of the Snake”?

      Best,
      Saul

      • Ali Morris says:

        Hi Saul,

        ‘Free the Monkeys’ was the first one I solved and I really enjoyed it. ‘Save the Gorilla’ is a very difficult puzzle and one I’m still playing with. I have one piece removed but the second still tests me. This is not a bad thing as I can put it back on the shelf each time it mocks me……..

        ‘Devils Pet’ is my favourite so far. I would recommend this to anybody who wants to try one of these because it comes apart in a very satisfying way. It does not all fall apart once you have a few pieces out and equally makes it an enjoyable eighteen piece burr to reassemble due to not needing a second pair of hands.

        I have not tried ‘Beware of the Snake’. This was not designed by Alfons Eyckmans and I’ve only seen it on Puzzle will be Played. It’s design is by Stephan Baumegger.

  3. EW says:

    Great blog!!! I can see how much effort you have put into this blog!!! Looking forward to the next interview!!!:D

  4. I like the way you put the designer in question,
    I hope more puzzles related persons will be present by you.
    There are a lot of thing going separately about puzzles, I think it would be more pleasant to have them reunite under a common label.

  5. I’ve just recently noticed your blog and I gotta’ say its a very unique take, and one that is very enjoyable to read! Keep up the great work..John 🙂

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