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 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.
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