Saturday 11 June 2011

Shapeways 3D printed puzzles - Microcubology

Microcubology delivery
During my casual surfing the web for yet more puzzles and I found the Shapeways 3D printing site with a few puzzle designs on it. One of those designers is Richard Gain and his microsite is called Microcubology (because he makes small interlocking cube puzzles!)

From this I ended up on YouTube, where I saw a few of his cube puzzles in action. I liked the look of them but did feel they were a bit too small for my liking (one or two are the size of a fingernail!!!) More recently he has developed a technique to make bigger puzzles which are hollow and at a similar cost to the tiny solid ones so I finally decided to get a few. They can be ordered direct from Shapeways but then they arrive unassembled and all one colour (usually white for you to dye yourself) which I was not keen on. One of his pages suggests contacting him to get dyed versions at a small extra cost, so this is exactly what I did. Initially you can do this through the Shapeways private messaging service but then he gave me his email address (if you would like to contact him then let me know and I will send you his address). More recently he has opened an Etsy store to allow buying some dyed puzzles.

It did take a few weeks for him to receive the puzzles, dye them and then send them to me but communication was great throughout. I ordered Quaternary Qube, Twisting the Night Away and Pivot Cube as seen in the picture above.

These puzzles look really great in dyed plastic (I would love to buy these in metal but Shapeways charges a fortune for those.) they are very compact (32mm cubes) and really light. I have kept them in the bags with labels because to look at them you cannot tell them apart!!!

Quaternary Qube
I started with the Quaternary Qube and was pretty impressed with the tolerances of the construction - the pieces slide nicely on each other and are just loose enough to feel that you don't need force. I did manage to take this one apart in about 3 minutes and deliberately did NOT pay attention to how I managed it. When you buy these from Richard you can request to have them dispatched either assembled or in pieces. In the future I will opt for the latter.

Quaternary Qube Pieces
After jumbling them up and watching a bit of TV, I attempted reassembly. My wife was relieved for me to have a silent puzzle for once but this was short-lived for her as I began to swear under my breath!!! This was a surprising challenge and took me about 10-15 minutes. There are several ways the 2 first pieces can fit together (obviously only one is the correct one) and it took me a while to work out the exact move. These puzzles require rotation as well as translation to solve so Burrtools is not helpful for finding the solution if you are stuck. When you buy them you do get access to a private YouTube video for each, showing the solution if you are completely stuck.

Even having done it a couple of times I have still struggled to get the correct orientation to get it right.

My initial batch of 3D printed puzzles from Microcubology (Richard Gain) included the Pivot Cube. It can be bought un-dyed from Richard's Shapeways store and also directly from him if you want it assembled and/or dyed (at the moment they are not available in his Etsy store but may be in the future).

Pivot Cube
Pivot Cube 1
Pivot Cube
Pivot Cube 2
Hey look! I worked out how to get side by side pictures!!!!! Looks good too!

Just like the others it is lovely and bright in 6 colours. It is unbelievably light due to the hollow construction. Since I obtained these assembled, the aim was obviously to take it apart as quickly as possible. I deliberately paid as little attention as possible to the method to see whether I could reconstruct it quickly.

I managed to get the first two pieces out pretty quickly as these needed only sliding movements.

At this point it becomes clear how the puzzle obtained it's name - rotations are required. I am not used to this sort of puzzle and apart from the very next move I got stuck. For the life of me I could not work out what to do next. There were quite a few possibilities but none seemed to lead anywhere. After about 10 minutes fiddling I put it down and did some chores, all the while thinking about the possibilities (I don't think I did my chores particularly well that evening!!!)

After dinner I picked it up again and realised that one of the pieces would also pivot if I moved it first. At this point it all came clear and I managed to get all 6 pieces apart:

Pivot cube pieces
Next I had to put it back together - having struggled for such a long time to disentangle it, it would appear that I had pretty much memorised most of it due to my constant back-tracking. It went together pretty fast.

I gave this to my wife to take apart (she never usually wants to play) and to my eternal shame she dismantled it in about 5 minutes! When I told her to put it back together again she hurled it at me!! Very ungrateful if you ask me!!!

This is a very nice little puzzle - definitely worth adding to the collection.

This is a great way to get some really pocketable difficult puzzles for a reasonable price. Try it! You'll like it! Richard has recently added some more to his site and I suspect I will be buying a few more.....

Too late bought them already!!!!


  1. Thanks for the great review Kevin. There is still one copy of Pivot for sale on Etsy at the moment, and I should be ready add some more soon.

  2. Nice review, Kevin. Can we expect a review of Twist the Night Away also? In my opinion Tom Jolly really surpassed himself on this one!

    Jack Krijnen

  3. Hi Jack,

    Yes I will be publishing reviews of all the others - I have solved them and really enjoyed them all. I am trying to pace myself with the reviews; quite a lot are written in draft form and waiting to go.

    Twist the Night Away was really tough to solve from the assembled state - it would have been a nightmare to assemble from pieces only!

  4. I was intrigued by Eric Fuller's description, so I made a wooden copy without knowing the solution. There is only one possible assembly; the tricky part shows itself. So I think assembling and disassembling have comparable difficulty.


  5. Jack,

    I am astounded on 2 fronts! I would love to have the skills to make a puzzle in wood but wouldn't know how to start.

    Even more amazing is that you assembled it without instructions! I don't think I would have managed it myself (even though I did manage the others). BUT I should not be surprised that the designer of the Burrly Sane series of burr puzzles should manage to solve this cube. I have been looking out for a copy of any of the BS puzzles to come out but so far no sign of anyone selling one!!