Sunday 16 October 2011

Superstrings from Microcubology

At the recent International Puzzle Party in Berlin Richard Gain won a joint first prize from the Jury for his Superstrings 3D printed puzzle. I had a chance to preview it at the 3rd Midlands puzzle party a few months ago and was thoroughly enthralled. Richard said that he would be making more after the IPP and putting them up for sale. I did express an interest and he knows full well that I cannot resist his puzzles. I have just about everything he has produced so far! Shortly after he won, I received an email saying that 2 more of his productions (including this one) was going up for auction on the Puzzle Paradise auction site. Unfortunately I was unable to get it straight away and it got sold almost immediately!

I was sure that he would produce more (they are available direct from his Microcubology Shapeways store - but only in un-dyed form and I prefer the coloured versions). On the store he says:
"Two open-ended Superstrings with the correct spin can be merged into a super-symmetrical cube.
The idea for this puzzle emerged when I was designing shapes based on two interlocked tetrahedra.  Inspired by ideas from 'string theory' and 'super-symmetry', I began to search for shapes that were both symmetrical and as similar as possible.
Taking the two pieces apart is not too difficult; reassembling them back into a cube can be more challenging."

Last week he emailed me to say that he had produced a couple more and did I want one? I responded within a few nanoseconds that I would love one (unfortunately, for financial reasons, I had to pass on the switch cube he had also made).
A few days later it arrived and to my surprise was in a nice perfectly fitting clear perspex box which holds it in the cube shape).
My first puzzle was how to get the real puzzle out of the perspex box!!! There were no lines or breaks or grooves to give a clue about which way it opened. Eventually I find the correct orientation to open it! Every time I take it out to play I have to work out how to open the damn perspex box - very clever! Once you have the puzzle in your hands you can appreciate the size (4.3cm cubed) and that it is really lightweight. Mine is an olive green and red (he did have another in blue and orange) and has the usual Shapeways texture.

The aim is obviously to disassemble and reassemble the cube. Examining it you can see that it has a 180˚ rotational symmetry around a single axis so I orientated it that way and explored. The first few moves are fairly constrained but then there are a few options and all the while you need to search for rotations because this puzzle cannot be solved using Burrtools. There are several rotational moves in the solution which really makes it harder. I managed to disassemble it quite quickly as expected and thought I had kept the pieces aligned to allow reassembly.

2 Superstrings!
However when I tried to put it back together straight away I discovered that I couldn't get it interlocked again. I intertwined the pieces moved them around and suddenly they slipped apart again in another direction. At this point I had hopelessly lost my orientation and gave up for something to eat. Later I tried again and all I could remember was the direction of the rotations I had made - this gave me the starting positions and after about 10 minutes I found myself completely locked and unable to extricate the pieces!! Doh!

Eventually I separated them and started afresh - in total, I think it took me about 45 minutes to put it back as a cube! Marvellous! An attractive tactile puzzle with a decent challenge but not too awful - a really good addition to my display!

I have given this to some friends to play with and only one has managed the reassembly! My orthopaedic surgeon friend offered to use a power saw to help which I politely declined! The friend whom I have tortured most over the last year of my affliction managed it in about the same time period I did. Like me, he also enjoyed the repeatability of it!

If you get a chance to buy one of these, either by auction, from Shapeways or from Richard's Etsy store  then go for it, you won't be disappointed.


  1. I've ordered one of these, I'm going to dye it myself ...

  2. Thanks, George!
    I was wondering who had bought the other one :)