Thursday 21 February 2013

Allied Arts

Now I know this is a blog about mechanical puzzles – and that’s what I’m supposed to be writing about, but I’ve been fiddling around with a few other interesting things off and on and thought it might be a good idea to share some of those experiments as well...

The first one isn’t one of my experiments – it was given to me by my mate Neil when I received the clear Revomaze sleeve he’d made for me – a classic braided dollar bill. It seems to form the basis of a number of variations of impossible folded bills and yet stems from a pretty simple start: literally just two parallel slits across the face of the bill and a little cunning folding and braiding produces a confounding little interwoven artefact that looks like it must have been cut and rejoined – which of course, it hasn’t.  (Thanks Neil!)

Next up is an excursion into the world of modular origami. I’d spotted the odd picture of some of the incredibly impressive creations out there in internet-land and thought they might be fun to have a bash at so I ordered a book or two (I know there are lots of resources on the internet – I just like books!) and a couple of piles of nicely coloured paper squares – and then spent a few afternoons merrily folding and piecing things together until I had a small collection of interesting-looking assemblies in bright colours.

There are some mighty creative people out there and it’s quite amazing what can be made from a few variations of a fairly simple base unit ... one of the books I picked up details a bunch of different base units and explains how to create them with various angles which you can then use to piece together your own creations ... the other thing that fascinated me was the way using similar base units pieced together in different ways produced totally different constructions.

I really enjoyed building them and I’ve ended up with a few interesting, colourful creations mixed in among some of the puzzles on top of one of my cabinets... now if only I could work out how to make an origami Yoda, life would be complete...

Since a couple of folks have asked, the two books I picked up from Amazon for myself were: Beginner's Book of Modular Origami Polyhedra and Marvelous Modular Origami. There are plenty of other titles out there and some awesome websites that teach you how to make them as well... Google is your friend! 

The last of my little crafty detours was something I’d wanted to try for ages – I’d seen matchstick cubes in a couple of friends’ collections and done a little research on the inter-web to find out a bit about them. They seemed ‘accessible’ enough for me to buy a few boxes of matches, pull up one of the many stop-motion videos on YouTube, sit down and have a go myself...

Unfortunately the first few attempts were all miserable failures ... despite following the instructions to the letter, making sure everything was nice and square and tight, I’d get toward the end only to have my cube-in-waiting disintegrate in my grubby paws... so I tried harder. I tried different methods. I tried my own methods ... and never managed to end up with a self-supporting cube... so I did the obvious thing and blamed my materials!

Up to then I’d been using what I assumed were standard sized matches and I’d assumed they were all pretty much a standard quality... but unwilling to admit I might just be too ham-fisted to actually construct one of these cubes, I went out and bought some slightly larger matches ... in a different flavour.  And these ones looked far more promising from the get-go ... sure they were a bit longer, so they would need a bit more work to complete, but this time they seemed to form a far more secure base than the shorter ones ever had ... and on my second attempt with them I had a cube that was pretty much complete and showing all the signs of gripping together properly ... success!

So yes, even ham-fisted puzzlists can construct matchstick cubes with nothing other than a bunch of matches... no glue required and the entire assembly process uses literally nothing but matches – very satisfying and rather therapeutic... and thinking about the forces that hold the structure together along the way is an interesting little diversion... keep the forces balanced and it stays together – pull out a match or two and the entire assembly crumbles...


  1. Well done with your origami, they look very crisp and precise. I've been a fan of origami since I was about 6 years old. Unfortunately mine aren't as pretty as the ones you've made because I usually only use single coloured office paper. It's not great but it works.

    Here's a few of the ones I've made if you're interested:

    1. Thanks Jamie - would love to see those but don't have permission...?

    2. Oops!! Try that :D

      I do recognise the names of those books. I downloaded a bunch of origami books ages ago, so I've probably got them somewhere. I know I've definitely made the cube in the six piece modular (Gyroscope?) :)

    3. Yip - Lewis Simon's Gyroscope with a Sonobe cube in the centre...

    4. Yeah that's right, it's all coming back to me now, haha!!

  2. Bad spelling error so deleted and trying again! Damn iPhone autocorrect!

    Brilliant Allard! I have been doing origami for 40 years now but not tried any of the modular stuff! Maybe it's time to try it out? Now need to find the time!

    How about a list of those books?


  3. Hmm must be a puzzle thing with Origami as I too have been a pretty prolific one in both basic origami and the modular stuff. It's probably what got me started with Geomag (well that an Lego) :-D