Physics & Math Puzzles

Sphere Sticks Geometric Puzzle

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Sphere Sticks Puzzle: 30 identical wood pieces, each with two notches as shown, can create 12 interlocking pentagons in a perfect symmetry- look carefully and you can see that each rod is in an identical configuration with the 4 others that connect with it. Precision cut notches on the rods allow them to interlock with elastic tension such that vector sum of the 4 forces sum to zero in this tensegrity type equilibrium. The dodecahedron, with its 30 edges and 12 sides, is the basis of this puzzle sculpture. 

 

Penrose Aperiodic Rhombs

A nice version of Penrose Tilings is available here: 
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Penrose Aperiodic Rhombs: a famous aperiodic tiling with just two shapes- a pair of rhombuses with equal sides, but with the ratio of their areas made to equal the golden ratio. Note that although the starting pattern of 10 tiles is symmetrical, adding any further tiles breaks the symmetry, as highlighted by the path of the double curves. Sir Roger Penrose- who just won the Nobel prize in physics for his contributions to General Relativity- also discovered tessellations (tilings) that are aperiodic even though the two tile types are regularly shaped polygons. If one tries to shift a part of a Penrose tiling, the shifted part will not align or match up with any other part of the same tiling- all the way out to infinity! In this construction, single and double line patterns must align such that the tiles can only connect in specific ways to ensure the non-repetitive nature of the Penrose tiling structure. Shown here is one way these two tile types will fill the plane.

Wikipedia has the details on Penrose Tilings and their inventor Sir Roger Penrose (Recently won Nobel Prize!) 

Uphill Roller

This set available here:

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Uphill Roller: a double cone (like two funnels connect by their tops) will roll up a set of inclined rails. Although the bi-cone rolls toward the higher end, its center of mass descends due to the geometry of the rails. This curious construction was first published in 1694 by the noted surveyor William Leybourn to promote “recreation of diverse kinds” towards the “sublime sciences”. Physics fun from three centuries ago!


Cone of Apollonius

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Cone of Apollonius: Slicing a cone with a plane will produce the famous curves known as the conic sections, as demonstrated with this beautiful vintage wood model by Nasco. Slicing at a right angle to the cone’s axis of symmetry produces a circle, and tilting the intersecting plane a bit produces an ellipse. When the plane is tilted parallel to the side of the cone the curve produced is a parabola, and tilting even further creates a hyperbola. The discovery of the mathematics demonstrated here are attributed to Apollonius of Perga from about 250 BC- thousands of years later Kepler, Newton, and others showed these conic sections to be intricately connected to many branches of physics such as planetary orbits and the optics of telescopes.

Nova Plexus Interlocking Puzzle

Precision machined and available in brass or stainless steel:

From Art of Play: BUY NOW: Nova Plexus Puzzle

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Nova Plexus Puzzle: 12 identical brass rods can create 4 interlocking triangles in a perfect symmetry- look carefully and you can see that each rod is in an identical configuration with the 5 others that connect with it. Precision machined notches on the ends of the rods allow them to interlock with elastic tension such that vector sum of the 5 forces on each rod is zero- creating this astonishing geometry as the equilibrium state. Unlock the ends of any two rods and the system instantly disassembles (swipe to view process in slow motion). Invented/designed by artist and computer scientist Geoff Wyvill in 1978, this puzzle has just recently been made available for sale with a limited production run.


Ambiguous Superhero Object 

Available now- 3D printed ambiguous object Illusion:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Superhero Ambiguous Object Illusion

More of this type hereAmbiguous Object Illusions on @physicsfun 

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Ambiguous Superhero Object: A very fun fan art 3D print which makes use of the ambiguous object illusion invented by mathematician Kokichi Sugihara- a clever combination of reflection, perspective, and viewing angle. Printed and sold by 3DNY Design. 

Impossible Jar with Golf Ball

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Impossible Jar with Golf Ball: a regular off the shelf golf ball somehow trapped within a standard glass jar. Neither the ball nor the jar were cut or glued in the fabrication process. The puzzle aspect is to consider how this object was produced (again, I have some theories- but I do not know the secrets of this artist). This incredible piece was made by craftsman and artist Nathan Nickerson, and comes with the golf tee display stand (a nice touch!)

Impossible Dovetail

Inexpensive versions of this "impossible box" like that in the video avaiable here:

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Impossible Box Puzzle

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Impossible Dovetail: this impossible object is pretty common, but it is a classic, and included in my collection. If one assumes a regular dovetail joint then this construction would indeed seem impossible without cutting and gluing, but what one sees from the sides makes for misleading assumptions as this box opens easily. Swipe for reveal once you’ve thought about about possible constructions. 


Impossible Arrow

One of many creative illusions and curiosities of Victoria Skye. See her work here:

Visit Now: Victoria's Illusion Art

Click here for to explore more "impossible objects" 

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Impossible Arrow: an arrow made of wood through the center of standard steel hex nut. The arrow was carved and somehow placed through the nut- neither the wood nor the steel nut was cut or glued to produce this object. Not impossible, but creating this does depend on the use of some obscure physical properties of wood (similar to the impossible nail sculpture). 

Impossible Bolt

Only available from these aritist/craftsmen: 

From Art of Play: BUY NOW: Impossible Bolt & Nuts

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Impossible Bolt: one nut threads on clockwise as normal- the other threads on counterclockwise on the same bolt! Not impossible- but carefully engineered and machined. Swipe for partial hint on mechanism. This puzzling curiosity was inverted by Scott Eliott and machined in solid brass by puzzle crafters Steve Nicholls and Ali Morris of TwoBrassMonkeys.

Impossible Nail

Nice versions are curretnly available from Etsy:

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Impossible Nail: An eighteen-penny nail driven through the inner notches of a solid piece of wood. The wood was notched and the nail added- no glue used or cuts made, and the nail is solid and in one piece. Not impossible, but creating this does depend on the use of some amazing physical properties of wood. I won’t reveal the method here but a quick search on YouTube produces a few how-to videos showing the process. 


Balance Stacking Sculpture

Another wonderful desing by BinDesign- get one here in black or natural wood:

From Etsy: BUY NOW: Bin Design Balancer Puzzle

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Balance Stacking Sculpture: a series of torques in unstable equilibrium complete this Calder-esque structure. As each component is added its weighted end balances all the others before it, with the initial small piece weighing about a gram or so. Remove the end piece and the whole structure comes down. Another wonderful design by artist Bin Xu.

Dudeney's Dissection 3D Print

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Dudeney's Dissection: an equilateral triangle canbe cut (dissected) into four pieces that will then assemble into a square. This 3D printed version comes as a puzzle- fit the pieces in each of two containers- a square and a triangle, which also makes it clear the two supplied shapes are of equal area. Fun fact: It is not known if a similar three piece dissection is possible. Also called Haberdasher's problem and described in 1907 by Henry Dudeney it is the only 4 piece solution known.

Shashibo Geometric Art

From Art of Play: BUY NOW: Shashibo Geometric Art

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Shashibo Geometric Art: dissect a cube into 12 equal irregular tetrahedra, connect these pieces symmetrically with hinges, and add 36 magnets to create a device with more that 70 geometrically interesting and aesthetic configurations. 


3D Pentominoes

The set I used for this video is called Pocket Katamino and is available here
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3D Pentominoes: the 12 possible arrangements of five identical squares, joined edge to edge, form the set of all pentominoes. Since 12x5=60, the pentominoes can tile a 6 x 10 rectangle with no gaps (2339 ways to do this- yet even finding one solution is a challenge). This set of colorful pentominoes is made so that the height of each piece is the same as the width of the constituent squares, such that 3D constructions can be made. Since 3x4x5=60 one can build a box with these dimensions (amazingly, 3940 ways to do this- but again, finding one is still a fun challenge). 

Ice Melt Demo

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Ice Melt Demonstration: Wood or Aluminum- which will melt the ice fastest and why? Both blocks start at the same temperature (room temp) and have the same shape and volume. Swipe to reveal result shown in real time (not sped up!) Hint: Although both blocks are at the same temperature, the aluminum feels cool to the touch and the wood block feels warm. Those who have taken basic physics should have an advantage on this question- one block is an excellent insulator and the other a conductor.

Hydrophobic Water Maze

Wonderfully well crafted and available from this shop :
From Etsy store TheSmallestWorkshop:

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Hydrophobic Water Maze: a superhydrophobic coating allows this dynamic puzzle to use a drop of water as the "pinball", which can split into multiple smaller drops and recombine along the way. The wood surface is treated with silica nano-coating that makes water roll off- a condition sometimes referred to as the Lotus effect because leaves of the Lotus plant have this property.