Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Soma Cube

I got an email last month about making a soma cube, a very interesting quantum mechanics reference which for some reason has been a reoccurring subject recently. Fascinating stuff, often merging great science fiction with what is leaning more and more toward science fact. Which begs the question, was Carlos Castendado's early work just a product of this really? Alas, i digress.

Back to the soma cube. This one was to be based on a 60cm cube, of which each piece that makes up the puzzle has three or more of. There are 240 possible ways to put the puzzle together and i've found at least half that many ways to make a giant one! If i thought this was complex when i first received the assignment, i have now been rudely awakened to it's reality.

With 71 three way joins, 25 four ways, 1 five way, and one six way along with 348 connectors not to mention the very complex skins i have to build to fit this frame within, i've wildly underestimated how much time this will take to build!
Naturally, with the making of all props, figuring out the estimate is actually one of the hardest parts of the job. You practically have to build the whole thing mentally, making very detailed drawings and or models to even be able to grasp what you are getting into. As a rule of thumb, i try to charge a certain percentage of the cost according to the materials, though that can get you into trouble as well.

On this job, the client wanted the piece to be portable and easy to assemble, robust and colorful. Was there a way i could make this, like a kite?

Well the answer of course is always yes. Naturally we treat all requests seriously, although only about a third are real. There is never any way of knowing which ones will actually go through with the deal, and many folks are just shopping i suppose, and that's part of my job really, to help figure this thing out. I realized years ago that you can only do your best and whatever comes of it is up to the other party.

Fortunatly these fine folks were up to the task and i got the job. Meanwhile how to do it!

First up was creating the frame. After a long talk with one of my suppliers we rekoned using p200 and joining them into a custom corner joint system would be the strongest. For some odd reason you can't buy these corner joints anywhere so i was going to have to make them. I have an old friend that has a machine shop outside of town, and i went out there to hire him to make the things, but he told me, 'no way! We're way to busy, but you can make them.'

Oh boy!~

So here's what i have made, and they look great! Or at least i think they do!
of course, they are so way labor intensive i can't even begin to think of what i'm being paid an hour to make them at, but no matter, it's fun and they are going to work!
Here's some shots of them being made. I'll be deep into it for the next few days making the skins, which should be pretty nice as the frame looks tight, strong and easy to assemble. All the joins are made but the two most complex, which i can't make as they are going to require some metal magic to work. A five way and a six way, up against a compound corner in what may be one of the most complex shapes i've ever sewn. No problem. More after it occurs.

This is going together nicely. Parts fit well and it looks like there are only going to be two sizes of rods, and very few of the second size.

The problem with projects like this is you are essentially prototyping how to make them, which of course is the hardest part of the whole job. Making the next set would be child's play, but rarely do you get to do that! Never the less it is a challenge and delight to get to do these new things!
Here is the next step, the first cube assembled with out cover, next the cloth enclosure and agonizing over the method of closure and assembly.
like i finally got the corners right! The phase 'sleep on it' sure has new meaning, as every morning i've awakened to new ideas of how to make this work. After countless attempts to make it all fit correctly and without using the cloth intended to make the thing, i've finally got what i think i can live with and will make the whole thing really pop!

It's all in the corners baby! Now for some lunch, and a whole lot of get down to it! Measure three times, cut once! Okay, i wish i could format this a bit better, but what do you want for nothing!? Anyway, here is the first one, precision sewing 101, and not fun to put together, took almost 30 minutes the first time, but i think with practice you could cut that in half. The problem is it all fits perfect, which means there is no room to pull the rods apart to put them together(that makes sense if you build kites). In other words, you need a little room and there just isn't any. I figured out a way to make it worth with not much pain, and without resorting to the Peter Lynn method of massive elbow grease!

I'm right pleased with the look, fit and feel. Once together it is tight and light, although i should have bought black velcro* rats *! Just means you have to put it together correctly, and i just wanted to sit down! The rest should go pretty fast, i'm going to try and knock out the next two tomorrow, so we'll see! The rule on the floor is six feet long.

I don't know what's going on with blogger, as i have the rest of the pictures of this amazing project, and far more of the story to tell.

If there is a limit, i wish the program would let you know before you spend a half hour loading pictures only to have them disappear!
I have no idea if any of this text will line up with any of these pictures, so here goes!

The fellow in the suit is Glen Witney one of the chief master minds behind the Math Midway a traveling carnival of Math made fun. How do i come to have a picture of Mr. Witney you ask, well, i met the gentleman this past weekend after trying to ship the Some Cube to him.

You see, this project went so far out of bounds i'm now calling it the most difficult project i've worked on. No kidding. How a seemingly straight forward build job turned into this is still a puzzle, but after meeting some of the other puzzle builders for the Math Midway i feel a lot better, as it seems these things are far from simple.

At any rate, falling further and further behind, the last two weeks saw me putting in an amazing amount of hours, with the realization on or around June 5th that i was out of my mind, and with the deadline looming large i went into high gear and never slept more than 4.5 hours at a time, with some power naps thrown in for good measure! Still, by friday June 12th i was not quite done and could see early on that i was going to miss UPS. I got on the internet to see if there were any shipping options, and there were, Southwest ships, and flys within 16 miles of the shipping address i was given by the client. Having done counter to counter airline shipping in the past, i knew i could make this happen.

Another all nighter, and off i go Saturday morning to Jacksonville to the Southwest shipping office.

'Did i make it in time?' i asked the counter person, who asked me where the package was going, i told her, and she said, 'May i see your TSA documentation please?' i was like' . . excuse me?' Well it turns out, you have to have some BS documents from the Thousands Standing Around agency headed by this idiot who couldn't secure Wal-Mart, Kip Hawley. I guess Mr. Hawley didn't know that the airplanes that crashed on 9/11 were not brought down by packages shipped, but by actual people who got on the plane, but hey, somebody must be shipping, how else do you explain our inability to take any luggage with us any more!?
So i ask the lady if i can go get on the airplane with the packages, and she tells me sure, if i buy a ticket! Brilliant! Rules and regulations that make sense, i love the new police state!

Nearing a breakdown of epic proportions, i call the client, Glen Witney, who asks me where i am. I tell him i'm in Jacksonville Florida, and he asks me if i can in fact get on the airplane and bring the package, which is in fact exactly what i did!

I had a lovely time in New York City at the Math Midway, where i met the whole team that put together a most amazing show, which was absolutely jammed packed with people all day Sunday in Washington Park. In fact, somehow, the kids mobbed the cubes and pretty much destroyed them, but that's a tale for another day! For now i'm just happy to be back home, cleaning up, starting the next project(i'll post as i go)and catching my breathe!


  1. What a fantastic project and a delight to read; the account is delivered as only dean could tell it.

  2. this is the kind of stuff I want to be working on. Awesome that you've found ways of getting paid to do it. Working on it. . .

  3. holy moly paperboy, that's epic! looks awesome tho...i loved my soma puzzle when i wuz a kid :) aoxoxo dTd