Physics & Math Puzzles

Sphere Sticks Geometric Puzzle

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From Etsy: BUY NOW: Sphere Sticks

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. 


Matsuyama's Paradox

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From Etsy: BUY NOW: Missing Square Puzzle

Matsuyama’s Paradox: dissect a large square in to four equal quadrilaterals, rotate and reassemble- to find a small square is missing! Where did the additional area come from? Fun math involved in the design of this puzzle, which illustrates how the concept of area can often challenge our intuitions. Swipe to compare the two assemblies. A precision crafted puzzle by Jeux Efcé game shop. Wikipedia has good details: Missing square puzzle

Four Marble Puzzle

Get this well crafted puzzle from Creative Crafthouse here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Crossroads Four Marble Puzzle 
From Etsy: BUY NOW Four Marble Puzzle 

Four Marble Puzzle: physics brain teaser- move all four marbles to their corner locations simultaneously. Each slot slopes down towards the center such that the marbles tend to stay at the center- so, how would one get them to roll outward at the same time? The solution to this puzzle (like others featured here) relies on some fun basic physics principles. Answer below and swipe to reveal solution. A beautiful and well-made puzzle from Creative Crafthouse. 

Dudeney's Dissection 3D Print

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From Etsy: BUY NOW: Dudeney's Dissection 3D Print

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.

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Impossible Dovetail

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

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Impossible Box Puzzle

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. 

Pythagorean Puzzle

Available here: 
From Creative Crafthouse: BUY NOW Pythagorean Puzzle

Pythagorean Puzzle: a proof, in physical form, of one of the most famous equations concerning the sides of any right triangle. The area of a square with side c of the hypotenuse is indeed equal to the sum of the areas of the squares of side a and b. This kit also allows at least two other ways to prove this theorem named after the famous Greek mathematician from 500 BC. One of the most used formulas when calculating vectors in physics classes ?

Balance Stacking Sculpture

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

From Etsy: BUY NOW: Bin Design Balancer Puzzle

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.


Get the full version (8 disks made of wood) or the mini (6 disks, blue or red plastic): 
From Amazon: BUY NOW TrueBalance Coordination Puzzle 

TrueBalance: coordination challenge puzzle- get the six disks, connected by bearing swivels, into a vertical stack by only tilting the handle. Harder than it looks to get each disk’s center of mass above the one below at the same time into the unstable equilibrium final state. The swivels constrain the system, limiting the degrees of freedom, and allowing strange and interesting motion. Kinetic art as a toy! 

Two Marble Puzzle

Another version of this puzzle available here: 
From Etsy: BUY NOW Two Marble Puzzle 

From Amazon: BUY NOW: Two Marble Puzzle, or get this set of puzzles

Two Marble Puzzle: physics brain teaser- move both marbles to their top locations on each side simultaneously. The solution to this puzzle relies on some fun basic physics principles- can you figure out which ones? Swipe to reveal solution. Found this well made version of this classic physics puzzle at a gift shop in San Francisco (note Golden Gate Bridge motif).

Impossible Bolt

Only available from these aritist/craftsmen: 

From Etsy: BUY NOW: Impossible Bolt & Nuts

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.

10 Hex Puzzle

This and other beautiful and well made puzzles are available on Etsy: 
From Etsy: BUY NOW 10 Hex Puzzle 

Two great resources about these polyhexs: polyform puzzler page and puzzleworld page 

10 Hex Puzzle: this puzzle is comprised of pieces which are the set of all ways three and four hexagons can be joined with a common edge. There are 3 trihexs and 7 possible tetrahexs, and similar to pentominoes, these 10 polyhexs can assemble into a large hexagon. Amazingly there are exactly 12,290 solutions to this puzzle- but it’s still a challenge to find just one! 

Impossible Nail

A nice version is curretnly available from this Etsy craft store:

From Etsy: BUY NOW: Impossible Nail

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. 

Impossible Wallet

Available here: 
From Amazon: BUY NOW Magic Wallet 

From eBay: BUY NOW Magic Wallet

Impossible Wallet: this pocketbook has a special double hinge that allows the wallet to be opened from either side, and leads to some rather nonintuitive consequences. Note that once inserted, the bill shows the same face independent of which way the wallet is opened. The construction of this magic (or flip) wallet is similar to the famous Jacob's Ladder toy.

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Aristotle's Wheel Paradox 

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From Etsy: BUY NOW: Aristotle's Wheel

WIkipedia has some details on the Wheel "Paradox"

Aristotle’s Wheel “Paradox”: How does the smaller attached disk travel the same length as the larger one if both disks only make one full rotation? Note the shorter path of the smaller disk, if rolled on its own. This beautifully made demonstration depicts an issue of geometry and motion that perplexed the best minds of humanity for 2000 years. The ancients knew the formula for circumference, and C=2πR for the large disk is clearly greater than C=2πr for the smaller- so how could the smaller disk, rotated once, still travel the distance of the larger one if attached? The great Galileo even offered a solution to the problem in his book Two New Sciences, where he approximated the situation as concentric hexagons and considered the limit as the number of sides increased. So what is the best answer to make sense of this situation?

Impossible Braid 

Get this nice example of mystery braid here:

From Art of Play: BUY NOW: Impossible Braid Key Fob

Here is a great video on how to make the mystery braid

See other Impossible Objects in my collection. 

Mystery Braid: challenge- how can three strands be braided if both sets of ends are connected? (swipe for reveal) A new addition to my collection of “impossible objects”, this leather key fob is braided from a single piece of leather, constructed by making two parallel slits but not cutting the ends. The solution is well known to those in the field of leatherwork- due to a twist of topology it’s possible to make this braid if the number of left strand over right crossings equals the times the right strand crosses over the left. Four strands braided this way is not mathematically possible, but 3, 5, or any odd number can be done!