Posted on

Buckets and boxes

We have three container sizes for our puzzles. The pieces are the same shapes, but you get more pieces with a larger container. The number of pieces that fit in a given container depends on the puzzle, since some puzzles have larger pieces than others.

The smallest container is the bucket. It is made of clear plastic, with a metal lid, and an attached washer for popping open the lid. It is 4 inches in diameter, and 4 inches tall.

The next largest size is the small box. It is made of 1/4″ thick Baltic birch. It is 4.5 inches wide and deep, and 4 inches tall. The finger joints on the edges make this box very durable. The engraved lid is removable, and has a lip that allows the lid to stay in place.

The largest size is the large box. It is made of the same material as the small box. It is 5.8 inches wide and deep, and also 4 inches tall.

Posted on

Tricurve tiles

Not long after we went online, we received a note from Tim Lexen of Cumberland, Wisconsin. Tim had created an elegant, simply defined shape he calls the Tricurve. Since the there is only one tile shape, the tilings are referred to as monohedral tilings. Here are a couple of the examples Tim sent us:


The pieces are oriented, meaning that when you flip a piece over, you can still use the piece but in different ways. You can use both orientations in the same tiling, which makes it different from most of our other sets of tiles. The flexibility of the Tricurve comes from it’s spare geometric and arithmetic properties. The edges are made from a semicircle cut into 3 pieces in the ratio 1:2:3.

Now we rearrange the 3 pieces into this shape.

Because the pieces came from the same circle, all edges have matching curvature. The 1:2:3 ratio allows combining edges that add up to other edges. Moreover, the angles in the tile are also in a 1:2:3 ratio, with 30, 60, and 90 degree angles. This enables several kinds of rotational symmetry: 12-fold, 6-fold, 4-fold, 3-fold, and 2-fold. While the Tricurve can be used to create wallpaper patterns, it seems everyone who plays with it also likes to explore these rotational symmetries. Here are examples:

photo by Tim Lexen

If you want to learn more, read about Tim Lexen and Paul Bourke’s explorations with the Tricurve:

Posted on

Ann Arbor Art Fair 2018

Heidi and I started our business in early 2017, and had our first show in July of that year in Charlevoix, Michigan. At the time, it was hard to imagine we would be able to show in Ann Arbor a year later. But there we were: Heidi had whipped us into shape doing about one show every month, and we made it into the State Street Art Fair, one of the four fairs that comprise the Ann Arbor Art Fair. It was great to be in our hometown and see familiar faces in the crowd.

We did three American Craft Council shows earlier in the year, and we always have other artists stopping by and showing interest in our decorative shapes, such as these:


Loren Maron was one of those artists. She creates beautiful ceramic trays. When we saw her in Ann Arbor, we were delighted to see examples of her work that incorporated elements of our designs. Below is one of her trays using the design we call Cells.

My favorite part of every show is watching folks get hands on with our work:


Posted on

Fractal Penrose tiles

Every distinct set of tiles has certain features, and we are always interested in those that introduce something new or combine features in a new way. Dylan Thurston, who helped us determine the boundaries of the Twin Dragon introduced us to the decomposable fractal Penrose tiles first described by Bandt and Gummelt. By decomposable, we mean every tile can be represented as a combination of other tiles. The boundaries are fractal, like the Dragon and Twin Dragon tiles. And finally, like Penrose P3 tiles, there are two shapes, and they only tile the plain non-periodically (i.e. they don’t repeat like wallpaper).

There are two essential shapes. We were at a loss what to call them. Their boundaries evoke the dragon tiles. But the dragon tiles have rotational symmetry: you can rotate them 180 degrees, and they are unchanged, and that gives them a very different look and behavior when tiling. Turned a certain way, I thought these new tiles look a bit like dogs, so we came up with terriers and poodles:

Each shape can appear in any number of sizes. To get to the next larger size, you scale the dimensions by the golden ratio \(\phi \approx 1.618\).

Our prototype tiles below show how a terrier can be decomposed into two smaller terriers and a poodle. Can you also see how a poodle can be decomposed into a terrier and a poodle?

These tiles are decidedly more challenging when it comes to creating an uninterrupted tiling. At craft shows, we often encounter people who are torn between fractal tilings and Penrose tilings. Now you can have it both ways!


Posted on

Tessellating with Twin Dragon fractals

After creating the Dragon tiles, we decided it would be fun tessellating with Twin Dragon fractals. Twin dragons have much more frilly edges. An individual twin dragon clearly shows self-similarity. Note the wave-like structure, repeated at smaller and smaller scales:

Each smaller wave is half of the area of the larger wave. And this means that a twin dragon fractal can be made from two smaller copies of itself:

All of the descriptions of the Twin Dragon that I knew of focused on the space-filling curve that defines the interior of the dragon. But I wanted to generate just the border. Dylan Thurston found an elegant procedure that enabled us to create Twin Dragon boundaries at any level of detail. So, like the dragons, we created pieces of different sizes that fit together. Then  we created this framed version of a complete set of our tiles.

Heidi used colors that evoke mid-century modern. You can find other colors in our store.

We loved it when our son Max’s girlfriend, Karen, paid us a visit and did her own tessellating with Twin Dragon fractals:

Posted on

Barnsley ferns on the set of Arcadia

Dylan Thurston recently connected us with Melissa Freilich at the Ann Arbor Civic Theater, who was directing Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia. Because of the fractal themes in the play, Melissa wanted to create images of large fractal ferns, known as Barnsley ferns, for the set. We worked with her to determine the scale, and after some thinking, came up with the idea of creating a set of chipboard stencils that her set crew could use to paint 24 foot ferns.

The Barnsley fern is not drawn in the typical way. Rather, it generated from a sequence of random numbers fed into an algorithm. Here’s an example. If you refresh your browser, you can watch it recreate itself.

Here’s the completed stencil laid out on our workshop floor:

And here’s the final product that playgoers got to see. Nice work by the artists!



Posted on

Solving a Penrose puzzle

The Penrose tilings, P1, P2, and P3 have many different solutions. It could be different every time, although you are likely to see strong similarities in the patterns. Chet and Esther bought our P1 at the the Atlanta American Craft Council show, and wanted to know if there was a solution that used all the tiles. They sent us this image:

Because there are multiple solutions, we don’t select the number of tiles based on a particular solution. Instead, we choose the number of pieces based on the proportions of tiles that would appear if you tiled the entire, infinite plane. The idea is that on average, you can use most of the tiles. For Penrose P2 and P3, the larger tiles appear more often, and in the ratio of the golden mean, which is about 1.618 to 1. So, for example, if we put 100 smaller tiles in a box, we would put 162 larger tiles in the box.

For P1, it is a bit more complicated, since there are 6 different tile shapes: 3 are based on pentagons, one is a thin rhomb, one is based on a star shape (called a pentacle, and the other is part of a start (called a half-pentacle). Using the colors from Chet and Esther’s set, as a puzzle is expanded, the proportions will converge to 3.8% for the pentacle, 8.6% for the half-pentacle, 13.5% for the rhombus, 10.9% for the red pentagon, 27.8% for the green pentagon, and 35.4% for the blue pentagon.

So is there a solution that uses all the tiles? Maybe, but we don’t know!

Posted on

Design note #9: Dragons

Whenever we are showing at art and craft fairs, people of all ages love playing with the Koch tilings. I think the appeal is that like many fractals, they evoke nature. And there is something satisfying about getting the intricate edges to meet, and have a piece slide into place.

So we decided to try another, based on one of the dragon curves. There are several choices, some much more delicate than others. This delicate edge comes from the fact that flat fractals have infinitely long edges, and a fractional dimension between 1 and 2. The closer the dimension is to 2, the more intricate, and therefore more difficult to cut and fragile. We settled on Knuth’s terdragon because the fractal dimension is high enough to be interesting, but still makes for a sturdy tile.

It is pretty easy to learn how to attach Koch tiles to each other. The tiles cannot be the same size. There are a couple of attachment points for two Koch tiles. The Dragon tiles, on the other hand, seem to take a little longer before users readily identify how to connect them. But they are actually more flexible. Any two tiles, regardless of size, can be connected, and there are several ways to attach.

We debuted our Dragon tiles at the 2018 Joint Mathematics Meeting, and as with the Koch tiles, they were a hit with the young and not-so-young. This little guy made our day:

Recently, we’ve added frames as an option for our Dragon puzzles, which is nice if you want to be able to move your work-in-progress.

Posted on 2 Comments

Design note #8: Fibonacci, Sunflowers, Voronoi, and a clock

Fibonacci‘s famous sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, …) has been linked to many natural phenomena. The arrangement of seeds in sunflowers is one example.

Sunflower
The construction of the sunflower spiral can be described as a series of steps, moving out a certain distance from the center of the circle and rotating a fixed angle for each seed.

To play around with these ideas, I wrote a script in p5js that allows you to vary that angle:

So, you can create some beautiful patterns, and with the laser cutter, you could cut out the circles. But I was also interested in the idea of the dots representing the center of cells. Enter the Voronoi diagram. Given a set of points, it finds cells containing those points, with the property that any border that separates two points is equidistant from the points.

We think this evokes the idea of biological cells, and led to our abstract Cellular Clock:

Eko Hironaka was interested in a design that was more suggestive of 12 hours, and created the design for Eko’s Flower.