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I found this by Jamie of C.R.A.F.T. way back when and I thought it was a really good idea for a kid’s craft.  It’s relatively straightforward and involves messy things like gluing and painting.  And while this is an officially sanctioned mess, children still like making messes.  Seriously, what child doesn’t like to make a mess?

For my cube puzzle, I opted to make an actual Soma cube, in case any of the kids making these things wanted to check out Winning Ways for your Mathematical Plays at a later date and read up on the analysis of the Soma cube.

Materials:

  • 27 – 0.75″ blocks
  • template (pdf)
  • wax paper
  • glue
  • paint
  • paint brushes

Procedure:

  1. Lay out your template and put a sheet of wax paper on top of it.  The template and wax paper are optional.  If you’re making your own shapes to make your puzzle cube, like the C.R.A.F.T. cube, then obviously you don’t want to follow the template.  (The template is linked in the materials list.)
    I would highly recommend using wax paper especially if you’re doing this craft with younger kids.  That way they can glue and paint directly on the paper and you don’t have to worry about ruining the table or the blocks.
  2. Glue the blocks according to the template.  For shapes 5-7, it’s a two part process.  You’ll have to make shape xa and then glue xb on top as shown, where x is an integer between 5 and 7, inclusive.  Was that a needlessly complicated sentence?  Possibly, if you have a distaste for math.
    Anyway, I used normal tacky glue and it worked fine.  If you have it, wood glue would also work well.  Also, when gluing, you’ll want to really press the blocks together to minimize the seam.  It does mean that glue will ooze out the sides.  That’s what the wax paper is for.
    The other thing to watch out for is that your blocks will probably not be perfectly square.  I tried to match the blocks that were closest in height/width/depth to each other for each individual shape.

  3. Paint the blocks.  Obviously, you’ll want to wait for the glue to dry first.  I used acrylic paint.  I would think that you could even use the dry watercolor paint cakes, but you would probably have to use a lot of it.  The wood might also absorb the pigment differently so the blocks might look splotchy.  If you want to use watercolor, I think the tube kind would be better.  Or you could use tempera.

    I decided to go with a CMYK color scheme. Just because.

  4. Play with your Soma cube puzzle.  There are lots of different ways to form the cube.  If you’re really stuck, you can Google Soma cube (yes, that link is full of snark).

Other ideas:

  • I didn’t finish the individual shapes with a varnish, but if you wanted to protect the paint, I would recommend water-based Polycrylic or even Modge-Podge.
  • A Soma cube is only 3×3, but you can make a Bedlam cube, which is a 4×4 cube, just as easily.  You could do even larger cube puzzles too.
  • You can see that I painted my shapes four different colors.  You can make the puzzle harder to solve if you paint the shapes all the same color.  Well, it won’t be harder for you to solve so much, but harder for the kids to figure out how you did it if they were relying on colors to help them piece the shapes.
  • Use cube beads instead of blocks to make the puzzle and you can string the individual shapes on a string for storage.
  • Use larger or smaller blocks to make giant or tiny puzzles, respectively.
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