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O’Beirne’s Cube

O’Beirne’s Cube

This post is a bit of an experiment.

First of all, I want to tell you about and show you a put-together-puzzle called O’Beirne’s cube. This is not just any puzzle. It is one of the most amazing, delightful, and elegant puzzles ever invented. There are people who know about things like this who rank this puzzle among the top two or three such puzzles ever invented—in a class with the Soma cube, which is probably the best known of all the three dimensional put-together-puzzles. Tom O’Beirne, a mathematician, is the inventor and first described the puzzle in an article in the New Scientist in 1961. There is surprisingly little that has been written about the puzzle with the exception of a piece by Brian Butler titled O’Beirne’s Cube and Its Origins.

After you’ve watched the short video in which I show you the puzzle and demonstrate some of its features, I want to make you an offer.

We have met the limit of 30 people requesting a puzzle. Thank you so much for your interest in the puzzle. I look forward to more conversation about it with all of you.

For the first 30 people who:
1) make a comment to this blog post and
2) email to me rthiess@aimsedu.org your email and ground mail addresses, I will send you one of the puzzles free of charge.

In a couple of subsequent posts, after these 30 people have received their puzzle, I will spend some time looking at the mathematics that comes up in exploring the puzzle and the ways in which it can be used to promote student engagement in the kinds of activities described in the Common Core Practice Standards.

If you were not one of the first 30 people to comment on this post and you really want this puzzle and have access to a saw of some sort, in a quick post next week I will show you how to make the puzzle for yourself.

Click here for “Further Explorations with O’Beirne’s Cube”.

Click here for “How to Make Your Own O’Beirne’s Puzzle”.

53 Responses to O’Beirne’s Cube

  1. I cannot wait to get the puzzle and give it a try! I use puzzles in my fourth grade classroom as an early finisher activity and to enhance critical thinking skills. This will be a great addition!

  2. Wow! I don’t know how I missed the first opportunity–hoping there is still a chance to get this cube. It looks awesome, and there seem to be many different ways in which this can be used!

  3. Richard,
    17 years ago we made these cubes in my Masters classes at Fresno Pacific. Last year I returned to the middle school math classroom after serving 10 years as a high school principal. I find myself constantly returning to my l my AIMS training in order to make math meaningful for my students. My kids love to explore patterns through the use of blocks, cubes, and tactile experiential learning.
    I think your explorations on O’Beirne’s Cube will intrigue them.
    Thank you.

  4. I would love the opportunity to share and have learning conversations with my students about the cube. Thank you for sending me a cube to use with my students.

  5. This is fantastic! I love puzzles and I am trying to get more students interested in them. This is such an awesome way for kids to practice developing their problem solving skills!

    • I totally agree, I’ve been using puzzles since I began teaching math, everything from intricate wooden puzzles, tangrams, even jigsaw puzzles. They are great ways to develop patience and problem solving skills. More importantly, the kids love them as well.

  6. This is really neat I would like to make one for my daughter and maybe my grandsons! Thank you for showing us this amazing puzzle!! tina

  7. I really like this unique puzzle. I am a resource math teacher and when the kids finish some work early I have several puzzles for them to work on. I am unclear about after the first 30, but even the instructions for building one would be wonderful.


  8. Please send a puzzle to the following Old Dominion University Engineer Graduate student. I shared the puzzle at a STEM class, and she was unable to solve it. She wanted the opportunity to continue to search for a solution on her own. Thanks, J. Blake-Perry (AIMS Trainer)

  9. Just got the puzzle and I’m thrilled with the possibilities! I strongly suggest trying to solve it WITHOUT referring to the video or solution. That way you can experience the same process as students. Took me a while, but I finally got it. Now I’m on to exploring other geometric solids and coming up with ideas for having the kids design their own structures using legos or something similar to help them plan. Thanks so much for sharing, Richard!

  10. Dr. Thiessen, Spouse and I worked on the puzzle for about 20 minutes until he/we got it. My kids should only have as much fun solving it as he did! Thank you so much! I still want to learn how to make one for my granddaughter who raptly watched your video with me.

    • That’s great! Watch for my blog post tomorrow morning. I’ll show you how to get the lumber, cut the blocks, and glue the pieces together.

    • Check the blog post on Wednesday. I’ll show you how to make the puzzle using 1 by 2 lumber.

  11. Earlier this year one of my students was in an emotional state that made him unable to communicate. He was so angry/frustrated that all he could do was hold crumpled paper tightly in his hands. After sitting with him for a few minutes, I decided to get out some of my wooden puzzles that I had made with you many years ago. I didn’t talk, I just started trying to put the puzzle together. After a few minutes his hand started coming over to help me. No words were spoken for quite some time, but later he was talking and feeling better. After spending last week in Fresno, I shared this new puzzle with him. He was thrilled that there was a new puzzle for him to work on and he wanted to thank you! It’s amazing how pieces of wood can calm a restless soul. Thank you!

  12. Thanks, Jeremy, it’s good to hear from you. You did a lot of special work in the shop to create jigs for building the various puzzles. I still use some of those jigs, although I don’t make nearly as many puzzle we once did.

  13. Dr. Thiessen, it’s great to come across this and other posts about your puzzle. I still use your puzzles all the time after 16 years since working with you. I like the box in your video (I’m glad it’s held up so long). Thanks for all the inspiration to see beautiful math in puzzles.

  14. Thank you all for your enthusiastic response to my little offer. We are at 30, but I made a couple of extras, so I have enough for everyone who commented up to this point. The puzzles will be shipped today or tomorrow and should arrive in 3 to 5 days. I look forward to interacting with some of you after you’ve had a chance to play with the puzzle. Later this week I’ll do another post and show you a fairly easy way to make the puzzle out of 1 by 2 lumber you can get at Home Depot.

  15. Too many responses for a free puzzle, but I might be able to make one. I look forward to the challenge.

  16. WOW! What fun to have this in a classroom for those students whose spatial skills are out of this world.

  17. If you say this is one of the great puzzles it must be true! Who knows better than Richard “The Cubeman” Thiessen. Would love to have a puzzle.

  18. Exploring the math involved in this cube and its variations with students would be great!

  19. What an amazing puzzle for student engagement!! I think it covers a wide range if grade levels. Amazing!!

  20. One of the main goals of the Common Core math standards is for students to persevere in problem solving. This is a great activity for that! Thanks for sharing!

  21. I have used a great number of dissection puzzles with my gifted students, but I’ve never seen this one. My students will be fascinated!

  22. I love this puzzle. I had seen a pyramid puzzle I wanted to make for a STEM station, but this puzzle is even better!

  23. Very cool, totally excited. Puzzles have a terrific way of building brain patterns and functions that leave lasting skill sets!

  24. This is amazing! My students love puzzles, and I love watching them problem solve. Looking forwardto more videos.

  25. Richard,
    Your puzzles are always amazing. I’ve used all of the puzzles we made in training with my 3rd Grade Math Club, they are always excited and challenged with the puzzles. Thanks for your continued efforts to challenge us. Jim Olson

  26. Thank you for showing this. I can readily imagine an exploration on the variations in the rectangular solid with O’Beirne’s cube! Looking forward to more of your video demonstrations.

  27. Thanks for sharing, and I look forward to more posts about the math that comes with exploring the puzzle.

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