Alice Makes a Rubik’s Cube

I might as well start out with what could be my crowning achievement as a stuff-maker: The Cube.

In high school economics my senior year, our final project was to do a report on a company of our choice. The teacher made it very clear that the most important thing was for the visual to be interesting. A mere poster would not get you an A. He showed us several impressive example projects, but the one I remember the best was for John Deer: an exquisite home-made model tractor with moving parts, pulling a trailer full of little hay-bale blocks with the company information written on them. The expectations were high.

Well, I knew right away what I wanted to make – a large-scale, working model of a Rubik’s Cube, with the company information printed on the colored sides. It was perfect. I was big on Rubik’s Cubes in those days. My PR for solving the classic 3×3 cube* was under a minute (not that impressive compared to hardcore cube enthusiasts, but not too shabby for a normal person). I could solve it one-handed. My other cube-solving buddies and I would race each other. Anyway, I had a good understanding of the inside of a Rubik’s Cube**, so I figured I’d be able to make one out of cardboard and other odds and ends. I was right, but only barely.

I made the central hub out of PVC pipe, by drilling a hole through the center of a cross-shaped pipe connector, then gluing two shorter pipes so they stuck out of the middle of the cross piece on both sides. I ran rubber bands through each of the “axes” of this center piece. For the center blocks I used cardboard squares that I attached to the ends of the rubber bands, so the squares were held against the ends of the pipes, but could rotate freely. I took detailed measurements of the edge and corner blocks of a real cube, and painstakingly modeled large-scale duplicates out of cardboard, glue and masking tape. This took hours upon hours of tedious work – a Rubik’s cube has twelve edge blocks and eight corner blocks – but I got it done just in time. Then I assembled the cube, printed the company info on six squares of colored paper, cut each into nine pieces and glued them to the sides. It was quite the masterpiece.

Me and my cube
Me with the cube at Christmas, when I brought it out to show my grandparents after receiving that fine pair of working Rubik’s Cube earrings. I believe my left hand is miming cube-solving motions.

Sadly, it was only barely functional. Cardboard on cardboard does not slide very easily, so turning the sides caused the edges of the internal bits to catch on each other. If you tried to force it, the whole thing would just fall apart. You had to set it on a table with the side you wanted to turn at the top, then carefully grab the top with both hands, lift it up a little, turn it, and set it back down. But it was theoretically possible to scramble it and solve it, if you wanted to take the time and effort – and that was good enough for me. It was also good enough for the teacher and the rest of the class, who were all appropriately impressed. The teacher was REALLY excited about it, so I let him keep it as an example. I could always make another one, right? Ha Ha.

*I learned a technique from a book. You can learn how online.
**If you want a slightly more in-depth look at the inside of a cube, and don’t have one of your own to take apart, the first part of this video isn’t bad. However, he makes reassembling a cube a whole lot harder than it needs to be. Look at him struggle to jam in that last corner! Everyone knows you leave an edge piece for last.


10 Responses to “Alice Makes a Rubik’s Cube”

  1. 1 Stacey Reimers September 27, 2010 at 1:25 am

    just read this post…the John Deere project you are referring to is mine!! :) haha, I laughed when I read that! Yep, I can see the old handmade tractor and trailer with the hay bales (although the facts about the company are no longer banded to the bales)! You’re project was great too!

  2. 3 Tiana May 10, 2011 at 2:43 am

    Did you use small cardboard boxes? or did you glue pieces of cardboard together to make it appear as a box??

    • 4 Alice May 10, 2011 at 2:54 am

      I built all the pieces from flat cardboard. I can’t remember exactly how – I might have scored and folded it for some of the edges. I remember there was a lot of masking tape involved…

  3. 5 Tiana May 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    This is too cool!
    Do you think you can do a step by step tutorial??

    • 6 Alice May 24, 2011 at 2:03 am

      I wish I could! I made this six and a half years ago and I didn’t document the process. If you want to make one, the best advice I can give you is take apart a Rubik’s cube, study how it works and how it fits together, then make scale replicas of the pieces out of cardboard or some other stiff material. That’s what I did, and I don’t really remember any details that aren’t already in the post above. Sorry!

      It was not at all easy, and I have no plans to make another one… but if I ever do, rest assured that I’ll document it well on this blog!

  4. 8 nick December 10, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    You wouldn’t happen to have the measurment data on the 4 primary component pieces (center cross, Corner, Center, and side) still? I know it is just a matter of rotating and mirroring these the three general block shapes to build the cube. I am trying to build a 3d computer model but cant find the dimensions anywhere.

    • 9 Alice January 5, 2013 at 5:17 pm

      Nick – so sorry it took me forever to reply! No, I don’t still have the measurements. If you’re still working on this, I recommend you find a Rubik’s Cube and take measurements from that. Kind of a pain, but not too bad.

  5. 10 BigFatPanda September 1, 2013 at 10:50 am

    I was also looking at building a cube from stiff cardboard – not sure about the friction issues was thinking about varnishing the insides and then using furniture polish to oil it !! If I ever get further than just sketching idea’s that is… oh to have unlimited time !!!

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