By Marcia Faye
Photo: Bonnie Robinson
What has 52 moving parts, fits in the palm of your hand, and received more than 1.6 million hits on YouTube during the first month that it starred in its own video?
Answer: The X-Cube—or the Crossoid, so dubbed by the twisty-puzzle community that has embraced this innovative bundle of brainy 3-D fun designed and fabricated by Dane Christianson, an IIT second-year mechanical engineering student.
“I was really excited by the X-Cube’s reception; I did not expect it to be as popular as it is,” says Christianson, still wearing an I-can’t-believe-it expression during an interview on IIT Main Campus, where the X-Cube came to life. Christianson says that it would have been impossible to craft the puzzle’s intricate pieces without the 3-D printer at IIT’s Idea Shop.
“The Idea Shop is just fantastic,” he says, about the 13,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility at IIT’s University Technology Park. “When I found out that there was a place at IIT entirely devoted to creation, I was blown away.”
Christianson grew up inspired by his father, a software engineer, and his early interest in robotics, participating in various FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) programs. He fabricated his first puzzle by hand the summer before he began high school at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in west suburban Aurora. It was a 3x3x5 twisty puzzle—a functional, extended version of the legendary 3x3x3 Rubik’s Cube.
Even though he had solved twisty puzzles up to the 5x5x5 level, Christianson says that the 3x3x5 was a technical challenge to both build and solve. He sold the 3x3x5 puzzle on eBay for about $100. That piece was a dress rehearsal for the X-Cube, which Christianson worked on during his first sophomore semester. He assembled the “X” configuration by extending additional puzzle layers on four faces of a 3x3x3 and in so doing, significantly increased its degree of difficulty. While many individuals resort to a series of memorized steps, or algorithms, to solve twisty puzzles, the X-Cube could provide puzzle fans with hours, days, or perhaps years of perplexing fun. (It reportedly took one man 26 years to solve the Rubik’s Cube on his own.)
“I want the X-Cube to be a new challenge for those who have already solved the regular Rubik's Cube, to puzzle them and to reveal the subtle ways in which it works,” explains Christianson, who recently completed his first X-Cube timed-solve at 6 minutes, 54.52 seconds. “I would prefer this to a user just memorizing how to solve the X-Cube.”
Christianson wishes to funnel his love of ideation and creation into a career as an inventor. With a new twisty puzzle already in the works, he is looking to one day help solve some of society’s bigger perplexities, such as conceiving innovative alternative-power sources.