The Tale of a Frabjous Present

July 03, 2013

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy.

I made this sculpture, designed by George Hart, for my brother's birthday. He wants to study mechanical engineering when he goes to college, but he's always said that his favorite hobbies will be theoretical physics and building fun contraptions in the garage.

In my family we kids don't usually spend money on birthday or Christmas presents for one another. I'm the only one of us with a source of income, and when there are six-soon-to-be-seven kids, none of us have the money! Gifts are always something cheap and handmade.

This particular brother is hard to make gifts for. He makes or already has most of the little things he wants, like 3D tic-tac-toe boards, levitating tops, or science-y desk toys. He even stole my M.C. Escher poster (I had only taken it down for the afternoon to move it to a new part of my wall!!!) so I couldn't give him that. He doesn't use crocheted hats or keychains or cute little painted cards. What to make?

We're all huge fans of Vi Hart, a youtuber who makes ridiculously geeky, mathematical, funny, and epic videos. One day I was re-watching her videos and stumbled upon her father George Hart's channel, and from there his website of sculptures. He's got a template for making the Frabjous sculpture, a geometric art piece which is totally up my brother's alley, so I set to work getting all my other siblings to help me out.

We traced the templates onto the stiff, thin cardboard that comes on the backs of sketchpads and legal pads. (I now have a lot of loose drawings in a folder instead of all attached in their pad, but whatever!)

While the rest of us slaved away, my five year old brother tried to make Sierpinski triangles! Isn't it sweet? Those fractal triangles turned into another distraction, and you can see my second-youngest brother's Sierpinski triangles on his Instagram here.    

And THAT lead to making hexaflexagons. Hexaflexagons are quickly taking over the house.

That cardboard was incredibly difficult to cut, but we finally managed it with box cutters. We spray painted everything black and let it dry overnight.

George Hart's PDF didn't have much in the way of instructions, but I naively assumed that I would be able to assemble the sculpture with ease. I mean, I'm one of those people who leave instruction booklets at the bottom of the box and just figures out how to put things together. Easy peasey, right? Hah.

This thing was hard to put together. I took a solid two hours puzzling the S-curves into the cool star-vortex pattern.

My aha-moment was realizing that the final shape is basically a dodecahedron and that the S-curves go diagonally to different vertices of the dodecahedron.

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought I stood, the Frabjous, with lots of tape, came whiffling to it's final form, and looked awesome as it came.

It looked strange and alien as I put it together (doesn't that first photo look a lot like the Tripods of doom from the Tripods Attack book?).

Next I glued all the vertices to one another using a ton of glue and painted any leftover cardboard spots. Hot glue probably would have worked better.

It's far from perfect (the one on the website was made from laser-cut wood and all the pieces are actually identical), but still looks pretty fun. My brother was so excited and he's hung it on his ceiling.

It looks a bit floppy in this picture... argh!

And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

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  1. That's pretty much the coolest thing I've ever seen! I love it! And I bet your brother did too.


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