In 1933 Danish mathematician Piet Hein proposed a three dimensional variation on the tangram puzzle. The puzzle consists of seven polycubes in different configurations that can be put together to form a 3X3 cube.
Hein called his puzzle a Soma Cube, the name purportedly taken from a Sanskrit word for “diversity.” The cube puzzle was popular in Scandinavia, but it wasn’t until Parker Brothers licensed the puzzle in 1969. It remained popular for a decade until it’s popularity was supplanted by another upstart cube puzzle.
The Parker Brothers version of the puzzle came in two flavors – red and blue. It also included an instruction booklet. Just as the tangram puzzle can make designs other than a square, the Soma Puzzle can be used to create other 3D shapes. The Parker Brothers instruction booklet provided a sampling of those shapes, as well as a series of cool transformations that could be done with the cube and other shapes.
I got my first Soma Puzzle in the early 1970s. I had both a red and a blue model so that I could create huge double shapes and also challenge friends. Over time, the puzzles were lost and/or smashed. As an elementary teacher I remembered the puzzle and looked for a replacement for my classroom, but couldn’t find one.
Several years ago I did find a version of the puzzle at Barnes and Noble. This version was called “Block by Block“, and was made by Binary Arts. It came with a deck of challenge cards with shapes that could be made. The current version is made by ThinkFun.
Then, just recently I found that nice wooden versions are availble. Mine came in just last week, and I used it to create this stop-motion video of the cube going through several solutions and transformations:
Of course, as I was making this video, the cats took interest and really wanted to help.
So, if you’re looking for a cool puzzle, perhaps as a Christmas present, A Soma PUzzle makes a nice, relatively inexpensive gift.
- Jürgen Köller’s Soma Puzzle Page
- Christian Eggermont’s Overview of Soma Shapes
- Soma Simulation Software