Nova Plexus limited edition

Nova Plexus is back in production after a short break of 40 years… yep, that’s right, it is over 40 years since Geoff Wyvill made the first 26 of a Limited Edition set of 500 puzzles in England in 1978.

How about building the two puzzles interlocked? Adding another dimension entirely to the sculpture.
Brian assembled the first one in about an hour without the solution. The second assembly was easier copying the first one. At this point, we don’t even know if it’s possible, Brian strongly suspects now that it might not be, but Brian has been enjoying the challenge of trying to assemble them totally interwoven. He’s close…  he’s had it together but it still relies on a couple of rubber bands… he just needs to get the tension right… (I have included a photo of the attempted assembly in progress…) So watch this space for an update!

The designer of this amazing object is Geoff Wyvill. He is Emeritus Professor at the University of Otago in NZ researching computer graphics, virtual reality and modelling. Geoff creates animation both as art and as a scientific illustration in his day job. But back in the 1970’s when he designed Nova Plexus and a couple of other mechanical puzzle sculptures it was entirely hands-on.

Geoff originally intended a limited edition of 500. He and a colleague Monty, a civil engineering technician at the University of Bradford, made only 26 and then Geoff moved to New Zealand, putting the whole project on hold. For 40 years as it turned out!

Nova Plexus Limited edition

Nova Plexus combined in progress

This is the history of the design and development of this puzzle sculpture in Geoff’s own words:

The design was inspired by a sword dance, performed by the Georgian State Dancers in the mid-1950s. The dance finished with twelve flexible swords locked together and held aloft by one of the dancers. I didn’t realise that the swords were flexible and spent hours over many months trying to devise a structure built from rigid cylinders that would hold itself together.

Some years later, I found a way to prove that such a structure was impossible. I began to think about the minimum departure from the cylinder’s shape that would break my proof and allow the sculpture. This was something of an obsession and I made hundreds of sketches over the next five years. I settled on the design in 1975 and made my first wooden prototype in 1976. The refinement that made the final design possible was to discover the construction of the hyperboloidal surfaces of the little necks at each end of the rods so they would lock into place in a pleasing manner.

So In 1978, over twenty years after seeing the dancers, I had a workable design. I wrote a computer program to draw the hyperbola and photo-reduced the curve. From this photo, Monty made a form tool, accurate to about eight microns and turned the first set of rods in mild steel. They held together but not as tightly as my calculations suggested. I recalculated the dimensions allowing for the elasticity of the steel and Monty tried again. This time it was perfect.

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