Straws Thingys and Other Mathematical Sculptures

I love an abstract math pondering session as much as the next mathematician (or at least within epsilon), but there’s something immensely satisfying about coming back down to earth and using your hands to make something. At some point last November, I stumbled onto Zachary Abel’s blog series about Straws Thingys, and I knew a Straws Thingy had to be mine.

A Straws Thingy. Image: Zachary Abel.

A Straws Thingy. Image: Zachary Abel.

A Straws Thingy is indeed a thingy made of straws. In this case, it happens to be a compound of five intersecting tetrahedra, popularized by mathematical origami guru Thomas Hull. After several months of forgetting to buy the recommended brand of straws from Target, I finally managed to make my very own Straws Thingy last week.

My Straws Thingy, before and after savagely breaking free from its scaffold. Image: Evelyn Lamb.

My Straws Thingy, before and after savagely breaking free from its scaffold. Sadly, the straws I bought only came in four colors, so my fifth tetrahedron is multi-colored. Image: Evelyn Lamb.

Abel is a graduate student in mathematics at MIT as well as a mathematical sculptor, and I just loved his Straws Thingy posts. HHe had challenged himself to write a blog post a day for the month of November (#NaBloPoMo, a more modest undertaking than #NaNoWriMo), so the instructions are conveniently served in bite-sized pieces.

I tend to be something of a mathematical social butterfly. I like to learn a little about something and then flit away to the next thing. Abel, on the other hand, is much more thorough. His month-long Straws Thingy series explores the subtle asymmetries of various Straws Thingys, eventually building to a five-dimensional hypercube of thingys (conveniently immersed in three-dimensions). 

If you have a mirror, you only need 16 Straws Thingys to make a 5-dimensional hypercube of them. Image: Zachary Abel.

If you have a mirror, you only need 16 Straws Thingys to make a 5-dimensional hypercube of them. Image: Zachary Abel.

He also gives us a peek behind the scenes to show us the origin story of the scaffold he designed to make the Straws Thingy easier to assemble.

A Straws Thingy scaffold, ready for action. Image: Evelyn Lamb.

A Straws Thingy scaffold, ready for action. Image: Evelyn Lamb.

If you want to make a Straws Thingy (or 32) of your own, his scaffold is available as a pay what you want download, and the instructions are easy to follow on his blog. I poked around the blog a little bit after building my Straws Thingy. He has a lot more fun posts about geometry and mathematical sculptures, including the Penny Pincher (made with $20.00 in pennies!) and instructions for a “potentially lethal” Impenetraball. Maybe I’ll get there eventually, but right now I still have a lot of leftover straws.

A Straws Thingy in Waiting. Image: Evelyn Lamb.

A Straws Thingy in waiting. Image: Evelyn Lamb.

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One Response to Straws Thingys and Other Mathematical Sculptures

  1. Ivan David says:

    Excellent work and creative initiative, we want to share that it is also possible to construct with straws… Geodesic spheres.

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