Saturday, June 15, 2019

Things That Go Boom

It’s been a little while since I featured something from my friend on the other side of the world. It’s amazing to think that he is experiencing winter now, while it’s getting unbearably hot in my corner. The world spins on its axis, the seasons change, and life goes on.

Ze Bomb by Stephen Chin

Such is not the case with Stephen Chin’s icosahedron puzzles. Stephen likes to take complex interlocking polyhedral objects, such as the humble cube, and “turn” them into practically impossible objects by spinning them on his lathe to create spheres, footballs, apples, and in this particular case, bombs.  These creations are all based on the original work by Wayne Daniels, who discovered a way to dissect an icosahedron into ten similar interlocking parts which require simultaneous movement to come together and to come apart. The icosahedron is one of the five Platonic Solids, objects which are composed of faces which are each identical (congruent), regular (equilateral), and which have the same number of faces meeting at each vertex. For example, a cube is made up of identical squares, and three squares meet at each and every point (vertex). The icosahedron is also Platonic, composed of twenty equilateral triangles with twelve vertices where five triangles meet. In Wayne Daniel’s dissection, there are two sets of five identical pieces, which are mirror images of each other (“right-handed” and “left-handed” pieces) and compose the top and bottom halves of the final shape. He was certain that having ten identical pieces was impossible. But Stephen Chin is, as the saying goes, “the bomb”.

Spin it, and watch it go "boom"!

Stephen set out to achieve the impossible and ultimately succeeded, being the first to notice a possible solution for ten identical pieces. George Bell created a program to search for all possibilities and ultimately determined there was only one other piece shape that could work, and it would not support the magic “angle” that Stephen had deduced. Thus, Dr. Chin’s creation remains unique, with ten identical pieces and a mechanism unlike any other. In his version, the ten piece icosahedron is literally turned into a sphere, so that it can be spun, and the forces pulling at the pieces as they spin will ultimately lead to an explosion of all ten coming apart at once. By adjusting the internal angle just right, he achieves a bit of delay, such that the sphere will spin for a few seconds before finally exploding. This occurs as the spin axis finally coincides with the disassembly axis for the coordinate motion. It’s a fantastic mechanism and worth the struggle to reassemble everything just to watch it happen over and over again. If creating a working identical ten piece icosahedron assembly wasn’t impossible enough, just consider that it explodes into ten pieces if it is spun – yet it must be spun at incredibly high speed on the lathe in order to create it. An impossible object indeed. Of course, Stephen is never content, so has turned the sphere into other clever shapes as well, such as the beautiful apple (“1 Pinko Ringo”) and “Ze Bomb” seen here. Technically these do not have identical pieces, but the aesthetics are wonderful. Crafted in various exotic hardwoods, these pieces are some of the most beautiful functional pieces of mathematical art.

"Ze Bomb" adapted from Jillian Vose

All this geometry makes me need a drink. I’ve mixed up a fun and funky riff on a tiki style classic to toast this incredible creation. The original comes from mixologist Jillian Vose, a Cape Cod native who is a rock star in the New York mixology scene. She is currently the beverage director at The Dead Rabbit, twice named the World’s Best Bar, among many other accolades which she helped achieve.  This recipe comes from her prior time at Death and Company, another iconic bar, and can be found in their essential cocktail book.  While gin is an unusual base spirit for a tiki recipe, it works well in her drink, in the form of “Old Tom” gin, a malty-er, sweeter, old fashioned style of gin resurrected in modern times. She named the drink the “Tom Bomb” because of it.

Zucca makes a surprise appearance

I’ve swapped out the Old Tom for something even odder for a tiki recipe, an Italian amaro. This drink is toasting one seriously odd fellow, after all. I’ve used Zucca, an unusual amaro featuring the rich and earthy flavor of Chinese rhubarb root. Combined with pineapple, lemon, orgeat (almond syrup), acacia honey, and a classic mix of vanilla and allspice syrup known as “Donn’s Mix #2” (in honor of Donn Beach, one of the original tiki pioneers from the 1930’s), the drink is tiki heaven, and the Zucca is a surprise hit which works amazingly well. In fact, it’s “Ze Bomb”! Here’s to turning things around in new and fantastic ways, and hoping they don’t explode on you, unless of course, you want them to. Cheers!

This pair is the bomb!

Ze Bomb adapted from Jillian Vose

1 oz Zucca

½ oz gin

¼ oz Donn’s Spices #2 (1:1 mix of vanilla syrup and Allspice Dram)
½ oz lemon
½ oz pineapple
¼ oz orgeat
¼ oz acacia honey syrup

Shake ingredients together with ice and strain into a favorite glass. No garnish required, but let’s face it, garnishes make life more fun.

For more from Stephen Chin:
Fruits of Labor
Pure Genie-us
The Fraulein's Fall


  1. Great post! I made a movie of my plastic 3D printed versions exploding, the last one after a "world record" delay of 4 seconds!