Introduction: Cube Puzzles for Kids (and Adults, Too)

About: Retired from biotechnology company, PhD in Biochemistry (MIT).

   The Rubik’s Cube® (Seven Towns Ltd.) is great fun for kids to fiddle with. However, 99.9% of those kids will never solve it. Most adults can’t do it either. So the experience may be frustrating and humiliating. Puzzle cubes don’t have to be that difficult!
    For easy cube puzzles all you need is a blank cube, a bunch of stickers, and some puzzle designs to copy. With this activity kit in hand, any kid (and you, yourself) are in for some fun! This hands-on educational “toy” will stimulate the intellectual development of anyone. Both children and adults will become enchanted with puzzle cubes!

(Text and diagrams © David Hagen, 2010)

Step 1: What You'll Need

   One blank Rubik's Cube -- cost $12-$8 or find an old one
   Avery-type label sheets --cost about $0.50 each (you'll need at least two)
         The labels should be: full-sheet labels (8.5" x 11"); the removable-kind (not permanent);
         and the kind for Inkjet printers
    (Optional) 4"x6" photo paper or 65-weight, card stock 8.5"x11" sheets

   Inkjet printer
   Sharp pair of scissors or paper cutter

Step 2: Remove the Stickers

   Peel off all of the colored stickers from the Rubik's Cube. The stickers on new cubes come off cleanly. For an old cube you may have to use solvent (e.g. paint thinner) to remove the glue residue. Then wash and dry the naked cube.

Step 3: Print New Stickers

   Use a word processing program to make a sticker template or use one of my attached MS Word or Pdf files. To make your own, simply use the “draw” utility to draw a bunch of squares in a row. Squares at 0.6” x 0.6” (or 5/8” x 5/8”) will work well. Next fill the squares with the colors you need, and print the file onto a blank label sheet using a color inkjet printer.
   Cut out the stickers using a paper cutter (not for kids!) or a sharp pair of scissors. For older children, I keep the stickers in strips and provide them with kid-safe scissors to snip off the individual stickers. See frame 2.
   Optional: If you want fancy, shiny stickers, top-coat the stickers with clear plastic. Two-inch wide packaging tape works great for this. Rough cut the sticker-strips (a double row of squares per strip works best). Cover the strips with packaging tape. Do the final cutting with a paper cutter or scissors.
   Tips: 1) The stickers have a paper backing that's sometimes difficult to peal off. Children may need some help. 2) The stickers you use can be used more than once. Just park them on a piece of wax paper after you peel them off of the cube.

Step 4: Cube-puzzle Designs

  The rules for making easy-to-solve cube puzzles are:
1) keep the little cubies all one color, whenever possible;
2) have as many look-alike cubies as you can;
3) keep all of the hard stuff on one layer.

   Just follow Steps 6 through 10 for lots of examples. Warning: The designs get harder and harder as you go. Find the difficulty level that's right for your child (or for you).
   Alternatively, you can print out a deck of challenge cards, as described in Step 11. Each card is rated for its difficulty level, from VERY EASY to EXTREMELY HARD.

Step 5: Stick It Up / Mix It Up / Fix It Up

   Stick it up: Pick a cube-puzzle design from this Instructable, and sticker your cube to make it look like the diagram.
   Mix it up: Totally randomize the cube puzzle.
   Fix it up: Refer to the diagram, and put the cube back to its original state.

   Tip: You can make a stack of "challenge cards" with various cube designs. See Step 11 of this Instructable.

Step 6: Stickers on One Layer Only, Part 1

   The easiest possible cube puzzle is shown to the left in the first frame. It's even easier than the one shown to the right of it. Prove it for yourself.
   Now try the cube in the second frame. It's still pretty easy ... but can you solve it while you hold your breath? With your feet?!!! With one hand behind your back? Some people can even solve it blindfolded (after taking a good look). But I can’t!

Step 7: Stickers on One Layer Only, Part 2

   Make the cube shown in the first frame. Sometimes the last two cubies are hard to fit in! It's still pretty easy, but time yourself. Try for a PR.
   Can you twist it around to make the pretty patterns shown in the second frame?
   Most people solve this Red-top cube from top to bottom, doing the red stuff first - that's the easiest way. Can you solve it upside-down - doing the red stuff last. Can you solve it sideways? Weird it's all the same puzzle! Your strategy makes a difference.

Step 8: Stickers on One Layer Only, Part 3

   The top-layer-only cubes shown here are slightly harder to solve, but you can do it! 
   Can you design some of your own?

Step 9: Stickers on Two Layers

   These puzzle cubes are stickered on two layers: the top and the middle. Warning, they get harder as you go through the examples. See what you can do.
   You’ll have to learn how to move the edge cubies around without messing up the top layer. But sometimes you just get lucky. If it doesn’t work the first time, keep on trying!

Step 10: Stickers on Three Layers

   These puzzle cubes are stickered on all three layers: the top, the middle, and the bottom. These are getting pretty hard to solve … and they get harder and harder. Again, see what you can do.
   There are lots of examples here. I’m sure you can design some of your own, too.

Step 11: Challenge Cards (Optional)

   You can make a deck of challenge cards -- one card for each puzzle design featured in this Instructable. I've rated the difficulty levels: Easy, Medium, Hard, etc. There are 32 cards in all.      Below, I provide Word and Pdf files for printing these on 4"x6" photographic paper. For most printers, set it up for 4"x6" paper, and feed in your 4"x6" sheets in the portrait orientation. Also, there are Pdf files for printing four or eight cards at a time on standard letter-sized paper (8.5"x11"). After printing, cut the sheets into quarter-sheets for 4.25"x5.5" cards or eighth-sheets for 2.75"x4.25" cards. Use 65-weight, card-stock paper for nicer cards.
   Now you are all set to make the complete kit: Naked Cube, Stickers, and Challenge Cards. Have fun!

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