For some, there’s no better way to spend a lazy afternoon than assembling a puzzle. For others, that sounds like an arduous nightmare. If you’re part of that latter group, Nadieh Bremer’s Nova is an illuminated puzzle platform that uses reactionary animated lighting as a reward for every piece put in place as an added incentive to solving the entire puzzle.
Most puzzles are made from printed cardboard and assembled on a table or other flat surface that loses its original purpose for a few days. But the hand-drawn puzzle pieces used for the Nova are made from laser-cut opaque acrylic and are assembled on a custom board that provides the extra layer of interactivity.
Beneath another layer of opaque acrylic is a complex grid of LEDs that produce a diffused glow as they create animated patterns every time a piece is successfully snapped into place. Instead of reassembling an image on a box, the puzzle has you complete a complex spirograph pattern etched into each piece and extending to the board itself. Trying to solve it by shape alone would dramatically increase the challenge and likely decrease the fun factor.
To detect when a piece has been put in its proper spot, each one features a double-sided copper bridge on the underside that touches contact points on the board and completes a specific circuit. It’s a simple but clever way to automatically trigger the LED animations every time a piece is solved. For the final center piece, which is a perfect hexagon that can be dropped into place in six valid orientations, Bremer instead created a three-point copper bridge on the underside so that 50% of the orientations would trigger the light show.
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In 2011, Bremer graduated with a degree in astronomy from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, but professionally transitioned to becoming a data visualization artist—a designer who takes mountains of seemingly uninteresting data and turn them into graphics that present the information in an easy to understand and engaging manner. Wanting to expand her skills and techniques for presenting data, last year Bremer enrolled in the Fab Academy, a school for makers with labs around the world, and after a series of weekly assignments, she created the Nova as the final project for the course.
Because the Nova puzzle was designed and built as part of a course, Bremer has exhaustively detailed all aspects of its creation on a website, and has provided nearly every detail you’d need to create your own. You’ll need access to some specific equipment, including a laser cutter, soldering iron, and all the tools typically needed for wiring up your own electronics. It looks daunting, but somehow less daunting than the 1,000-piece (minus a missing piece or two) puzzle your parents dump out on the dining table after Thanksgiving dinner every year.