The X-Cube: Bridgeport Student Develops 21st Century Puzzle

By Casey Cora on November 6, 2013 6:56am 

X Cube in Action
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YouTube/Dane Christianson

BRONZEVILLE — Frustrating your family and friends during the holiday season has never been easier.

Just hand them an X-Cube.

Billed as the “next generation, shape-shifting, 3D logic puzzle,” the X-Cube is the creation of Illinois Institute of Technology student Dane Christianson. Think of it as a Rubik’s Cube, made more challenging with a few extra layers to twist and turn.

"It's actually a little more impressive than I thought it would be," said Christianson, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering major at the South Side school.

The X-Cube is expected to be on the shelves of Chicago's Marbles the Brain Store in time for the "Black Friday" holiday shopping event.

The product’s forthcoming journey from an overseas manufacturer to the shelves of the Chicago puzzle store is years in the making, and it all began in Christianson's family's Batavia basement.

That’s where Christianson, then a student at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, began working on his own take of the Rubik’s Cube, using a Dremel tool and plastic molding kit to create a new version of the classic puzzle.

“I literally had to sculpt the pieces,” he said.

Although it was a success — you can see Christianson solving the puzzle in this 2008 video — he said the do-it-yourself manufacturing method proved cumbersome.

Enter 3-D printing.

At the time, the novelty of the new technology meant the price was out of reach. Christianson estimates it would’ve cost a few hundred bucks to print out just one of the games.

But fast forward a few years, and Christianson has enrolled at IIT, where a 3-D printer is installed in the school’s Idea Shop, a basement laboratory that resembles a tech startup.

After printing out a prototype, he produced a short YouTube video and posted it to Reddit, which helped propel the video into the online stratosphere. The video garnered more than 1 million views in a few days.

 Dane Christianson, 20, a mechanical engineering major at the Illinois Institute of Technology, shows off the X-Cube, a puzzle he created.
Dane Christianson, 20, a mechanical engineering major at the Illinois Institute of Technology, shows off the X-Cube, a puzzle he created.
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DNAinfo/Casey Cora

That led to a Kickstarter campaign, which helped Christianson, of Bridgeport, raise a whopping $53,000 in just one month this summer, overshooting his fundraising goal by more than $20,000.

Now production of the puzzles, some 2,100 in all, is underway at an overseas manufacturer. A bunch will be shipped to the project's Kickstarter backers and the rest will end up on the shelves on Marbles, where it will retail for $40.

And here’s where you have to remember that Christianson is not just an entrepreneur who runs his own company, Moving Parts LLC. He's also a full-time college student.

Complicating matters is that his business venture's first-ever product rollout — a process fraught with international logistics, marketing efforts and sales concerns — will take place just a few days before final exams begin at IIT.

"It's been hard to keep up," he said.

Asked if he's prioritizing scholarship or entrepreneurship, Christianson said "it's complicated."

"It's slowly becoming a mix of the two. This semester has been a transforming time," he said, adding that his grades haven't slipped too far.

And just as soon as he was done talking about school, the conversation quickly moved back to business.

"We're on target. We're doing pretty well. I ran some of the finances today and was putting together an invoice. I'm trying to tie some of the last details together." 

You can follow the progress of Christianson's experiment in getting the X-Cube to market at his blog.

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