Designer Spotlight: Tom van der Zanden

This week’s Designer Spotlight focuses on Tom van der Zanden, a talented inventor who turns his mind to making crazy puzzles. The twist in this tale is that his passion lies in creating the puzzles, but he leaves the solving of them up to you! 
Tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? Where are you located?
I am Tom van der Zanden, 19 years old. I am currently studying Computer Science and Mathematics at Utrecht University. I am starting the last year of my bachelor’s degree now and next year I will start on my master’s. I live in the city of Nieuwegein, The Netherlands, which is close to the University and only 70km from the Shapeways office! Besides creating puzzles, I also like to play piano and saxophone.
What’s the story behind your designs? What inspires you? How did your interest with puzzles start?
I have always been fascinated by how things work and DIY. My interest in puzzles started when my friend introduced me to the Rubik’s Cube. I was into competitive solving for a while but I never got far. On the internet I noticed people building their own puzzles which had a strong appeal to me. I really got inspired to build my own puzzles by the work of Adam Cowan and Andrew Cormier, who both helped me a great deal with learning 3D design.
How did you learn how to design in 3D? What brought you to 3D printing with Shapeways?
My design skills are pretty much self-taught, with help from other puzzle makers. I started out working with AutoCAD but I moved to SolidWorks as this software is better suited to my work and better fits with the way I think. My first designs were printed for me by a friend who has access to a FDM printer at the school where he works. Unfortunately his access to the printer is limited so I could not produce many puzzles using this technique. It was Oskar van Deventer who pointed me to Shapeways and I opened my shop in August of 2009. WSF is actually a far nicer material than the FDM material and gradually I got more comfortable using it. Helped by income from my shop I’ve been able to make many new puzzles.
How did you work out how to put puzzles together? Do you solve your own puzzles?
Putting the puzzles together is relatively easy. From the design process I have a clear idea of where each piece goes and once you actually have the pieces in hand it is usually easy to figure out how to put them together. The hardest part is always getting the last few pieces in place but thanks to the amazing flexibility and resilience of WSF it is possible to snap them in place. I can not solve all of my puzzles, though I can solve some of them – but I rarely do so. The part about puzzles I enjoy most is actually designing them and figuring out a working mechanism for complex puzzles, rather than solving them. I leave that to my collectors!
Check out this video of the Multidodecahedron puzzle in action. It has an internal and external puzzle in one –  unbelievable!
Who are your favorite designers or artists?
I have attended two “puzzle parties” where I met far too many amazing puzzle makers to list them all.  Andrew Cormier and Adam Cowan are both amazing puzzle makers and do have shops on Shapeways. I already mentioned him, but Oskar van Deventer is an amazing puzzle maker who has been churning out new puzzles like crazy on Shapeways. He encouraged me to start my own shop which really changed a lot for me, because it generated money that I could put towards making new puzzles. Using income from Shapeways I can sustain my puzzle making hobby, which is great as it is quite rare for puzzle making (or any other hobby) to be self-sustainable like this!

If you weren’t limited by current technologies, what would you want to make using 3D printing?
In my puzzle making I am not so much limited by what shapes the printing technology can make but by fundamental mechanical properties. It’s unreasonable to ask for a material that is unbreakable even when 0.1mm thin even though such a material would be very nice. Not directly applicable to puzzles, I find the idea of printing circuitry and microchips very attractive. I would love to see computing devices roll out of printers sometime in the future.
Have your mind twisted at Tom’s Shapeways shop or check out his website. You can also dive into the vibrant community of puzzlers on Twisty Puzzles or check out other puzzles on Shapeways.

2 comments

  1. Jon @ Mechanical Devices

    I had never even heard of a Multidodecahedron puzzle before. Is this going to be produced for the mass market anytime soon? I’d be interested in giving it a try at solving, but I have a tough time just trying to solve a rubix cube.

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