Mon, 9 May 2005

Post Apocalyptic Puzzles

— SjG @ 3:33 pm

I have a strange mania, which comprises various and sundry thoughts involving reconstruction, reinvention, and rebuilding some semblance of structure after some unspecified societal collapse. Maybe it’s because I read too much post-apocalyptic science fiction at too young an age, or because I’ve succumbed to the fear-mongering of the news media, but I often find myself thinking about how I would implement key elements of infrastructure (or even obscure and trivial manufacturing) if the existing order were to fail.

This is not to say I’m a survivalist, or caching weapons, or preparing for The Tribulations. Frankly, living where and how I do, I’d be unlikely to survive a serious breakdown of our society. Maybe it’s merely a fascination with how things work.

This section will include some of these musings.

I’ll start with something trivial: how would I build a machine to manufacture pipecleaners?

The basic idea of a pipecleaner is simple: a large number of short, stiff bristles are held tightly together in a spiral formed of two or more wires. The puzzle is that the tight spiral of wire holds the bristles in position; before the wires are twisted, the bristles are free to move however they will. Using longer bristles makes it easier to hold them in position, but more difficult to twist the wires which will secure them. What’s more, that would require trimming the bristles after the twist is completed, which would be a complicated spiral cut, and would be wasteful.

My best solution thus far is to have a mechanism knot long bristles around one wire, which enables a simple straight cut to correct their length, and prevents wasted material. Then, the second wire is applied, and the two wires are twisted.

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