Friday, March 13, 2015

Spirograph aka My Super Fun Hypotrochoid and Epitrochoid Maker!


Yesterday I pulled out my 1967 almost mint condition Spirograph and sat down to play. I bought this little gem on eBay a few years ago because it was one of my most favorite things to do when I was growing up. I was looking forward to revisiting this old friend since I was certain that as an adult I would be able to eliminate some of the things that frustrated me about it as a child.

As I prepared my work surface I remembered how my uncoordinated child fingers always had trouble coaxing the little map pins out of their container. I discovered that my arthritic adult fingers have the same problem.

As I pinned my ring in place on the official Spirograph corrugated cardboard work surface, I had trouble identifying the holes in the ring that were meant for the pins. There are 4 of them and they're smaller than the other holes, which I still don't know the purpose of. Later I was reminded that it doesn't really matter which holes you stick the map pins into. They will eventually wiggle loose on your last rotation, causing a single misplaced mark on your otherwise perfect geometric creation.

I wonder if the modern versions of Spirograph include a work surface made from something better than corrugated cardboard. Even as a child I can remember thinking it was a poor choice. The corrugation lines sometimes show up on the large Spirograph doodles, not to mention the fact that the pin holes leave behind potholes that your pen will most definitely fall into, causing you to poke an irritating and unwanted hole in your paper.

My vintage Spirograph came complete with the original pens but, alas, the ink didn't survive the decades. I thought I would be really smart and use my Slicci gel pens with the .25mm tips. The tips are so fine they're like writing with a needle which I thought would be perfect for the tiny holes they have to fit into.

The tips did indeed fit nicely in the holes but I discovered that after 3 or 4 passes over the same area, those needle tips acted like little razors and sliced right through the paper.

One of the most frustrating things I remember about my Spirograph was when I got a big misplaced mark across my otherwise pristine creation when the gears accidentally slipped. I was certain this wouldn't be a problem since, as an adult, I would naturally be more careful so that those little plastic teeth stayed perfectly engaged. Okay that didn't happen. The gears slipped and I made a big misplaced mark. The only thing that changed was the string of colorful expletives I let loose when it happened.

I can't recall ever reading the instruction booklet when I was young so I flipped through it to see if maybe there was some helpful information that I might need. There may have been, I'm not sure because the whole thing is written in some kind of mysterious code. I would imagine it's similar to what a crochet pattern looks like to someone who doesn't crochet.

The only helpful information I was able to get from the instruction booklet was that the holes on the rings and on the wheels are numbered and it matters which hole you use and how you line them up if you're going to try to duplicate one of their suggested patterns.

Actually that would have been helpful information if I could actually SEE the tiny clear numbers next to the tiny clear holes on the tiny clear wheels.

And what exactly are the patterns that a Spirograph creates? I usually just call them doodles but according to Wikipedia they are actually "mathematical roulette curves of the variety technically known as hypotrochoids and epitrochoids". Well, heck! What child wouldn't love that?!

But how, exactly, does it work? Thankfully, Wikipedia also offers this pictorial mathematical explanation for how the Spirograph works:

I just love it when things are demystified like that.

7 comments:

Rita said...

ROFL! I think I'm actually glad now that I could never talk my folks into getting it for me. ;)

Unknown said...

Shannon Dont give up. Check out this link for an incredable piece of art done by a 15yo and her spyro http://spirographicart.com/2015/01/11/ariellas-incredible-spirograph-collage/

Spickens said...

I don't bother with the pins any more. I used them for awhile when I was getting back in the "swing" of things - on some old scrap foam core board. It was ok but mainly I don't like the holes in my paper.

With your hands, however, it may be harder to hold the wheels? I'm not sure. The "spiral doodle tool" I use may be easier, but you have to hold it as well.

I think one of the newer spirograph sets has a thing that locks the paper down in a frame but I haven't tried it yet.

Don't give up!

LianeZ said...

Loved it when I was a kid, but got just as frustrated. Now 'there's a app for that' called Spirograph by Amazing Android. No more pen skips, holes or ruined doodles! I checked the app stores (Amazon & Google) but did not find that exact one anymore, but there were several others. Happy doodling!

Mary W said...

I want to order some Daddy Van's (ding) stuff and got to your blog in case you had a link but don't see one. You recommend it for keeping acrylic from sticking in my journal AND for making see thru stuff. Can't wait to try it so I guess I'll google it - there wasn't a discount or something was there? I did order from the science store and had a blast looking thru it write-ups.

Jen X said...

You crack me up! I recently bought one with the same nostalia. I had the same reaction revisiting it after several decades, potty mouth and all.

Lady Dragoness said...

Newer versions of Spirograph come with a sticky putty substance similar to this: https://www.amazon.com/Duck-Removable-Mounting-Poster-1436912/dp/B000BQMFEC. There are other brands with different names... they all work approximately the same way - much better than your map pins, btw.

The purpose of the larger holes in your outer ring is simple. You can use the outer ring as your mobile gear, going around a smaller, stationary gear to create different designs.