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Rubik's Cube built on a 3-D printer unlocks love for one couple [Updated]

May 29, 2010 |  8:00 am

Oskar van Deventer, an electrical engineer living in Leidschendam in the Netherlands, has had ideas floating around in his head for toy-puzzle designs since he was 12 years old.

But until he started using a little-known technology called 3-D printing about two years ago, bringing his colorful and complex creations into the world, realizing his imagination was difficult and expensive.

“Since 1988, I’ve sold twisty-puzzle designs and interlocking ring designs and things to toy companies on the side,” said Van Deventer, 44. “But I might do 50 or 60 stages of prototyping, and some designs take more than a year of work that way.”

3-D printers, which can produce one-off items based on computer diagrams, have radically changed that process, he said.

But Van Deventer doesn't own a 3-D printer. Instead, he uploads his designs to Shapeways, a website where budding inventors can sell 3-D-printed products they designed. Photos_photo16398

Royal Philips Electronics started Shapeways in 2008. Philips doesn't make 3-D printers, but it uses industrial units from other manufactures as a way to bring the technology to consumers who are looking for unique items.

Van Deventer mostly makes elaborate puzzles that retail on the website for $30 to $800. Others sell jewelry, candle holders, artistic sculptures and even iPod stands.

“Currently, when I have a new idea -- say, for a twisty puzzle -- a simple one might take me 5 hours from idea to market,” van Deventer said. “It’s a very quick way to get the design out of my system and into the world.”

One of his best-known pieces was a Rubik’s Cube-type puzzle commissioned by Matthew Farnsworth, a lovesick man inspired by “The Sword in the Stone."

Farnsworth decided he wanted to marry a woman who could solve a Rubik's Cube.

Whosoever could solve the Rubik's cube (and meet some standard requirements) I would then and there ask for their hand in marriage,” he wrote in a blog posted on the Shapeways site.

He had Van Deventer make a puzzle that formed a heart on the top when solved. Then the top of the cube could be pulled off, revealing a ring inside.

Lucky for him, the woman he had fallen for solved the puzzle and didn’t seem to mind his odd quest.

Happy ending: She accepted his proposal, and Van Deventer now sells similar cubes on the site for about $300.

Check out Van Deventer demonstrating his heart-topped gift cube in the YouTube video below, and read this article on 3-D printers and efforts to bring the technology to the consumer market.

[Updated 6:57 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Oskar van Deventer lived in Souburg, Netherlands. He lives in Leidschendam.]

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photo: Gift Cube designed by Oskar van Deventer. Credit: