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Posted by Big Boo on January 9th, 2008

SpirographSpirograph is one of those enduring toys that will probably go on forever. It was originally invented by Denys Fisher in the 1960’s, and is one of those simple but elegant designs that you take a look at the components involved and it’s immediately obvious what you are supposed to do with it. Basically, it’s used to draw thousands of intricate mathematical curves in the name of art.

The basic set consists of some toothed rings which you pin to a sheet of paper. You then select one of the many different sized wheels, each of which was surrounded in more little cog teeth, and had a number of holes drilled in them. You place the wheel inside the ring, lock the teeth together, then place a pen or pencil in one of the wheels holes. With firm pressure you then repeatedly rotate the wheel around the ring using the pen, performing loop after loop until the line you’ve drawn meets up again with the beginning of the line. The result, a beautiful swirly design, which you could use as a decoration as it was, or you could colour bits of it in if you wanted to.

By choosing different sized rings and wheels you could create more patterns than you could shake a very large stick at. The rings also had teeth around the outside so you could create larger designs by sending the wheel around the outside. Some kits also had long thin rods with teeth that could be used to produced elongated patterns rather than circular ones, but it was always the circular ones that had the most potential to look beautiful.

The biggest problem with Spirograph was when you started to get too cocky with it. Some of the wheel and ring combinations might require 50-100 rotations before the design joined up, and it was far too easy to get carried away and let the wheel slip out of the ring. In most cases when this happened you ended up with a ruined design, as it was difficult to get the wheel and ring linked up in the correct position to resume drawing, but far worse when the wheel slipped your pen went with it, leaving a horrible squiggle going through your design.

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