Although it has taken several decades, I finally found something tangible that explains my college motto: Per Aspera Ad Astra - through adversity to the stars. This something comes from the fiendish mind of that Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) master Andrew Crowell, who knows that the only thing better than a puzzle is a cluster of puzzles. With that in mind, he embarked on creating a series of StarTICs. Of course, he attempted to pack as much adversity as possible within each to entertain us along the journey.
The StarTICs occupy a 5x5x5 cubic dissection space. Each consists of a gray shell surrounding an inner 3x3x3 core with a unique color for that StarTIC. Although the core appears solid, each is comprised of several pieces. The objective is to have the core go critical and eject its mass from the center of the shell. Bits of the shell may remain stuck to the pieces while some bits of the core may be left behind on the empty shell.
After careful examination, you can determine that 3 of the 4 shell vacancies look like they can be satisfied by 2 of the core pieces. The fourth can only be completed by one of the core pieces but it can go in that spot in 2 different ways. However, it is immediately obvious that only one of them makes sense. Once that piece is in place, it is obvious where the other 3 core pieces have to go. The only thing left is to determine the order and movements required to get them in place. Of course, some rotations will be required, but they are minimal.
My favorite rotation involves the “T” piece that gets translated halfway through the rotation. I designed a puzzle around this type of move about a decade ago called Interrupted. It was the only thing that this puzzle had to offer. One of the reasons that I like Andrew’s puzzles so much is that they have so much more to offer than just a single interesting move.
If you are tackling this as a disassembly challenge, you appear to be presented with a catch 22 situation. It looks like a 2 block chunk of the shell connected to one of the core pieces needs to be removed to get the core pieces out. However, it also looks like this piece can only be pushed into the core and not pulled out. It appears that the main challenge is to figure out how to remove this plug from such an obvious exit portal. Or is it? You’ll have to see for yourself.
As an assembly challenge, you need to discover the very specific order of adding and rotating the pieces to the frame including plugging that 2 block gap in the shell. Of course, when adding the first few pieces, a lot of movement and rotations are possible. Even fully assembled, quite a bit of movement is allowed.
With either the disassembly or assembly, it is not difficult to figure out what is going on within this StarTIC. Rotations and movements are straightforward and shouldn’t prove to be difficult for most users. If find yourself intimidated by this cluster, start with StarTIC 3.
The assembly process is a lot of fun with StarTIC 4. All the core pieces have a piece of the shell attached and aren’t difficult to place. However, finding the right order to add, move, and rotate them will be challenging, especially considering the lengthy sequence of movements and rotations to get all the core pieces in place once the last one has been added to the shell.
The StarTIC cluster is a worthy addition to Andrew’s TICs. Not a single loser in the bunch - they’re all stars!
Per Aspera Ad Astra