Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Per Aspera Ad Astra - StarTIC 1-4

StarTICs 1-4 by Andrew Crowell

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.

StarTIC 2 PIeces
The StarTIC cluster consists of 4 heavenly bodies.  Each has its name debossed on the outside and Andrew’s name debossed on the inside.  Each has its position in the series at the end of the name except for the first, the original StarTIC.

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.


StarTIC  by Andrew Crowell
Starting the cluster is StarTIC with its red hot core.  When assembling StarTIC, it’s easy to determine where the pieces go within the shell.  The largest piece contains a large section of the shell and can only go in one place.   Once that piece is in place, the remaining 4 pieces can be divided into 2 that add 2 cubes to the shell and 2 that add 1 cube to the 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.

StarTIC 2

StarTIC 2  by Andrew Crowell
StarTIC 2 has a cold dark blue core.  Unlike StarTIC, the StarTIC 2 frame is only missing 3 small pieces, which can be found connected to 3 of the 5 pieces that comprise the core.

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.

StarTIC 3

StarTIC 3  by Andrew Crowell
StarTIC 3 sports a cheery orange core, which is comprised of only 4 pieces.  One of these pieces also has a significant portion of the shell attached.  You would think that this puzzle would be easy with the shell separating into such large chunks.  You wouldn’t be wrong either.  I found StartTIC 3 to be the easiest of the StarTICs in the cluster.

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.

StarTIC 4

StarTIC 4  by Andrew Crowell
The fourth StarTIC has a cool green core.  As with the other StarTICs, for the disassembly, you will be tempted to remove the piece with the largest piece of the shell attached.  Although there doesn’t appear to be much holding it in place, it refuses to come out.  It takes a lot of experimentation to determine the convoluted dance required of the core pieces, including numerous rotations, to release the first piece.  Once you have accomplished that, it’s all over. The other pieces can simply be plucked out one by one.  If you yank them out quickly without paying too much attention, you can also enjoy the following assembly process.

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


  1. That is the motto of a surprising number of colleges and high schools, per wikipedia. I take it University of Tennessee Space Institute, Tullahoma, Tennessee is not your alma mater?
    It seems StarTICs are no longer available from Andrew's Etsy site, and his Thingiverse page seems only to have the first one.

    1. The motto appears in many crossword puzzle clues: "Per Aspera Ad ___", or "Per ___ Ad Astra".
      Andrew is so very kind. When one clicks on "Read more" at his Etsy store, one sees that he offers to 3D print just about anything in his catalogue. Very, very kind. -Tyler

    2. Stevens in Hoboken, NJ.
      I'm sure that you're well familiar with trying to keep puzzles in stock with a shop yourself. As Tyler mentioned, Andrew is very accommodating when it comes to requests for puzzles. I usually assume that this is the case for most small shops like Andrew's and yours and I wouldn't hesitate to inquire about getting puzzles that are not currently in stock.