Newspaper article + hyperbolic chessboard

by admin on March 24, 2014

Today the Santa Cruz Sentinel had an article about me! Amazingly, there wasn’t a single thing about the article that was embarrassing or cringe-worthy. That is a credit to the writer, Bonnie Horgos. She had a lot of things to cover — chess, hula, science writing, animal care, bomb scares — all in 600 words or less. And she mentioned “Dana Blogs Chess” (although it was mistakenly capitalized)! So that means the article is about all of you, too.

If you’re interested, please click on over to If they get lots and lots of traffic, maybe it will convince them to publish more chess stories! Or at least more Santa Cruz County Stories, which I think are quite cool.

In other news, I got back from Atlanta early today (like 1:30 am). I attended the “Gathering 4 Gardner” conference, which is held every two years in honor of the late, great math popularizer, puzzlemaster, magician, and social networker (before the Internet existed), Martin Gardner. It was an indescribable and delightful mixture of people, with more toys and puzzles than you could find anywhere outside a toy store… or even inside a normal toy store. Alas, there was nary a chessboard to be seen, unless you count this:

Hyperbolic chessboard Hyperbolic chessboard

I participated in the assembly of this sculpture at a “sculpture raising” party on Friday afternoon. According to one of the two co-designers, Chaim Goodman-Strauss, it is the largest piece of the hyperbolic plane ever created. However, I think that it could be described more simply as the world’s largest hyperbolic chessboard.

The board contains 24 squares around the outside edge, and on the inside there are 4 pentagons and 5 squares, for a total of 33 faces. The pattern can be continued indefinitely, and probably you would want to add one more layer around the outside to make it big enough for a chess game. (Puzzle: Can anyone figure out how many squares and pentagons would be needed to make the next layer?)

I think you would need two kinds of pieces to play on this board. The rooks would always move on the ranks and files between pentagons, and would never be allowed to actually land on a pentagon. The bishops are a little bit more ambitious. They follow the yellow paths, which causes them to morph into rooks and back when they traverse a pentagon. Maybe they should be called “brooks.”

The yellow strips were added for structural stability, but I also like the fact that they show how the bishop moves would go (which is otherwise far from obvious).

Here are a few pictures of the construction process, which was fun but sometimes exhausting.

Many hands Many hands

Even though the designers had done a trial assembly once before, before the pieces were painted, it was still not always easy to persuade the metal to go where it was supposed to. The misalignment in the center of this photo required several people to straighten it out.

Power tools Power tools

Sometimes even elbow grease wasn’t enough. Here the other co-designer (whose name I unfortunately don’t recall) uses a power drill to widen a couple of the holes that refused to line up properly.

Chaim Goodman-Strauss Chaim Goodman-Strauss

In the end, I think that Chaim Goodman-Strauss had every reason to be pleased by his creation. Now we just need a factory to mass-produce these things!

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