The other day on Twitter, Benjamin Edwards posted a picture of some gorgeous milled-aluminum dice a friend made for him. In response, Eric Berlin pointed us to the work of his friend Eric Harshbarger, who designs insanely cool custom dice.
Above is one of Harshbarger’s creations: A set of dice for New Yorkers who are heading out to eat dinner but are paralyzed by the paradox of choice. The dice are labeled:
Die 1: West Village, Chelsea, EV/Nolita, LES, Soho, Roller’s Choice
Die 2: Italian, Roller’s Choice, Sushi, Mexican, Asian, Ethnic
Heh. Below, an even nerdier concept: Binary dice. I’m going to order a pair of these for my son to bring to his middle-school math class …
Here’s some deep meta — a die of polyhedral shapes:
And here are some DNA/nucleotide dice — useful for synthetic biologists want to add some randomness when they’re inadvertently creating unstoppable superbugs!
Below are perhaps my favorite — a pair of dice Harshbarger created after he posed himself a puzzle: “What is the greatest number of dots that can be removed from a die and it still be determinable what is rolled?”
His fuller explanation of how to read these:
- If the ‘center-side’ pip is face up, then a “6” was rolled, because that is the only number with a dot in that position.
- If the center-side pip is not visible anywhere on the die, then it must be face-down. Meaning you rolled a “1”.
- Otherwise, the center-side is on one of the four side faces. In this case, look for the ‘center-center’ pip (which, given its position relative to the center-side pip, must be the “5” face). If that center-center dot is face-up, you’ve rolled a “5”. If it is not visible, you’ve rolled a “2”. If it is also on one of the side faces, then you need to know that the 4-5-6 values are placed counterclockwise about their shared vertex (on Bicycle Dice); with that knowledge you can determine whether a “3” or “4” is face up.
This guy’s a genius. Check out the rest of the dice on his page; the ones here are only the tip of the iceberg.
What I love about Harshbarger’s work is how it leverages humanity’s longstanding fascination with randomness — a force that has long tweaked and teased society’s ideas about logic, reason, the will of God, the arc of life. Over at Aeon, Michael Schulson wrote a terrific essay on the situations where a random choice can be better than a reasoned one, and he opens by noting the peculiar allure of the random:
As moderns, we take it for granted that the best decisions stem from a process of empirical analysis and informed choice, with a clear goal in mind. That kind of decision-making, at least in theory, undergirds the ways that we choose political leaders, play the stock market, and select candidates for schools and jobs. It also shapes the way in which we critique the rituals and superstitions of others. But … [snip]
… As any blackjack dealer or tarot reader might tell you, we have a love for the flip of the card. Why shouldn’t we? Chance has some special properties. It is a swift, consistent, and (unless your chickens all die) relatively cheap decider. Devoid of any guiding mind, it is subject to neither blame nor regret. Inhuman, it can act as a blank surface on which to descry the churning of fate or the work of divine hands. Chance distributes resources and judges disputes with perfect equanimity.