Triangle Rollers? Impossible!

A platform can indeed roll smoothly on these triangular rollers.
A platform can indeed roll smoothly on these triangular rollers.

Level: Elementary to H.S.

Time involvement: 10 to 20 minutes.

Sounds like square marbles or beach balls for chairs, impossible nonsense! However… if the triangles have just a slight outward curve created by using a drawing compass at the opposite corner they will appear much more like a triangle than a circle. Before the invention of the wheel we may assume that some creative person, wanting to move some heavy relatively flat object might have obtained a small log, minus branches, and used it as a roller instead of merely dragging the object. It would be safe to assume that the more perfectly round the log or roller might be the, smoother the job. Thus a roller that was noticeably not round would be rejected.

Enter the magic specially modified triangle. By using a pair to support a flat board carrying a weight the experiment begins. To the amazement of most watchers the board and weight glide smoothly along. The lesson is in the discussion.

Discussion: Sometimes “common sense” is wrong. In a word, sometimes we have to think “outside the box”. Truly creative people are willing to challenge traditions and experiment. Sometimes the experiment will fail, but sometimes the experiment will yield unexpected results. By closely watching the special triangle rollers in action it will be observed that the special curved side combined with the opposing point create a perfect pivot and a surface that remains level! It may take several more test runs to confirm the unexpected but the real lesson is in the implications for mental attitude! Don’t reject new ideas because they are new or different. Diversity may solve some problem that was frustrating thinkers that were unwilling to try something unusual.

It is apparent to me that the possibilities of the aeroplane, which two or three years ago were thought to hold the solution to the [flying machine] problem, have been exhausted, and that we must turn elsewhere.”

-Thomas Edison, quoted in New York World, 17 November 1895.

This quote and many similar ones were frequently heard in the years preceding the Wright’s successful flights in 1903. What is even more interesting is that the statement is by Thomas Edison, one of the most creative geniuses in American history. In fact the news reports of the Brothers success were dismissed as a hoax by many because they believed the feat to be impossible.

Notes: Constructing the rollers requires careful measurements and smooth surfaces. Also, the plywood triangles must be carefully aligned when being glued to the joining support. In fairness to the disbelievers, the “magic triangles” will work only as rollers, not as wheels.

Learn more: There is a popular belief that creativity is a gift, and not something that can be nurtured. Fortunately, not everyone holds that view, as witnessed by the plethora of internet sources.

Here is just one source of many that outlines how creativity can be taught. (very long article).