Zen Magnets

Posted on by Gabriel | 6 comments
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(Click to Enlarge) - Zen Gift Set Contents

Today, I will deviate a little from the common puzzles I'm used to review. Zen Magnets are to blame, as they're my latest addiction... As if my regular madness for mechanical puzzles wasn't already enough.

First of all, can this executive toy be categorized as a puzzle? - In short, my answer is yes, it can. As stated in one description of the word "puzzle": "A puzzle is a problem or enigma that tests the ingenuity of the solver" in Wikipedia. If you set your mind to solve a pattern you saw on a picture with your magnetic set, or you just want to build a structure you imagined, but don't know exactly, at first, how to do it, that's basically a puzzle for you.

(Click to Enlarge) - 2D and 3D Stars

Now, with the definition of the puzzle behind, I'll describe what exactly are the Zen Magnets. If you browse regularly around the Internet looking for puzzles (like me), you've probably seen these magnetic sets a dozen times before. Every time I'd stumble upon one, I would think to myself: "Yes, you can build a few things out of these, but I bet I would get tired of them pretty fast", and I just continued with my search for the next puzzle. That was until I found out about the Zen Magnets Gallery and was astonished by the sheer amount of beautiful and cool designs you can build with these simple magnetic spheres. It was like stepping into a whole new dimension - I felt this when I first discovered the many types of puzzles that existed, when I started my collection. You can see by the hundreds of pictures, that there are many talented people building all kinds of fantastic and complex designs.

(Click to Enlarge) - Triangle and Lock & Key

Inspired by all those demonstrations, I decided to explore a little more about this subject. They are around since 2008 and they come in many brands and flavors. One thing that I was concerned about, was their overall quality. I read some people's comments that after a few weeks of constant manipulation, the spheres start to loose their shine and most importantly, their coating, which can leave your hands in a mess after playing with them for a while. After careful research, I decided to give Zen Magnets a try, because their quality is supposed to be the best in the market, right now. Also, this video sort of helped me to decide.

(Click to Enlarge) - Hexagon and Rhombus

So, what are the Zen Magnets, after all? - Well, they are strong rare earth Neodymium super-magnets, with 5mm in diameter and are coated with mirror polished NiCuNi. They are sold in four different sets: Standard, Gift, Mandala and mini. The Standard and Gift sets come with 216 magnet spheres, a velvet bag and a PVC card (useful to separate groups of spheres), although the gift set has a few extras thrown in (stainless steel plate, microfiber cloth (to clean the magnets), guide and MDF hard case). The Mandala set is the equivalent of eight sets (1728 spheres) for the price of about six... And finally the mini set, with just 72 magnets. Zen Magnets are also owners of the Neoballs brand, which uses several different coating colors, that will sure make very nice contrasting patterns. Bear in mind, though, that Neoballs aren't the same quality as Zen Magnets, as they're a different product.

(Click to Enlarge) - Triangle and Crown

I was excited when I first received my Zen set. I got the Gift set, by the way. I was more than ready to start making some cool patterns and 3D structures. However, my expectations came crashing down after a few minutes with the spheres. I'm not referring to their quality, but the easiness of manipulation instead. It sure looked easy from the pictures and videos... Every time I tried to make a more complex design, the magnets attracted each other like crazy and the structure would fall apart in an instant. What could I possibly be doing wrong? - Apparently, everything... It seemed that the magnets were too strong to do any serious progress.

(Click to Enlarge) - Snowflake and 3D structure with 5 Tetrahedra

For starters, I didn't bother to look at the guide before starting to play with the magnets. How difficult can it be to snap magnets together, right? - I guess I overlooked the fact of the magnetic polarity on the spheres. I know that magnets have a north and south pole, I just didn't think about it. The magnetic polarity compatibility can be grouped  in two types, coupled and linked. Coupled chains have the magnets parallel to each other, whereas the linked chains have the magnets in an alternating pattern. There are many techniques that you can use to simplify your work and ease your frustrations. You can find many of these useful videos around the web that will sure help you. This all sounds a bit complicated, but trust me, you get used to it with practice.

(Click to Enlarge) - Open Hexagon and 3D Structure with 6 Tetrahedra

Enough of theory... You might be asking, what exactly can you build with the magnetic spheres? As you probably already saw from some photos above, you can pretty much, build anything you can think of. The only limitation, besides having a small amount of magnets, is your own imagination. Think of it as magnetic Plasticine: from 2D patterns to some of the more complex 3D designs, every object can be recreated to perfection, provided that you have enough spheres to work with. 

I could go on and on about these fantastic spheres, but I fear that the review is already too long, so I might as well conclude. Even though I feel like I've just scratched the surface, I think the information I wrote is enough already, to show you what you can do with your Zen Magnets. I just have to apologize for the photo quality, as I found it extremely difficult to photograph the magnets and keep them in focus. I do believe that it can give you a pretty good idea of the patterns being shown, but there's a lot more you can discover for yourself.

Update (22 Feb.) - I have received a few more Zen sets and I feel I must mention the PVC cards that come with every set. I didn't get this notion when I had just one card, but now I discovered that they are a very worthy addition to the Zen package. They are made by Phil Lewis and display a magnificent art image. Each set comes with a different image, so even though you know that you'll be receiving a Zen set, it'll always be a pleasant surprise to discover what new image is on the card. You're not just collecting the magnets, you're also collecting the cards.

The Zen Magnets sets can be purchased, either from ZenMagnets.com or from ZenMagnets.co.uk, if you're from this side of the Atlantic.

(Click to Enlarge) - Icosahedron (20 Triangular Faces)

Closing Comments:

For the past two weeks, I've been fascinated with the potential of this creative tool. It's the perfect distraction from your everyday boring tasks and above all, it can be quite therapeutic and stress reliever. The Zen Magnets were a wonderful find and I will probably be getting more of them in the future. My only complaint? - When seeing all those amazing designs at the Zen gallery, with thousands of magnets, 216 of them seem so little, it's frustrating. One set should come with, like 500 magnets, at least... If you're thinking to buy a set of these, be careful though, as you might get hooked for a long time.


Kevin said...

I got something very similar to these about 2 years ago - these are the 6mm version rather than the usual 5mm (they came from Cybercube)
I bought 2 sets of 216 and you can make some good stuff with that but, you are right, you really need hundreds of them to have some real fun! They do have a very big set but with a very big price!!!

I did love the Bra video on their site!!

Gabriel said...

Hi Kevin,
You started better than I did with your 2 sets. While lots of magnets could be a lot of fun, your wallet won't be that fun afterwards. Maybe buying one set from time to time will suffice to keep it fresh.
Indeed, the Bra video is very original :D
Cheers ;-)

GalaxyTraveler said...

Very good review, you mentioned everything that is important, and it's not too little, not too much!

I discovered Zen Magnets almost one year ago, bought some sets for friends as well and just a single set for me. That was the beginning, now I'm addicted :D

Here are some impressions of what I've done so far: http://www.youtube.com/user/GalaxyTraveler

Greetings :)

Gabriel said...

Thank you very much for your kind words GalaxyTraveler. Your designs are awesome, I subscribed to your channel. Keep up the great work.
Cheers ;-)

YoyoBandalore said...

I enjoyed your review. Well done!

I too am a big fan of the magnetic spheres, especially Zen Magnets. One additional thing that the magnets tend to spawn is an interest in photography. Once you make a nice figure, you hate to destroy it and move on to the next. So what do you do, you take a picture of it, of course. :)

Be sure to check out the Neodymium Magnet Sphere Commons for even more cool photos of magnetic sculptures.


Gabriel said...

Thank you for comment, YoyoBandalore. The photography part is very true. And on top of that, I struggle to get a nice picture, because my camera is not very good and I don't have a very nice background to go with the sculpture. I do have to work more on that part, but I have the incentive to keep building nice sculptures. I took a look at your photo stream and I have to say, your designs are fantastic, not to the mention the photo quality, which is superb. Wonderful job!
Cheers ;-)

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