Multi-Level 3D Maze

For my DigiFab class, I had to come up with a project that used the laser cutter as its main method of fabrication. I decided to make a multi-level maze out of clear acrylic that you navigate with a ball bearing. Each level of the maze would have one exit, and you could rotate the levels of the maze around to change the starting point for each level and provide variation for repeat players.

I started by designing each level in VectorWorks. Each square is 4″ in diameter, and each level would need 2 squares: one with the maze cut into it, and one with a tiny square hole to allow the ball to drop down to the next level. I designed these squares to have corner pegs to hold each pair of layers together, and also a center shaft that would hold all the levels together while still allowing them to rotate. Since I wanted the entire maze to be clear, I ordered some 1/4″ and 1/2″ plastic rods to serve as the pegs and shaft.

 

An example of some level designs in VectorWorks. Each maze square has a corresponding exit square below it.
An example of some level designs in VectorWorks. Each maze square has a corresponding exit square below it.

 

I ended up designing 5 different maze levels with corresponding exit holes. In order to test these layers, I lasercut them into some scrap foamcore. I tried rotating the test layers on top of each other in order to make sure that the exit of each maze would drop the ball bearing inside the maze portion of the next level. Unfortunately, due to a mistake in my design process, about half of the possible rotations didn’t work! After going back to adjust each maze in VectorWorks, I did a second test cut on some posterboard:

 

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Some examples of prototype maze layers and exit layers, along with some lasercut jigs in the foreground.

 

Thankfully, my second attempt had a 100% success rate. After completing the prototypes, I lasercut some jigs out of 1/16″ plastic to make sure the plastic rods I bought for the corners and center would fit securely in their holes. After adjusting the holes’ values slightly, I did the final cut for the mazes on  clear 1/4″ acrylic.

The cut went well, but I found afterwards that the plastic rods wouldn’t fit as easily in the 1/4″ layers as they did in the 1/16″ jigs. Perhaps the increased thickness of the plastic made the cut less accurate? Anyway, after a lot of filing and dremeling, all the pegs and the central rod were able to fit properly. The unfortunate side effect of this was that some sanded acrylic dust got trapped between the layers and clouded the plastic.
Also, I cut the pegs by hand, but some ended up slightly longer than I intended, so they jut out of the square layers slightly. This makes the maze somewhat difficult to rotate in certain configurations. I learned a lot from the manual-construction phase, and I eventually intend to make another version that doesn’t share the problems of the first. All in all, though, it’s still very fun to play in the end!

Here are some pictures of the completed first version:

 

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