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Topological Puzzles

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    Community Science Workshop Network

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Topological Puzzles

In this activity, learners construct three math puzzles out of simple materials like wood, string, and Styrofoam. The first two puzzles, called "Remove the Loop" and "Two Washers," are examples of topology, an area of math about how geometric figures are different and similar. The third puzzle, "Towers of Hanoi," uses a mathematical tool called an algorithm and is also a good example of an exponential function. [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 6 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Game, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per student)

  • 18 in. String, fat (3/16 flexible chord works well)
  • 2 ft. String, thin (a bit thicker than kite string)
  • 4 in. 1x2, cut into two 2 in. pieces
  • 4 in. 2x2
  • 4 in. Dowel, 1/4 in. diameter
  • 6 in. 1x2
  • 3 ft. String, fat (3/16 in. flexible chord works well. Larger than 3/16 in. requires a large hole in the center.)
  • 2 Washers, 3/8 in.
  • 8 in. 1x2
  • 1 Styrofoam dinner plate
  • 9 in. Dowel, 1/4 in. diameter
  • Stiff paper, like file folders
  • Drill
  • Drill platform
  • 15/64 in. bit, 19/64 in. bit, 1/2 in. bit
  • Sandpaper
  • Wood saws
  • Clamps
  • Circle patterns


  • Mathematics
    • Algebra
      • Patterns
    • Geometry
    • Number and Operations
      • Exponents
    • Problem Solving

Informal Categories

  • Games
  • Toys


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Watsonville Environmental Science Workshop


  • All Rights Reserved, Watsonville Environmental Science Workshop, ©2011


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  • Thumbnail STEM by tiffanyegriggs on 2012-01-31